Abstract: The Discourses of Masculinity and Femininity in Case Studies of Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13462 The Discourses of Masculinity and Femininity in Case Studies of Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

Friday, January 15, 2010: 11:00 AM
Pacific Concourse O (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Alankaar Sharma, MSW , University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, PhD student, St. Paul, MN
Jane F. Gilgun, PhD, LICSW , University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Professor, St. Paul, MN
Purpose: The purpose of this oral presentation is to describe the gender-related belief systems of men and women who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Societal and individual beliefs related to gender play a significant role in informing and influencing the experiences of women and men survivors of child sexual abuse (Hunter, 1991; Dorais, 2002; Warner & Ussher, 2009). However, academic investment in understanding and analyzing gender-related belief systems has been sporadic, even though social work practitioners encounter these belief systems routinely in their work with individuals, families and communities.

Method: In-depth life history interviews were conducted with 15 women and 15 men survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The persons who perpetrated against them were family members and friends of the family. The interviews were tape recorded verbatim and the interview transcripts were then analyzed for core concepts, based on gender-based discourses of masculinity and femininity. In the analysis, we applied tenets of critical discourse analysis, which is a method that allows for close analysis of texts with a mandate for identifying and understanding power relations at the individual and structural levels (Fairclough, 2001; van Dijk, 2001, 2006; Wodak, 2001).

Results: The critical discourse analysis of survivors' accounts showed the centrality of gender-based beliefs for survivors' interpretations of their own sexual abuse. For the women, discourses of shame and blame were most prominent. The women interpreted their victimization in terms of the ideologies of victims as damaged goods and as being to blame for their own victimization, an ideology that deflects responsibility from perpetrators and thus can be considered patriarchal. They saw themselves as dirty and shamed, unworthy of respect and love. The male survivors, on the other hand, called upon ideologies associated with masculinity to interpret their experiences of being sexually abused. Some questioned their identities as worthy men, fraught with anxiety about their manliness, including fears that they might not be strong enough to compete with other men and to play the role of protectors in their families of procreation. Many had long-lasting concerns about their sexual identities, such as whether they were gay or not. Others developed homophobia, fearful that being sexually abused meant their were gay. A few had deep fears that maybe they were "sissies" or "girly". These beliefs are deeply rooted in wide-spread beliefs about masculinity.

Conclusions and implications: Discourses of gender influence the experiences of women and men survivors of childhood sexual abuse in profound ways, by impacting their thoughts and actions during and following the abuse. Understanding these discourses can help micro level practitioners to understand the social and personal locations of their clients and tailor intervention services accordingly. For the macro level social work practitioners, these lessons could mean better advocacy measures as well as policy inputs that aim at prevention of child sexual abuse by challenging and deconstructing the fundamental unjust structures of patriarchal gender norms and values.