Abstract: Prescribed By Pity: The Relation of Pity to Support for the Sexual Rights of Women Labeled with Intellectual Disability (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Prescribed By Pity: The Relation of Pity to Support for the Sexual Rights of Women Labeled with Intellectual Disability

Friday, January 13, 2023
South Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Hannah G. Ginn, MSW, PhD Candidate, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Hannah Brown, M.S., Doctoral Candidate, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Background and Purpose: Sexuality is widely understood in the health and social sciences as fundamental to individuals’ well-being (World Health Organization, 2017) and human rights (Lottes, 2013). However, studies indicate that many people, including family members and service providers, have misgivings about enabling the sexual rights of women labeled with intellectual disability (ID; Black & Kammes, 2019). Pity and its inherent paternalism may fuel such rights restrictions. We used the Stereotype Content Model’s (SCM; Fiske et al., 2002; Fiske, 2018) conceptualization of pity (i.e., being perceived as warm but incompetent) to test how pity toward ID-labeled women affects support for their sexual rights. We asked: Are ID-labeled women subject to pity more than other marginalized women? (RQ1); and Does pity affect support for ID-labeled women’s sexual rights and related policies? (RQ 2).

Methods: We surveyed 307 U.S. white, cisgender, heterosexual women (Mage = 49), recruited through the online research platform Prolific, about their perceptions of four marginalized groups: ID-labeled women; low-income women; adolescent women; and lesbians. For reach group, participants rated: women’s warmth and competence, support for women’s sexual rights, and endorsement of policies to enable sexual rights. We conducted t-tests and repeated measures ANOVA with Bonferroni-corrected post-hoc tests to test RQ 1 and hierarchical linear regression models with covariates to test RQ 2.

Results: For RQ 1, results suggested that ID-labeled women are regarded with greater pity than the other marginalized groups. Confirming that ID-labeled women are pitied more often than others, participants attributed significantly more warmth (M = 3.87, SE = .04) than competence (M = 2.81, SE = .05) to ID-labeled women, t(306) = 24.31, p < .001, and viewed them as significantly more warm and less competent than all other marginalized groups; F(2.72, 832.02) = 121.55, p < .001 and F(2.91, 889.56) = 122.40, p < .001, respectively. Of all cases in which participants pitied any marginalized group of women (as determined by rating a group of women with high warmth and low competence), about two-thirds (64%) involved ID-labeled women. For RQ 2, regression analyses showed that perceived competence was related to sexual rights support only when participants considered ID-labeled women (β = .15, p = .03). Second, while perceived warmth was positively associated with sexuality policy support for all marginalized groups, perceived competence affected policy support only in relation to ID-labeled women (β = .16, p < .01).

Conclusions and Implications: Analyses confirm that ID-labeled women are often regarded with pity and that pity may reduce others’ support for their sexual rights and related policies. Particularly influential are perceptions of women’s competence. Social work scholars and practitioners can play a valuable role in advocating for policies, trainings, and standards of practice that uphold the inalienability of sexual rights. Toward this end, we draw on Nussbaum’s Capability Approach (2011) to argue that diversity among women’s abilities must be used as the basis for additional and accessible resources to ensure that all individuals with disabilities have opportunities to exercise their sexual rights and experience sexual wellbeing.