Several factors have contributed to the present-day sexual script. These include historically rooted messages about women as property and racist and classist assumptions about sexuality.
In the colonial period, a woman’s sexual purity was crucial to her ability to attract a spouse. Therefore, her value within society often was measured by her ability to marry and produce heirs (Donat & D’Emilio,
1992). Women were expected to be innocent, virtuous, and disinterested in sex. Women also were expected to use their superior morality to control men’s sexuality. Therefore, a woman who engaged in sexual intercourse, even intercourse against her will, was considered a fallen woman and often was blamed for the attack (Donat & D’Emilio, 1992).
Chivalry, an often glorified tradition, particularly in the South, is itself an example of a sexual script that binds women and denies them freedom to choose their own sexuality. Women pay a high price for the chivalry extended to them. A woman is expected to remain virtuous and to defend her chastity from any “involuntary defilement.” Thus, if she is raped, the assault is considered “not only a crime of aggression against the body; it is a transgression against chastity as defined by men” (Griffin, 1971, p. 32). As a result, her nonconsent may be questioned and often ignored.
Our culture teaches men to protect women and women to look to others for safety and security. Ironically, in a chivalrous society, men are both those who commit violence and those who protect… Chivalry promotes the man as the protector and the woman as the protected; the man as the aggressor and the woman as the victim. (White, Donat, & Bondurant, 1996, p. 551)
To an even greater extent, the sexual victimization of ethnic minority women largely has been ignored. During slavery, the African American woman was the object of sexuality for White men and the means of breeding additional slaves (Brownmiller, 1975; Simson, 1983). There were no penalties for the rape of an African American woman by a White man (Wyatt, 1992). African American women were not given the freedom to consent or refuse to consent. From this distorted context came the myth that African American women were more sexual than White women (Get – man, 1984). Current stereotypes about African American women continue to perpetuate these myths of sexual promiscuity (Wyatt, 1982). Many African American women do not hold the same belief, which many White women falsely hold, that they will be believed and protected by authorities and societal institutions from sexual assault (Wyatt, 1992). Research has found that African American women are less likely to report a sexual assault to the police or rape center (Wyatt, 1992). Within this context, women of color’s hesitancy to report intimate violence and their perceptions of vulnerability to sexual assault may be an accurate reflection of a society that historically has failed to protect them.
Sexual assaults against working-class women also were more common and viewed as more excusable in American history. The working-class woman openly engaged in sexual flirtation during the 1800s when middle – class values advocated sexual control. This flirtation was assumed to be the cause of the rape of working-class women because men believed that any woman walking the street at night was looking for sex (D’Emilio &
Freedman, 1988). Working women were considered closer in status to fallen women because it was believed that these women would not object to sexual intercourse with higher-status men. It was assumed that she would use her sexuality as a tool for social mobility. It was also assumed that she would consent to sexual intercourse, particularly if the relationship would increase her social status.