Remixing the Script? Associations Between Black-Oriented Media Consumption and Black Women’s Heteropatriarchal Romantic Relationship Beliefs

June 24, 2021

Abstract

Black-oriented media may offer Black women an opportunity to produce and consume empowering messages that challenge heteropatriarchal relationship beliefs, but they may also foster their endorsement. Drawn by this paradox, we surveyed 597 undergraduate and graduate Black women aged 18 to 30 years to examine exposure to Black-oriented media and their association with the acceptance of heteropatriarchal relationship beliefs. Correlation and regression analyses showed that reading more Black magazines was associated with increased acceptance of heteropatriarchal relationship beliefs. Although it has been argued that media depictions of sexually agentic and empowered Black women may help disrupt and subvert the hegemonic nature of heteropatriarchal discourses in society, our findings suggest that some Black-oriented media may instead be associated with endorsing restrictive, scripted gender norms for intraracial romantic relationships.

Keywords 

gender role attitudesmediasexual scriptsBlack women

A rich debate has emerged regarding the affordances of Black media and their potential influence on Black women’s attitudes, sexual relationships, decision making, and well-being (Bonnette-Bailey & Brown, 2019Coleman et al., 2016Lundy, 2018). Some argue that Black media confer an opportunity for Black women to consume empowering messages that challenge the sexist and misogynistic gender narratives derived from the broader, hegemonic social context (J. Morgan, 2000; M. Morgan, 2005Pough, 2004). Conversely, Collins (20002004), hooks (1992), and Rose (1994) argue that the internalization of patriarchal, hypermasculine, and misogynistic ideals are linked with the prevalence of these elements in the lyrical, video, and print content of popular Black-oriented media. Although highly theorized, this paradox remains understudied, particularly among Black, young adult women (Coleman et al., 2016). We aimed to address the dearth of empirical research on the influence of Black-oriented media on the sexual socialization of Black women to better understand how media may shape Black women’s attitudes and beliefs about their sexual and romantic relationships.

 

Heteropatriarchal Relationship Beliefs

Hegemonic power relations prescribe sexual norms and expectations for women and men that reflect a heteropatriarchal structure (i.e., a structure that privileges masculinity and heterosexual men while subordinating all other sex/gender types; Valdes, 1996). Sexual script theory (Simon & Gagnon, 1986) was developed to focus on the ways that culture shapes perception and expression of socially-sanctioned sexual behavior. Based on this theory, sexual scripts function in ways that establish dating norms and practices, guide romantic relationship expectations, and structure beliefs for sexual interactions between women and men. Stephens and Phillips (2003) developed a framework for conceptualizing sexual script development among young Black women that emphasized the contributing role of hip-hop culture in shaping sexual beliefs that mirror heteropatriarchal relationship ideologies. Recent research has built on this foundational work and showcased the ways these sexual scripts may hamper Black women’s sexual well-being, and may lead to higher engagement in risky sexual behaviors, greater sexual inhibition, and decreased sexual assertiveness (Coleman, 2013Coleman et al., 2016Hill et al., 2017Ward et al., 2019). Given the potential role of heteropatriarchal scripts in shaping Black women’s sexual well-being (e.g., Ward et al., 2019), we focus on two heteropatriarchal scripts—the heterosexual script and a culturally-specific Black heterosexual script.

The heterosexual script (Kim et al., 2007Seabrook et al., 2016Tolman, 2002) characterizes masculinity as dominant, active, powerful, and instrumental; and femininity as primarily passive, dependent, communal, and submissive. Previous research suggests that the misogyny couched in these binary gender expectations creates adversarial sexual beliefs that paint men as highly coveted sources of stability and security in heterosexual relationships (Bem, 2000Kim et al., 2007). In contrast, women are viewed as antagonistic, judgmental, calculating, deceitful, and untrustworthy relational liabilities (Burt, 1980).

Another script that has developed, due in part, to historical and socioeconomic contextual factors, is a culturally-specific Black heteropatriarchal script. Within this script, Black women are chiefly characterized as aggressive, hostile, controlling, and unfeminine in their social and sexual roles within romantic relationships (e.g., Collins, 2000Lawrence-Webb et al., 2004Stephens & Phillips, 2003). Understanding this portrayal of Black women requires the consideration of the sociohistorical contexts of matriarchal narratives within Black communities. Black women have had to maintain a strong presence in the U.S. labor force due to the restricted financial opportunities available for Black men. As a result of enslavement, institutional discrimination, mass incarceration, and the systemic denial of economic resources and employment, Black women’s earnings have been fundamental in supporting themselves and their families (Binion, 1990Collins, 20002004West & Rose, 2000). Being economically independent and often serving as heads of their households, Black women have been accused of actively usurping hegemonic male gender roles (Binion, 1990Collins, 20002004Longmire-Avital & Reavis, 2017West & Rose, 2000). Thus, many Black women’s social realities have been incongruent with heteropatriarchal gender expectations.

The extant literature hints at the possibility that this gender script incongruence complicates romantic relationships that reflect traditional patriarchal heterosexual coupling dynamics. Surveying a sample of middle-class Black men, Cazenave (1983) found that they were more likely to harbor antagonistic beliefs toward Black women if they believed that women had greater access to educational and economic resources than men. A decade later, Edmonds and Cahoon (1993) found that Black female undergraduates described male-female relationships as negative and antagonistic more often than their White female counterparts. Since then, several other studies have found that Black women were aware of men’s perceptions and sometimes resigned autonomy within their relationships by accepting more traditional gender roles and modifying their behaviors in order to buffer Black men’s negative experiences of low societal power (Abrams et al., 2018Cowdery et al., 2009Jones & Shorter-Gooden, 2003). White (1997) reported that young Black women primarily characterized their boyfriends as dominant and aggressive, and stated that they frequently acquiesced to their partners’ sexual demands due to the belief that sexuality was one of the few areas where their boyfriends could assert their masculinity. In an effort to avoid emasculating their boyfriends, these participants also reported that they prioritized their roles as supporters and caretakers despite sometimes experiencing aggression and violence from their male partners. Ultimately, some Black couples’ attempts to enact traditional gender roles may contribute to role strain and relationship conflict (Abrams et al., 2018Cazenave, 1983White, 1997).

 

Images of the Heteropatriarchal Script in Black Media

Black-oriented media are diverse, but have been noted to prominently feature hegemonic, patriarchal ideals that privilege men and masculinity over women. Content and critical discourse analyses of the depictions of women in magazines have indicated that they may be a key site for the construction and dissemination of hegemonic feminine gender and sexual roles (Byerly & Ross, 2006Reviere & Byerly, 2013). For example, popular magazine advertisements and features often present women as sexual objects, who are smaller in size, and in postures that suggest submission and inferiority compared with men (Krassas et al., 2001Lindner, 2004). Furthermore, images depicting women in sexually objectifying physical positions (e.g., bending over) and as having less authority occurred more frequently in Black magazines as compared with White magazines (Baker, 2005). At the same time, Black-oriented magazines (e.g., Essence) have featured fewer portrayals of women as submissive and dependent on men than White-oriented magazines (e.g., CosmopolitanBaker, 2005Reviere & Byerly, 2013). These findings suggest that Black-oriented magazines contain diverse gendered imagery that may subtly reinforce hegemonic patriarchal ideals.

Television also provides hegemonic gender models and content for Black consumers. Reality programming, which comprises a sizeable proportion of Black American youths’ and adults’ media engagement (Nielsen Company, 20132018Rideout et al., 2010), may be used by audiences to discern what is and is not socially desirable (Coleman et al., 2016Tyree, 2011). In her analysis of 30 episodes from two Black-oriented reality programs, Smith (2013) found that Black female cast members were more frequently depicted as arrogant and domineering compared with male cast members, and women were less frequently depicted as nice, kind, happy, optimistic, and emotionally strong than male cast members. Across multiple analyses of Real Housewives of Atlanta, a lifestyle reality program depicting the lives of several prominent Atlanta residents, Black women have been shown to be stereotyped as Jezebels (e.g., seductive, manipulative, hypersexual) and Sapphires (e.g., loud, crude; Bland & Montemurro, 2015Reid, 2013Tyree, 2011). Thus, analyses indicated that reality television was saturated with stereotypic images of Black women that both aligned with and countered hegemonic gender ideals.

Music also provides models and scripts about courtship and sexual relationships. Here, romantic love and sex predominate as themes, but the gendered representations of “lovers” often reinforce hegemonic notions of femininity and masculinity. A content analysis of the gendered attributes in 527 top commercially successful songs performed by Black artists from 1990 to 2010 revealed that women were most likely to be represented in hyperfeminine ways that emphasized the importance of their physical attractiveness, utility as sexual objects, and emotional expressiveness (Avery et al., 2016). Conversely, representations of men were most likely to reflect hegemonic, hypermasculine attributes, such as competitiveness, dangerousness, being sex-focused, and being materialistic. Rap and R&B music, specifically, often use sexual script frameworks that reinforce cultural ideas about gendered expectations, facilitate Black women’s sexual objectification, and prescribe their sexual passivity (Stephens & Phillips, 2003Stokes, 2007).

 

Levels of Media Consumption and its Impact Among Black Consumers

Numerous studies have documented that Black Americans have been heavy media users (Nielsen Company, 20182020). We draw on national data (i.e., Nielsen) and data from convenience sampling to describe the quantities and types of media Black Americans are consuming. More than 60% of young Black adults (ages 18-34 years) reported reading at least one magazine per week (Radio One, 2008). Black Americans, on average, have watched 46 hours of TV per week, which exceeded the national average of 33 hours (Nielsen Company, 2020). Black Americans have also spent an average of 38 hours per week listening to music, which exceeded the national weekly average of 32 hours (Nielsen Company, 2018). Black women, in particular, have watched an average of 51 hours of TV per week, 15 more hours each week than their White women counterparts, and primarily listened to Black-oriented genres such as R&B and hip-hop (Nielsen Company, 20132017). Widespread consumption of culturally specific media (Jamison, 2006; Nielsen Company et al., 2018) suggests that Black-oriented media may play a more prominent role than mainstream media in Black women’s socialization into patriarchal gender and sexual roles.

Social learning theories of media use suggest that stereotypic gender portrayals may shape the sexual attitudes and behaviors of heavy media consumers. For example, in cultivation theory, Gerbner et al. (2002) contends that people who frequently consume media will adopt attitudes and beliefs similar to the dominant images and messages conveyed in the media. In social cognitive theory, Bandura (2001) suggests that the acceptance of media’s messages will intensify when viewers identify with media characters and perceive media content to be realistic. There is some support for these theories concerning the gender beliefs of Black Americans: several empirical studies have found that frequent exposure to traditional gender and sexual ideals in mainstream media has been associated with greater acceptance of traditional gender stereotypes among Black audiences (e.g., Jerald et al., 2017Ward et al., 2005Ward et al., 2019).

Although literature on media exposure and sexual socialization is relatively robust, there is a paucity of research that has specifically examined the contributions of Black-oriented media. Many of the available studies have focused on associations between rap music/music videos and Black youth’s sexual attitudes and behaviors. Studies among Black adolescents reported that greater exposure to rap music or rap videos was associated with greater acceptance of antagonistic beliefs about Black relationships (Bryant, 2008) and higher levels of sexual experience (Johnson-Baker et al., 2016Primack et al., 2009). Results are more mixed concerning contributions of Black-oriented TV programs, magazines, and movies. In one of the few studies among Black adult women, Jerald et al. (2017) found that heavier exposure to Black magazines was associated with greater acceptance both of traditional gender roles and of the view that women are sexual objects. Among Black adolescents, Anyiwo et al. (2018) found that exposure to Black-oriented TV programs was not linked to support for traditional gender roles but was linked to greater acceptance of specific beliefs about Black women. However, in a survey of Black undergraduate women, consumption of Black-oriented reality programs did not predict support for stereotypes about Black women (Coleman et al., 2019). Finally, in a study examining films, it was found that exposure to risk-oriented content in mainstream and Black-oriented films predicted Black adolescents’ own risk behavior (Bleakley et al., 2017). Analyses revealed few contributions of exposure to mainstream films; instead, heavier exposure to Black-oriented films predicted greater sexual activity, aggressive behavior, and alcohol use. Although these outcomes did not include sexual script beliefs, they demonstrate the potential power of Black-oriented media to serve as behavioral models for Black consumers. Because most of this research used adolescent samples, we have less understanding of these dynamics among Black adults and Black women, in particular. Therefore, our study examined how Black-oriented media may contribute to Black adult women’s beliefs about romantic and sexual relationships.

 

The Current Study

The purpose of our study was to explore associations between multiple dimensions of Black-oriented media exposure and Black women’s acceptance of heteronormative and patriarchal sexual beliefs. In doing so, this study extended the literature on Black media use and sexual socialization by examining an older age group; most research has been conducted on Black youth (e.g., Johnson-Baker et al., 2016). Also, unlike other research that focused on one genre, specifically (e.g., rap), or on one medium, such as television, the present study examined multiple genres of Black-oriented media, including reality television programs, magazines, and music (R&B/Soul and Hip-Hop/Rap). Based on previous empirical studies (e.g., Bryant, 2008Jerald et al., 2017Ward et al., 2019) that linked heavy media usage with more stereotypical attitudes about gender and sexuality, we formed the following hypotheses:

  • Hypothesis 1: Increased Black-oriented media consumption will be associated with greater acceptance of heteropatriarchal romantic relationship attitudes, including the heterosexual script and adversarial sexual beliefs.

  • Hypothesis 2: Increased Black-oriented media consumption will be associated with greater acceptance of heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships.

Because Black women are not a homogenous group, we expected that their media usage patterns and beliefs about gender and romantic relationships would vary by demographic and sociopsychological identity factors, such as age, socioeconomic status (SES), religiosity, racial identity, sexual orientation, and relationship status. Recent media consumption reports showed differential media usage by age; in comparison with other age groups, adults aged 50 to 64 years were the most frequent consumers of media, followed by adults aged 18 to 34 years (Nielsen Company, 2020). Women consumed media at higher rates compared with men, and their media usage and preferences may be influenced by factors such as SES and religiosity (Nielsen Company, 20192020). Racial or ethnic identity may influence Black women’s media consumption such that those who identify strongly or positively with being Black may be more critical of mainstream media and consume more Black-oriented media content (Bickham et al., 2003Nielsen Company, 2018). Additionally, research suggests that sexual orientation may influence women’s attitudes and expectations about dating and sexuality (Grollman, 2017). Thus, we examined the following as potential covariates: age, SES, religiosity, racial identity, sexual orientation, and relationship status.

 

Method

Participants

Participants were 597 self-identified Black women (Mage = 22.13; SDage = 5.32) who were recruited from two college campuses in the United States. University 1 (n = 374; Mage = 21.16; SDage = 3.41) is a predominantly White, Midwestern, public university. University 2 (n = 235; Mage = 22.27; SDage = 4.26) is a historically Black, Southeastern, public university. Although the majority of the sample identified as Black (81.3%), another 10.7% identified as biracial/multiracial, 2.7% as African, 1.9% as West Indian/Caribbean, 1.4% as Afro-Latina (e.g., South or Central American, Dominican, Puerto Rican), and 1.9% as Other. On average, the young women sampled came from relatively well-educated backgrounds. Specifically, only 4.6% of participants’ mothers completed a few years of high school or less. Of the remaining 95.4%, 11.7% of participants indicated that their mothers’ highest level of educational attainment was high school, 39.2% had completed some college, junior college, or trade school, 23.5% had completed bachelor’s degrees, 2.4% had completed some graduate school, and 18.6% of participants’ mothers had earned a graduate or professional degree. For participants’ fathers, 8.8% completed a few years of high school or less. Of the remaining 91.2%, 26.4% of participants indicated that their fathers’ highest level of educational attainment was high school, 31.0% had completed some college, junior college, or trade school, 16.8% had completed bachelor’s degrees, 2.1% had completed some graduate school, and 14.9% of participants’ fathers had earned a graduate or professional degree.

In response to a question about their sexual behavior (6 options), 89% of participants described their sexual experiences as exclusively or predominantly heterosexual. Participants represented a range of sexual experience levels, with 77% of the sample indicating that they had engaged in vaginal intercourse. Of those with coital experience, 52% reported having more than five lifetime sexual partners. In response to a question about their sexual orientation (6 options) and a question about their sexual attraction (6 options), the majority of the sample identified as exclusively or predominantly heterosexual (93%) and described their sexual attraction as exclusively or predominantly heterosexual (91%).

Procedure

Data for this analysis were collected as part of a larger study examining the health and well-being of Black women (n = 597). Data from this study have been used in previous analyses (Ward et al., 2019). For the larger study, Black female college students were recruited with assistance from key informants and both universities’ registrar offices. The registrar’s office at University 1 emailed a random sample of currently enrolled self-identified Black undergraduate and graduate students; at University 2, based on the registrar’s office data, researchers directly emailed a random sample of students who fit the study’s inclusion criteria. The recruitment emails invited students to participate in an anonymous online study that examined the unique experiences that affect Black women’s health and personal development, indicated that participants would be compensated $25 for their participation, and included a link to the online survey. Interested students used the link to complete the online survey and were directed to a second survey upon completion to provide their contact information for compensation. Measures in the survey were presented in the same order to all participants. Administration of the full survey took approximately 60 to 90 minutes to complete. Following the completion of the survey, all participants were debriefed.

Measures

Black Media Use

Magazines

Participants were asked about the rates at which they consume five popular magazines that target a predominantly Black audience. Ebony, Essence, and VIBE magazines were included because they represent the most highly circulated Black magazine publications according to media monitoring reports conducted by Pew Research Center (Duggan & Brenner, 2013) and Cision Company (2013). We also included The Source and XXL because they contain culturally relevant content related to hip hop music, culture, and politics. Participants indicated how often they read each publication, and response options ranged from 0 to 12 issues in a typical year.

Reality television

Previous State of the African American Consumer Reports conducted by Nielsen Company (2013) noted that of the top television programs watched by Black consumers between the age 18 and 49 years, eight were reality television programs featuring a predominantly or exclusively Black cast. Of these eight programs, we selected Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, Real Housewives of Atlanta, T.I. and Tiny, and Basketball Wives because they were listed as the reality television programs most viewed by Black Americans and they showcased stories and content reflecting contemporary Black culture, communities, relationships, and lives. Using a 4-point scale that ranged from 0 (never/none) to 4 (all of the time/most or all episodes), participants indicated how much of each of the four reality TV programs they had watched. Mean reality television viewing scores were calculated across the four programs.

Music

Black-oriented music consumption was assessed using open-ended and closed-ended items. First, participants responded to the following open-ended question, “We often listen to many types of music. How would you describe your overall music diet? (e.g., 20% pop, 40% rock, 10% R&B, and 30% jazz) Numbers should add to 100%).” We coded the open-ended responses and assigned each participant a genre usage proportion (ranging between 0 and 1, where 40% = .40) for R&B/Soul and Rap/Hip-Hop, two Black-oriented music genres found to dominate the music diets of Black participants in previous studies (Jamison, 2006Williams & Keen, 2009). Next, average weekly music hours consumed was measured using two close-ended questions, “How many hours on a typical weekday do you listen to music (radio, iPod, CDs, etc.)” and “How many hours on a typical Saturday or Sunday do you listen to music?” Response options ranged from 0 hours to 12+ hours per week. Weekly music consumption scores were calculated by multiplying weekday use by 5 and adding Saturday/Sunday use. Finally, a music genre exposure score was calculated for each of the three genres by multiplying the genre usage proportion and the average weekly music hours, yielding a score that we interpreted as the amount of exposure that each participant had to that genre.

Heteropatriarchal Romantic Relationship Attitudes

Heterosexual script

This construct was assessed using a 22-item measure created by Seabrook et al. (2016) to examine the extent to which participants endorse multiple elements of the heterosexual script, including the sexual double standard, gender-specific courtship strategies, and gender-specific orientations toward commitment. Participants rated their agreement with each statement on a 6-point Likert-type scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). Sample items include “A woman should be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to satisfy her partner” and “Men should be the ones to ask women out and to initiate physical contact.” Although this scale was created from a predominantly White (69.2%) sample of women and men from a large Midwestern university, the internal consistency of the scores for our sample was good (α = .90) and was similar to the internal consistency reported by Seabrook et al. (2016; α = .89 for women and α = .89 for men). The validity of the measure was supported by its positive correlations with other theoretically related constructs that assess idealized relationship beliefs and hegemonic gender role attitudes and scripts, such as the Romantic Beliefs Inventory and the Adversarial Sexual Beliefs Scale (AVSB; Seabrook et al., 2016). Discriminant validity was shown within the scale by demonstrating that each of the four subscales were related but distinct from one another (Seabrook et al., 2016).

Adversarial sexual beliefs

The nine-item AVSB (Burt, 1980) was used to capture participants’ beliefs that romantic relationships are fundamentally exploitative and that both sexes, but especially women, are manipulative, sly, dishonest, cheaters, and not to be trusted. Sample items include “Most women are sly and manipulative when they are out to attract a man” and “Women are usually sweet until they’ve caught a man, but then they let their true self show.” Participants reported their agreement with each of the nine statements using a 6-point Likert-type scale, and responses were anchored by 1 (strongly disagree) and 6 (strongly agree). Internal consistency for the scale scores was acceptable (α = .85). Within majority White samples, the AVSB scores have demonstrated acceptable to good internal consistency (α = .80; Himelein, 1995; α = .73; Reed et al., 2018). West and Rose (2000) used this scale with a sample of young Black women aged 16 to 24 years and reported an internal consistency of α = .67. The validity of the measure was supported by its negative correlations with measures that assess hegemonic beliefs about the place of women in society, such as the Attitudes Toward Women Scale (Yost & Zurbriggen, 2006); AVSB was positively correlated with similar constructs that assess rape myth acceptance and acceptance of interpersonal violence in intimate and sexual relationships (Burt, 1980Yost & Zurbriggen, 2006).

Heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships

Whereas the previous two measures have been used to document acceptance of hegemonic gender ideologies and relationship beliefs, they were not designed to capture the patriarchal sexual beliefs between Black women and men in the context of their sociocultural and historical experiences in the United States. To this end, we designed for this study, the 12-item Heteropatriarchal Beliefs about Black Relationships measure. In creating this scale, we started with the 7-item Oppressive Images subscale of the Antagonistic Beliefs about Black Relationships Scale (West & Rose, 2000). This scale had been developed with 171 single, Black women aged 16 to 24 years. The authors did not report reliability coefficients. The scale was subsequently used by Bryant (2008) among 144 Black adolescents aged 13 to 18 years; they reported an internal consistency of α = .58 for boys and α = .64 for girls. To improve reliability and to update the scale, we created 10 additional items, drawing on theoretical analyses concerning conflict within Black heterosexual relationships (Charleston, 2014Hall et al., 2014Harvey, 2009). The resulting 17 items were discussed and evaluated by the research team and pilot tested in the lab, which resulted in the final 12 items used here.

We asked participants to rate their level of agreement with each statement using a 6-point Likert-type scale anchored by 1 (strongly disagree) and 6 (strongly agree). Sample items include “Many Black men, without realizing it, have helped to keep the Black woman down because of their low regard for her” and “Even if a woman makes a lot of money at work, she still needs to let her man be the ‘man of the house.’” Mean scores across the 12 items were calculated with higher scores translating to more traditional views of women’s roles in romantic relationships, and the scale scores demonstrated good internal consistency (α = .86).

We conducted an exploratory factor analysis using a principal-axis factor extraction to investigate the structure of the 12-item Heteropatriarchal Beliefs about Black Relationships scale. Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity was significant, χ2(66) = 2386.21, p < .001, and the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling adequacy was high (KMO = .86), indicating that it was appropriate to use the factor analytic model on this set of data. To decide how many factors to extract, we reviewed the eigenvalues of the correlation matrix and plotted the eigenvalues as a scree plot. Then, using a web-based application, we conducted a parallel analysis to determine the number of factors to retain (Cota et al., 1993Patil et al., 2017). A parallel analysis generates random data sets that have an equivalent number of cases and variables to the original data set. Through our parallel analysis, we generated 100 random data sets and referenced the eigenvalues that correspond to the 95th percentile (Cota et al., 1993). The number of factors to retain is determined by the number of eigenvalues in the original data set that are greater than the corresponding eigenvalues from the random data sets. Together, the scree plot and parallel analysis revealed two to three factors. Therefore, we extracted one, two, and three factors to compare the loadings. For a three-factor solution, the first factor explained 34.93% of the variance, whereas the second and third factors explained 8.34% and 4.79% of the variance, respectively. Given that the second and third factors did not contribute as much to explaining the proportion of variance, and that the factor loadings on the second and third factors were low (.08 to .28 and .08 to .37), we decided that a one-factor solution was optimal. The items loaded relatively highly (i.e., >.40) on one factor, with loadings ranging from .53 to .66. A table illustrating the one-factor model, with associated items, loadings, descriptive statistics, and communalities is available on request from the corresponding author. For interpretation of the one factor (eigenvalues = 4.69), a Promax oblique rotation was used (Watkins, 2018).

Controls

Socioeconomic status

Similar to previous studies (Anyiwo et al., 2018), we measured mothers’ educational background as a proxy for SES. Participants were asked to indicate the highest level of education reached by their mother. Responses were assessed using a 10-point scale anchored by a few years of high school or less at 1 and Ph.D. at 10.

Religiosity

To determine the roles of religion and spirituality, participants were asked to indicate their organizational religious involvement via a three-item measure that has been used in previous studies among Black women (Fletcher et al., 2015Stanton et al., 2017). Participants were asked the following questions: (1)”How religious are you?” (2) “How often do you attend religious services?” and (3) “How important is your religious training to your beliefs about sexuality?” Participants used a 5-point scale anchored by not at all at 1 and very at 5 to indicate their level of religiosity in response to the first question. Responses to the second question were assessed using a 5-point scale (1 = never to 5 = very regularly, usually once a week). Responses to the third question were assessed using a 4-point scale (1 = not at all to 4 = very much so). A mean score was computed across the items to produce a religiosity score for each participant. This measure demonstrated good internal consistency (α = .86). In a sample of 631 Black undergraduate students and a sample of 412 Black women, this measure demonstrated good internal consistency (α = .80; Fletcher et al., 2015; α = .90; Stanton et al., 2017).

We conducted an exploratory factor analysis using a principal-axis factor extraction to investigate the number of constructs and structure of the three-item religiosity measure. Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity was significant, χ2(3) = 460.33, p < .001, and the KMO measure of sampling adequacy was acceptable (KMO = .67), which indicated that a factor analytic model would be appropriate to use on this set of data. The exploratory factor analysis yielded a one-factor solution in which the factor explained 55.87% of the variance for the set of variables. The location of the elbow in the scree plot and the parallel analysis (Cota et al., 1993Patil et al., 2017) revealed one factor. All items loaded highly (i.e., >.40) onto the factor, with factor loadings ranging from .58 to .87. A table that shows the one-factor model, including items, loadings, descriptive statistics, and communalities is available on request from the corresponding author. For interpretation of the one factor (eigenvalue = 2.08), a Promax oblique rotation was used (Watkins, 2018).

Racial identity

The Racial Centrality subscale of a shortened version of the Multidimensional Inventory of Black Identity (MIBI-S; Martin et al., 2010) was used to measure the strength of participants’ racial identity, or how much participants felt that being Black was an integral part of their self-image. Participants were asked to rate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with items such as, “I have a strong attachment to other Black people” and “Being Black is an important reflection of who I am” using a 7-point Likert-type scale anchored by 1 (strongly disagree) and 7 (strongly agree). Participants’ scores were averaged across the four items such that higher scores correspond with higher levels of racial centrality. The scale scores yielded an acceptable level of internal consistency (α = .86). The MIBI-S has been validated in a sample of Black adults and a sample of Black college students at predominantly White and historically Black institutions, and prior studies provide evidence of the measure’s validity and reliability among Black adolescent, college student, and adult samples (Martin et al., 2010Seaton & Iida, 2019Yip et al., 2006). Convergent validity of this measure is supported by its positive correlations with race-related behaviors. This measure has demonstrated better reliability than the original MIBI (Martin et al., 2010Sellers et al., 1997Yip et al., 2006). In samples of Black women, in particular, the measure has demonstrated good internal consistency of the scores (α = .77; Settles et al., 2010; α = .83; M. K. Jones & Day, 2018).

We conducted an exploratory factor analysis using a principal-axis factor extraction to investigate the number of constructs and structure of the four-item racial identity measure. Bartlett’s Test of Sphericity was significant, χ2(3) = 2596.65, p < .001, and the KMO measure of sampling adequacy was acceptable (KMO = .80), which indicated that a factor analytic model would be appropriate to use on this set of data. The exploratory factor analysis yielded a one-factor solution in which the factor explained 74.22% of the variance for the set of variables. The scree plot and parallel analysis (Cota et al., 1993Patil et al., 2017) revealed one factor. All items loaded highly (i.e., >.40) onto the factor, with factor loadings ranging from .83 to .89. A table that shows the one-factor model, including items, loadings, descriptive statistics, and communalities is available on request from the corresponding author. For interpretation of the one factor (eigenvalue = 3.23), a Promax oblique rotation was used (Watkins, 2018).

Sexual orientation

Participants indicated their sexual orientation via the following question: “In terms of my sexual orientation, I identify myself as:” Responses were assessed using a 6-point scale including the following options: (1) Exclusively heterosexual/straight; (2) Predominately heterosexual/straight; (3) Bisexual (interested in men and women somewhat equally); (4) Predominately homosexual (gay/lesbian); (5) Exclusively homosexual (gay/lesbian); and (6) Other.

 

Results

Preliminary Analyses

Analysis of the patterns of missing data revealed that less than 30.1% of all items for all cases were missing, and 69.9% of the items were not missing data for any case. Considering individual cases, 34.8% (n = 335) of participants had no missing data. Finally, no item had 46.9% or more of missing values. Little’s missing completely at random (MCAR) test produced a chi-square of 1003.605 (degrees of freedom = 204.00, p < .001), indicating that the data were not MCAR. Given the levels and patterns of missing data, we opted to employ pairwise deletion, which excluded those cases for which data were missing and used available cases to estimate the parameter of interest (Bennett, 2001Schlomer et al., 2010).

Descriptive and inferential statistics for the relationship belief and media use variables are provided in Table 1. Before conducting our preliminary analyses, we ran an a priori power analysis. According to G*Power, a sample size of n = 210 is needed for a medium effect size (d = .50, r = .24, R2 = .06; Cohen, 1988Ruscio, 2008) at p < .05 level of significance with power at .95 (Faul et al., 2007). To protect against Type I error and inflation of the alpha level when performing our analyses, we used the Holm-Bonferroni Sequential Correction procedure, which retains the conservative nature of a Bonferroni correction but is more powerful in its ability to detect an effect when it exists, which yielded adjusted alpha levels and p values as reported in Tables 1 to 4 (Abdi, 2010Gaetano, 2013). As a first set of preliminary analyses, we conducted a series of independent samples t tests on whether the two subsamples differed on the relationship belief, media use, and demographic variables. We compared the scores of the PWI participants with those of the HBCU participants. Results are provided in Table 1. Next, we examined intercorrelations among the four media variables and the three heteropatriarchal relationship attitudes. Results are provided in Table 2. Black magazine consumption was significantly related to greater endorsement of the heterosexual script with a medium effect size (r = .28, p ≤ .002) and adversarial sexual beliefs with a medium effect size (r = .29, p ≤ .002). Acceptance of the heterosexual script was significantly related to greater endorsement of adversarial sexual beliefs with a large effect size (r = .83, p ≤ .002) and heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships with a large effect size (r = .48, p ≤ .002). Finally, acceptance of adversarial sexual beliefs was significantly related to greater endorsement of heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships with a large effect size (r = .45, p ≤ .002).

Table

Table 1. Descriptive and Inferential Statistics of Black-Oriented Media Use, Heteropatriarchal Relationship Belief Acceptance, and Demographic Variables.

Table 1. Descriptive and Inferential Statistics of Black-Oriented Media Use, Heteropatriarchal Relationship Belief Acceptance, and Demographic Variables.

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Table

Table 2. Zero-Order Correlations Between Black-Oriented Media Use and Heteropatriarchal Relationship Belief Acceptance.

Table 2. Zero-Order Correlations Between Black-Oriented Media Use and Heteropatriarchal Relationship Belief Acceptance.

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Table

Table 3. Correlations Among Heteropatriarchal Relationship Beliefs and Demographic Variables.

Table 3. Correlations Among Heteropatriarchal Relationship Beliefs and Demographic Variables.

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Table

Table 4. Multiple Regression Analyses of Black-Oriented Media Use Predicting Heteropatriarchal Relationship Beliefs.

Table 4. Multiple Regression Analyses of Black-Oriented Media Use Predicting Heteropatriarchal Relationship Beliefs.

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As a second set of preliminary analyses, we conducted zero-order correlations between the three heteropatriarchal relationship belief variables and the seven demographic variables, including age, mother’s level of education (as a proxy for SES), religiosity, and racial centrality. Categorical demographic variables were coded as follows: sexual orientation (via a 0/1 dummy code, whereby 0 = predominantly or exclusively straight and 1 = predominantly or exclusively gay), romantic relationship status (rescored such that 0 = single/nonpartnered and 1 = partnered), and school (coded 0/1; 0 = predominately White, Midwestern public university and 1 = historically Black, Southeastern public university). Correlations are presented in Table 3. School was significantly related to greater endorsement of adversarial sexual beliefs with a medium effect size (r = .24, p ≤ .001), and racial centrality was significantly related to greater endorsement of heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships with a medium effect size (r = .25, p ≤ .001).

Testing the Main Hypotheses

To examine the role of Black-oriented media use in young Black women’s acceptance of heteropatriarchal relationship beliefs, we conducted a series of hierarchical multiple regressions for each of our three outcome variables: the heterosexual script, adversarial sexual beliefs, and heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships. The demographic controls (racial centrality, religiosity, SES, and school) were entered on the first step and the four media variables (reality TV, magazines, R&B/soul music, and rap/hip-hop music) were entered on the second step. Results are provided in Table 4. We used graphical methods such as histograms, boxplots, and Q-Q plots to identify outliers and to test for normality. Given the large sample size, the small number of outliers that we identified did not affect the results or assumptions for our tests, and as such, we did not exclude these outliers from our analyses (Field, 2013). Concerning our tests for normality, our heteropatriarchal relationship belief variables were normally distributed, with skewness and kurtosis values that all fell within the acceptable ranges of ±2.00 and ±7.00, respectively (Byrne, 2010). Although some of our Black-oriented media variables were positively skewed (rap/hip hop music: 2.08; R&B/soul music: 1.80; Black magazine consumption: 2.94) and had kurtosis values above the acceptable range (Black magazine consumption: 10.36), these deviations from normality are to be expected. Previous studies have discussed how media use variables are often skewed and are still used in regression analyses and with SEM (e.g., see Ahadzadeh et al., 2017Nongpong & Charoensukmongkol, 2016). Additionally, given our large sample size, we were less concerned about the media use variables’ slight deviations from normality (Field, 2013).

Heteropatriarchal Romantic Relationship Beliefs

To test our first hypothesis, we examined whether higher consumption of Black-oriented media would be positively associated with greater acceptance of heteropatriarchal romantic relationship beliefs, including the heterosexual script and adversarial sexual beliefs. Results are provided in Table 4. At step one of the regression, the demographic predictors accounted for 7% of the variation in the heterosexual script. School was significantly associated with endorsement of the heterosexual script, t(572) = 4.98, β = .21, p < .001, sr2 = .04. Adding the media variables to the second step of the regression explained an additional 4% of the variance in the heterosexual script. At step two of the regression, as expected, greater consumption of Black magazines was significantly associated with stronger endorsement of the heterosexual script, t(572) = 4.84, β = .20, p < .001, sr2 = .04. However, reality TV, R&B/soul music, and rap/hip-hop music were not significantly associated with acceptance of the heterosexual script. Overall, the demographic and media predictors accounted for 11% of the variation in the heterosexual script, with a medium effect size, F(8, 564) = 10.19, p < .001, R2 = .11.

At Step 1 of the regression, the demographic predictors accounted for 6% of the variation in the AVSB. School was significantly associated with endorsement of adversarial sexual beliefs, t(571) = 5.13, β = .22, p < .001, sr2 = .02. Adding the media variables to the second step of the regression explained an additional 4% of the variance in the AVSB. At Step 2 of the regression, more frequent Black magazine consumption was significantly associated with greater acceptance of the belief that women and men are fundamentally adversarial in romantic and sexual relationships, t(571) = 4.82, β = .20, p < .001, sr2 = .04. However, exposure to reality TV, R&B/soul music, and rap/hip-hop music were not significantly associated with endorsement of adversarial romantic and sexual relationship beliefs. Overall, the demographic and media predictors accounted for 10% of the variation in the AVSB, with a medium effect size, F(8, 563) = 9.01, p < .001, R2 = .10. These results provide partial support for Hypothesis 1.

Black Heteropatriarchal Romantic Relationship Beliefs

For our second hypothesis, we predicted that greater exposure to Black media would be associated with greater acceptance of Black heteropatriarchal relationship beliefs. At Step 1 of the regression, the demographic predictors accounted for 8% of the variation in the heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships scale. Racial centrality was significantly associated with endorsement of Black heteropatriarchal relationship beliefs, t(563) = 4.66, β = .19, p < .001, sr2 = .04. Adding the media variables to the second step of the regression explained an additional 2% of the variance in the Black heteropatriarchal beliefs scale. At Step 2 of the regression, contrary to our expectations, there were no significant associations between Black reality TV, magazine, R&B/soul music, and rap/hip-hop music consumption and acceptance of heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships. Overall, the demographic and media predictors accounted for 10% of the variation in the heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships scale, with a medium effect size, F(8, 555) = 9.01, p < .001, R2 = .10. These results do not provide support for Hypothesis 2.

 

Discussion

The influence of Black-oriented media on the sexual socialization of Black Americans is a highly theorized yet understudied aspect of scholarship on Black sexual health. Explicit media depictions of sexual and romantic relationships may be an especially relevant source of information for college-aged women as they navigate formative romantic relationship experiences. We examined the associations between young Black women’s media consumption patterns and their endorsement of heteropatriarchal relationship beliefs that sanction male dominance over women and the expectation that women and men are adversarial in romantic relationships. Our results partially support our hypotheses, as findings reveal associations between the frequency with which Black women consumed some genres of Black-oriented media and their acceptance of patriarchal relationship beliefs.

First, as anticipated, we found that levels of Black-oriented media consumption were positively associated with women’s acceptance of heteropatriarchal romantic relationship attitudes (Hypothesis 1). Results varied by medium. Reading contemporary, Black-oriented magazines emerged as a significant predictor of women’s acceptance of heterosexual script beliefs. Specifically, frequently reading magazines targeting Black audiences was positively associated with higher endorsement of inherently unequal roles for women and men in romantic and sexual interactions (heterosexual script) and higher endorsement of the belief that women are fundamentally exploitative, manipulative, untrustworthy, and antagonistic in romantic relationships (adversarial sexual beliefs). Frequent magazine readership was not associated with greater acceptance of heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships.

Second, contrary to our hypotheses, greater consumption of R&B/soul and rap/hip-hop music was not significantly associated with heteropatriarchal beliefs about Black relationships. These findings differ from previous research that highlight how R&B/soul and rap/hip-hop music may be associated with endorsement of hegemonic, patriarchal ideals that facilitate Black women’s sexual passivity and subjectivity (Avery et al., 2016Stephens & Phillips, 2003Stokes, 2007). Furthermore, increased consumption of Black reality television programs was not associated with greater endorsement of participants’ relationship beliefs. Similarly, Coleman et al. (2019) found that Black-oriented reality television consumption did not influence Black women’s endorsement of negative stereotypes about Black womanhood. A few studies have found that Black youth do not blindly accept sexualized television portrayals of Black women as representative of reality and tend to criticize and contest images they perceive as demeaning to themselves, friends, and female family members (Adams-Bass et al., 2014; for review, see Strasburger et al., 2009). The tendency to contest denigrating and stereotypical depictions of Black women on television may help explain why reality TV viewing habits were not found to be associated with hegemonic and patriarchal relationship beliefs in this study. Given that there is a dearth of information available about the sexual content featured in popular reality TV programs that are targeted toward Black audiences, future research should investigate the prevalence of gender and sexual themes in Black reality TV programs. These null results also question whether television exposure levels, based on cultivation theory (Gerbner et al., 2002), should be the focal mechanism. Future research may need to include viewer cognitions such as perceived realism and identification as direct or moderating influences.

Limitations

This study have several limitations that should be acknowledged. First, because this study is correlational, we cannot speculate on the directionality of our effects. That is, we do not know whether media consumption affects romantic relationship attitudes, and/or whether women who endorse hegemonic, patriarchal beliefs about heterosexual relationships are more likely to seek out particular types of Black-oriented media. Second, we examined a narrow set of relationship beliefs that may not be entirely reflective of Black women’s experiences in romantic relationships.

Third, we examined participants’ exposure to a somewhat limited selection of media that included only five magazines, four reality television programs, and two musical genres. Although we selected the titles and genres found to be most popular among Black audiences according to media monitoring reports at the time of data collection (e.g., Nielsen Company, 2013Radio One, 2008), we recognize that the media landscape is constantly changing, and thus, the inclusion of a wider, updated array of Black-oriented media and musical genres (e.g., films, scripted series, sitcoms, reggae) may yield stronger contributions.

Fourth, to obtain a larger and more representative sample, we recruited Black women from two different school contexts. For the purposes of this study, we did not hypothesize about the role of school context in influencing Black women’s Black-oriented media consumption and heteropatriarchal relationship beliefs. We acknowledge that by including school context as a covariate in our analyses, we cannot critically examine the differences among our variables of interest by school context.

Future Research

The findings reported here are just a beginning, and future research should examine Black women’s acceptance of an expanded set of relationship beliefs and their engagement in different kinds of media. For example, studies could investigate whether Black women’s exposure to more progressive media is linked to their endorsement of empowering or egalitarian relationship beliefs. Given that Black women consistently report high digital media use (Nielsen Company, 20172018), future studies should also assess how Black women’s social and digital media use influences their beliefs about romantic relationships.

Finally, emerging literature notes recent shifts in how viewers consume certain types of media (Steiner & Xu, 2020). In particular, expansion of video streaming services may facilitate more consistent, sequential, and prolonged media engagement (i.e., binge-watching television; Steiner & Xu, 2020). As such, future research should consider how Black women’s media exposure and engagement may be shaped by binge media consumption practices.

Implications for Research and Practice

There is a great deal at stake for Black women whose sexual development may be influenced by gendered messages learned from mainstream and Black-oriented media (Coleman, 2013Coleman et al., 2016Ward et al., 2019). Existing data suggest that exposure to narrow representations of hegemonic gender norms can influence Black youth’s attitudes about romantic relationships and dating violence, such as perpetuating the notion that when women agentically express sexual interest and desire, they choose to be sexually objectified, subjugated, exploited, and (ab)used (Squires et al., 2006). Furthermore, these persistent representations may foster the resolute belief that women need a Ruffneck (Moorer, 1993), Rude Boy (Fenty, 2010), or a Soldier (Knowles, Rowland, & Williams, 2004) to be sexually enticed and fulfilled.

If Black women are learning that ideal heterosexual intraracial romantic relationships involve submission to men who display hypermasculine and patriarchal behaviors, they may come to develop a complicity with misogyny and a desire for intimate partners that support Black women’s sexual silence, submission, and subjugation. Previous research indicates that Black women are at greater risk for domination and violence in female-male intraracial relationships due to their broader social location and marginalization (Hussen et al., 2012). In comparison with their White counterparts, Black women are disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence, with nearly one third of Black women expected to experience intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetime (Dorsey, 2020U.S. Department of Justice, 2000). Given the potential influence of Black-oriented media on Black women’s sexual relationships, decision making, and well-being, scholars may want to help develop media literacy interventions that provide Black women and girls with the tools to critically consume, reflect, and counter hegemonic sexist and misogynistic gender narratives (Chung, 2007McArthur, 2016). It might also be worthwhile for scholars to share these findings with content creators, especially those who are seeking to produce more gender progressive content. Such efforts could be conducted via established social justice organizations (e.g., Tolman et al., 2013).

 

Conclusion

The current study has several strengths and provides novel contributions. It extends the predominantly youth-based literature on Black media use and sexual socialization to include Black adult women. Additionally, this study interrogates the unique influences of different media and genres of Black-oriented media on Black women’s relationship beliefs. Furthermore, this study is one of a few to examine heteropatriarchal beliefs within Black relationships. In particular, this study elucidates how increased exposure to some popular, Black-oriented media content is associated with greater acceptance of heteropatriarchal relationship beliefs. Exposure to representations of Black women who display a high level of sexual interest, desire, and assertiveness may help some Black women feel more sexually confident and empowered (Bland & Montemurro, 2015). However, our evidence suggests that such portrayals may also lead Black women to internalize gender-based ideologies that may permit their objectification and domination in romantic relationships.

 

Acknowledgements

We thank Professor Naomi M. Hall-Byers for her extraordinary assistance with our data collection. We would also like to thank professors Abigail Stewart and Sara McClelland for their helpful feedback on this manuscript.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was funded by the University of Michigan Office of Research (UMOR), the Rackham Graduate School, and PI discretionary funds. This research was also supported by a Ford Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to Lanice R. Avery.

ORCID iD
Alexis G. Stanton  https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0922-9808

 

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