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Divine Discrimination: Gender Harassment and Christian Justification.

The present study investigated the relationship between gender harassment, or acts which convey demeaning attitudes about women, and college adjustment. Additionally, we explored whether Christian attribution, or the perception that the perpetrator was motivated by their Christian/ Catholic beliefs to harass, moderated the relationship. Two hundred and twenty-three female-identified students attending a Catholic university in a large city completed the Gender Experiences Questionnaire (Leskinen & Cortina, 2014) and a separate measure of the specific dimension of sexuality policing, indicated whether they made a Christian attribution for experienced harassment, and completed the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (Baker & Siryk, 1989). Christian attribution was not found to moderate the relationship between gender harassment and college adjustment. However, it was found to moderate the relationship between sexuality policing and college adjustment by potentiating its negative effects at lower levels of harassment. Implications and future directions are discussed.


In 1972 Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs, became law (Education Amendments of 1972, 1972). However, over 40 years later sexual harassment is still a pervasive problem for women in higher education (Hill & Silva, 2005; Huerta, Cortina, Pang, Torges, & Magley, 2006). Christian colleges and universities are no exception when it comes to female students' experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence (Anderson, 2014; Field, 2014). While the more severe forms of sexual harassment (e.g., quid pro quo) have lessened in the wake of strict policies and procedures for reporting it, what appears not to have lessened are the subtler and more covert slights made to female students in the form of gender harassment. These acts can range from put-downs about ability to succeed in STEM fields to judgmental comments about engaging in sex. The current study set out to investigate the consequences of gender harassment on college adjustment for women attending Christian/Catholic institutions of higher education who may be uniquely subject to "divine discrimination." (1)

Sexual Harassment: Conceptualizations

The National Advisory Council on Women's Educational Programs (Till, 1980) is credited with producing the first comprehensive document cataloguing sexual harassment on college campuses in America. Their report identified five different types of sexual harassment, ranked in order of severity from least offensive to most. Drawing on the same categorization schema, Fitzgerald et al. (1988) developed the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ) to capture and survey the five dimensions which they identified as: 1) gender harassment, 2) seductive behavior, 3) sexual bribery, 4) sexual coercion, and 5) sexual imposition. Fitzgerald, Gelfand, and Drasgow (1995) revised the SEQ to more concisely identify three dimensions: 1) gender harassment, 2) unwanted sexual attention and 3) sexual coercion. This tripartite conceptualization of the SEQ is now one of the most widely used self-report measures of experienced sexual harassment (Fitzgerald et al., 1995; Fitzgerald et al., 1988).

Fitzgerald et al. (1995), identify gender harassment as "a broad range of verbal and nonverbal behaviors not aimed at sexual cooperation but that convey insulting, hostile, and degrading attitudes about women" (Fitzgerald et al., 1995, p. 430). For example, a supervisor or coworker habitually telling "suggestive stories or offensive jokes" (Fitzgerald et al., 1995, p. 428). Unwanted sexual attention includes a host of undesired behaviors aimed at establishing a sexual relationship with a target who is not interested. The third-dimension of their tripartite model is sexual coercion, or the use of pressure to force a target to cooperate sexually in exchange for job-related benefits (e.g., quid pro quo).

More recently, research on sexual harassment posits that gender harassment is better understood as its own construct distinct from unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion, or the latter two taken together as sexualized harassment (Lim & Cortina, 2005). Simply put, sexualized harassment (i.e., sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention) is experienced as a "come on" whereas gender harassment is a "put down" (Fitzgerald et al., 1995).

Sexualized and Gender Harassment in the Workplace and College

Gender harassment as a separate construct has been minimally studied among college students. The research that does exist using this population found that gender harassment was associated with negative campus climate, poor college adjustment, and negative health and emotional outcomes (Eliason, Hall, & Anderson, 2012; van Roosmalen & McDaniel, 1999). When researchers investigate gender harassment isolated from sexualized harassment, they usually do so with workplace populations. Their findings have linked gender harassment to lower job performance, higher job stress, lower psychological well-being, and decreased health satisfaction (Leskinen, Cortina, & Kabat, 2011; Lim & Cortina, 2005; Raver & Nishii, 2010). Additionally, gender harassment has been found to be more common than sexualized harassment in both workplace and academic populations (Eliason et al., 2012; Fitzgerald et al., 1988; Huerta et al., 2006; Leskinen et al., 2011; Lim & Cortina, 2005; van Roosmalen & McDaniel, 1999).

There is, however, an abundance of research documenting the harm done to college students due to sexual harassment (i.e., sexualized and gender harassment measured as one global construct). Studies measuring sexual harassment using the SEQ (i.e., a measure conflating gender and sexualized harassment) report it being associated with negative campus climate, psychological distress, decreased college satisfaction, and decreased well-being (Buchanan, Bergman, Bruce, Woods, & Lichty, 2009; Cortina, Swan, Fitzgerald, & Waldo, 1998; Huerta et al., 2006). The negative impact of sexual harassment on college students warrants an exploration into the specific consequences of gender harassment, isolated from sexualized harassment for this under-researched population.

Sexuality Policing: Emerging Adulthood and Sexual Purity

Most college students fall into the developmental stage of "emerging adulthood" (Arnett, 2000), sometimes referred to as late adolescence. This culturally specific developmental period, typically ages 18 to 25, is marked by increased identity exploration and significant changes in sexuality and sexual expression. Dating moves from being simply a recreational activity to something more meaningful as young adults take part in a variety of sexual experiences (Arnett, 2000). Experiencing gender harassment through sexuality policing--behaviors by others that attempt to objectify or demean a woman's appearance or sex-related actions (e.g., criticizing a woman for dressing provocatively/"slutty")--may be one of the most pertinent dimensions of gender harassment college-aged women can experience.

Additionally, female students at Christian and Catholic universities may be uniquely at-risk for sexuality policing given the weight of sexual "purity" placed on women (Valenti, 2009), particularly within Christian communities (Dearden, 2015). A study by Mahoney (2008) revealed that a conflict between sexuality and spirituality often emerged in adolescence for women raised in Christian homes. This conflict is rooted in the realization that "their sexual behavior was inconsistent with their Christian religious traditions" (Mahoney, 2008, p. 95). In this culture, undue responsibility is placed on women, who are expected to protect their male counterparts from being sexually tempted (see Arterburn & Stoeker, 2000, pp. 78-82), and are sometimes held as responsible for their own harassment or assault (Field, 2014). One purpose of this investigation is to highlight this particularly salient dimension of experienced gender harassment for college women enrolled in a Christian postsecondary institution.

Judgements of Injustice

Given the lack of consensus among college students as to what constitutes sexual harassment (Hill & Silva, 2005), an appropriate model through which to examine gender harassment is Mikula's (1993) attribution-of-blame model of judgements of injustice. Mikula's model parses out the criteria an event must meet for it to be considered an act of injustice. In short, an injustice is perceived when someone is to blame for an unwarranted violation of a subject (Mikula, 2003). Someone experiencing an injustice within an interpersonal relationship may respond by making an attributional assessment to search for potential causes of the injustice (Mikula Sc Schlamberger, 1985). Depending on the nature of the attribution, the victim can experience varying emotional and psychological reactions (Mikula, 2003; Miller, 2001). The present study explores whether or not attributing the cause of harassment (i.e., an unjust event) to the perpetrator's own Christian or Catholic belief acted as a moderator of harassment impact.

Christianity, Conservatism, and Benevolent Sexism

Many religions, including Christianity, prescribe gender ideologies as part of their overall belief systems. Although there is significant within-group variability, studies show that there is a link between Christian beliefs and traditional gender role attitudes (Harville Sc Rienzi, 2000; Morgan, 1987; Seguino, 2011). Additionally, a meta-analysis revealed that religious people (majority Catholic) tend to favor values that promote conservatism, specifically highlighting the preservation of traditional practices (e.g., traditional gender roles) (Saroglou, Delpierre, & Dernelle, 2004). Although Christianity can promote traditional gender beliefs, which relegate women to a subordinate position to men, Christian institutions tend to reject overt and hostile forms of sexist attitudes and behaviors. Therefore, ambivalent sexism provides a way through which to understand Christian-informed beliefs and attitudes influencing sexist acts (Hall, Maltby, Sc Anderson, 2012).

Glick and Fiske's (1997) theory of ambivalent sexism postulates that sexism towards women is not solely expressed through hostile behaviors. Given the interdependent relationship between the sexes existing within a patriarchal society, individuals express sexism not only through hostile acts meant to exploit and demean women, but also through subjectively positive benevolent behaviors that appear to cherish women and embrace romanticized views of traditional gender roles (Glick & Fiske, 1997). They note that those who endorse benevolent sexist attitudes may appear to praise women, but underlying their admiration is the notion that women are inferior to and dependent on men. Furthermore, the consistent finding that hostile and benevolent sexism are correlated (Glick, Diebold, Bailey-Werner, & Zhu, 1997; Glick & Fiske, 1997) show that these are not competing sexist behaviors, but rather are two sides of the same coin "presuming] traditional gender roles and serv[ing] to justify and maintain patriarchal social structures" (Glick & Fiske, 1997, p. 121).

Scriptural literalism, Catholic religiosity, and both intrinsic and extrinsic religiosities are associated with benevolent sexism (Burn & Busso, 2005; Glick, Lameiras, & Castro, 2002). Mikolajczak and Pietrzak (2014) found evidence that Catholic religiosity promoted benevolent sexism both directly and indirectly through conservative value endorsement. Glick and Fiske (2011) make it clear that "the protection and affection benevolent sexism promises is readily withdrawn when women fail to conform to sexist expectations" (p. 522). For example, Abrams, Viki, Masser, and Bohner (2003) found that those high in benevolent sexism attributed more blame to an acquaintance rape victim (i.e., sexual assault perpetrated by someone known to the victim) than those low in benevolent sexism. In sum, Christians who hold faith-informed benevolent sexist beliefs may also engage in acts of hostile sexism such as gender harassment as a form of correction or punishment for women violating theologically endorsed gender role expectations.

Christian-Motivated Gender Harassment

What may be unique to harassment perpetuated by Christians is the divine justification a perpetrator may feel--a justification that the target of harassment can sense. There exists already evidence to support the use of Christian beliefs for other salient forms of harassment and divine discrimination, most notably anti-gay discrimination (Public Religion Research Institute, 2014; Wolff & Himes, 2010). Christian-motivated harassment against women may operate in more subtle ways compared to anti-gay discrimination, but the same mechanisms underlie the use of religious justification for divine discrimination. Women experiencing this form of divine discrimination may experience even greater negative consequences compared to those who experience harassment without a Christian justification. Given the perceived power and non-negotiability of religion, how does a victim of harassment argue with a perpetrator who believes God is on their side?

A very small number of studies exist to examine divine discrimination across gender lines. Hall, Christerson, and Cunningham (2010) found that for faculty members at an Evangelical university who experienced high levels of harassment, those who attributed the harassment to the Christian belief of the perpetrator had more negative outcomes than those who did not make a Christian attribution. This study provides initial evidence that perceiving Christian motivation for gender harassment does in fact intensify the resulting negative effects and should be explored in a wide range of settings, including Catholic universities and with student populations.

The Present Study

The present study seeks to expand the dearth of literature exploring divine discrimination. Our hypothesis is in line with Hall et al. (2010) and current research that documents the negative associations of gender harassment. We hypothesize that Christian attribution moderates the previously documented negative association between gender harassment and students' college adjustment by potentiating its negative effects. This hypothesis is tested for an overall measure of gender harassment and the specific dimension, sexuality policing.


Participants and Procedure

We recruited a sample of 244 female-identified students from a Catholic university in a large, urban city. This university is deeply rooted in its Catholic identity, serving underprivileged and disadvantaged people while maintaining a commitment to diversity and recognizing the pluralistic composition of its community with regards to race, ethnicity, and religion. We recruited participants from the university's psychology participant pool between September 2014 and March 2015 and awarded class credit for participating. Eighteen participants from the study did not complete study activities, two participants were unable to receive credit for participation, and one participant gave incomplete data. This left us with a final sample of N = 223 participants.

We collected data via an online Qualtrics survey. Due to the stigma associated with labeling experiences as harassing behavior, we deceptively described the study as an evaluation of students' general college experiences. No specific mention was made of gender harassment. Upon electronically signing up for the study, potential participants were re-directed to the online survey for completion. After participants completed the survey, they were shown a debriefing sheet, which explained the true purpose of the study, and were provided with the primary author's contact information if they had any questions or concerns. The institution's IRB approved the protocol used for this study, including the deceptive elements, and all participants used in analysis consented to the research.


Gender harassment. Participants completed the 20-item Gender Experiences Questionnaire (GEQ), a multidimensional self-report measure of gender harassment (Leskinen & Cortina, 2014). Since the instrument was designed to gauge gender harassment associated with the workplace (rather than a university) in the 12 months prior, we tailored the question stem slightly for our research population by asking if they had experienced harassing behavior associated with the university in the 12 months prior. Assessed behaviors included, "Made sexist remarks about people of your gender" and, "Criticized you for not behaving 'like a woman should.'" Participants responded on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 [never) to 5 [many times). Leskinen and Cortina (2014) reported coefficient alphas ranging from .78 to .93 for the subscales and overall measure. We calculated an overall gender harassment score by averaging across the 20 items of the GEQ.

The GEQ does not measure the policing of women's bodies and sexual behaviors, an important dimension of gender harassment for this population. Given this lapse in the GEQ's measurement, we used our expertise in the field of gender and sexuality to brainstorm and create six items that measure the policing of young women's bodies and sexual behaviors. We administered these items with the GEQ using the same question stem and response scale (Appendix) and calculated a sexuality policing score by averaging across the six developed items. For both measures of gender harassment, higher scores indicate increased frequency of gender harassment.

Religious attribution. We used an adapted procedure from Hall et al. (2010) and Eliason et al. (2012) to capture data regarding Christian attribution. If the participant reported harassment (any response to a gender harassment or sexuality policing item other than, never) they were asked, "Do you perceive that those who engaged in the behavior were motivated by their Christian/Catholic beliefs?" Participants responded using a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all motivated by Christian/Catholic beliefs) to 5 (motivated entirely by Christian/Catholic beliefs). Participants reporting a Christian motivation (i.e., any response other than, not at all motivated by Christian/Catholic beliefs) were then asked to briefly write about the situation (data not reported here), the average score across all of the Christian attribution items, with the respective gender harassment measure, rendered a gender harassment Christian attribution score and sexuality policing Christian attribution score. For both, higher scores indicated higher levels of Christian attribution. Participants not reporting any gender harassment in the 12 months prior did not receive any Christian attribution items and therefore did not obtain a Christian attribution score.

College adjustment. Participants completed the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ), which is a 67-item measure of college adjustment (Baker & Siryk, 1989). Measuring four dimensions, this is one of the most frequently used instruments in measuring college adjustment: academic adjustment, social adjustment, personal-emotional adjustment, and institutional attachment. Items include, "I really haven't had much motivation for studying lately." (2)

Participants assessed how well each of the statements applied to themselves on a response scale ranging from 1 (applies very closely to me) to 9 (doesn't apply to me at alt). After reverse scoring necessary items, all items were summed to create an overall college adjustment score, higher scores indicating better adjustment. Meta-analytic results indicated subscale true-score correlations range from .53 to .96 (Crede & Niehorster, 2012, p. 146) and the internal reliability for each subscale and full-scale ranged from .77 to .95 (Baker Sc Siryk, 1999, p. 34).

Demographics. Finally, participants completed a demographics sheet assessing age, race, student status, and sexual orientation. Participants also completed one item asking for their religious affiliation and two items adapted from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Harris et al., 2009) to assess frequency of religious service attendance and importance of faith.


Table 1 shows the demographic characteristics of the final sample. The age range of participants was 18-57, with a mean age of 20.52 years (SD = 3.67) and 214 (96%) participants between the ages of 18 and 25 (i.e., the "emerging adulthood" developmental stage). Most (52%) were first- and second-year undergraduate students, the vast majority (91%) were heterosexual, and over half (59%) of participants identified their race as White. While participants reported over 10 different religious affiliations, reflecting the university's religiously diverse student body, the most reported religion was Catholicism (39%). While 70% of participants reported never or rarely attending religious services, 60% reported their faith as being important to them.

Table 2 contains the means, standard deviations, alpha coefficients, and correlations for the primary outcome variables. First, we used empirical assessment and reliability to establish the sexuality policing measure's construct validity. The instrument demonstrated convergent validity with a significant correlation between gender harassment and sexuality policing (r = .753; p < .01) thus suggesting both instruments measured a similar construct. Additionally, the measure had excellent reliability ([alpha] = .91) on par with the overall gender harassment measure ([alpha] = .93).

Based on all 26 gender harassment items, 204 (92%) participants reported experiencing gender harassment associated with someone at the university in the 12 months prior, with 95 (43%) participants reporting experiencing Christian/Catholic motivated gender harassment. We had hypothesized that Christian attribution would moderate and potentiate the negative association between gender harassment and college adjustment, and we conducted two hierarchical regressions to test this hypothesis for both overall gender harassment and sexuality policing. For each regression, we centered the harassment variable and corresponding attribution variable and calculated an interaction term by multiplying the centered harassment variable by the centered attribution variable. We conducted each regression with two models: in the first model, the centered attribution and centered harassment variables were entered, while in the second model, the interaction term was entered. College adjustment was the dependent variable in both regressions. We conducted all analyses using SPSS Version 23 (IBM Corp, 2015).

For the first regression assessing overall gender harassment, the first model revealed that overall gender harassment and Christian attribution significantly predicted college adjustment, F(2, 196) = 5.068,p = .007; R = .222. The addition of the interaction term in model two, however, did not lead to a significant increase in the total variance of college adjustment, F(1, 195) = .269,p = .604. In other words, Christian attribution did not moderate the relationship between overall gender harassment and college adjustment (Table 3). For the second regression examining sexuality policing, results from the first model indicated that sexuality policing and Christian attribution combined did not significantly predict college adjustment, F(2, 182) = .805, p = .449, R = .094. However, the introduction of the interaction term in the second model explained a significant increase in the total variance of college adjustment, F(1, 181) = 7.902, p) = .005. In other words, Christian attribution significantly moderated the relationship between sexuality policing and college adjustment (Table 4).

As recommended by Aiken and West (1991), we plotted simple slopes for the second regression, with a significant interaction term using Microsoft Excel (Dawson, 2015). We calculated two slopes for Christian attribution, both low (one standard deviation below the mean) and high (one standard deviation above the mean) (Figure 1). Post-hoc simple slopes t-tests revealed that when Christian attribution was high, college adjustment scores did not significantly change as frequency of harassment increased, t(219) = 1.103, p = .271. When Christian attribution was low, however, college adjustment scores significantly decreased as frequency of harassment increased, t(219) = -2.916, p = .004. In other words, the data confirmed the negative regression of college adjustment on sexuality policing at low Christian attribution, but the regression of college adjustment on sexuality policing at high Christian attribution did not significantly differ from zero.


This study explored Christian-motivated gender harassment, or a form of what we term divine discrimination. Notably, gender harassment (with or without Christian undertones) was pervasive in that over 90% of participants, all female-identified, reported experiencing gender harassment from someone associated with the university in the 12 months prior.

Specifically, we had hypothesized that Christian attribution would moderate and intensify the negative relationship between gender harassment and college adjustment for college women. We tested this hypothesis for both overall gender harassment, which was not supported, and more specifically for sexuality policing, which was partially supported. Christian attribution moderated the relationship between sexuality policing and college adjustment, thus providing evidence of divine discrimination. Although it did not intensify the already negative relationship, Christian attribution potentiated the negative effects at lower levels of sexuality policing. In other words, when sexuality policing was lower in frequency, those perceiving their perpetrator's behavior to be motivated by Christian/ Catholic beliefs had lower college adjustment scores than those experiencing the same amount of harassment without the Christian/Catholic attribution. This is the first study to our knowledge that has found evidence for perceived Christian motivation potentiating the negative impact of gender harassment for a sample of college students. This begs the question, why does making a Christian attribution only seem to have a meaningful negative impact on college adjustment when harassment is low in frequency?

Mikula's (1993) attribution-of-blame model of judgments of injustice may provide an explanation. As frequency of sexuality policing increases, subjects may no longer experience it as an unjust event, but as part of the normative environment. As noted by Hlavka (2014), compulsory heterosexuality (Rich, 1980) and heteronormativity (Farrell, Gupta, & Queen, 2004) can normalize the presence of sexualized and gender harassment. Cohen argues that "perceptions of justice are based fundamentally on attributions of cause and responsibility" (1982, p. 119). Actors who engage in behaviors falling within the normative range of what is socially acceptable do not elicit attributional thinking from targets regarding blame and responsibility. Meaning, there is no one to blame for a behavior if the behavior is part of the expected social landscape. Consequently, "if no one is to blame, there is no social injustice" (Folger & Cropanzano, 2001, p. 1). If episodes of gender harassment happen frequently and are not considered unjust, it is possible that the specific effects stemming from the kinds of attributions made for the behavior fluctuate. Christian attribution for gender harassment may potentiate the negative effects of harassment only when it is perceived as an unjust event (i.e., when gender harassment is low in frequency and not part of the normative social environment). In other words, it may not be just an attribution of Christian motivation that moderates the effect of gender harassment on college adjustment, but a specific kind of Christian attribution relating to an experience of injustice--an attribution of blame and responsibility. Future research should parse out the kinds of Christian attributions made for experienced gender harassment and distinguish between those that are assigning blame due to an injustice and those that are not.

Another interesting result of this study was that Christian attribution moderated the impact of sexuality policing, but not overall gender harassment. One possible explanation, noted earlier, is that the GEQ was developed for more professional environments and consequently may not detect the kinds of gender harassment college-aged women experience. Another explanation is found in the common critique that the Christian/Catholic church uses sexuality as a tool of social control, especially for women.

As journalist Mona Eltahawy (2015) states, "All religions, if you shrink them down, are all about controlling women's sexuality ..." (para. 5). The Christian church prescribes normative sexual practices and behaviors, which are juxtaposed against a set of deviant sexual practices. The Catholic Catechism holds that all who are baptized into the Church are called to chastity. Offenses against chastity include lust, sex outside of a marriage (defined as one-man-one-woman), and pornography (The Vatican, 1993). Additionally, while there is great variability among Protestant beliefs, many denominations espouse similar mores (see Grudem, 1994 and The Southern Baptist Convention, 1988). Moreover, sexual sin is taught to be an especially heinous kind of sin. As prominent Evangelical theologian, Wayne A. Grudem writes, "sexual union with someone other than one's own wife or husband is a specially offensive kind of sin against one's own body" (1994, p. 455).

Some Christian communities are characterized by assumed accountability for sexual actions and feelings of pervasive guilt and fear for transgressing the prescribed sexual norms (Sharma, 2008). As such, Christians may feel entitled to policing women's sexuality as both a gesture of loving accountibility or sense of righteous entitlement. Considering the weight some Christians place on adhering to conservative sexual regulations (particularly for women), it is possible that perceived Christian motivation for sexuality policing may intensify the negative result due to the larger implications of religious social control and intensely abhorrent consequences for women who are deemed sexually impure. One suggestion for future research would be to engage in one-on-one interviews with participants who report experiencing gender-based divine discrimination, in order to better understand how this form of harassment relates to purity expectations, shame, and power differentials within faith communities.

Practical Considerations of Gender-Based Divine Discrimination

The implications of this study demonstrate the need for Christian colleges and campus ministries to better understand the nuances and consequences of using faith-based justifications for perceived harmful rhetoric. While Christian college students may be taught both in church and in student ministries to share their faith with those around them, this study provides evidence that these encounters may be experienced as harassing behaviors, not well-intentioned interventions. Using Christian rhetoric to police women for their sexuality and sexual behavior may be perpetuating the notion that Christian churches are unwelcoming or, worse, a source of violence for women. Even if the perpetrator believes they are acting out of love when it comes to addressing women's sexual behavior, being perceived as using a Christian motivation to do so may not only be failing to act as a buffer for the resulting negative feeling, but actively intensify it. N. T. Wright (2002) makes note of this when he writes, "... young Christians must learn how to state the truth without lapsing into rudeness or sneering. The truth of the God of love can't be commended by loveless speech" (pp. 47-48). Christian universities must better understand the nuances of addressing issues that intersect with gender and sexuality--facets of women's identity that are already met with institutionalized mistreatment in the secular world. Otherwise, churches may be perceived as "doubling down" on already existing oppressive structures.

Beyond the college campus, divine discrimination may play a role in the growing disillusionment towards religious identification among young adults. The Pew Research Center (2015) reports that as Millennials (born 1981 to 1996) move from emerging adulthood to adulthood, fewer are reporting a connection with Christian churches--"fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers" (p. 11). An added nuance is that while Millennials may be less inclined to identify with a religious institution, their personal religious or spiritual beliefs may still be just as important to them (Haut, 2016). While most of our sample reported a Catholic religious affiliation, our data reflect this trend in that most participants reported rare to no religious service attendance, but the majority also reported their faith as important. One potential reason generational replacement is an issue with institutional affiliation but not personal faith is that Millennials view any organized Christian church as too judgmental, hypocritical, or insensitive to others (Barna Group, 2015). Instances of divine discrimination may only continue to affirm these beliefs. Solutions focused on the growing issue of generational replacement among Millennials must include a response to the association they make between Christianity and prejudice across lines of gender and sexuality.

Limitations and Conclusions

Several limitations of this study should be noted. Firstly, all data were collected via self-report, which can elicit biases from participants. Another limitation is that this sample was mostly White (59%), and the analysis did not consider the possible nuances relating to the intersectionality of racial/ethnic discrimination with gender discrimination (Buchanan et al., 2009; Kim, Anderson, Hall, & Willingham, 2010). Moreover, while the measure of sexuality policing demonstrated excellent reliability and correlated well with the overall gender harassment measure, it was developed by the authors specifically for use in this study and should be validated in future studies. Another limitation to note is that these data were collected at a Catholic university in a large, urban city. As such, these results should not be generalized to other religious universities, secular institutions, or rural areas. Finally, this cross-sectional study cannot determine causality among the variables explored.

The current study is the first to the author's knowledge that presents evidence of Christian-motivated gender harassment, a form of divine discrimination, for college women. Given that over 90% of the sample reported gender harassment associated with the university, educators and lawmakers need to continue to address sex-based harassment in university settings. Additionally, church leaders and Christians need to be aware of how perceived Christian motivation for gender harassment amplifies resulting negative consequences for college women. Continued effort through research, education, and training can further the goal of sex-based equality in higher education and Christian universities.

Abigail L. Muldoon and Midge Wilson

DePaul University

Author Note: Abigail L. Muldoon, Department of Women's and Gender Studies, DePaul University; Midge Wilson, Department of Women's and Gender Studies, DePaul University. Abigail L. Muldoon is now at the Division of Adolescent Medicine, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Midge Wilson is now in Chicago, IL.

This manuscript is based on a master's thesis written by the primary author under the supervision of the second author. The full thesis manuscript can be found online at etd/190/. A version of the full thesis was presented at the SEPA Annual Meeting in March 2016. This research was supported by DePaul University. The authors would like to thank Christopher Kiley for his review of the data analysis.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Abigail L. Muldoon, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, 225 E. Chicago Avenue, Box 161, Chicago, Illinois 60611 -2991. Telephone: 773-649-1916; Fax: 773-759-7702; Email:


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Author Information

MULDOON, ABIGAIL L. M.A. Address: Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Division of Adolescent Medicine, 225 E Chicago Avenue, Box 161, Chicago, IL, 60611-2991. Email: Title: Sr. Data Manager. Degrees: BS (Psychology), Florida State University; MA (Women's and Gender Studies), DePaul University.

WILSON, MIDGE. Ph.D. Title: Emeritus Professor of Psychology & Women's and Gender Studies. Degrees: BA (Psychology), University of Virginia; MS (Psychology), Old Dominion University; PhD (Social Psychology), University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.


Items Developed for Assessing Sexuality Policing*

* Questions use the same stem and response scale as the GEQ: The stem for all items reads, "During the PAST YEAR, has anyone associated with DePaul University (e.g., professors, classmates/peers, faculty/staff, friends who attend the university) done any of the following behaviors?" Response options ranged from 1 to 5: never to many times.

1. Referred to women as "bitches" or "whores."

2. Reprimanded women need to watch their reputation.

3. Criticized women for dressing "too slutty."

4. Made derogatory remarks about a woman's body size or her lack of attractiveness.

5. Called women "dykes" if they were too masculine-acting, or had hair that was too short.

6. Criticized women for being sexually active/promiscuous.

(1) In prior studies, the phrase "sanctified sexism" (Hall et al., 2010; Hall et al., 2012) has been more commonly used, but we theorize this kind of Christian-motivated prejudicial behavior as a form of "divine discrimination" as it more broadly reflects a host of prejudicial behaviors across multiple dimensions of identity, including sexual orientation, as being justified by religious doctrine.

(2) Sample items of the SACQ copyright [C] 1989, 1999, by Western Psychological Services. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Western Psychological Services, 625 Alaska Avenue, Torrance, California, 90503, U.S.A. Not to be reprinted in whole or in part for any additional purpose without the expressed, written permission of the publisher ( All rights reserved.

Caption: FIGURE 1

Simple slopes of sexuality policing predicting levels of overall college adjustment for low Christian attribution (one standard deviation below the mean) and high Christian attribution (one standard deviation above the mean). Higher scores for overall college adjustment indicate better adjustment.
Demographic Characteristics (N = 223)

Variable                                N(M)    % (SD)

Age                                    20.52      3.67

  Black/African American                  19      8.5%
  White                                  132     59.2%
  Spanish/Hispanic/Latino/a               39     17.5%
  Asian                                   18      8.1%
  Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander         1      0.4%
  Other                                   14      6.3%

Student Status
  First- or second-year student          116     52.0%
  Third- or fourth-year student           98     44.0%
  Other                                    9      4.0%

Sexual Orientation
  Lesbian                                  2      0.9%
  Bisexual                                16      7.2%
  Heterosexual                           202     90.6%
  Other                                    3      1.3%

Religious Affiliation
  Catholic                                86     38.6%
  Atheist                                 12      5.4%
  Agnostic                                22      9.9%
  Protestant                              14      6.3%
  Nondenominational Christian             19      8.5%
  Unitarian/Spiritual                     10      4.5%
  Muslim                                  11      4.9%
  Other (a)                               49     21.9%

Religious Service Attendance
(prior 12 months)
  Never                                   73     32.7%
  Rarely                                  82     36.8%
  At least once a month                   22      9.9%
  At least 2 to 3 times a month           25     11.2%
  Once a week or more                     21      9.4%

Importance of Faith
  Not at all important                    30     13.5%
  Somewhat unimportant                    23     10.3%
  Neither important nor unimportant       36     16.1%
  Somewhat important                      69     30.9%
  Very important                          65     29.1%

(a) This category encompasses all participants who
self-reported their religious affiliation as, "Other"
and those who chose a religious affiliation with fewer
than 10 participants also reporting that affiliation

Means, Standard Deviations, Alpha Coefficients,
and Correlations for Primary Outcome Variables

Variable               M        SD        1          2

1. Overall Gender     1.57     .573     (.93)
Harassment (GH)

2. Sexuality          2.18    1.077    .753 **     (.91)
Policing (SP)

3. Christian          1.19     .384     -.014      .043
Attribution for GH

4. Christian          1.16     .346      .097     .208 **
Attribution for SP

5. Overall College   396.89   68.937   -.221 **    -.094

Variable                 3            4         5

1. Overall Gender
Harassment (GH)

2. Sexuality
Policing (SP)

3. Christian         ([dagger])
Attribution for GH

4. Christian          .371 **     (.70) (a)
Attribution for SP

5. Overall College     -.009        -.018     -0.93

Note. M = mean; SD = standard deviation. Coefficient [alpha]s
are reported in parentheses along the diagonal
of the correlational matrix

([dagger]) Due to listwise deletion, too few cases (N = 1)
for the analysis

(a) Due to listwise deletion, N = 46 (20.6%) for the analysis

** p < .01

Hierarchical Regression Analysis: Gender
Harassment and Overall College Adjustment

Model         Variable                   B       [beta]     p

Model 1       Gender Harassment       -26.664     -.222    .002
              Christian Attribution    -2.175     -.012    .862

Model 2 (a)   Gender Harassment       -26.599     -.221    .002
              Christian Attribution     1.062      .006    .940
              Interaction Term         19.805      .040    .604

Model         Variable                [R.sup.2]    [DELTA]

Model 1       Gender Harassment         .049        .049
              Christian Attribution

Model 2 (a)   Gender Harassment         .050        .001
              Christian Attribution
              Interaction Term

(a) F(3,195) = 3.456, p = . 018

Hierarchical Regression Analysis: Sexuality
Policing and Overall College Adjustment

Model         Variable                  [beta]    [beta]     p

Model 1
              Sexuality Policing       -6.019     -.094    .214
              Christian Attribution      .351      .002    .981
Model 2 (a)
              Sexuality Policing       -6.362     -.099    .182
              Christian Attribution   -25.526     -.128    .144
              Interaction Term         39.913      .242    .005

Model         Variable                [R.sup.2]    [DELTA]

Model 1                                 .009        .009
              Sexuality Policing
              Christian Attribution
Model 2 (a)                             .050        .041
              Sexuality Policing
              Christian Attribution
              Interaction Term

(a) F(3,181) = 3.191, p = .025
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Author:Muldoon, Abigail L.; Wilson, Midge
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Date:Dec 22, 2017
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