The Media’s One-sided Gender Story
What would we think of a marriage counselor who wanted to hear only, say, the husband's side? Would we think the counselor had any chance at all of being fair, of being capable of rendering an objective, sensible summation of a married couple's relationship? Hardly.
Yet relatively few people complain about – or are even aware of – the media's decades-old practice of hearing virtually only the female side, or feminist side, to the male-female dynamic. That is one reason such groups as the American Association of University Women can say, “Gender equality is 50 years away.”
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- A NOW Feminist of the Year unintentionally tells how women oppress men and perpetuate feminist rage against MEN
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Traditional stereotypes have led to double standards that often cause women’s violence—especially against men—to be trivialized.
The arrest of an Olympic gold medalist on charges of domestic violence would normally be an occasion for a soul-searching conversation about machismo in sports, toxic masculinity and violence against women. But not when the alleged offender is a woman: 32-year-old Hope Solo, goalkeeper of the U.S. women’s soccer team, who is facing charges of assaulting her sister and 17-year-old nephew in a drunken, violent outburst. While the outcome of the case is far from clear, this is an occasion for conversation about a rarely acknowledged fact: family violence is not necessarily a gender issue, and women—like singer Beyoncé Knowles’ sister Solange, who attacked her brother-in-law, the rapper Jay Z, in a notorious recent incident caught on video—are not always its innocent victims.
Male violence against women and girls has been the focus of heightened attention since Eliot Rodger’s horrific rampage in California last month, driven at least partly by his rage at women. Many people argue that even far less extreme forms of gender-related violence are both a product and a weapon of deeply ingrained cultural misogyny. Meanwhile, the men’s rights activists also brought into the spotlight by Rodger’s killing spree defend another perspective—one that, in this case, is backed by a surprising amount of evidence from both research and current events: that violence is best understood as a human problem whose gender dynamics are much more complex than commonly understood.
There is little dispute that men commit far more violent acts than women. According to FBI data on crime in the U.S., they account for some 90% of known murderers. And a study published in American Society of Criminology finds that men account for nearly 80% of all violent offenders reported in crime surveys, despite a substantial narrowing of the gap since the 1970s. But, whatever explains the higher levels of male violence—biology, culture or both—the indisputable fact is that it’s directed primarily at other males: in 2010, men were the victims in almost four out of five homicides and almost two-thirds of robberies and non-domestic aggravated assaults. Family and intimate relationships—the one area feminists often identify as a key battleground in the war on women—are also an area in which women are most likely to be violent, and not just in response to male aggression but toward children, elders, female relatives or partners, and non-violent men, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Violence.
In the thousands of reports over the decades on men’s violence against women, one point is consistently — and strategically — ignored: Men rescue and save women far more than women rescue and save men, who are far more often in peril. -Male Matters
Last April, when Connecticut high school student Maren Sanchez was stabbed to death by her a classmate allegedly because she refused to go to the prom with him, feminist writer Soraya Chemaly asserted that such tragedies were the result of “pervasive, violently maintained, gender hierarchy,” male entitlement, and societal “contempt for the lives of girls and women.” But what, then, explains another stabbing death in Connecticut two months earlier—that of 25-year-old David Vazquez, whose girlfriend reportedly shouted, “If I can’t have you, no one can!” before plunging a knife into his chest shortly after Vazquez said he was leaving her for a former girlfriend? Or the actions of a 22-year-old former student at New York’s Hofstra University who pleaded guilty last November to killing her boyfriend by deliberately hitting him with her car due to a dispute about another woman? Or the actions of the Florida woman who killed her ex-partner’s 2-year-old daughter and tried to kill the woman’s 10-year-old son last month shortly after their breakup?
Research showing that women are often aggressors in domestic violence has been causing controversy for almost 40 years, ever since the 1975 National Family Violence Survey by sociologists Murray Straus and Richard Gelles of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire found that women were just as likely as men to report hitting a spouse and men were just as likely as women to report getting hit. The researchers initially assumed that, at least in cases of mutual violence, the women were defending themselves or retaliating. But when subsequent surveys asked who struck first, it turned out that women were as likely as men to initiate violence—a finding confirmed by more than 200 studies of intimate violence. In a 2010 review essay in the journal Partner Abuse, Straus concludes that women’s motives for domestic violence are often similar to men’s, ranging from anger to coercive control.
Critics have argued that the survey format used in most family violence studies, the Conflict Tactics Scale, is flawed and likely to miss some of the worst assaults on women—especially post-separation attacks. Yet two major studies using a different methodology—the 2000 National Violence Against Women Survey by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published last February—have also found that some 40% of those reporting serious partner violence in the past year are men. (Both studies show a much larger gender gap in lifetime reports of partner violence; one possible explanation for this discrepancy is that men may be more likely to let such experiences fade from memory over time since they have less cultural support for seeing themselves as victims, particularly of female violence.)
Violence by women causes less harm due to obvious differences in size and strength, but it is by no means harmless. Women may use weapons, from knives to household objects—including highly dangerous ones such as boiling water—to neutralize their disadvantage, and men may be held back by cultural prohibitions on using force toward a woman even in self-defense. In his 2010 review, Straus concludes that in various studies, men account for 12% to 40% of those injured in heterosexual couple violence. Men also make up about 30% of intimate homicide victims—not counting cases in which women kill in self-defense. And women are at least as likely as men to kill their children—more so if one counts killings of newborns—and account for more than half of child maltreatment perpetrators.
What about same-sex violence? The February CDC study found that, over their lifetime, 44% of lesbians had been physically assaulted by a partner (more than two-thirds of them only by women), compared to 35% of straight women, 26% of gay men, and 29% of straight men. While these figures suggest that women are somewhat less likely than men to commit partner violence, they also show a fairly small gap. The findings are consistent with other evidence that same-sex relationships are no less violent than heterosexual ones.
For the most part, feminists’ reactions to reports of female violence toward men have ranged from dismissal to outright hostility. Straus chronicles a troubling history of attempts to suppress research on the subject, including intimidation of heretical scholars of both sexes and tendentious interpretation of the data to portray women’s violence as defensive. In the early 1990s, when laws mandating arrest in domestic violence resulted in a spike of dual arrests and arrests of women, battered women’s advocates complained that the laws were “backfiring on victims,” claiming that women were being punished for lashing back at their abusers. Several years ago in Maryland, the director and several staffers of a local domestic violence crisis center walked out of a meeting in protest of the showing of a news segment about male victims of family violence. Women who have written about female violence, such as Patricia Pearson, author of the 1997 book When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence, have often been accused of colluding with an anti-female backlash.
But this woman-as-victim bias is at odds with the feminist emphasis on equality of the sexes. If we want our culture to recognize women’s capacity for leadership and competition, it is hypocritical to deny or downplay women’s capacity for aggression and even evil. We cannot argue that biology should not keep women from being soldiers while treating women as fragile and harmless in domestic battles. Traditional stereotypes both of female weakness and female innocence have led to double standards that often cause women’s violence—especially against men—to be trivialized, excused, or even (like Solange’s assault on Jay Z) treated as humorous. Today, simplistic feminist assumptions about male power and female oppression effectively perpetuate those stereotypes. It is time to see women as fully human—which includes the dark side of humanity.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.
See also “Open Letter to Senate Judiciary on the VAWA.”
“Since women, without provocation, batter and kill children, whom they supposedly have been socialized to love, they can, without provocation, batter and kill men, whom they definitely have been socialized — by the media, feminist literature, and the Violence Against Women Act — to distrust, fear, and hate.
“If feminists don’t take women’s violence and abuse as seriously as we take men’s, why should men take women’s opinions as seriously as we take men’s? After all, according to ideological feminists’ own — and correct — definition of hate crimes, an act of violence is merely an opinion acted out, a view transformed into behavior.”
Janet Bloomfield | Thought Catalog | June 15, 2014
When Lara Stemple, a researcher at UCLA looked at the latest National Crime Victimization Survey, she was shocked to see that men experienced rape and sexual assault almost as frequently as women, and that women were often the perpetrators. Once the definition of rape was expanded to include more than just penetration, it became clear that men and women were equally likely to be raped, and more importantly, equally likely to be rapists. Researchers from the University of Missouri got the same results, finding that “43% of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95% said a female acquaintance was the aggressor.”
Researchers from the University of Missouri got the same results, finding that “43% of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95% said a female acquaintance was the aggressor.”
Sexual assault on college campuses and how that is handled has been all over the news lately, with even the President taking time to address the issue. But almost without exception, all the cases given as examples involve women as victims and men as perpetrators. Yet the survey and the confirmation from independent researchers indicates that men are often the victims and women the perpetrators.
So yes, let’s teach men what sexual consent means and how to obtain it. But let’s teach women that, too, because there are apparently a lot of women who do not understand the concept very well. Let’s teach men that women can be assailants and that they are under no obligation to accept or remain silent about unwanted sexual aggression from women. If consent is indeed “sexy”, then it needs to be applied equally. Current campaigns to encourage enthusiastic consent almost always target men, which is why I find them so irritating. It’s not the consent part that annoys me, it’s the fact that the campaigns imply that only men need to be certain they have on-going, enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity. This plays into the stereotype that men are little more than animals, willing to have sex at all times, with any willing or unwilling partner. I hope we can all agree that this is, indeed, a stereotype that is deeply insulting and dehumanizing. If we recast consent to include both men and women, we can accomplish two things simultaneously: we can get both men and women to understand that unwanted sexual behavior is assault whether it comes from men or women, and that women are equally capable of being the perpetrators.
Given my previous column about men’s reproductive rights and the fact that they effectively do not have any, and can be forced into parenthood, it seems particularly compelling that we teach men to understand unwanted sexual behaviors from women as rape and assault because a rape that ends in a pregnancy can mean a lifetime of consequences for the man who was raped. He will still be liable for any child that results from the encounter, whether he participated willingly or not. Think that is a joke? It’s happening already. Women who become pregnant after statutory rape can and do sue the boys they raped for child support. When Jane Crane raped a 15 year old boy in Ohio, she was charged with a felony and awarded child support. From her victim. Even when the rape is more physically aggressive, the woman will still be awarded child support from the man she raped. Jessica Fuller aggressively raped Kris Bucher and was awarded support for the child that resulted.
How can women aggressively rape men? It’s very simple: men do not fight back because they will be the party arrested, as specified under the Violence Against Women Act, which has a mandatory arrest clause that almost always means the man will be arrested, no matter who the primary aggressor happened to be. A man who physically, violently resists unwanted sexual behaviors or any other physical attack from a woman will be arrested, and most men know that. That is why Solange felt perfectly safe slapping, kicking and punching Jay Z. If he lifted a finger in his own defense, he would be the one arrested.
Given that men have no reproductive rights, and given that men will be arrested if they physically resist unwanted sexual aggression from women, it is even more vital that we begin educating men about consent and victimization. But there is no point educating men if we are not going to educate women at the same time. A popular poster campaign suggests that we need to teach men not to rape. Well, okay. As long as we teach women not to rape, too. All rape is bad. No matter who the victim is, no matter who the assailant is. It’s not okay.
And we especially need to teach men that when it comes to being the victim of rape, they are the ones with the most to lose.
Janet Bloomfield blogs at JudgyBitch.com and is a regular contributor at A Voice for Men
A Male Matters Foreword:
Society consists of two “worlds”: the world of work (the productive world) and the world of children (the reproductive world). Obviously each needs the other for its survival, so both are needed for civilization’s survival. Hence, the two worlds are equally important. Despite this equal importance, what do you suppose is the result thus far of the 40-year-old push for “gender equality”? It seems to be this: We are ending men’s dominance in the world of work (The Economist: “Women are gradually taking over the workplace”) and, largely because “women are the ones who give birth,” preserving women’s dominance in the world of children.
This does not bode well for the hope of a violence-free society.
By Janet Bloomfield | Thought Catalog | May 30, 2014
The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as “rest[ing] on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion, and violence.
The right to make decisions regarding reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence. No one in their right mind, surely, would ever argue that women should be coerced into parenthood simply by virtue of the fact that they are women, nor would anyone argue that women who refuse to accept parenthood should be arrested and jailed or otherwise treated with any kind of violence, state-sanctioned or otherwise. But that is exactly what happens to men.
I am a staunch defender of women’s right to bodily autonomy, including the right to discontinue any pregnancy that is happening in her body. I don’t particularly require the sophistry of fetus or clump of cells or potential human being to support abortion rights. I have no problem accepting that abortion is killing a human baby. I don’t think that’s a relevant fact, and it is certainly not one that trumps a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. That human baby cannot exist without her body, and her body belongs to her full stop. I do not believe any person, man or woman, should be able to force a woman to carry through with a pregnancy, so obviously, I do not accept any arguments that men should have a say over abortion as valid.
I’m a lot more interested in what happens when a woman decides that yes, the pregnancy will continue and a live child will be produced. At that point, what options does a woman have if she prefers not to parent that child?
Let’s start with legal parental surrender, normally identified as Safe Haven laws. These laws allow women of infants of varying ages (it depends on the state) to leave an otherwise unharmed infant in a designated spot, at which point she is absolved of all social, legal, financial and moral responsibility. The laws were enacted to prevent women from simply abandoning infants they did not want. Four states are very explicit that only women may take advantage of haven laws (Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota and Tennessee) but the rest use the word “parent”, which is obviously gender neutral. But in practice, no father can surrender his infant without the mother’s explicit permission, so these laws are de facto only available to women.
Women are also under no legal requirement to identify the father of their child and if the father is not listed on the birth certificate, he has no legal rights at all. Certainly men can pursue legal rights by establishing paternity, but it is up to men to enforce their rights. Women can, and do, surrender infants for adoption without notifying or identifying the father of the child. These are very high risk adoptions for the adopting couple, because there is always a chance the father will appear and attempt to assert his rights, but the fact remains that women can, once again, relieve themselves of all social, legal, financial and moral responsibility for a child they do not want.
Men cannot do any of those things. They have no say in abortion, which is correct and right. But once a living, breathing child exists, only the mother can legally absolve herself of all responsibility for that child.
The most common argument against men having reproductive rights is the old “keep it in your pants” one, which we would never accept as an argument for why women should be forced into parenthood. Having sex is not consent to parenthood for women, so why should it be for men? The next level of argument is that “only women can get pregnant” but there is no direct relationship between pregnancy and parenthood, as all the step, foster and adoptive mothers can tell you. We could, theoretically, allow women abortions, so they can avoid pregnancy, but still require them to legally adopt a child from the foster care system, for example, for every abortion they have. This is rather like the situation men find themselves in. Would we ever in a million years suggest this is a rational or sane thing to do?
The fact is that birth control fails. It also gets sabotaged. Condoms break. Vasectomies don’t work. There is no 100% way to prevent pregnancy for either men or women, other than complete celibacy. When those failures happen, women have at least three different ways to reject the responsibility of parenthood and men have none. There is a word for forcing men to accept responsibility for a child they did not intend and do not want: coercion. The WHO says reproductive rights require that no person be coerced into parenthood, meaning that men do not have reproductive rights, as long as that coercion exists.
So what is the solution? What would reproductive rights look like for men? Well, rather similar to what they look like for women. When an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy occurs, the woman, and only the woman will decide if her body will host that pregnancy to term. But even after the child is born, she may opt out of parenting that child by surrendering it for adoption. If men had the same rights, they too would be able to legally surrender their rights and allow the mother or any other individual to assume legal responsibility for the child.
It’s not even that hard to administer. Do you or do you not wish to assume responsibility for this child? But it hits on an uncomfortable truth. Culturally, we seem to think that men are utilities and that children belong to their mothers and are entitled by birth to male resources. Men are not allowed to choose parenthood, but will instead have their rights trampled in the “best interests of the child”, a condition that does not apply to women. It’s hardly in the “best interests of the child” to be aborted before birth, and we do not hold women to that standard because their bodily autonomy trumps the best interests of the child.
If our goal as a society is to move towards one in which every child is wanted by both parents, then granting men reproductive rights would be a huge step in that direction. Knowing that men can and will surrender parental rights will likely motivate both parents to carefully consider the ramifications of bringing children into this world. Of course, reproductive rights for men must be accompanied by reproductive rights for women, including access to safe, affordable reliable abortion services.
If the pro-choice community really wanted to see a huge leap in support for abortion and reproductive services for women, they would throw their weight behind reproductive rights for men.
As usual, when everyone has equal rights, we all come out ahead.
By Cathy Young | RealClearPolitics.com | May 29, 2014
Last weekend’s horror in Santa Barbara, where 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded more than a dozen before shooting himself, unexpectedly sparked a feminist moment. With revelations that Rodger’s killing spree was fueled by anger over rejection by women and that he had posted on what some described as a “men’s rights” forum (actually, a forum for bitter “involuntarily celibate” men), many rushed to frame the shooting as a stark example of the violent misogyny said to be pervasive in our culture. The Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen sprung up as an expression of solidarity and a reminder of the ubiquity of male terrorism and abuse in women’s lives. Most of the posters in the hashtag were certainly motivated by the best of intentions. But in the end, this response not only appropriated a human tragedy for an ideological agenda but turned it into toxic gender warfare.
For one thing, “misogyny” is a very incomplete explanation of Rodger’s mindset, perhaps best described as malignant narcissism with a psychopathic dimension. His “manifesto” makes it clear that his hatred of women (the obverse side of his craving for validation by female attention, which he describes as so intense that a hug from a girl was infinitely more thrilling than an expression of friendship from a boy) was only a subset of a general hatred of humanity, and was matched by hatred of men who had better romantic and sexual success. At the end of the document, he chillingly envisions an ideal society in which women will be exterminated except for a small number of artificial-insemination breeders and sexuality will be abolished. But in an Internet posting a year ago, he also fantasized about inventing a virus that would wipe out all males except for himself: “You would be able to have your pick of any beautiful woman you want, as well as having dealt vengeance on the men who took them from you. Imagine how satisfying that would be.” His original plans for his grand exit included not only a sorority massacre he explicitly called his “War on Women,” but luring victims whom he repeatedly mentions in gender-neutral terms to his apartment for extended torture and murder (and killing his own younger brother, whom he hated for managing to lose his virginity).
Some have argued that hating other men because they get to have sex with women and you don’t is still a form of misogyny; but that seems like a good example of stretching the concept into meaninglessness—or turning it into unfalsifiable quasi-religious dogma.
Of course, four of the six people Rodger actually killed were men: his three housemates, whom he stabbed to death in their beds before embarking on his fatal journey, and a randomly chosen young man in a deli. Assertions that all men share responsibility for the misogyny and male violence toward women that Rodger’s actions are said to represent essentially place his male victims on the same moral level as the murderer—which, if you think about it, is rather obscene. And the deaths of all the victims, female and male, are trivialized when they are commemorated with a catalogue of often petty sexist or sexual slights, from the assertion that every single woman in the world has been sexually harassed to the complaint that a woman’s “no” is often met with an attempt to negotiate a “yes.”
A common theme of #YesAllWomen is that our culture promotes the notion that women owe men sex and encourages male violence in response to female rejection. (It does? One could much more plausibly argue that our culture promotes the notion that men must “earn” sex from women and treats the rejected male as a pathetic figure of fun.) Comic-book writer Gail Simone tweeted that she doesn’t know “a single woman who has never encountered with that rejection rage the killer shows in the video,” though of course to a lesser degree.
Actually, I do know women who have never encountered it. I also know men who have, and a couple of women who have encountered it from other women. I myself have experienced it twice: once from an ex-boyfriend, and once from a gay woman on an Internet forum who misinterpreted friendliness on my part as romantic interest. There was a common thread in both these cases: mental illness aggravated by substance abuse.
Yes, virtually all spree killers are male, though there are notable exceptions such as Illinois mass shooter Laurie Dann and Alabama biology professor Amy Bishop; but the number of such killers is so vanishingly small that a man’s chance of being one is only slightly higher than a woman’s. As for the more frequent kind of homicide feminists often describe as expressions of murderous misogyny—such as killings of women by intimate partners or ex-partners—the gender dynamics of such violence are far more complex. If patriarchal rage and misogynist hatred are the underlying cause, how does one explain intimate homicide in same-sex relationships without resorting to tortuous, ideology-driven pseudo-logic? How does one explain the fact that some 30 percent of victims in such slayings are men (excluding cases in which a woman kills in clear self-defense)? What feminist paradigm explains the actions of Clara Harris, the Houston dentist who repeatedly ran over her unfaithful husband with a car (and got a good deal of public sympathy)? Or the actions of Susan Eubanks, the California woman who shot and killed her four sons to punish their fathers, apparently because she was angry about being “screwed by men” after her latest boyfriend walked out?
Defenders of #YesAllWomen say that the posts in the hashtag do not target all men. Maybe not; but they push the idea that all women—including women in advanced liberal democracies in the 21st Century—are victims of pervasive and relentless male terrorism, and that any man who does not denounce it on feminist terms is complicit. They wrongly frame virtually all interpersonal violence (and lesser injuries) as male-on-female, ignoring both male victims and female perpetrators, and express sympathy for boys only insofar as boys are supposedly “raised around the drumbeat mantra that women are not human beings.” And sometimes, they almost literally dehumanize men. A tweet observing that “the odds of being attacked by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067, while a woman’s odds of being raped are 1 in 6 … yet fear of sharks is seen as rational while being cautious of men is seen as misandry” was retweeted almost 1,000 times.
One can argue endlessly about the real lessons of the Elliot Rodger shooting, including the complex dilemma of responding to danger signs from mentally ill people without trampling on civil liberties. Perhaps, as Canadian columnist Matt Gurney writes, the most painful lesson is that no matter what we do, we cannot always prevent “a deranged individual … determined to do harm to others” from wreaking such harm—if not with guns, then with knives or with a car. But the worst possible answer is a toxic version of feminism that encourages women to see themselves as victims while imposing collective guilt on men.
Cathy Young writes a weekly column for RealClearPolitics and is also a contributing editor at Reason magazine. She blogs at http://cathyyoung.wordpress.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63. She can be reached by email at CathyYoung63@gmail.com.
Related reading at end.
Christina Hoff Sommers | Time | May 15, 2014
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a TIME contributor, and author of several books, including The War Against Boys. She hosts a weekly video blog The Factual Feminist.
On January 27, 2010, University of North Dakota officials charged undergraduate Caleb Warner with sexually assaulting a fellow student. He insisted the encounter was consensual, but was found guilty by a campus tribunal and thereupon expelled and banned from campus.
A few months later, Warner received surprising news. The local police had determined not only that Warner was innocent, but that the alleged victim had deliberately falsified her charges. She was charged with lying to police for filing a false report, and fled the state.
Cases like Warner’s are proliferating. Here is a partial list of young men who have recently filed lawsuits against their schools for what appear to be gross mistreatment in campus sexual assault tribunals: Drew Sterrett—University of Michigan, “John Doe”—Swarthmore, Anthony Villar—Philadelphia University, Peter Yu—Vassar, Andre Henry—Delaware State, Dez Wells—Xavier, and Zackary Hunt—Denison. Presumed guilty is the new legal principle where sex is concerned.
Sexual assault on campus is a genuine problem—but the new rape culture crusade is turning ugly. The list of falsely accused young men subject to kangaroo court justice is growing apace. Students at Boston University demanded that a Robin Thicke concert be cancelled: His hit song Blurred Lines is supposedly a rape anthem. (It includes the words, “I know you want it.”) Professors at Oberlin, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Rutgers have been urged to place “trigger warnings” on class syllabi that include books like the Great Gatsby—too much misogynist violence. This movement is turning our campuses into hostile environments for free expression and due process. And so far, university officials, political leaders, and the White House are siding with the mob.
It appears that we are in the throes of one of those panics where paranoia, censorship, and false accusations flourish—and otherwise sensible people abandon their critical facilities. We are not facing anything as extreme as the Salem Witch Trials or the McCarthy inquisitions. But today’s rape culture movement bears some striking similarities to a panic that gripped daycare centers in the 1980s.
In August 1983, an anguished mother reported to the police that her 2-year old son had been horrifically abused in the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California. She described a network of underground tunnels where school staff had sodomized her child and forced him to watch animal sacrifices. The mother was mentally disturbed and her story had no basis in reality. But the news media seized on the story, and paranoia about Satanic Cults became a national epidemic. Parents were already on edge: advocacy groups, politicians, and the media had warned that nearly 50,000 children were being abducted by strangers, and 4,000 of them murdered, every year. As news of the McMartin barbarity spread, daycare personnel in schools across the nation found themselves implicated in the crime of satanic-ritual child abuse. A national network of abuse-therapists promptly materialized. Through the use of intimidating interviewing techniques, they egged on children to “remember” terrible abuses in their daycare.
The abuse therapists were joined by an influential group of conspiracy-minded feminists, including Gloria Steinem and Catharine MacKinnon. When a few civil libertarian feminists—Carol Tavris, Wendy Kaminer, Ellen Willis, and Debbie Nathan—tried to blow the whistle on the witch-hunt, they were vilified by the conspiracy caucus as backlashers, child abuse apologists, and “obedient ‘daddies’ girls of male editors.”
From the start of the scare in 1983 until its ending in the mid-1990s, untold numbers of children were subject to manipulative therapies and hundreds of innocent adults faced charges of ritual child abuse. Several of the accused would spend years in prison for crimes that never happened. A recent Slate article called it “one of the most damaging moral panics in America’s history,” which only began to abate when skeptical journalists got round to checking facts and asking questions. A 1985 story in the Los Angeles Times informed readers that, according to FBI reports, the number of child kidnappings by strangers in 1984 was 67, not 50,000
Today’s college rape panic is an eerie recapitulation of the daycare abuse panic. Just as the mythical “50,000 abducted children” fueled paranoia about child safety in the 1980s, so today’s hysteria is incited by the constantly repeated, equally fictitious “one-in-five women on campus is a victim of rape”—which even President Obama has embraced.
The one-in-five number is derived from surveys where biased samples of respondents are asked an artful combination of straightforward and leading questions, reminiscent of the conclusory interviews behind the daycare agitation. A much-cited CDC study, for example, first tells respondents: “Please remember that even if someone uses alcohol or drugs, what happens to them is not their fault.” Then it asks: “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever had vaginal sex with you.” (Emphasis mine.) The CDC counted all such sexual encounters as rapes.
Reputable studies suggest that approximately one-in-forty college women are victims of rape or sexual assault (assault includes verbal threats as well as unwanted sexual grabbing and fondling). One-in-forty is still too many women. But it hardly constitutes a “rape culture” requiring White House intervention.
Once again, conspiracy feminists are at the forefront of this movement. Just as feminist psychologists persuaded children that they had been abused, so women’s activists have persuaded many young women that what they might have dismissed as a foolish drunken hookup was actually a felony rape. “Believe the children,” said the ritual abuse experts during the day care scare. “Believe the survivors,” say today’s rape culturalists. To not believe an alleged victim is to risk being called a rape apologist.
Some will say that these moral panics, while overblown, do call attention to serious problems. This is deeply mistaken. The hysteria around daycare abuse and campus rape shed no light: rather they confuse and discredit genuine cases of abuse and violence. Molestation and rape are horrific crimes that warrant serious attention and vigorous response. Panics breed chaos and mob justice. They claim innocent victims, undermine social trust, and teach us to doubt the evidence of our own experience.
E.M. Forster said it best in A Passage to India, referring to a panic among “good citizens” following a highly dubious accusation of rape: “Pity, wrath, and heroism filled them, but the power of putting two and two together was annihilated.”