When a recent Canadian study of about 30,000 students between 7th and 12th grade found that more boys than girls were victims of physical dating violence, the reaction was one of disbelief. Accusations of male sexual harassment were exploding from the university campuses to the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies, begetting the #MeToo movement.
The most memorable perpetrators of sexual assault against women committed heinous acts: some women had been drugged and raped; others had been fired after they rebuffed an overt sexual assault. But many other acts were considered by both men and women to be normal fun and flirtation. During the media frenzy, abuse against men was never even reported as a footnote as men—good and bad—were accused and labeled as sexual predators.
In the past 38 years, more than 270 studies, with an aggregate sample size of more than 440,000, have found that “women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners” from teenage years on. Since studies of teen dating violence began in the eighties, researchers have found that female high school students are four times as likely as male high school students to be the sole abuser of the other sex (5.7% vs. 1.4%).
The best studies of dating violence differentiate by the severity of violence (according to the Conflicts Tactics Scale). For example, a study conducted by Caulfield and Riggs found that 19% of women vs. 7% of men slapped their female partner. However, when it came to kicking, biting or hitting their partner with a fist, 13% of women vs. 3% of men engaged in those more severe forms of violence. The more specific the questions are, the more both sexes acknowledge the women were between two and three times as likely to hit, kick, bite, or strike their partner with an object.
Among all populations, most violence was mutual. But when it was unilateral, it was more likely to have been initiated by the woman. For example, in a study of over 500 university students, women were three times as likely (9% vs. 3%) to have initiated unilateral violence.
Yet these studies have rarely made headlines. Instead, as we watch on TV the tears of only a female victim, it breaks our heart and thus catalyzes our empathy for female victims and our anger at male perpetrators. In contrast, the teenage males do not go on TV and report the humiliation they experienced. The Huffington Post recently updated a story about male victims of sexual assault at Brown University. In one case, it was male on male sexual assault. The victim told HuffPo, “It’s time to include male survivors’ voices. We are up against a system that’s not designed to help us.”
When a teenage female is a victim of dating violence, she often experiences humiliation, self-doubt and sometimes self-blame. In researching The Boy Crisis, I discovered that this is also true for a teenage male. Fortunately, women no longer fear they will be laughed at when reporting domestic violence to the police. However, a teenage male still fears that if he calls the police and says, “Please come over, my girlfriend has been hitting me with a frying pan,” he’ll become the precinct’s Wimp of the Night.
Men are fair game in today’s media culture. They are mocked, disparaged and humiliated by advertisers and in sitcoms routinely. Notice this FOX TV ad for the ratings season—an hour-long “tribute” to guys being hit in the testicles. Notice: a tribute to violence against males. Instead of being condemned, it’s ranked as “the world’s funniest.”
Now here comes the really scary part if you have a college-age son. Twenty-six states have some version of an “affirmative consent” law either passed or in process. It works like this: if your son is in college and asks a woman on a date, and she accepts, but during that date, he reaches over to take her hand, she can accuse him of sexual assault. Yes, you read that correctly.
The rationale? He touched her before he asked her. And before waiting for an affirmative consent (e.g., “Yes, you may hold my hand”). If she does say “Yes” at the hand-holding stage, he must nevertheless repeat his request for an affirmative consent each time he desires increased intimacy (e.g., a kiss on the lips; then a tongue kiss).
Chances are that very few women will respond with an accusation of sexual assault at the hand-holding stage. But should your son and the woman end up in a relationship, and he breaks up with her, or is found to be having another relationship, or did not tell her he was in a relationship when he asked her out, she, in a fit of anger, could report him to the college authorities because she felt that their being sexual was something she wouldn’t have done had she known that.
Now here’s the rub. In most cases, he is not entitled to face his accuser with a lawyer by his side. No due process for the accused because of how the Office for Civil Rights, under Title IX, requires a “preponderance of evidence standard” as opposed to a “clear and convincing evidence” standard for convicting an accused male student. Even if she later retracts her claim, saying she had consented but was angry at your son for breaking up with her and “wanted to hurt him like he hurt me,” the Title IX investigator of her claim is not allowed to drop the claim of assault. Nor is the investigator allowed to write in his or her report that she changed her assessment– that she had consented.
This atmosphere of “believe her”*— without corroborating evidence is making many teenage males afraid of dating a woman. Here’s why he feels caught between a rock and a hard place.
If a man initiates too much, too soon, in the wrong way, with the wrong woman, with the wrong tone of voice, at the wrong time, his future might be ruined. Yet if he initiates with too much caution, he fears he’ll be thought of as a wimp, or hear, “you’re such a sweet guy; I’d love just to be friends.”
When we don’t know that dating violence in college is more likely to be perpetrated by females, we begin to believe that male violence is built on a foundation of misogyny, rather than feeling that the greater amount of violence against boys and men suggests equal doses of misandry and that our laughing at it or ignoring it suggests a much deeper misandry than misogyny.
The original feminist message of “I am woman, I am strong,” has morphed into “I am woman, I’ve been wronged.” Feminist support of “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions” and special “safe spaces” for only women, combined with protests against any speakers who do not believe in males-as-oppressors, and women-as-oppressed (patriarchal theory), is the opposite of empowerment feminism. It is victim feminism. Feminism has been honing victimhood as a fine art. This form of feminism is not the feminism I joined up to support when I served three years on the Board of N.O.W. in NYC. It is not feminism; it is infantilism.
Is there a way for young men and women to share the risks of sexual rejection–not by option, but by expectation? Risk-taking is the common denominator of the world’s most successful people. They believe that failure and rejection are life lessons that propel them to greater achievements.
When each sex creates a safe environment for the other to express feelings, not repress feelings, both sexes grow in compassion and love. If a man is not going to fear women, feeling like he’s walking on eggshells between courtship and a law court, then let’s begin by transforming the #metoo monologue into a #metoo dialogue.
Whenever only one sex wins, both sexes lose.