Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Data? Who needs data when you got belief?

Years ago in my travels through the plethora of verbiage written by people both brilliant and retarded, I stumbled across this quote from American humorist Josh Billings:

"It ain't what a man don't know that makes him a fool, it's the things he does know, that ain't so."

While I don't agree with everything the man ever said, that one really resonates with me. Setting aside the questionable grammar and gender-specific wording, it encapsulates my concerns with a lot of modern society, contemporary feminism being just one thick branch of an enormous, blighted Tree of Ignorance.

Humans are inclined to believe what they are told by...well, by smart people. Especially so when what we are told reflects some or many aspects of our observed reality. The more sure those intellecshul, book-learned folk are in their convictions, the more convinced we often are that they're right. However, again Josh Billings:

"As scarce as the truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand."

Quote one and quote two simplified: ignorance is less dangerous than misplaced or unfounded belief; and people just don't want to hear the truth a lot of the time.

These two concepts are effectively demonstrated by two facts that can be considered "common knowledge" among the masses, and which are held up as evidence by feminist academics when presenting their theories of how society currently works and therefore how it needs to be changed. 

One is the 2% false rape report statistic we see repeated all over the place, and which I will deal with in a day or two. The other is the "patriarchal terrorism" paradigm of domestic violence, portrayed as typical in much of feminist academia and currently lopsided public policy, as well as in popular culture, through highly visible, big budget movies like "Enough" and "Sleeping with the Enemy." 

In contrast to the above movies, 1993's "Men Don't Tell", starring Judith Light and Peter Strauss, was deemed fit merely for TV, has vanished into celluloid obscurity, and is the only film I can even think** of depicting a man as both a victim of domestic violence and in need of help to deal with the situation. That this movie, which aired two years after the release of "Sleeping with the Enemy", would have been considered controversial would be grossly understating the case. Yet it hardly generated a shrug from society before it quietly disappeared. 

That even the prospect of controversy--which we're told sells like mad--was not enough to outweigh the resistance of society to have its long-held beliefs challenged in any way, indicates just how serious the double whammy of quote one + quote two really is when considering gender and domestic violence.

When the prevailing theory in much of academia, the prevailing focus of public policy, the prevailing gender bias in popular culture, and our own instinctive impression that men are aggressive and potentially dangerous, all tell us the same thing, it's no wonder society swallowed PT as the primary dynamic responsible for domestic violence. When this prevailing collective awareness of DV as primarily perpetrated by men on women is balanced by a single, obscure TV movie and this, it's no wonder that collective belief can overshadow a person's own experiences enough for them to write them off as "the exception that proves the rule."

Society thinks it knows how domestic violence works, because it believes what it is shown, not what is true. I still run across glib comments like, "What, you mean when she bruised his knuckles with her face?" all over the place, and from people I used to believe were intelligent.

In recently discussing this paper and my Female Privilege Checklist with a feminist and an academic (though not a feminist academic, if you will), I was asked to define "reciprocate" in a domestic violence context, the implication being the same tired, trite notion that women will only hit when they're defending themselves. 

I replied "reciprocal violence = two people who beat the shit out of each other for whatever reason and no matter who started it. But if you want to define it as defending oneself, that's cool with me, since in the majority of cases where two people beat the shit out of each other for whatever reason and no matter who started it, the woman actually hit first."

The paper summed up the findings of dozens [now hundreds] of empirical studies done since 1985, with a combined community data set of 109,000 [now 360,000] subjects, that demonstrate:

  1. both genders are roughly equally likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence
  2. women are slightly more likely to be the instigators in reciprocally violent relationships
  3. the vast majority of DV is reciprocal, and the most common contributors are personality disorders, poor communication and conflict resolution skills, mental/emotional instability, substance abuse, attachment issues and external stressors
  4. women are slightly more likely to suffer severe injury from battery; however, women even the playing field by being more likely to hit with objects or use weapons
  5. both genders can be deeply traumatized by their victimization
  6. in cases where a partner is severely violent against a non-violent partner, the perpetrator is roughly twice as likely to be female than male. That a terroristic, controlling dynamic within DV exists is not in question, but "matriarchal terrorism" is twice as common as "patriarchal terrorism"

I then asked my online feminist debate partner to read the paper and bring up the findings in her women's studies class, and let me know what happens. 

She said she'd bring it up with her department chair and her dissertation committee. I cried foul play--I don't want to know what a handful of people are prepared to say behind closed doors when they're presented with a mountain of empirical evidence that calls bullshit on the prevailing wisdom. I want to know what would transpire when the bullshit-calling happens in a feminist-controlled forum filled with young female students eager to learn about the struggles and concerns of women. 

What I expect to happen is exactly what happened when feminist academics were repeatedly confronted with this veritable geiser of statistical information that did not conform to theories they'd developed decades ago through examination of biased data sets (arrest/report rates, conviction rates, self-selecting rather than random samples, etc). That is, as Dutton et. al expressed so eloquently in their paper:  

The "belief perseverance" processes used against new data sets to maintain the feminist paradigm include the following: first, to deny female violence while generalizing male violence patterns from the "patriarchal terrorist" group to all batterers and in some cases, all men (disconfirmed by the Straus surveys). Then, to attack the Straus surveys for ignoring the "context of violence": suggesting that females were using violence defensively (disconfirmed by Stets and Straus and other studies cited above,) or that females were substantially more injured (disconfirmed by Archer). When all of these conceptual shields failed, the final step was to attack quantitative research in general (e.g. Bowman,1992; Yllo, 1988).
In other words, criticize the data that presents domestic violence as an equal opportunity offense. Then, when the data is demonstrated to be sound, argue that the reports do not provide "context" (which is where you start hearing ridiculous theories such as "women hitting first are hitting in pre-emptive self defence" or "women are triggering the violence because it's a way to feel they have control over an aspect of their victimization" or "it's like a safety release valve--she instigates before his violence has a chance to build up to homicidal levels"). Then, when women hitting men is contextualized by the female research subjects themselves (who frequently attribute it to anger, substance abuse, the feeling that their partner isn't listening to them, outside stress, jealousy, or their own need to control their partner), it's onto the assertion that "okay, maybe women DO hit men, and maybe they DON'T always do it in self-defence, but they're MUCH more likely to be injured", so men hitting women is still the bigger problem.

When empirical evidence disproves the idea that women are much more likely to be physically injured--even severely injured--it's onto the assertion that "okay, so maybe men get physically hurt as much as women, but the psychological effects are MUCH more damaging to women". When it is again demonstrated empirically that though insufficient data exists, what data there is indicates men often suffer deep psychological trauma from being battered, the hypothesis is then presented (in a 2002 article published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, no less) that the trauma men may suffer in reciprocally violent relationships could be from their perpetration of abuse, rather than their victimization. In other words, men hitting women traumatizes women, and men hitting women traumatizes men. The fact that this absurd and completely baseless hypothesis apparently did not apply in the opposite direction--that women could be traumatized by their own perpetration of abuse--speaks volumes about the agenda of the authors, and the peers who reviewed the study.  

And finally, when everything has been painstakingly picked apart and shaken out and empirically proved or disproved, the response of some feminists is...well, to claim that the scientific method itself is a research methodology developed by the Patriarchy in a time when women were oppressed, and therefore not to be trusted. 

This is comparable to a Creationist claiming the fossil record was planted by Satan to weaken people's belief in god. 

The research that spawned the "patriarchal terrorism" paradigm was flawed at the outset. Data derived from biased samples such as arrest/conviction statistics, domestic violence shelters (where ~100% of adult victims, at least at the time, were women), and court-ordered abuse prevention programs (where ~100% of perpetrators at the time were male), gave academics a skewed picture of domestic violence as overwhelmingly perpetrated by men upon women. The biased data fit the feminist world-view of patriarchy as a system that encourages and condones the oppression of women as a group by men, as opposed to a system that oppresses men and women in different ways, and imparts different privileges on each gender. Still, feminism clings to its dominant paradigm of DV the way it clings to the idea that men were never historically oppressed and never can be oppressed due solely to their gender, while women have never and can never be privileged by virtue of their own. 

But to conclude that men are the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of DV through analysis of crime statistics that show a prevalence of male abusers and female victims is to conclude from this that more rapes occur in Canada than in all but five other nations. On could assume that for every woman raped in, say, Japan, more than nine are raped in Canada, or one could assume that social stigmatization of victims are less daunting in Canada and a victim's odds of getting justice are higher, so Canadian women who are raped are more likely to report it. Without other evidence to contextualize the data, there's no way to prove one or the other conclusion, or some combination of both, is at work. 

Sufficient empirical data, derived from random community samples, now exists to disprove the "patriarchal terrorism" paradigm of DV, and demonstrate that women are as likely to be offenders as men. However, criminal statistics are still the predominant method not only for formulating public policy (such as victim's services and shelters, crisis lines, etc), but also in continuing to erroneously portray to the public the nature of the problem as mostly due to male violence and mostly inflicted upon women. 

When you consider the data derived from the CTS community samples gathered since 1985, this is a huge indictment of both our public health and criminal justice systems. Public policy vastly disproportionately allocates resources toward female victims of DV, leaving half of all victims twisting in the wind. And arrest and conviction rates that defy empirically gathered evidence can only mean that men are disproportionally held criminally accountable for DV, while female perpetrators, by and large, get away with their crimes. This is a system that re-victimizes male victims by pretending they don't exist, and victimizes both men and children by pretending that female perpetrators don't exist.

The lack of victim's services for men combined with the gender bias in the legal system's handling of DV can only perpetuate the cycle of men underreporting their victimization, leading to a more deeply entrenched societal belief that women are the primary victims and men the primary offenders. 

This disparity between reality and what is reflected in criminal statistics could be alleviated through modest changes in public policy, a focus on more reliable, less biased data sources, and a less sexist approach to police enforcement. The only thing standing in the way is adherence to an almost religious dogma that, if it ever was accurate--which is highly doubtful--is certainly not reality now.

**If anyone can think of other good examples of movies or TV shows that portray DV in a more balanced and accurate way, please suggest them in the comments. :)


  1. Thought this was relevant:


  2. Haha, I remember you posting that one on reddit. Hypocrisy is all the rage these days, isn't it?

    What frustrates me most about the DV thing is that everyone holds up the overrepresentation of male perpetrators in crime stats and victims' services usage stats as "proof" that DV is almost always a male-on-female crime. But how are men supposed to use services that don't exist? How are they supposed to consider reporting a realistic option when they go looking for services for men and find none, or go to gov't sponsored websites and see no mention of men as a significant percentage of victims? You can't get stats from male DV shelters that don't exist, right? And you can't get crime stats on female perps if women are almost never charged, even in cases where it's clear to the police on scene that a particular woman is an abuser.

    What should be seen as evidence of gender bias in the system that needs remedy, is instead used as a justification to continue the gender bias.

    That would be like the Ugandan government saying, "Rape is not a problem in Uganda," when the real problem is that rape is legally sanctioned by the system there, and women are hideously disenfranchised.

  3. "That would be like the Ugandan government saying, "Rape is not a problem in Uganda," when the real problem is that rape is legally sanctioned by the system there, and women are hideously disenfranchised. "

    Are you comparing the horrible plight of third world women to privileged white men in the US? Nice derailing, "what about the menz?"


  4. While I'd much MUCH rather be a white male in North America than a woman in Uganda, the example wasn't given as a comparison of relative disenfranchisement (I leave that to feminists who write textbooks claiming women in America are as restricted in their mobility, freedom of expression and personal autonomy as women in Afghanistan).

    It was offered as a more extreme and obvious example of the "chicken or egg" circular justification used to defend gender-biased social policy. :P

  5. Even as a believer, this quote by a non-believer has for decades been one of the things I always strive to live by:

    “What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what 'the stars foretell,' avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable 'verdict of history' – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”


Commenting policy:

All comments are welcome here. I refuse to censor points of view that differ from my own.

I recognize that I may be challenging the deep-seated beliefs of some people, and perhaps stirring up emotions in others. However, I would ask:

- if you care to respond to anything that I have said, please do not simply link to or quote some statistic. Do not simply regurgitate things you have been told are true. Think about what I am saying. Respond with an argument. Offer something from your personal observations, and explain to me how you feel your statistic is connected to your experience.

- If you wish to be part of a discussion, try not to dismiss what I or a another commenter says out of hand. Yes, that means that some lines of thought or ideologies may not stand up to scrutiny (perhaps even my own).

- Remember, ad hominem attacks diminish everyone involved. If you want to criticize anything, do so passionately and directly - but debate is about attacking ideas, not people.

Have at you!