Blog By Barry

January 27, 2009

Response to Christina Hoff Sommers, part 3: Truths and Lies

In a speech, self-described “conservative feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers said:

Let me turn to my second major objection to contemporary feminism: its reckless disregard for the truth. In doing research for my books, I looked carefully at some standard feminist claims about women and violence, depression, eating disorders, pay equity and education. What I found is that most –- not all —- but most of the victim statistics are, at best, misleading –- at worst, completely inaccurate. […]

I partly agree with Sommers: Too many feminists — including those we rely on to get facts right (such as academics and published writers) — have been careless about fact-checking their claims. Critiquing a textbook on domestic violence, Sommers writes:

Zorza also informs readers that “Between 20 and 35 percent of women seeking medical care in emergency room in America are there because of domestic violence.” This claim is ubiquitous in the feminist canon. But is it false. There are two legitimate studies on emergency room admissions: one by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and another by the Centers for Disease Control. The results of both indicate that domestic violence is a serious problem, but that it is far down on the list of reasons women go to emergency rooms. Approximately one half of one percent of women in emergency rooms are there seeking treatment for injuries from domestic violence.

Sommers cites a second recent textbook, The Penguin Atlas Of Women In The World, which repeats the same error. And she’s right — it is an error. (Although, as I’ll show in a future post, Sommers’ counter-claims are just as false.)

I think this is the strongest of Sommers’ claims. Sommers is right to say that “false assertions, hyperbole and crying wolf undermine the credibility and effectiveness of feminism in general.” And many errors could easily be avoided if authors just checked primary sources — something that professional writers and academics should do routinely.

Within feminism, there’s sometimes too little skepticism regarding statistics and news stories which emphasize harms against women. We’ve created a culture which does a rotten job of self-correction.

But although she has a point, Sommers is still substantially wrong, for two reasons. First, Sommers conflates unambiguous errors of fact — which will inevitably happen sometimes, especially in a movement the size of modern-day feminism — with well-reasoned disagreements. And secondly, Sommers’ own work is full of errors, and at times actually deceptive.

In her lecture, Sommers writes:

Some of you are probably thinking –- the literature on feminism is vast and complex –- there are bound to be some mistakes. So what? But I and other investigators have not found “some mistakes.” What we have found is a large body of blatantly false information. The Domestic Violence Law textbook and the Penguin Atlas of Women in the World are not the exception. They are the rule.

So here’s Sommers’ argument:

1) Feminist writers sometimes repeat “blatantly false information.”

2) This errors are the rule, not the exception. This is documented in the works of Christina Hoff Sommers and “other investigators.”

3) Therefore, feminism, as a rule, consists of “a large body of blatantly false information.”

The trick here is in point 2. Sommers wants us to believe that her critiques of feminism, as well as those by “other investigators,” are filled with examples of feminists making unambiguous factual errors. But that’s not true. In Sommer’s book Who Stole Feminism?, Sommers does catch feminists making some unambiguous errors, but most of the book is taken up by subjective political disagreements, not by fact-checking.

In order to accept that Sommers’ work demonstrates that a “reckless disregard for truth” is the “rule,” “not the exception,” we’d have to accept that anytime a feminist disagrees with Christina Hoff Sommers — because such disagreements take up most of Sommers’ work — that is evidence of a reckless disregard for the truth. But of course, it’s no such thing.

So what do I mean when I say that most of work consists of subjective political disagreements? By “subjective political disagreements,” I mean issues that reasonable, honest people, basing their opinion on well-founded evidence, can disagree with Christina Hoff Sommers on.

I will focus on one example: the rape prevalence research of Mary Koss. Koss’ research is probably the single example that “conservative feminists” have used most often to “prove” feminist dishonesty, ((Think I’m exaggerating? Here is an incomplete list of books which rehash the “conservative feminist” arguments against Koss’ research: The Morning After by Katie Roiphe; The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism by Carrie Lukas; Dead End Feminism by Elisabeth Badinter; Lip Service by Kate Fillion; Tax-funded Politics by James T. Bennett; A Nation of Victims by Charles J. Sykes; Moral Panic: Biopolitics Rising by John Feteke; The New Victorians: A Young Woman’s Challenge to the Old Feminist Order‎ by Rene Denfeld; The Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell; Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? by Warren Farrell, Steven Svoboda, & James P. Sterba. It’s likely there are additional books I’m unaware of, not to mention dozens of articles and hundreds of website.)) starting in the early 1990s in books like Sommers’ own Who Stole Feminism?, and continuing to this day (Heather MacDonald published an attack on Koss’ research just last year). According to the Independent Woman’s Forum, ((A Sommers-influenced “conservative feminist” think tank.)) Koss’ research is the “number one feminist myth” in America.

So what was Koss’ rape research? In the 1980s, Koss pioneered a new approach to surveying populations about their past experiences with rape. Where previous surveys measured rape prevalence by asking respondents a single, sometimes hilariously vague question (“Has anybody ever attacked you in any other way?”), Koss asked a series of comparatively specific questions (“Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man threatened or used some degree of a physical force (twisting your arm, holding you down, etc.) to make you?”) about respondents’ experiences.

Koss’ study of “hidden rape” proved three important facts, which feminists and criminologists had long suspected: that rape happened much more frequently than official numbers indicated; that most rapes aren’t committed by strangers; and that most rapes are never reported to police or other authorities.

Koss’ study, in the decades since, has led two parallel lives. In one life — a life lived in books funded by right-wing foundations, anti-feminist websites, and the like — Koss’ work is an enduring symbol of feminist dishonesty and deception, and is considered a discredited joke, trotted out for rehashed debunkings every couple of years.

In another life, however — a life lived among academic experts — Koss’ work has been amazingly successful. Decades later, her work is respectfully cited in peer-reviewed studies — a few years ago I found that just two of Koss’ articles had been cited over six hundred times. ((In Who Stole Feminism, Sommers claims that Koss’s work is frequently cited by activists but “not so much by established scholars in the field of rape research.” It would in fact be hard to name a scholar of rape prevalence who has been cited more often in the professional literature.))

Although subsequent research has arguably improved on Koss’ 1980s work, her insight — that rape victims are more likely to recount their experiences in response to a series of behaviorally-specific questions — is accepted by virtually all published rape prevalence researchers. And Koss’ central findings (described above) have been replicated in study after study, including two major studies conducted by the Federal government.

By ordinary academic standards, a frequently-cited study which has been replicated multiple times is solid work. That’s not to say that Koss’ study was perfect — no study ever is — but citations plus replication is the gold standard.

Of course, reasonable people can sometimes disagree with professional researchers, and Sommers and other “investigators” are entitled to their opinions. ((To delve into the details of the debate, including detailed responses to the arguments most often brought up by Sommers and other “investigators,” see my past posts about the Koss controversy.)) But Sommers’ position on Koss’ research isn’t that reasonable people can disagree. Instead, she and other “investigators” have repeatedly used Koss’ research as their major example of feminist lying, even though Koss’ results are widely accepted by experts and have been replicated over and over.

This is the central dishonesty of Sommers’ thesis: She claims her work shows that feminists “as a rule” have “reckless disregard for the truth,” but most of her book concerns matters that an honest person could easily disagree with Christina Hoff Sommers about. ((It’s not just rape prevalence research; I could make similar arguments for how Who Stole Feminism? treats topics like domestic violence, education, the wage gap, etc….))

Sommers has to frame all her disagreements with mainstream feminism as feminist lying, because that is the basis of her case against feminism. If she admits that reasonable, honest feminists can disagree with Christina Hoff Sommers, she loses her claim that modern feminism consists of “a large body of blatantly false information… at best, misleading –- at worst, completely inaccurate.”

* * *

Earlier this post, I said that “Sommers’ own work is full of errors, and at times actually deceptive.” In my next post in this series, I’ll back that statement up, using her discussion of emergency room admissions as my example.

This post appears both at “Alas, a Blog” and at “Blog By Barry.” To facilitate intra-feminist dialog, the comments at “Alas” are only open to feminists, while the comments at “Blog By Barry” are open to all.


January 26, 2009

“Caucasian or any other ethnicity”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ampersand @ 12:44 am

Derik Kirk Kim has been posting about the upcoming movie based on the animation Avatar: The Last Airbender. Although in the original series the four lead characters seemed to be Asian, in the movie the parts have been cast with white actors.

Back in my Drama days in high school, I used to dream of being white so I could pursue acting.

With discrimination like this “Avatar” casting continuing to happen uncontested in Hollywood, my future kids will nurse the same pitiful wish.

And it infuriates me.

If my future kids feel a passion for acting, I want them to be able to pursue it just like any other American. If they’re forced to give up that passion due to a genuine lack of talent or hard work, fine. But I don’t want their dreams to be clipped at the bud by some unassailable, universally accepted dismissal of their existence on the face this country.

Derek also includes this infuriatingly clueless quote from one of the white actors cast:

Due in theaters in summer 2010, “Airbender” has already begun to face a bit of controversy over the casting of white actors like Rathbone, Ringer and McCartney to play Asian characters — a concern the actor was quick to dismiss. “I think it’s one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan,” he said of the transformation he’ll go through to look more like Sokka.

Excuse me, I must go pound my head against my desk for a little while.

Okay, back.

Derek, who is an excellent cartoonist, is encouraging everyone to write letters to the producers, but is also collecting the names of arts and entertainment professionals:

Since the outraged fans seem to be getting ignored by Paramount, I am starting a petition for professionals in the arts and entertainment industry who want to condemn this move and boycott this discriminatory film if it isn’t recast. If you’re involved in the Film/TV/Animation/Comics/Literary fields in any way and you find Paramount’s racist actions even the least bit reprehensible, please leave your name and occupation in the comments. Or email it to me if you know me personally. If you’re a media or political figure who could also make a strong statement by adding your name to the list (Mr. President?), please do so. I will continue to collect the names as long as they come in and eventually make a comprehensive list to distribute publicly and send to Paramount.

So if you’re an arts or entertainment industry person, please go over and leave your name.

In a follow-up post, Derek quotes the original casting call for the Airbender leads. All four of them begin with the same phrase:

AANG: 12-15 years-old, Male, Caucasian or any other ethnicity.

This is hardly a race-neutral style of casting (not that it should have been race-neutral at all); it implies, as Derek suggests, that they always intended to have a Caucasian lead cast. And as Derek points out, when they sent out a casting call for Airbender extras, suddenly the “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” language was missing; instead, applicants were encouraged to come “in the traditional costume of your family’s ethnic background.”

* * *

In theory, I’m not against race-blind casting. If the entire geek-movie industry had a strong, consistent tradition of race-neutral casting — if movie producers were open to casting people of color as Buttercup and Wesley, as Aragorn and Gandolf and Frodo, as Buffy and Angel, as Susan and Peter, as Mary Jane and Peter Parker — then I think there’d be a much better case for a race-blind casting of Airbender. I’m confident audiences can accept good actors of any color in the leads of fantasy adventure movies (and other movies, as well, but I tend to focus on geek culture).

But in practice, “race-blind” casting seems to mean that the best roles for people of color are reserved for actors who appear white — and the best roles for white people are also reserved for actors who appear white. It’s ugly, and it’s racist. And it creates a view of the world, in our movies and TV shows, that’s impoverished and narrow.

* * *

In Derek’s comments, a couple of people criticize Derek’s protest, on the grounds that the movie studio is just doing whatever it thinks will make a profit.

I have to admit, I’m not sure what their point is. Certainly, it’s possible for a decision to be both profitable and racist. Does that mean we shouldn’t protest the racism?

Bringing up “profits” doesn’t lead to the conclusion that we shouldn’t protest this sort of thing. It leads to the conclusion that we should be protesting as much as we possibly can. The more protesting we do, the more the buzz for this movie is hurt, the more producers will understand that racist casting choices aren’t profitable. If there are fans outside a hundred opening-day theatres passing out flyers saying “please don’t see this racist movie,” that might convince movie producers to avoid whitewashing adaptations in the future.

January 23, 2009

Obama Revokes Global Gag Rule, Is Expected To Restore UNFPA Funding

Filed under: UNFPA — Ampersand @ 3:55 pm

Back in March, I wrote that I’d vote for either Clinton or Obama, because I was confident that either one of them would restore US funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA for short, odd as that may seem). It’s an obscure issue — but the funds will save tens of thousands of lives, as well as helping thousands of women recover from fistula. There is simply no organization providing this kind of essential medical care to women in as many countries as the UNFPA does. ((You can get a background on the UNFPA issue from this post.))

So I’ve got reason to be happy today:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed an executive order ending the ban on federal funds for international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option.

Liberal groups welcomed the decision while abortion rights foes criticized the president. Known as the “Mexico City policy,” the ban has been reinstated and then reversed by Republican and Democratic presidents since GOP President Ronald Reagan established it in 1984. Democrat Bill Clinton ended the ban in 1993, but Republican George W. Bush re-instituted it in 2001 as one of his first acts in office.

Obama signed it quietly, without coverage by the media, late on Friday afternoon, a contrast to the midday signings with fanfare of executive orders on other subjects earlier in the week. […]

In a move related to the lifting of the abortion rule, Obama also is expected to restore funding to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), probably in the next budget. Both he and Clinton had pledged to reverse a Bush administration determination that assistance to the organization violated U.S. law.

The Bush administration had barred U.S. money from the fund, contending that its work in China supported a Chinese family planning policy of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization. UNFPA has vehemently denied that it does.

I’m unhappy Obama did this so quietly, but I’d rather have substance than a press conference. No matter how much I end up hating Obama in a few years time, this one act makes him enormously better than any Republican would have been. Tens of thousands of lives better, in fact.

P.S. I didn’t really talk about the Global Gag (aka Mexico City) Rule, but overturning that is sensational as well. For bloggers talking about the Global Gag Rule today, see: Feministe, The Kitchen Table, Shakesville, and Democracy Arsenal.

Is Criticizing Israel Dangerous For Your Career?

Filed under: Palestine & Israel — Ampersand @ 1:51 pm

Ezra Klein, using himself as an example, says that “Criticizing Israel is not an act of courage because it’s not actually dangerous for your career.”

Well, it’s certainly true that it hasn’t been a problem for some people’s careers. Ezra is fine. Stephen Walt’s career seems okay, although I doubt he’ll be getting a White House nod.

But there are two important areas where people’s careers are threatened. First, and most importantly, you’d have a hard time finding a single Senator or Representative willing to criticize Israel’s policies — a unity that puts the US Congress radically out of line with the country’s split beliefs. Jon Stewart aptly described how Israel is treated by national politicians: “It’s the mobius strip of issues — there’s only one side.”

We also saw this during the presidential campaign, when Obama dumped Robert Malley as an adviser, after Malley was criticized for being pro-negotiations and anti-Israel. I’d say that Malley’s criticism of Israel has damaged his career prospects. I doubt Obama will be calling on Professor Khalidi’s advice anytime soon, either.

Secondly, there are persistant attempts to squash the careers of academics who criticize Israel. Because tenure and hiring processes tend to be secret, it’s impossible to know which complaints are legitimate — but the widespread (and correct) perception that if you criticize Israel, powerful academics like Alan Dershowitz may not just disagree with you but attempt to destroy your career, has surely had some sort of silencing effect.

This doesn’t mean that criticism of Israel has been wiped out; many academics criticize Israel quite loudly, despite the opposition. But I don’t think “speech hasn’t been entirely wiped out, so there’s no problem!” is a persuasive argument.

UPDATE: Ezra clarifies that he only meant to refer to journalists:

Barry Deutsch is right that congressmen and potential political appointees have more problems. Just ask Rob Malley and Zbigniew Brzezinski what happens to your access in Obamaland after the Israel Lobby decides you’re on the wrong side.

NY Gov Selects Kirsten Gillibrand For Senate, Throwing Latin@s, Queers, and Progressives Under The Bus

So Clinton’s replacement in the Senate will be Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, a conservative Democrat who has often voted with Republicans on immigration issues and LGBT issues. From Wayne Barrett in The Village Voice:

Gillibrand has described her own voting record as “one of the most conservative in the state.” She opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, supports renewing the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning up to $1 million annually, and voted for the Bush-backed FISA bill that permits wiretapping of international calls. She was one of four Democratic freshmen in the country, and the only Democrat in the New York delegation, to vote for the Bush administration’s bill to extend funding for the Iraq war shortly after she entered congress in 2007.

Gillibrand is against drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, and co-sponsored the SAVE act, a right-wing proposal intended to make life harder for undocumented immigrants, without facilitating legal immigration or addressing economic conditions driving immigration. (The SAVE act was also terrible politics for the Democratic party.)

On LGBT issues, Gillibrand has “voted against the repealing of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation, opposed legislation that would grant equal tax treatment for employer-provided health coverage for domestic partners, opposed legislation to grant same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents the same immigration benefits of married couples, and opposed legislation to permit state Medicaid programs to cover low-income, HIV-positive Americans before they develop AIDS.”

On the other hand, as Liss points out, now that Gillibrand is facing a statewide Senate race in 2010, she’s abruptly discovered her inner gay rights activist:

“After talking to Kirsten Gillibrand, I am very happy to say that New York is poised to have its first U.S. Senator who supports marriage equality for same-sex couples,” said Van Capelle. “She also supports the full repeal of the federal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) law, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) and passage of legislation outlawing discrimination against transgender people. While we had a productive discussion about a whole range of LGBT concerns, I was particularly happy to hear where she stands on these issues.”

Hooray for lack of principles! Hopefully she’ll flop just as flippily on immigration issues.

Nonetheless, I’d rather have a real progressive in that seat. Hopefully she’ll be challenged in the 2010 primary.

One more bad thing about this selection — as Scott points out, her House seat isn’t a safe seat for Democrats, and this increases Republican odds of taking that seat.

UPDATE: It turns out that Gillibrand didn’t vote against any of those four LGBT issues, because they were never brought to a vote. (Thanks to Timothy at Box Turtle Bulletin for pointing this out to me.)

She did, however, turn down the chance to co-sponsor all four of those bills. All four of the bills had over a hundred Democratic co-sponsors, so they weren’t small or obscure bills; and according to HRC’s Congressional Scorecard (pdf link), Gillibrand has the worst record of supporting GLBT issues of any New York Democrat. So it’s fair to say that Gillibrand has been the least supportive Representative of any Dem from New York.

Nonetheless, she hasn’t actually voted against these things, so it’s not as bad as it at first appeared.

January 21, 2009

Cathy Young responds to me regarding feminist hatred of men

Filed under: Christina Hoff Sommers — Ampersand @ 10:57 pm

I was thrown off my horse by strep throat, but I am planning to continue my series responding to Christina Hoff Sommers.

First, however: Over at The Y Files, columnist Cathy Young responds to part two of my series.

Cathy begins, I think, by misunderstanding what I meant when I said “If man-hating is so pervasive in contemporary feminism, why don’t men in feminism encounter it more?” Cathy responds:

Barry says he hasn’t seen any male-hating attitudes from feminists except for a few people on the Ms. boards way, way back. I’m guessing the late Andrea Dworkin, famous for such aperçus as, “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman,” or “Male sexuality, drunk on its intrinsic contempt for all life, but especially for women’s lives…”, does not qualify?

But — like David Cohen, who I quoted — I was talking about the feminists I’ve directly interacted with. (Was this really so unclear in context, Cathy?) Alas, I never met Andrea Dworkin.

To be sure, there are some stunning anti-male quotes from Dworkin and a few others — quotes I’ve often seen recycled by critics of feminism. (Some of these quotes are out of context or fabricated, but some are real.) Are they representative of day-to-day feminism, of most feminists, or of current feminism? Not in my experience.

But this brings up something I’ve wondered about for quite a while. When I read MRAs, as well as “conservative feminists” like Christina Hoff Sommers, a narrative history of feminism tends to emerge, which goes something like this: Once upon a time there were the suffragettes, who were libertarian or conservative and they were Good. Then came the second wave feminists in the 60s and 70s, who fought for equal pay and the like, and they were Good. But in the 1980s came the Evil “gender feminists” or “victim feminists,” who turned feminism into man-hating victimology, and feminism has been Bad ever since.

But curiously enough, when reading Sommers and others, it quickly becomes apparent that most of their examples are from 60s and 70s feminism. And so Sommers makes a big deal of the word “ovulars,” a term from the 1960s that no one but Sommers herself uses nowadays. Dworkin, Young’s example, peaked in influence and prominence in the 70s, became a hugely controversial figure within feminism in the 80s, and pretty much faded from prominence after that. Most of the feminists I see quoted as proof of how awful and man-hating feminists are (Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer , Marilyn French, etc) came into prominence in the 60s and 70s.

60s and 70s feminism was, frankly, a lot wilder, and a lot more unrestrained. This has its good side (I’m a fan of some of Firestone’s wilder digressions), but also a negative side, in the unrestrained anti-male sexism of some feminist leaders. But it’s interesting that the peak of anti-male sexism in feminism — which I’d say was when Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol — happened before many of today’s feminists had even been born. Yet according to the conservative feminist narrative, feminism now is much worse than feminism then.

It’s a new century, but conservative feminists and MRAs are still nattering on about what Robin Morgan said in the 70s, or about the super bowl Sunday controversy from over a quarter century ago. Let me ask you this, Cathy: take stock of what feminists have been doing and saying this century. Do you really think that Andrea Dworkin saying “Male sexuality, drunk on its intrinsic contempt for all life” is typical of current-day feminism?

* * *

Cathy also defends the relevance of The Vagina Monologues, which, I’ll remind readers, was the one and only example Sommers gave in her lecture to support her argument that feminist believe that “men are beasts.” I don’t find anything Cathy comes up with persuasive. Yes, The Vagina Monlogues are very popular, but it’s still fiction, and it’s still just one example. No honest person can claim with a straight face that a single work of fiction proves anything about feminism in general.

Analyzing pop culture is valuable; but to discuss a general trend in pop culture, one must analyze multiple works, and show that a pattern actually exists. Otherwise, all you have is cherry-picking — Sommers’ stock in trade.

So what is feminist pop culture? It’s Vagina Monologues, sure (and nothing wrong with that; not the greatest work of literature, but it’s funny and sexy and it’s raised tons of money for good causes); but it’s also Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the songs of Ani Defranco and the comedy of Wanda Sykes and a dozen other things. I think looking at all these things would produce a more complex, but more honest, picture of feminism than Sommers’.

When I suggested Sommers should be able to provide a couple of quotes from current, prominent feminists saying “men are beasts,” Cathy says I set the bar too high. Maybe, although I’d accept quotes that amount to the same thing (such as the Dworkin quotes Cathy recycled). But if I raise the bar too high, Cathy digs a trench and drops the bar in.

Here’s where I’d set the bar: Current feminists, please. Multiple quotes from this century. Quotes from actually published, known feminists, not students quoted in some student paper or something said in the comments section of a blog. And if you’re going to claim that these quotes represent current feminism, then the quotes should be from a representative variety of current feminism: not only white feminists, and not only radical feminists, and not only academic feminists. (Or, if the only quotes you can find are from a particular sub-group of feminists, say so, rather than falsely claiming that this represents all of current feminism.)

Is that a high bar? I’d say it’s a reasonable bar, given the extreme and far-reaching claims made by Sommers. If Sommers can’t provide reasonable evidence for her claims, then it’s up to her to moderate her claims, not up to me to lower the bar.

Homicide is not the leading cause of death among pregnant women

Filed under: Rape, intimate violence, & related issues — Ampersand @ 9:04 pm

At the end of an otherwise interesting list of convicted people various feminists would pardon — including Assata Shakur, The Amiraults, and all nonviolent drug users (a suggestion that would save millions of tax dollars) — one feminist wrote:

I would pardon every woman convicted of killing her husband before the self-defense plea was admissible in all 50 states because, after all, it probably was. We live in a country where the biggest risk factor for the death of pregnant women is homicide and the number of women killed by their husbands or partners constitutes 41 percent of all women killed (only 11 percent of men killed are done in by their wives or partners). It’s not a far leap of logic to think that those women were making sure they didn’t become part of that 41 percent statistic.

Virtually all of that is wrong.

I would pardon every woman convicted of killing her husband before the self-defense plea was admissible in all 50 states because, after all, it probably was.

First of all, there has never been a time when pleas of self-defense were inadmissible. My guess is that she means any woman convicted of killing her husband before expert testimony on battering and its effects (what used to be called “Battered Women’s Syndrome”) was admissible in all states.

Second of all, it doesn’t appear that the inclusion of excluded expert testimony on battering often changes the outcome of a trial. To quote from a congressional report:

With respect to the disposition of cases, a review of state court cases found that convictions of battered women were reversed in less than one-third of the cases appealed and that, of those reversals, less than half were due to erroneous exclusion of, limitation of, or failure to present expert testimony on battering and its effects.

These findings suggest that, contrary to popular misconceptions, the introduction of expert testimony on battering and its effects does not equate to acquittal for a battered woman defendant.

Still, I agree that expert testimony on battering should be included in any relevant case, and probably juries and judges aren’t giving it as much weight as they should. So there are certainly some good pardons in there. But let’s face it — there are also women who kill husbands for motives other than self-defense.

We live in a country where the biggest risk factor for the death of pregnant women is homicide…

We really don’t. Pregnant women in the US are about eight times as likely to die of medical causes (such as bleeding during childbirth) than they are of homicide. Car accidents come second, and homicide comes third.

It’s unclear if homicide is any more common among pregnant women than it is among non-pregnant women of a similar age (young women are both more likely to be murdered and more likely to be pregnant than other women). But maybe it is — the reporting system isn’t great, and some scholars say that homicide of pregnant women is badly undercounted. But there’s no way it’s so undercounted that homicide is “the biggest risk factor.”

I’ve seen feminists make this false claim before. It’s too bad, because it obscures the biggest preventable cause of maternal death in the US — which isn’t murder, but inadequate health care. Better prenatal care could save hundreds of women’s lives every year.

…and the number of women killed by their husbands or partners constitutes 41 percent of all women killed (only 11 percent of men killed are done in by their wives or partners).

This is misleading and wrong.

It’s wrong because the real numbers are actually a lot more extreme: only 2.5% of men murdered are victims of intimate homicide, versus about 33% of women murdered.

It’s misleading because a portion of that difference isn’t caused by more women being killed by intimates, but by more men being murdered by strangers. In 2005, 1,181 out of 3,545 women who were murdered, were killed by boyfriends or husbands, while 329 of the 13,122 men who were murdered, were killed by girlfriends or wives. To just report the percentage of intimate homicides, without reporting the difference in the total number of murders, creates a false impression.

Dodge Rams Are For Girly Men

Filed under: Sexism hurts men — Ampersand @ 6:12 pm

Real men, it appears, drive Chevys:

A lot of commercials make sexist appeals to insecurity about masculinity, but this one is impressive because it’s just so pure. The Dodge Ram has a heated steering wheel! Manicures! Pro football players! Unstated but heavily implied: Drive Chevy or die a wimp, wimp!

I like to imagine the ad agency people sitting around, spitballing. “You know the problem? Men think they can be real men just by driving any old ludicrously oversized truck. We want to make them know that if you’re in the wrong ludicrously oversized truck, then you’re a girl.”

Curtsy: Sociological Images and Feministe.

January 19, 2009

Comparing struggles

Renee writes:

Say it with me, gay is not the new black. African-Americans did not cause the passing of prop 8, and the gay community does not have the right to compare its struggles to the black civil rights movement.

I completely agree that gay is not the new black, and African-Americans did not cause prop 8 to pass.

But I’m not sure I can agree about “the right to compare.” I’m not sure what that means. Is Renee saying that gay people don’t have the right to bring up Loving vs Virginia in legal arguments about equal marriage rights, for instance?

Despite all the differences between different struggles for civil rights and justice, there are some experiences that different groups will have in common. To pick a famous example, MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail has an unbreakable connection to the black civil rights movement. But I don’t think it takes away from that to say that it also contains practical and moral advice for anyone engaged in a justice movement today:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

There are few, if any, oppressed peoples who wouldn’t find a reflection of their own experiences and struggles in what King wrote, about how “wait!” in practice always seems to mean “never.”

As Ta-Nehisi points out, the Black civil rights movement itself often compared the black experience and the Jewish experience.

As a Jew, I think that’s fine, because although the experiences and history aren’t identical, many of the comparisons made were useful and relevant. No justice movement is exactly the same, and no two oppressions are exactly the same; but there are similarities, and movements can draw lessons positively from other movements. The trouble comes when the comparisons made are facile, or disrespectful, or ignore history rather than comparing history.

January 15, 2009

Tab Dump

Filed under: Link farms — Ampersand @ 12:21 pm

Patrick McGoohan dies. Phooey.

David of the Debate Link guest posts on Feministe. This is the first of a series of posts on antisemitism, many of which I expect to piss me off completely. 🙂 There’s also good stuff in the comments, especially from Holly.

Work Made For Hire, a new blog of business advice for freelance illustrators.

Understanding and Misunderstanding Genuine Consent, at Abyss2hope.

Internet is full of bullies, not pedophiles

Students at the Mirwais School for Girls, in Afghanistan, risk their lives to go to school.

Immigration prosecutions drain resources from fighting other crimes.

Nine Israeli human rights groups called on Wednesday for an investigation into whether Israeli officials had committed war crimes in Gaza.

Roland Burris went ahead with execution of probably innocent man.

No, Blacks Did Not Destroy Gay Marriage

Obama was for same-sex marraige before he was against it

On treating marginalized people like self-narrating zoo exhibits

Demographic trends in Israel show that Jewish births are on the rise

Rick Warren’s anti-Aids efforts are homophobic and harmful.

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