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How I (apparently) tried to kill Pamela Geller, the Mad Queen of “counter-jihad”

On Tuesday, I devoted my weekly Newsday column to the ridiculous Southern Poverty Law Center report naming human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and liberal Muslim activist and author Maajid Nawaz among “anti-Muslim extremists.” In passing, I mentioned Geller, also on SPLC’s list, as an example of an actual anti-Muslim extremist who traffics in nasty generalizations and smears against individual Muslims (or people she thinks are secret Muslims). I have written about Geller before and then replied to a “rebuttal” by her and her ally, self-styled “scholar of Islam” Robert Spencer.

On Wednesday, I got on Twitter to find this bizarre accusation:

Since the column I sent in mentioned only that Geller was from Long Island (a well-known fact), I was rather taken aback. When I checked the published version, it turned out that the text had been changed to “anti-‘Islamization’ activist Pamela Geller of Hewlett Harbor.” I figured that the paper’s standard policy when referring to Long Islanders (since Newsday is a Long Island paper) is to mention the town to give it a local angle.

I will say that after searching the Newsday site, I found a number of older references to Geller (including in a previous column of mine) that did not mention either the town or her Long Island background. It may be a policy change. The reason I even thought of mentioning Long Island is that last May, when I wrote about the 10th anniversary of the Duke University rape hoax, my editor told me that one of the accused men was from Long Island and that this fact should be noted, since it’s always good to highlight a  local angle if there is one.

I also saw other tweets stating that the location I (supposedly) gave for Geller is incorrect, and a quick Google search confirmed that Hewlett Harbor is Geller’s (widely reported) native town and former residence. (I don’t think that affects Newsday‘s wording; the added text in my Duke column referred to “Colin Finnerty of Garden City,” even though, to my knowledge, he no longer lives there.) In other words: Newsday did not actually give out Geller’s current location and send jihadists after her.

When I pointed it all out to Spencer, his responses grew increasingly unhinged; witness, for instance, this exchange:

He also asserted that if I know Geller does not currently live in the town, it contradicts my claim that Newsday mentions the township for local people. (Incorrect: It applies to anyone from Long Island.) At the same time, he bizarrely continued to insist that not removing the information was “endangering” Geller. Meanwhile, certain people whipped up by his faux outrage were suggesting that I should be reported to the FBI or the police for wanton endangerment or that my home address be posted online. (To his credit, somewhere in this long thread Spencer asked people not to do that, but it’s entirely possible that many people won’t see his admonishment and others will ignore it.) Incidentally, many people clearly thought that I had actually disclosed Geller’s current or former full address (as if a mainstream publication would ever run such a thing). Spencer’s vague reference to “location” actively fosters such a misunderstanding.

Oh, and Geller weighed in with a lengthy and even more unhinged post of her own, the main gist of which is that I’m ugly.

I’m not posting this to complain about Twitter abuse. Generally, it’s nothing that changing your settings to “only people you follow” can’t deal with, and I’m pretty jaded about Twitter threats. Mainly, I wanted to explain the situation, for those who have seen something about this on Twitter and are wondering what’s going on. But this is also, in miniature, an example of the kind of knee-jerk, fact-free, thought-free vitriol that dominates much of the social media today.

By the way, had Geller or Spencer asked me to have the name of the town removed from the article without making absurd accusations or whipping up a hysterical mob, I would have asked the editors at Newsday to remove it. Even with the hysteria, I absolutely would have asked them to remove it if Geller still lived in Hewlett Harbor. Even awful people who are potential targets of terrorism deserve protection and safety.

As it is, the reference to the town simply restates a fact mentioned in numerous other sources including Wikipedia. No one is being endangered, and I don’t believe in giving in to bullying. So the article stays as it is.

 

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Some questions, and answers, on James Deen and believing rape allegations

Last week, I wrote a column for the New York Observer on the rape accusations against porn star James Deen, arguing that while the legal presumption of innocence may not apply in the court of public opinion — and the media — even a conviction in the latter should require more than “Believe the [alleged] victims.” While multiple accusations against the same person are often extremely strong proof of guilt, they could also be the result of a “bandwagon effect” when the first accusation is widely publicized and there are strong social incentives to back it. I also pointed out that in this case specifically, there are facts that should be possible to check, since some of Deen’s alleged offenses took place in public, during film shoots.

My friend-with-whom-I-disagree-about-everything (well, not quite everything…) Barry Deutsch has raised some questions on Twitter which I am answering here.

Proving that an accusation is definitely false is extremely difficult. Last year, for instance, Oxford Debating Union president Ben Sullivan was arrested on charges of raping one woman and attempting to rape another, but was ultimately cleared in both cases (he claimed everything that happened was consensual).  But do we know for a fact that these accusations were false? No, of course not.

Nonetheless, I know of at least one case, in Los Angeles in the late 1990s, in which it’s fairly certain that one false accusation was the result of another. I would also say that in the Paul Nungesser saga at Columbia University (the man accused of sexual assault by “mattress girl” Emma Sulkowicz and by two other women and one man), there is all but incontrovertible evidence that at least the last accusation, from the male student identified only as “Adam,” was a confabulation motivated by the desire to support Sulkowicz (the internal Columbia report on the case doesn’t come out and say so but strongly hints at such a conclusion).

And not quite the same, but in a tragic case 15 years ago, six girls and a boy conspired to accuse a teacher of sexual abuse, leading to his suicide.

Also, I could turn Barry’s question on its head: Are there any known cases in which multiple accusations made entirely in the social media and the news media, with no criminal or legal action, were shown to be true?

Barry further asks:

Actually, I thought it was interesting that the one story for which there was corroborating evidence was also one where Deen’s alleged behavior falls short of rape or sexual assault (as Buzzfeed concedes, for instance), but was more along the lines of boundary-pushing and deliberately provoking. I was alluding to that when I wrote:

Is he a predator, or a man who likes pushing women’s boundaries in ways that may be upsetting but not criminal?

Also from Barry:

On the first point: I’m not sure if Barry and others are aware that Amber Rayne appears not to regard her experience with Deen as sexual assault.

See also this exchange with a CNN.com writer in which Rayne reiterates that she does not consider herself one of Deen’s victims and sees the incident as one in which things got “unnecessarily rough” due to his lack of control and maturity.

As for the second point, no one should be forced to hire Deen or anyone else. If he routinely engages in behavior that is not criminal but upsets his fellow performers, he should not be hired. If I ran a company (in whatever line of business) and one of my employees was accused of raping another, or raping anyone for that matter, I would most definitely suspend that employee pending an investigation. The entire point of my piece was that there needs to be an investigation — if not by legal authorities, then by the media.

Which leads me to Barry’s final tweet on the subject:

And this is where I remember why Barry and I disagree on almost everything except the awesomeness of Firefly and Farscape. 😉

Well, not everything. I think it’s good that the Tumblr post in question makes the point that “I believe women” is a profoundly sexist statement that excludes male victims (and, in some cases, sides with female perpetrators!). But I’m afraid the author’s suggestion to replace it with “I believe survivors” (i.e. any self-proclaimed survivor) is only a slight improvement.

And this is what really left me speechless:

I don’t believe Stoya because she’s a woman, I believe her because as a general principle it’s awful to play detective on rape claims and it’s good to listen and offer support.

Ex…cuse me?

It’s awful to play detective on rape claims?

Well, yes, if someone close to you (spouse/partner, family member, good friend) says she or he has been raped, of course you should listen and often support and not ask for proof. The same applies if you’re a therapist and the person reporting a rape is your client, or if you’re a counselor at a rape crisis center or a member of a support group for rape victims. (I don’t think you’re obligated to shut down all doubts if the person’s story sounds dubious — you’re not doing them any favors if you support them in a fabrication or delusion — but “playing detective”really would be rather awful.)

But rape is a crime. Crimes are investigated by actual detectives. If a crime has been reported only to the media, not to the authorities, then it absolutely is the media’s duty to “play detective” before reporting any conclusions. As for the general public, it should be able to rely on the media to “play detective” when reporting such a story.

So far, that hasn’t happened with the James Deen story.

I still have no idea what really happened between James Deen and Stoya, or between James Deen and his other accusers. But in the days since my Observer article came out, I have seen some fascinating new information that, while publicly available, seems to have flown completely under the media’s radar.

Stay tuned.

 

 

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“Social justice” culture: the actual Stalinist version

The other day, I was re-reading Pretender to the Throne, the second book in the Ivan Chonkin trilogy by Vladimir Voinovich (the brilliant Russian writer I interviewed recently for The Daily Beast) and was particularly struck by one scene that I thought bore an uncanny resemblance to the online gang-ups on accused transgressors against political correctness that have become a common feature of the “social justice” community. The tragicomic scene, which takes place in a provincial Soviet town in the fall of 1941, shows a meeting of the district Communist Party committee which holds hearings on several cases of alleged violations of the Party code of conduct. It’s all here: the casual, innocuous remark interpreted as offensive; the demand for confession and repentance; the notion that maintaining one’s innocence or trying to minimize the “offense” compounds guilt; the escalating, absurdly ballooning accusations in which everything the accused says or does is taken as further proof of guilt; the pressure on members of the community to join the mob to demonstrate their own allegiance to the One True Ideology; the lack of human sympathy elevated to a virtue; the notion that proper “humanism” is not manifested in compassion but in “relentless war on all manifestations of hostile ideas.”

I decided to translate and post this passage (for various reasons, I wasn’t too happy with the version in the published English translation of the book) because I think it’s a remarkable demonstration of the ideological continuity between the Soviet/Stalinist version of the far left and today’s “progressive” Western version. Thankfully, minus the power to send people to the gulag.

A few explanatory notes. The action takes place several months after the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. A secondary character in the novel, collective farm chairman Ivan Golubev, attends a local Communist Party meeting for a hearing on charge of violating Party discipline. Before his own case comes up, he gets to witness the “trial” of another accused man, Shevchuk, a schoolteacher in his fifties. Presiding over the meeting is district Party chief Andrei Revkin.

Other explanatory notes are included in the text in brackets where necessary.

Continue reading

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Do Fathers Have the Edge in Divorce?

This is an article of mine from 1996, from The Detroit News, which I am reposting because it is no longer online at the DN site. It has some interesting information with regard to claims I still see made in various discussions, so I thought it would be useful to have it here.

Do fathers have the edge in divorce?

By Cathy Young

The Detroit News, December 10, 1996

It is a common perception that while women may face bias in some areas, men are on the receiving end of discrimination when it comes to child custody – which goes to fathers, recent data show, only 16 percent of the time. Some feminists like former National Organization for Women President Karen DeCrow embrace equal rights for divorced dads. Yet many others have been loath to acknowledge that there is bias favoring women in anything.

Mostly, these feminists argue, fathers don’t want custody – and when they do, they have the edge: Judges frown on working women who spend less time with the kids than did traditional moms, while working men who spend more time with the kids than did traditional fathers are hailed as great dads; non-working women may be denied custody because they can’t support the children.

In the 1986 book Mothers on Trial, radical feminist psychologist Phyllis Chesler claimed that 70 percent of mothers in custody battles lost. This was based on a very non-random sample of 60 women, mostly referred by feminist lawyers or women’s centers. While even sympathetic reviewers commented on the sloppiness of Chesler’s research, her “finding” that fathers are likely to win contested custody cases was often presented as fact.

Similar numbers have cropped up again, most recently in Karen Winner’s Divorced From Justice: “Contrary to public belief, 70 percent of all litigated custody trials rule in favor of the fathers,” shouts the jacket (italics in the original). A national alert on father’s rights groups issued by the National Organization for Women – urging members to combat proposed laws encouraging joint custody and mediation – also states that “many judges and attorneys are still biased against women. …”

Where do these figures come from? One respectable source is the 1989 Gender Bias Study of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which reported that when fathers seek custody, they win primary or joint physical custody 70 percent of the time. In The Divorce Revolution, Lenore Weitzman reported two-thirds of fathers asking for custody in California succeeded.

Maybe, some fathers’ advocates say, men only seek custody when they have a chance because there’s something wrong with mom. Explaining why few non-custodial mothers pay child support, the Gender Bias Study notes “women who lose custody often [have] mental, physical, or emotional handicaps” that impair their earning ability.

That aside, the high success rate of men in custody battles is yet another contender for the Phony Statistics Hall of Fame. The figures do not refer to contested cases. Weitzman acknowledged that when fathers got sole custody, it was typically by mutual agreement; of cases that went to trial, two-thirds were won by women. The work from which the Gender Bias Study gathered its numbers did not separate contested and uncontested custody bids, but showed that mothers filing for sole custody received it 75 percent of the time (the rest usually received joint legal/primary physical custody), while the “success rate” for fathers was 44 percent.

A Stanford study of more than 1,000 California couples divorced in the 1980s suggests conventional wisdom is right. If both parents requested sole custody when filing for divorce, it was awarded to mom in 45 percent and to dad in 11 percent of the cases, with joint physical custody for the rest. (When she asked for sole custody and he for joint custody, the odds were 2-1 in her favor.)

Most of the disputes were negotiated. Just five couples went to trial vying for sole custody – and one of these cases resulted in a victory for the father.

The answer is not to help fathers win more custody fights but to have fewer fights. In Michigan, the Legislature is considering a “shared parenting” or joint custody bill – the Senate substitution bill for House Bill 5636 – opposed by the state’s NOW chapter. There’s ample room for discussions of the best way to ensure children of divorce still have two parents. But disinformation shouldn’t be part of the debate.

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Emma Watson and the B-word

Bossy.

What did you think I meant? 😉

Anyway, if you’re here, you’ve probably seen my column on Emma Watson, #HeForShe, and my proposed alternative — #SheAndHeForUs (or #HeAndSheForUs).

A quick side note:

I appreciate that in her U.N. speech, Watson emphasized that she has never been “oppressed” or treated as a lesser person because of her gender. She did, however, make this claim:

I started questioning gender-based assumptions when at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not.
Is it very uncharitable for me to doubt this story? It just seems too conveniently tied to Sheryl Sandberg’s recent “Ban Bossy” campaign. And honestly, given how commonly girls are found in leadership roles at school in recent years, I find it hard to believe that a girl would get negative pushback just for wanting to direct school plays. One possibility is that it was something about Watson’s personality. Another is that whatever happened back then is now perceived by her through the prism of the recent campaign to reframe “bossy” as an antifemale slur.
Tangential evidence supporting my doubts:
In the past, Watson has repeatedly used the b-word to refer to her Harry Potter character, Hermione Granger. At the age of 11, when she first started playing Hermione, she told Entertainment Weekly, “I reckon she’s very, very bossy.” Sometime later (I haven’t been able to find the original source of the quote, but it’s posted on this fan page which was made in 2004 when Watson was 14), she said in one of her interviews, “Now that I’ve played the snotty, bossy, posh Hermione Granger, I’d like to play some American high school girl. I want to play something totally different.”
Somehow I think that if Watson had actually found it hurtful to be called “bossy” at eight, she wouldn’t be using the word to describe her film character a few years later. Again, I don’t think she’s making it up — I just think she’s processing it through her perspective as a 24-year-old feminist.
(Comments are open but filtered. Any comments bashing either gender collectively, or containing personal abuse toward any individual including Emma Watson, will remain forever in limbo.)

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How not to respond to Women Against Feminism

Just to make it clear: I’m not a part of Women Against Feminism. I’m on the fence about whether the term “feminism” can be reclaimed, but that’s a question for another time. (In case you missed it: here’s my Time.com article on the subject.)

But some of the responses to WAF just make me roll my eyes.

Here’s an example:

First of all: a recurring theme on the Women Against Feminism site is that feminism fought important battles in the past, but those battles have been won and feminism has morphed into something counterproductive. Whether that view is right or wrong, to say that today’s fourth wave (or whichever wave it is) feminists are entitled to women’s allegiance because of the rights previous generation of feminists have won for women is, as my friend Brian Carnell has observed on Twitter, a bit like saying that blacks must be forever loyal to the Republican Party because it was instrumental in ending slavery.

Secondly: while it is certainly true that women pre-feminism generally faced far greater obstacles than men of the same class when it came to intellectual pursuits, the idea that women (at least in the West) were barred from expressing opinions and denied all voice is preposterous. Christine de Pizan wrote books, including ones that defended women against misogynist caricatures, all the way back in the 14th-15th Centuries. There were plenty of other women writers, including popular pamphleteers, whose work long predates anything like an organized feminist movement. In fact, if women had been denied the right to have and publish their opinions, how could (first-wave) feminism even have happened? Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges, two women who can probably be justly called feminist pioneers, both published their work at the end of the 18th Century. (Both, it should be noted, had written and published extensively on other subjects before turning to advocacy of women’s rights.) Feminists certainly did not make it possible for them to get published and reach large audiences.

It is true, however, that women authors–particularly ones who wrote on feminist topics–were often singled out for ridicule and disparagement. They could be mocked as ignorant and stupid, or derided as mere conduits for men’s ideas (because, after all, women couldn’t possibly have the brains to come up with intelligent arguments!), or slandered as immodest and unchaste…

… which is exactly what some feminists are now doing to Women Against Feminism.

 

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More on “affirmative consent” laws and why they are a really dumb idea

So I have a new Reason.com piece up about the pending California bill that would require colleges to use an “affirmative consent” standard in adjudicating sexual assault complaints and I have my critics on Twitter (see here and here).

One of the arguments is that “affirmative consent” would be a useful standard in cases where someone is coerced into unwanted sex and doesn’t say no because s/he is paralyzed by fear.

Here’s why I think “affirmative consent” is entirely useless in such cases.

(1) If a man has sex with a woman who is paralyzed by fear (I’ll just use the “conventional” male perpetrator/female victim scenario here, since this is what the laws are clearly targeting), he knows perfectly well that she’s not a consenting partner. He’s a sexual predator, not a clueless guy making an innocent mistake. If he’s brought up on charges of sexual assault, there is nothing whatsoever to stop him from lying and saying that she said yes. It’s going to be a completely unprovable he said/she said case.

(2) If a woman is too intimidated to say no to unwanted sex, she can also be easily intimidated into saying yes under “ask first” rules. Some years ago, I got a large stack of documents from a guy who wanted me to write about his case claiming to be a man wrongfully jailed for rape. One of the points he stressed in his letter was that he actually asked the woman if she wanted to have sex and she said yes. However, when I reviewed the documents, it became pretty clear that this verbal exchange took place in a situation where the woman had very good cause to feel threatened (I forget the details–this was some 15 years ago). So the emphasis on expressed consent can actually be bad for victims if takes the focus off questions of force and threat.

One of my Twitter critics says that affirmative consent laws won’t compel anyone to accuse anyone else of rape. No, they won’t. But they can coerce a lot of people into unwanted and awkward “communication” about sex. And yes, in some cases they can encourage a person who has had an unsatisfying or emotionally traumatic sexual experience (e.g. sex followed by rejection) to reframe it as sexual assault in their own mind afterward.

The bottom line? As long as there is no force, threat, or incapacitation, the government has no business dictating to adults how to have sex. Period.

 

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Want to see some real fascism?

The other day, I wrote an article on the question of the “neofascist peril” in Ukraine and in Russia.

Well, here’s an interesting sidebar, or postscript, as it were.

This is a video of a song by Zhanna (Jeanne) Bichevskaya, “Kulikovo Field,” which she performed on Russia’s TV1 (the main, state-run TV channel). I’m not sure about the date of the broadcast (the video was uploaded in 2010). The title refers to the location of a 1380 battle between Russian forces and the armies of the Golden Horde, which began Russia’s liberation from Mongol rule.

The lyrics speak for themselves. Here’s my verse translation, which alters a few words here and there for rhythm and alliterative rhyme but is very close to the original.

By the way, note the bolded stanza.  As one Russian blogger quipped, the Turks and the Israelis should be getting nervous.

Our ancestors remembers, our grandfathers remember,
And our Church remembers, in the Almighty’s name,
Kulikovo Field, the victory of Russia,
Kulikovo Field, forever Russian land!
Kulikovo Field, the victory of Russia,
Kulikovo Field, forever Russian land!

Through the morning mist here come the holy banners,
Soon, the rage of combat will shake the very earth.
The field of Russian Glory, the field of Russian battle,
The field of Russian life that triumphs over death.
The field of Russian Glory, the field of Russian battle,
The field of Russian life that triumphs over death.

But how is it, brothers, that so low we’ve fallen?
Russia’s groaning under black oppressive hordes.
Then it’s time for Russians to take up their weapons,
Then it’s time for Russians again to draw their swords.
Then it’s time for Russians to take up their weapons,
Then it’s time for Russians again to draw their swords.

The anti-world is starting great new conflagrations,
Once again, our Moscow is ravaged by their fires.
And there are new Europes menacing our homeland,
And new Khans who threaten, and the new Khazars.
And there are new Europes menacing our homeland,
And new Khans who threaten, and the new Khazars.

But our Holy Russia will be free and mighty;
Let the Devil tremble at this Russian might!
Once again, the rightful Tsar will lead his army,
Kulikovo Field will be our common fight!
Once again, the rightful Tsar will lead his army,
Kulikovo Field will be our common fight!

Then, the praying voices will arise and triumph,
Russia’s hour of glory will thunder through the world.
In the Savior’s name will stand the Holy Army,
A new Kulikovo for us has been foretold.
In the Savior’s name will stand the Holy Army,
A new Kulikovo for us has been foretold.

In the hour of reckoning, we will frown in anger,
And will sweep the vampires from our country’s path.
There will be no camps then, there will be no prisons—
All of Russia’s enemies will be put to death.
There will be no camps then, there will be no prisons—
All of Russia’s enemies will be put to death!

We will track the enemy and we will destroy him,
Tear them all to pieces, may the Lord be praised.
Kulikovo Field, the victory of Russia,
Kulikovo Field, forever Russian land!
Kulikovo Field, the victory of Russia,
Kulikovo Field, forever Russian land!

Russia will reclaim her Russian Sevastopol,
And Crimea will be Russian once again,
We’ll retake the Bosphorus, our Constantinople,
And the sacred city of Jerusalem,
We’ll retake the Bosphorus, our Constantinople,
And the sacred city of Jerusalem!

And, defying masons and all other villains,
Those who toward the Christians seethe with vicious hate,
We’ll regain the memory of Kulikovo Field–and
We will be united by this holy place.
We’ll regain the memory of Kulikovo Field–and
We will be united by this holy place.

Anywhere I go and anywhere I travel,
In my Christian heart, my country’s fields I bear.
Kulikovo Field, the victory of Russia,
Kulikovo Field, forever Russian land!
Kulikovo Field, the victory of Russia,
Kulikovo Field, forever Russian land!

Kulikovo Field, the victory of Russia,
Kulikovo Field, forever Russian land!
Kulikovo Field, the victory of Russia,
Kulikovo Field, forever Russian land!

(For those unfamiliar with Russian code words: the “new Khazars” are Jews.)

No, Bichevskaya does not speak for the Russian government, but it’s noteworthy that she is the recipient of several awards from the Russian Orthodox Church. She was a guest on Soyuz, the Church’s TV channel, last December.

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March 25, 2014 · 7:55 pm

Was I unfair to Gloria Steinem?

Dusting off my blogging hat, at least for now.

The occasion:

Last weekend, RealClearPolitics.com ran my column on Gloria Steinem, her Presidential Medal of Freedom, and her role in twentieth and twenty-first century  feminism.  It is, shall we say, not complimentary.  Barry Deutsch of Alas, a Blog, with whom I’ve crossed reasonably friendly swords before, comments and raises some points that require a response.  Sorry it’s taken me a week to put this up; it’s been a bit crazy lately, time-wise.  (And will continue to be, so I warn in advance that I probably won’t have time for a lot of back-and-forth.)

Barry thinks my column on Steinem is an unfair, one-sided hit piece (though I’m glad to see he agrees with some of my criticisms, particularly on Steinem’s deplorable role in the child sex abuse mania of the 1980s and early 1990s and its particularly grotesque offshoot, the satanic ritual abuse panic).  You know what? I’ll concede that this is not the most, ahem, fair and balanced article I’ve ever written.  It was not a complete overview of Steinem’s career; it was a critique, based on my belief that Steinem bears a lot of responsibility for the woeful misdirection of feminism—from a philosophy of gender equity, individual rights, and gender-role flexibility to what Betty Friedan called “sex/class warfare” and, in particular, a focus on various male horrors visited upon women.  Obviously, Steinem did not single-handedly steer the women’s moment in that direction, but her influence was huge.

And now, I’m going to address what Barry believes are unfair or petty criticisms.

1.  I wrote that, as evidenced by her appearance on John Stossel’s 1997 ABC News special, “Boys and Girls Are Different: Men, Women, and the Sex Difference,” Steinem verges on what Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge termed “biodenial” in her insistence that innate psychological/intellectual differences between the sexes are nonexistent and physical ones are almost entirely irrelevant.  Barry suggests that Steinem’s line which I quoted, referring to scientific research on brain differences between men and women as “anti-American crazy thinking,” may have been taken out of context. The full Steinem quote, on this page linked by Barry from Stossel’s book (where it’s misattributed, presumably due to a typo, to Heritage Foundation analyst Kate O’Beirne, Steinem’s conservative adversary on his program) is, “It’s really the remnant of anti-American, crazy thinking to do this kind of research. It’s what’s keeping us down, not what’s helping us.”

Is it possible, as Barry suggests, that Steinem was referring to some specific research project that was genuinely outrageous (for instance, one that set out to prove that women shouldn’t be able to vote or attend college because of differences in the “wiring” of their brains), and not to any of the studies reported in the special?  Perhaps, but it is worth noting that Steinem was surely aware of the program and has never claimed to have been quoted out of context.

Barry also chides me for ridiculing Steinem’s assertion that strength tests requiring prospective firefighters to carry a dummy—challenged and discarded in many urban fire departments as discriminatory toward women—are unnecessary and that, when rescuing someone from a burning building, it makes more sense to drag them along the floor than to carry them, since “there’s less smoke down there.”

Here, I have to give a point to Barry and concede that Steinem’s statement, which has earned her a lot of conservative derision, is not quite as risible as it first appears.  Barry cites evidence that dragging rather than carrying has actually been the preferred rescue method in firefighting for a while, in part because there are fewer noxious/toxic fumes at the lower level.  I did not know this, and I will readily admit that I should have done better research rather than rely on a recycled criticism.  So, to quote a famous Dead White Male: A hit, a very palpable hit!

I will add that even without this information, when I first saw Stossel’s program, I was put off by O’Beirne’s gibe about being “dragged by my ankles as my head hits every single stair going down three stories.” It sounded like she was deliberately reducing the opposing view to caricature; there was no reason the rescuer couldn’t grab the person under the arms, which is indeed the standard technique (this article on fire engineering, which describes the drag as the preferred method, specifically states that dragging by the feet is a no-no).

But here’s why I still think Steinem is not only wrong but dangerously wrong.  As the article linked above points out, dragging is not always possible; for instance, if the stairs are inaccessible and you must get an unconscious person down a fire ladder, there is no option other than to carry them.

While doing my own actual research, I came across this very interesting 1984 article from The Pittsburgh Press, discussing objections to a revised physical test for firefighters that eliminated the requirement of lifting a 125-pound sandbag and carrying it on one’s shoulders while going up and down a staircase. (It was replaced with dragging a 145-pound dummy around an obstacle course.)  Interestingly, one person objecting to the change—made with the express purpose of allowing more women to qualify—was the city’s lone female firefighter, Toni McIntosh, who was concerned that lowering the standards could endanger everyone.

One of McIntosh’s male co-workers pointed out that there were many situations in which dragging was highly inadvisable: “There may be broken glass or other debris on the ground … or your partner may have fallen through a week floorboard and you’ll need to lift him out.”  Fire Chief Charles Lewis, who supported the new exam as a way to meet federal non-discrimination guidelines, was quoted as saying that “a drag would not work in all rescues, but neither would a lift” and that both techniques were included in the training. But why not in the test? Because, said Lewis, “Women’s groups are likely to challenge an exam when there are things in it they can’t do.”

As far as I know, no fire department has ever dropped the lift-and-carry test for any other reason than concerns about sex discrimination—either to comply with a court order or to avoid lawsuits.  And that, I think, is a problem as far as giving feminism a bad name.  The perception is that feminists like Steinem are willing to dilute the standards for physically demanding jobs to accommodate women even if it endangers public safety.  Is this perception is based on right-wing misinformation, as I’m sure Barry would say?  I think it would have been fair for Stossel to acknowledge that the drag method of rescue is a widely accepted firefighting practice, not some weird figment of feminist fantasy.  But, for the reasons explained above, I think the point still stands.  For Steinem to suggest that the lift-and-carry test is based on nothing more than some silly idea of “macho” is glib and unfair, and a cheap shot at male firefighters.

2.  Barry defends Steinem’s advocacy of the American Association of University Women study on the “crisis” in girls’ self-esteem as well as the study itself, and specifically notes that the article I linked for reference, by Amy Saltzman in U.S. News & World Report, does not describe the AAUW study as “shoddy” (as I do). Yes, I am aware of that, and I actually hesitated for that very reason about using that reference. I ended up using it because (1) the article is a pretty thorough overview of the debate and (2) it does state that the bulk of research does not support the claim that adolescent girls suffer a drop in self-esteem compared to boys (except for body dissatisfaction).

For the record, I did review the AAUW dataset back in 1994 when Christina Hoff Sommers challenged the study in Who Stole Feminism?, and I think her critique is entirely on target.  I also think Saltzman is flat-out wrong in her assertion that using only “always true” responses to “I’m happy the way I am” as a measure of self-esteem (as the AAUW did) was “standard practice” and that including “sort of true” and “sometimes true/sometimes false” responses would have been “bad science.”  The Pew Research Center, for instance, routinely combines the “extreme” responses—“very,” “always,” “completely” etc.—with “somewhat” and “mostly” ones as an overall measure of agreement; see here, for example. (Also for the record, I would not be inclined to think well of anyone over the age of twelve who was always happy with him- or herself.)

3.  Barry takes issue with my assertion that Steinem has a tendency to vilify men. Specifically, he says that the quotation I use from her 1992 book, Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem—“The most dangerous situation for a woman is not an unknown man in the street, or even the enemy in wartime, but a husband or lover in the isolation of their own home”—is taken out of context and refers only to the statistical probability that a woman is more likely to be murdered by an intimate partner than a stranger.   He also accuses Sommers of using the same quotation in a downright “dishonest” manner.

Sommers writes:

Gloria Steinem’s portrait of male-female intimacy under patriarchy is typical: “Patriarchy requires violence or the subliminal threat of violence in order to maintain itself…. The most dangerous situation for a woman is not an unknown man in the street, or even the enemy in wartime, but a husband or lover in the isolation of their own home.”

According to Barry, “Sommers took a partial sentence from page 259 of Steinem’s book, put it next to a sentence about crime statistics from page 261, and then pretended the two separate passages formed a single thought,” supposedly altering the meaning of the passage.

As Barry says, it is true that American women are more likely to be murdered by a current or former male partner than by a stranger—partly because stranger homicide for women is an extremely rare event. (I also suspect that the 2009 Bureau of Justice Statistics report Barry cites, Female Victims of Violence, inflates the percentage of female homicide victims killed by partners and ex-partners, which it places at about 45%.  A footnote in that paper notes that about one in three homicides reported by local law enforcement to the FBI are missing information about the offender—often because the offender is not identified.  The analysis assumes that the distribution of homicides with missing offenders is roughly the same as for ones with known offenders.  But surely stranger homicides would be far more likely to remain unsolved?)

But that quibble aside: is it “dishonest” to accuse Steinem of using homicide statistics to support her view that male brutality toward women is close to a norm “under patriarchy” (which includes modern Western societies)?  Well, let’s look at the actual context of the first part of the quotation used by Sommers:

And, of course, [domestic] violence also has the larger political purpose of turning half the population into a support system for the other half.  It polices and perpetuates gender politics by keeping the female half fearful of the moods and approval of the male half.  In fact, patriarchy requires violence or the subliminal threat of violence in order to maintain itself.  Furthermore, the seeming naturalness of gender roles makes male/female violence seem excusable, even inevitable.  As G.H. Hatherill, Police Commander of London, put it: “There are only about twenty murders a year in London and not all are serious—some are just husbands killing wives.”

Oy vey.

So, in the Steinem worldview, American (and, generally, Western) society in the late 20th Century is one in which male batterers act as enforcers for the patriarchy; the female half of the population (I’m hoping that Steinem doesn’t mean the entire female half and is resorting to hyperbole) is cowed and terrorized by the male half; and murders of wives by husbands are dismissed as trivial.  (Steinem’s quote from George Hatherill, Detective Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard in the 1940s and ’50s, is sourced to something called The Lovers’ Quotation Book by Helen Handley, published in 1986; I have not found it anywhere else and have no idea if it’s genuine.)

Is this really the kind of feminism we want to be promoting?

I will concede (having re-read parts of Revolution from Within the other day, for the first time in twenty-plus years) that I was oversimplifying when I said that Steinem’s writings usually depict men “under patriarchy” as dangerous brutes; it’s certainly not true, for instance, of her discussion of Rochester in Jane Eyre.  Except … except that Steinem has made comments that do paint men, collectively, in just such a light.  Here’s one particularly outrageous example. While stumping for Hillary Clinton in Austin, Texas in 2008, Steinem told an interviewer that many Americans want to vote for Obama because they “want redemption for racism, for our terrible destructive racist past”—but not as many “want redemption for the gynocide.”  For instance, she noted, while Americans generally “acknowledge racism—not enough, but somewhat,” they are not as ready to acknowledge that “the most likely way a pregnant woman is to die is murder from her male partner.”

Leaving aside the obscene suggestion that America is guilty of “gynocide,” Steinem’s claim about murderous men as the biggest danger to pregnant women is a blatant falsehood.  According to a 2005 report in The American Journal of Public Health, of some 7,300 deaths of American women during pregnancy or in the postpartum period in 1991-1999, 57 percent were for medical reasons while 27 percent were due to various injuries.  Among the injury deaths, 44 percent were car accidents while 31 percent were homicides—not always by male partners, of course.  (While some researchers believe these statistics undercount homicide of pregnant women, their analysis indicates that all pregnancy-related mortality may be undercounted, since death certificates don’t always mention pregnancy.) To suggest that men are routinely slaughtering their pregnant wives and girlfriends is a pretty grotesque slander.

(Oh, and on that same trip to Austin, while speaking to a Hillary Clinton campaign rally, Steinem made comments ridiculing John McCain’s military service and captivity in Vietnam—and slamming military service in general—that the Clinton campaign was forced to publicly disown.  If Hillary runs in the next election, as I hope she does, could Steinem do her a big favor and stay off the trail?)

My objection to Steinem’s the Medal of Freedom is not that she has used some shoddy statistics and made dubious claims. It’s that she often promotes a toxic brand of gender-war feminism that unfortunately tends to cancel out her achievements.  And that’s even aside from her support for the child sex abuse witch-hunts, the recovered memory movement and the Satanism craze—all of which left untold numbers of wrecked lives in their wake. (Like this woman, who was brainwashed into believing that she grew up in a family of baby-murdering, child-raping Satanists; the “therapist” responsible for this atrocity and others like it, Dr. Bennett Braun, is named by Steinem is the acknowledgments for Revolution from Within.)  For that, Steinem has never apologized.

I think I’ll stop before this blogpost balloons to a magazine-length essay.  I’m glad Barry’s article prodded me to do some more research (and, just maybe, to get back to blogging a bit!). I stand by my basic points, but I also agree that I should have done my homework better.  If nothing else, I could have used better quotes.

 

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Looking forward to 2009

2008 has not been the best year of our lives. An election that seemed to have a lot of inspiring potential — a Republican candidate who once had solid bipartisan appeal, the first serious female presidential contender in U.S. history, a visionary candidate who also happens to be black, a female vice presidential candidate — turned into a singularly nasty and divisive campaign. (Or does every presidential campaign these days seem nastier and more divisive than all the previous ones?) In Russia, faint hopes of a “Medvedev thaw” were buried in the wreckage of the August war with Georgia, which also pushed Russia and the U.S. close to a “new Cold War.” Finally, there was the financial crisis that soon became an economic one. We may not be in for a new Great Depression, but no one doubts that tough times are ahead.

And yet, in the midst of all this, there is good news.

For instance:

(1) Back in October, I wrote:

Many people who are tired of the mudslinging can’t wait for the election to be over. But Nov. 4 is unlikely to bring much relief. The dogs of war are loose, and they won’t be easy to leash. If, as seems likely, Obama is elected, a large number of people on the right will see him as a stealth radical who won thanks to media bias and rampant voter fraud. If McCain pulls off a surprise upset, at least as many people on the left will blame racism, Republican dirty tricks or both—and some will regard the results as proof that the right-wing cabal behind Bush will never let go of power. Either way, a substantial minority of Americans will see themselves as living under an illegitimate and evil regime.

And that’s more frightening than the economic crisis.

I’m happy to say that I seem to have been wrong. With some exceptions (Sean Hannity, and Melanie Phillips), conservatives have been remarkably willing to give Obama a chance. Obama’s judiciously centrist picks have had a lot to do with this; but credit also goes to McCain’s and Obama’s post-election graciousness. And that’s a good reason to take pride in the American political system and its ability — sometimes — to bring people together.

(2) While Sarah Palin’s candidacy proved to be mostly a dud, it did accomplish some positive things. It remolded the conservative “base” in a more feminist direction, by giving it a heroine who was a working mother, a self-proclaimed feminist, and an unabashedly ambitious woman. It also highlighted the need for a more ideologically diverse feminism. No less a feminist than Naomi Wolf (in full throes of Palin Derangement Syndrome this past election cycle) wrote, back in 1993 in her book Fire With Fire, that feminism should discard “litmus tests” on everything from gun ownership to abortion which exclude too many women. Wolf wrote that the beliefs of conservative and Republican women who embrace “self-determination, ownership of business, and individualism” should be “respected as a right-wing version of feminism.” Hear, hear.

(3) In Russia, the crisis (accompanied by the steep drop in oil prices) may accomplish what the Medvedev succession did not: weaken the authoritarian state’s grip on power. More on that soon. Of course, if there is a new “Russian revolution,” it may not be bloodless, and it’s far from certain that it will bring the good guys to power.

Stay tuned for 2009. It could turn out to be the best of times and the worst of times. May the “best” part prevail.

Happy New Year to all.

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