It’s time to stop defaming our boys

The most remarkable news report appeared on Salon and a few other outlets this week. Reporting research by the school of public health at Columbia University, published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, the coverage recounted findings that were so shocking as to take the breath away.

Dr David Bell and colleagues had conducted qualitative research interviews into teenage boys aged 14-16 and found that… brace yourself… they’re actually kinda sweet. The sample of 33 boys came from an economically deprived, primarily African-American community, where there were known to be high STI transmission rates (in other words, this was a group of boys who would traditionally be expected to have some of the most problematic attitudes from a public health perspective). Among the findings were that the boys described a high degree of ‘relationally-oriented beliefs and behaviours’ such as a desire for intimacy and trust in relationships, as against pursuing sex as an end in itself or a status symbol. There was little in the way of sexual objectification, homophobia was rare.

Both sexually inexperienced and sexually experienced participants sought meaningful relationships with nice-looking romantic partners with “good personalities,” a sense of humour, and future goals. Respect was an important characteristic. They reported that in their experience it had usually been the girls, not themselves, who had initiated both romantic and sexual engagements. They described their own vulnerability – emotionally and with regard to their sexual inexperience. [Read more...]

The famously fluffy and friendly Friday open thread

As far as I can work out, there are currently arguments still ongoing on four different threads on this blog, which may be a record.

I’m not sure you all really need somewhere else to argue, but since we haven’t had a new open thread for a couple of weeks I figured we should have a new one. Here you can drift as far off topic as you like, (since topic is there none) or raise any issues or points of interest that you’d  like to share with me or  the rest of the world.

Since there are so many arguments elsewhere, you may wish to keep this fluffy and friendly and post links to pictures of your kittens.  Or you can just call each other fucking idiots as usual. [Read more...]

Man mansplains that men also mansplain to men. Another man mansplains why

 

There is an entertaining piece on the Economist’s blog site this week, about how gender affects conversational styles. It was neatly summarised by the mag’s own Twitter-feed as “man mansplains that men also mansplain to men.”

The post raises a couple of really interesting points, I think. The first is alluded to but not spelled out by the author, and perhaps should have been. It is that “But men do this thing to other men too!” is a completely bloody pointless defence to any charge or complaint about sexist or patriarchal behaviour.

It’s amazing how often this comes up. Where women complain about harassing and intrusive behaviour on the streets or public transport, you can always bank on some arsehole piping up “But that’s not sexism, men shout random abuse at each other too!” It’s true, they do. So it is not always sexist. Sometimes it is racist or ableist or homophobic or just plain, simple bullying. So can we cut all that out too while we’re at it?

Where women complain about feeling the threat of violence when walking outside at night, Mr Bloke can be banked on to respond “What are you complaining about? Men are much more likely to be randomly assaulted by strangers than women are.” This is also true. So can we please join with those women who are quite keen to see an end to such behaviour? Sooner than later would be good. 

Or in the case in point, men use conversational exchanges not (just) to communicate, bond or exchange views and knowledge, but as a competitive sport, a test of dominance and status. It is quite true that this becomes an opportunity to establish social dominance over women (aka mansplaining) but also over other men. This is not an especially healthy trait. I’m sure we’ve all been in meetings (whether in work, politics, voluntary societies or whatever) which are dominated not by the person with the best ideas or the greatest knowledge, but the one with the most regard for the sound of (usually) his own voice. I’m dreadfully guilty of this myself, and am quite happy to acknowledge it and try to catch myself on.

The second point that occurred to me while reading the Economist blog is a bit of a leap of disciplines. (I’m thinking out loud here, so bear with me.In discussing the ideas of psycholinguist Deborah Tannen, the author says:

In Ms Tannen’s schema, men talk to determine and achieve status. Women talk to determine and achieve connection. To use metaphors, for men life is a ladder and the better spots are up high. For women, life is a network, and the better spots have greater connections.

Reading this, a little lightbulb came on. For a few years I have followed with interest the work of Michael W Kraus, both as an applied social psychologist and an engaging blogger (and all-round good guy). Kraus researches the interaction between social status and empathy, so for example, among his more intriguing findings is that if you manipulate someone’s sense of social status upwards (ie making them feel more important) their capacity for empathy diminishes, or vice versa. The suspicion is that empathy is, at least in part, a trait with evolutionary survival advantages for those lower down the (literal and metaphorical) food chain. It kicks in more the more it is needed.

(When I’ve written about this before, a lot of people reply by arguing that it is the lack of empathy and consideration which helps people attain power and status in the first place. While undoubtedly true, it is important to note this is not the point. Increase someone’s status, and their ability to empathise diminishes even when they want to empathise and actively try to empathise.)

What occurred to me today was that when we discuss male and female communication styles, we tend to argue about whether they are innate or socialised. As a broad rule of thumb, feminists tend to argue that boys and girls are taught or trained to be dominant or submissive respectively, while anti-feminists are perhaps more likely to argue that these are natural and immutable differences between the sexes.

What I am now wondering is whether it is possible that this aspect to conversational style is neither learned nor innate but is, at least in part, a consequence of a (self-perceived) social status? If it were true, we would expect to see that as individual women achieved greater power and status in the boardroom, politics or wherever, their capacity for empathy and the urge to co-operate and network would diminish. I can offer no objective evidence, but I have to say that this does pretty much tally with my experience.

The other implication would be that it wouldn’t be enough to teach men to listen and teach women to have confidence, as the Economist suggests. We would actually need to smash the surrounding social context of structural sexism and all vestiges of patriarchal hegemony before men’s and women’s communication styles equalise. That may be slightly beyond the editorial remit of the Economist.

Anyway, I repeat, the above is really just me thinking out loud. I’m not aware if there is any kind of body of research that proves or disproves what I say, so feel free to argue back from a position of considerable knowledge or, like me, enthusiastic ignorance.

Any thoughts?

 

 

No excuses: Yewtree, the stars and the victim-blaming

 

content note: brief details of sexual assaults are relayed later in this piece

 

Unlike Neil Lyndon, I was too young to experience the legendary decadence of the 1970s. I did, however, party my way through the chemical kaleidoscope of the late 80s and 90s, a time which bore many similarities. Hedonism was at a premium, good judgement and self-restraint were in scarce supply and, as one of Lyndon’s friends recalled of the previous era, at times it almost seemed like everybody was fucking everybody.

Except not quite. I remember once my (three male) housemates and I stumbled out of a club, pie-eyed, in the small hours. As we waited for the all-night bus we got chatting to some similarly mashed girls. They asked us if we had any weed and pretty much invited themselves back to our place. At some point a kind of collective ripple of realisation ran among me and my mates that these really were girls, not women. When someone asked how old they were they just giggled and said something vaguely flirtatious. We let them toke on a couple of spliffs to help them land gently from whatever they’d taken earlier then sent them grumbling back to their mums and dads. I never did find out their ages but a few days later they turned up at our door in their school uniforms at lunchtime. I was out, but my horrified housemate reported that tin the cold light of day they looked about 15 at most.

I recount this very mundane story to make a very mundane point. Not screwing children really isn’t that difficult, if you are any kind of decent human being. Even when they are dolled up in party gear and make-up, you can tell. Even when you’re shitfaced on the finest pharmaceuticals Hulme has to offer, you can still tell. Had any one of us grown men taken one of those girls to our bedrooms – even with her apparent consent – we would have known exactly what we were doing. I simply refuse to believe that teenagers in the 1970s were so very different that one couldn’t tell.

So I have little sympathy if Neil Lyndon or any of his friends from the time are waking up with the cold sweats expecting a knock on the door from Operation Yewtree. Just because they thought they could get away with it at the time, doesn’t mean it was right at the time. Justice delayed is still justice.

However there is another point on which Lyndon’s piece is deeply, grotesquely ill-conceived. I have not seen a single shred of evidence that any of the known victims of Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and others were enthusiastic groupies who threw themselves at their heroes in pursuit of an intimate connection. Of course in the 1970s, just like today, there were hormone-crazed teenage girls, either side of the age of consent, who actively pursued sexual contact with adult crushes – whether pop stars, DJs or their teachers. While it is absolutely 100% the responsibility of the adult to ensure they do not abuse children, this is irrelevant in the cases under discussion. These victims were not carefree libertines inspired by Erica Jong’s notion of the zipless fuck. They were vulnerable victims of abuse, assault and rape.

There must be thousands of women, now in their 50s and 60s, who had teenage encounters with pop stars and celebrities through the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I do not doubt that many were under the age of legal consent at the time. I have known personally several women who would willingly own up to those kinds of experiences without any apparent regret. I am not excusing the men who took advantage of them when I note that these women are NOT now phoning up the police to report themselves as victims of historic sex crimes.

Neil Lyndon, and all those making similar points, should go back and read again the testimony of the victims in the trials of Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris, or the inquiry into the crimes of Jimmy Savile. Read the stomach-turning testimony of the shy young girl who had never had a boyfriend, whom Savile met in hospital. He befriended her family, offered to take her out to buy chips, then raped her in his camper van outside the chip shop.

Lyndon should read again the account of Stuart Hall’s victim, who was only nine years old and in her own bed when the TV presenter crept into her room and molested her.

Lyndon should think on the evidence of the victim of Rolf Harris who was just 13 when she was first molested as she climbed out of the shower while on holiday.

I could continue but I hope the point is made. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of stories like these. Not a single witness in any of the trials has remotely matched the image conjured by Lyndon of lascivious, enthusiastic teenage sexpots entrapping poor, helpless male celebrities.

What we have in Lyndon’s piece is an extended exercise in the most extreme, literal form of victim blaming. By conflating the very real and all too human victims of serial sexual predators with enthusiastic participants in a carnival of orgiastic sex, he is saying that the victims of these criminals were actively complicit in their own abuse. This is a gross slander on the victims themselves, and an appalling misrepresentation of history.

Asking some awkward questions about FGM

Female genital mutilation is always an abhorrent obscenity. In its more invasive forms it carries significant implications for health and, most obviously sexual health. I have no quibble with the Home Affairs Select Committee that the failure to protect girls in the UK from the practice is a national scandal. We have victim testimony and medical case studies to confirm that girls born and raised in the UK, who should have been under the protection of our welfare and justice systems, have been subjected to this gruesome form of violence.

That said, I have longstanding and lingering doubts about some of the evidence that is always produced when we discuss the nature and extent of FGM in the UK. I stress at this point that from hereon in, this blogpost will be asking questions, not providing answers. However the questions I ask are, I believe, much bigger and more important than anyone is currently crediting. I raise them here not to be a contrarian bellend with an eye on a column in Spiked, but because it concerns me that the FGM prevention agenda could have serious unintended consequences that I will return to at the end.

Media coverage of the new MPs report typically repeat the claim that up to 170,000 women in the UK may have been subjected to FGM and 65,000 girls are currently at risk. The former statistic comes from a piece of research by Julie Bindel earlier this year, the latter is a longstanding estimate originating in research done for the charity FORWARD by Efua Dorkenoo in 2006.

And yet despite anecdote and assumption, actual documented incidents of girls from this country being ritually mutilated, either in this country or being taken abroad for the procedure, is scant. The Association of Chief Police Officers told the Select Committee that in the last five years the police had dealt with over 200 FGM-related cases nationally of which 11 had been referred on to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration. Of the 69 referrals made to the Metropolitan Police Service in 2013, only 10 were recorded as an FGM offence, the others included unfounded concerns and cases where the cutting had happened before the victim had moved to the UK. Health professionals also report seeing many mutilated women but, again, in almost all cases the mutilation appears to have predated UK residence.

Is it credible that a problem on the scale reported could throw up so few confirmed cases? Earlier this year a Channel 4 News Factcheck blog explained very clearly how the prevalence statistics were calculated.

“Estimates of prevalence like this are more like educated guesswork than hard science. There are ranges of uncertainty built into every stage of the process.”

To be fair, the Dorkenoo report is very frank about some of the research’s own limitations. This is reflected, to an extent, in the MPs’ report, but the way they acknowledge this is typical:

“Yet, apart from a small number of high-level statistical analyses and anecdotal evidence, we have very little information on the children who are most at risk, and even the extent to which the cutting is occurring in this country or by taking girls abroad. Meanwhile, as many as 170,000 women in the UK may already be living with the life-long consequences of FGM. We welcome efforts by the Government and others to draw a more accurate picture. However, even in the absence of precise data, it is clear that the extent of the problem is very significant”

In the absence of precise data, is it really clear? I’m not so sure. (Of course, in one sense any extent of FGM, even one case, is significant, but I don’t think that’s really what they mean.)

To understand the doubts about the prevalence data we are given, consider first the phrase “65,000 girls are at risk of FGM.” What does that mean? Simplistically , it means they were born into communities where FGM is practiced, but what risk does that carry? Is their risk of being mutilated 1% or 99%? When we are talking about prevalence and incidence, ‘at risk’ is an almost useless phrase. A quick read of the research reveals that the phrase ‘at risk’ is applied to any girl born to a woman born in any country were FGM is practised, including those where the practice is close to universal and those where it is a comparative rarity. Averaging out such risks would be meaningless, so it is impossible to say what magnitude of risk we are talking about here.

Look at the Dorkenoo paper closely, and other issues arise. The research uses census data for women who were born in countries where FGM is practised and is quite explicit that the research did not control for ethnic or cultural variations within that country. The single largest group within their data are Kenyans, who provide almost a third of their estimated total for women who have been mutilated. However, the British-Kenyan community is by no means typical of the population in Kenya. A large proportion are Kenyan-Asians, mostly of Hindu-Indian culture, who were expelled after the Kenyan Immigration Act of 1967. Rates of FGM among that community are (I would presume) pretty much zero. Other people who will have told the census they were born in Kenya include many white stragglers from the colonial era (Richard Dawkins, Cristina Odone and Peter Hain MP were all born in Kenya). Even among ethnic Kenyans in the UK, large numbers are educated middle-class professionals, especially doctors and nurses, and it is reasonable to presume that (while of course not exempt from risk) they are significantly less likely to be practising FGM than representative samples of the generally poor and uneducated Kenyan population, from which the risks to British-Kenyan girls are extrapolated.

One other serious question mark hanging over this research relates to how migrant communities behave. As acknowledged in the select committee’s report, there is evidence that the behaviour of (at least some) immigrant communities to the UK begins to change soon after they arrive in this country. It is by no means self-evident that a family of North African origin are going to stubbornly retain all the cultural habits of their former home when they begin a new life elsewhere.

And this is where the first of my wider concerns comes in. Anyone who regularly reads comments on social media or blogs knows the extent that FGM can be instrumentalised in entirely different debates. Despite a minimal theological connection to Islam, and widespread practice among Christian and other religious communities in parts of Africa, it is regularly used as evidence of the barbarity of Muslims. Those who would impose a fascistic monoculture upon this country use widespread FGM as evidence of the failure of supposed multiculturalism and the evils of cultural relativism and political correctness. A narrative holding that large numbers of savage dark-skinned foreigners are whisking their daughters out of the country to have their vaginas sewn up or their clitoris excised grips with troubling persistence in the public imagination.

There is a lot about the FGM debate which reminds me of the inflated concerns about sex trafficking about a decade ago. Who can forget Denis Macshane standing up in the House of Commons, waving a copy of the Daily Mirror and insisting that there were 25,000 sex slaves on the streets of Britain? The campaigning and false statistics drove two massive nationwide police operations which ultimately resulted in the rescue of a very small number of genuine victims of trafficking, rape and false imprisonment. Yes, such victims did and do exist. However the main victims of Pentameter I and II were entirely consenting, freely operating foreign-national sex workers who were rounded up by the hundred, torn away from their lives and summarily deported

Just as there really are victims of appalling sex trafficking, there are also victims of female genital mutilation. I do not doubt that there will be girls in this country who are either subjected to the cruel practice here in the UK or perhaps over the summer holidays they will be taken out of the country, with or without knowledge of their impending fate. Just one case is one too many, but whether such cases number in the dozens, the hundreds or the thousands must make a huge difference as to the policies we instigate to address the problem. If the problem were much more rare than we are led to believe, then it could cause considerable harm to place communities from Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and other FGM-practising countries under intrusive practices of surveillance and suspicion, while having little or no effect on the problem. If there are indeed thousands of cases each year, then it might be entirely justified to initiate more wide-ranging policies.

What concerns me most about the lack of strong research into the prevalence of FGM is not just that we do not know the extent of the problem. It is that it seems everyone involved knows we are clueless about the extent of the problem and they seem to have little genuine desire to find out the truth.

Everyday sexists or exceptional sickos? Observing hostile public masturbation

Laura Bates this week devoted her Everyday Sexism blog on the Guardian to the issue of men masturbating in public, specifically as a means of harassing women. Based on the contributions submitted to her website and over Twitter, she made a convincing case that this is one of the more common forms of harassment women experience, and her correspondents made a convincing case that it is also one of the most disturbing and frightening.

Beneath the line, an interesting and at times furious debate erupted. Some commentators, mostly men, I suspect, suggested that this should not be considered a form of sexism, it is instead the work of ‘sickos’ or ‘the local lunatic.’ Others, mostly women I suspect, responded that the men they had encountered behaving like this had been wearing suits and ties and showed no other sign of being mentally ill or generally disturbed. Some suggested that the experience is so common that it must be a large proportion of men who are doing this. This opinion, needless to say, was not well received by many men.

It was a debate that raised a lot of really interesting and important issues, and I thought they might be worth unpicking. My initial sense is that public masturbation is not a thing – it is several different things. Examples quoted in Laura’s piece include men masturbating when alone in a train carriage with a woman and leering at her; a woman discovering ejaculate in their hair from someone sitting behind her in a cinema; frotteurs rubbing themselves against a woman in a crushed tube train; people catching someone hiding in the bushes and masturbating while watching them in secret and even a man walking down the road, apparently unperturbed with his penis in his hand.

While these have an obvious superficial similarity, I’d suggest that they are actually all different phenomena and may have very different forensic profiles.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to focus on public masturbation, with the intent or expectation of being seen and eliciting a reaction. This is clinically classified as exhibitionism, which is a very common form of paraphilia. As long ago as 1973, JM McDonald noted in the original textbook that fully one third of sexual crimes reported to police were exhibitionism of some sort. A Swedish survey of the general population found that 4.1% of men and 2.1% of women admitted that they had, at some time in their lives, experienced sexual arousal by exposing their genitals to strangers. This suggests that the behaviour, while only performed by a small minority, is not freakishly unusual. It should be noted that despite those survey results above, the incidents which are reported to police (a rough proxy for incidents which could be considered threatening or traumatic) virtually all offenders are male. Adult male victims are almost unheard of. Child victims are roughly evenly divided between boys and girls.

Paraphilias (as sexual disorders are described in the psych literature and textbooks) are not generally considered to be mental illnesses, although – like personality disorders – they fall under the remit of mental health professionals when they begin to cause harm or distress to either the individual or those around him/her. So an exhibitionist, even a compulsive, repeat offender, is not necessarily ‘mad’ or mentally ill. Paraphilias also appear throughout the population, and there is some (albeit disputed) evidence that they are slightly over-represented among better educated, higher social-class individuals, which would validate the point about offenders wearing business suits.

However this gets complicated when one notes that exhibitionism, like other paraphilias, often appears in a pattern of comorbidity with mental illnesses, personality disorders and neurological disorders – spanning everything from autistic spectrum disorders to temporal lobe seizures.

The final piece in this puzzle is that exhibitionism also commonly appears in a pattern of co-morbidity with other paraphilias and sexual offending behaviours. So a persistent sex offender who commits contact offences – up to and including rape – is reasonably likely to have a history of other offences that include exhibitionism. It is also true that a small number of offenders commit these offences prolifically, so there will be far more women who have encountered such behaviour than there will be men who have committed it.

The sad but inescapable truth is that most people who display hostile paraphilias begin their ‘careers’ in perversion at a young age, usually still in childhood. A large proportion have been victims of childhood abuse of some sort, often but not always sexual. This does not make their behaviour understandable, acceptable or forgiveable.

Without getting lost in philosophical debates about free will and determinism, paraphiliacs have responsibility for their own beliefs, their own behaviour and their own values. The vast majority of victims of child abuse do not go on to abuse others. Most people with atypical sexual desires or who respond to unusual sexual stimuli find safe, non-abusive expressions for those urges and desires, ideally with an enthusiastically consenting partner or at least a rich fantasy life.

One can be mentally ill, one can be a misogynist, and one can be or neither, or both. I don’t think it is any kind of a stretch to include this type of behaviour under the banner ‘everyday sexism.’ It happens commonly enough and undoubtedly has a heavily gendered dynamic in the overwhelming majority of cases. On the other hand, the people committing the offences probably are not ‘everyday sexists’, they are what the textbooks call ‘deviant’ or disordered sexual offenders. There is no contradiction there.

So are these offenders damaged, disturbed, mentally disordered individuals or are they women-haters, sexists and misogynists? I’d hazard an educated guess that most are both. 

—————

Some more reading I found useful today:

Niklas Langstrom (2010) The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Exhibitionism, Voyeurism,and Frotteurism

Sex and Sexuality: Sexual Deviation and Sexual Offenses. Ed Richard D. McAnulty, M. Michele Burnette

Lee et al, 2002 Developmental risk factors for sexual offending   

 

The Fishin’ Around Friday Open Thread

There have been several of our recurring themes around the news this week.

As a few of you were discussing in the last open thread, Rhiannon Brooker has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years for making false rape allegations against her ex-boyfriend. Most people’s attention was captured by the frankly outrageous comments from Women Against Rape (WAR) who campaign vociferously against any prosecutions for making false allegations of rape. It’s a bizarre position to hold, seems to serve no purpose other than making feminism look entirely unreasonable, and I really don’t understand why the Guardian, in particular, give them so much airspace on this issue.

One thing that struck me about the coverage of the case, though, was the focus on why she had done it, what her motivations might have been. Was she trying to create a cover story because she was  about to fail her Bar exams (as alleged by the prosecution) or was it an inexplicable act committed in the midst of an emotional breakdown and immense stress and pressure,  as her defense counsel maintained, or was there some other more mysterious explanation?

My point is that we very rarely ask these questions about other criminals. If someone commits an assault or a rape we don’t agonise over why (usually) he might have done it. I think our desperate search to find an explanatory framework comes down to our collective difficulty in conceptualising the fact  that sometimes women can do really bloody nasty things out of spite.

Which leads me on to the  next topic on my radar – the study by Elizabeth Bates and Nicola Graham-Kevan which was reported at the Forensic section conference of the British Psychological Society yesterday. I’m not entirely sure what is new in it, all of it seems reasonably familliar to me, but the interesting thing in the light of recent debates on this site is that they found evidence to suggest women are more prone to show aggression to their partners than to non-partners of their own sex, whereas men are less likely (than women) to be aggressive towards their partners but more likely to be aggressive to other people of their own gender.

So they are the main things I haven’t found time to write about this week.

What else have we missed?

How I learned to stop worrying and love their #ListeningToMenFace

Poehler Fey

There was a moment when I was browsing the #ListeningToMenFace tweets over the weekend when I wondered whether it might be considered genuinely harmful.

If you’re a twit-refusenik or somehow missed it, this was a hashtag under which women, mostly but not entirely from feminist corners, posted photos, animated gifs of the faces they make when men talk to them. Some were posed selfies, most were celebrity grabs.

After laughing my way through the first few dozen entries I saw, the sheer weight of numbers began to wear me down. Had it become, I asked myself, something of a misandrist parade? An opportunity for women not just to strike back against the prevailing winds of patriarchal social mores but to gratuitously elevate a one finger salute to half the population of the planet?

I scratched my chin, cocked my head in a moment’s contemplation, then came to the following conclusion: “Ally…. get a grip and stop being such a butthurt bucket of toss.”

So yes, we can add the #ListeningToMenFace to the ever lengthening list of Fucks I Could Not Give. The key flash of realisation for me was that if so many women could identify with the joke and feel motivated enough to join in, there was a real and genuine itch there which needed to be scratched. And truth be told, looking at the photos, the videos and the gifs, a pretty hefty hunk of them looked rather familiar. Not only can I conclude that a lot of different women have shown me their #ListeningToMenFace over the years, I can add that on most occasions it was probably entirely deserved.

We live in a society where relationships between men and women – whether intimate, emotional, social or economic – are governed by myriad expectations, assumptions, habituations and complex etiquette. This means that, to some degree, most of us talk slightly differently to people of a different gender. Many of us might like to to think that we are immune to such habits. Most of us would be wrong, I think, but even if it were true, we all still interpret the other person’s words and behaviour through a lens that is coloured by their gender.

If we ever build a society free of restrictive gender norms, we might find ourselves in a position where the notion of a #ListeningToMenFace or indeed a #ListeningToWomenFace has no purchase or meaning, no humorous or satirical kick. As it is, I get why #ListeningToMenFace is funny. I also get why a #ListeningToWomenFace tag can be funny too, and if anyone expects me to argue it is different when men do these things about women because power relations blah blah, then sorry – a bit of gentle, impertinent ribbing of women by men is similarly lodged in the fattening file of Fucks I Could Not Give.

And of course it didn’t take long for the first such tweets to appear. The one truly saddening and worrying thing about this minor kerfuffle is that this evening when I looked, the top image under #ListeningToMenFace was this endearing photo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (above), the top image under #ListeningToWomenFace was the serial killer Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. A bit of gentle ribbing was answered by a reminder of brutal misogynistic violence. As the meme would have it, this is why we can’t have nice things.

I will not, however, allow that kind of unpleasantness to spoil anyone’s fun. As an original contribution to the #ListeningToMenFace game, I must pay tribute to my favourite fictional woman of recent years – Chloe O’Brian from 24. Without wishing to downplay her vital role in preventing umpteen biological weapons attacks and nuclear explosions, or to ignore her technical brilliance, but for all that her true genius is in pulling a #ListeningToMenFace. I mean, look.

chloe_listening

 

And it wouldn’t be right to leave you without my own #ListeningToWomenFace. I did contemplate a gif from Scanners of that dude’s head exploding, but while I have had a few days like that lately, it really wouldn’t be accurate. The truth of my #ListeningToWomenFace is probably something like this:

ghostbuster

 

 

Can we finally nail down those male victim statistics?

Dear Anna

I’m genuinely grateful for this post on your blog Economista Dentata which delves into the ONS statistics on domestic abuse. After the week I’ve had, I really hope this gives me the opportunity to establish some recognised consensus as to the best available knowledge on some controversial questions, and the fact that you identify the sources of your claims and ‘show your workings’ (forgive the cliché) gives me hope that this could be a really constructive exchange. I hope you would be willing to consider this an ongoing dialogue, so I will make no apologies for asking you some questions and I’ll very much look forward to your answers.

I will go through what I take to be your main points, if you think I have missed anything significant or misrepresented your points, please correct me, I assure you it will be inadvertent.

Before diving headlong into some data, let us clearly define our terms. In theONS definition, domestic violence has a narrower definition than domestic abuse….

The two terms are not interchangeable – domestic abuse covers the entire x- axis: domestic violence excludes non-physical abuse. As the title suggests, Mankind’s video focuses on the physical, but over and over, the statistics Ally cites refer to all abuse. The effect is to muddle the eye of the reader.

 

I willingly accept that the ONS draws a distinction between ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘domestic violence’ – the latter being a narrower category which excludes non-physical abuse. You make a valid criticism that I use the two terms interchangeably without clarification, which could cause confusion.

However as you know, I was addressing points made by Polly Neate from Women’s Aid. Women’s Aid, and indeed the Home Office, define domestic violence as:

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

psychological

physical

sexual

financial

emotional

That was also the definition I was using (for the record, it is one I accept and agree with.) You will notice that this definition of domestic violence is wider than the ONS one, indeed it is pretty much identical to the ONS definition of domestic abuse.

So I hope you would agree that by the definition quoted above, the claim made by Mankind Initiative about the percentage of victims of domestic violence who are male is not categorically inaccurate.

Are we agreed so far?

That said, it is fair to point out that we now have two operating definitions of domestic violence, one which includes non-physical abuse, and one which doesn’t.

It is important to note that victims can experience more than one type of abuse. Unless I’m missing a trick, it is therefore impossible to know from the figures on your graph (and here) exactly how many men and women were subjected to domestic violence by the strict ONS definition.

Your graph is partnered by this ONS table (click to enlarge)

Table 4.11

There were 700,000 male victims of domestic abuse and 1.2 million female victims of domestic abuse last year. We do therefore know how many men and women were subjected to each of the subcategories of abuse.

If we’re to be exact with our sums, I make it 37% of victims of domestic abuse are men, not 40%. I’ll accept those corrections.

From Table 4.11 we can also say that:

Men make up only small percentages of sexual violence and stalking victims. No argument from me there, although they are much, much smaller groups than the non-sexual abuse category.

There were 392,000 male victims of non-physical (emotional and financial) abuse (56% of 700,000) and 612,000 women (51% of 1.2m). That means 39% of victims of this type of abuse were male.

We can repeat this calculation to find that 329,000 men and were subjected to threats or force compared to 588,000 women, so 36% of victims of this type of domestic abuse were male.

Within that category:

17% of those subjected to threats were male.

31% of those subjected to minor force (‘pushed you, held you down or slapped you’) were male.

41% of those subjected to severe force (‘kicked, hit, bitten, choked, strangled, threatened with a weapon, threats to kill, use of a weapon or some other kind of force’) were male.

Looking at those statistics, especially the last one, while we can probably agree that it is never possible to capture a complex phenomenon like intimate partner abuse in a single statistic, would you not agree it is reasonable for a campaigning charity like the Mankind Initiative to tell a general, public audience that 40% of victims of domestic violence are male?

If not, can I ask you directly, what do you think would be a reasonable calculation, from all available evidence, of the proportion of victims of domestic abuse / violence who are male?

 

–—————–

 

We might all want to take a breather here, before I move on to your next point!

 

–—————-

So, to the data: there are several sources for this, which rather unhelpfully from our viewpoint have different methodologies. This notwithstanding, the ONS is pellucidly clear in its Summary and throughout: “Women were more likely than men to have experienced intimate violence across all headline types of abuse asked about.” Note: they do not say the likelihoods are of a comparable magnitude.

Yet this is the argument, that over and over again, Ally, in his defence of Mankind Initiative’s video, tries with more or less subtlety, to push.

I have very little to say about this beyond the fact that it is not true. I’ve said (and continue to say) that men make up a significant minority of victims of abuse but nowhere, in my recent blog or anywhere else, have I ever said that men were equally likely to face abuse. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has the Mankind Initiative. 40% versus 60% is not “comparable magnitude” of likelihood. I simply do not know where you have got that from and I would respectfully ask you to withdraw it, or at least explain what it is I’ve said to give you the wrong idea, so I can be careful not to say it again.

–———–

Ally says: “If you go to the Women’s Aid page of statistics, the very first fact stated there is that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. This statistic comes from the exact same ONS data set from where we get 40% of victims being male.” (Ally’s blog)

But, seeing as 40% of domestic violence victims in the UK are men…”(HuffPo)

Not only is that NOT the first fact stated on the Women’s Aid page

Whoops, my fault. It is the first statistic quoted on the domestic violence page of the Women’s Aid website. I hold my hand up and apologise for the error.

but he has compared a statistic about domestic violence to one about domestic abuse, in order, it seems, to minimise the violence women suffer and exaggerate that suffered by men.

See above. I maintain that according to the definition of domestic violence used by both the Home Office and Women’s Aid, it is not inaccurate to say that around 40% of domestic violence victims are male.

The time frames are also different: Ally cites Women’s Aid ‘in her lifetime’ – but the ONS data refers to reported incidents in the last year; the sample sizes are not the same: Women’s Aid’s statistic refers ALL women in the adult female population not the percentage of victims referred to by the ONS.

This is a fair point, in that I did switch between annual and lifetime figures, which is sloppy. However the Women’s Aid statistic of lifetime prevalence does indeed come from the BCS/CSEW – the exact same data that provide annual figures. To be accurate, the latest CSEW gives the figures of “30% of women and 16.3% of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.9 million female victims of domestic abuse and 2.7 million male victims” – which is slightly more than one in four women. But the key point is that this estimate refers to victims experiencing any one incident, not a repeated pattern.

As this page demonstrates, Women’s Aid themselves acknowledge that the “one in four women” figure (like the “one in six men” figure) is indeed based on single incidents, not repeated and prolonged patterns. So while I didn’t make my case very carefully in the original blog, the point very much still stands. Women’s Aid use single incident statistics when they want to demonstrate how commonplace domestic violence against women is, then discount single incident statistics when they want to claim domestic violence against men is rare.

–———-

Ally and Mankind also leave unaddressed that men will be perpetrators of violence against men in relationships, as well as being victims (it’s worth noting that of all incidents of all kinds of violence in society, the majority are committed by men); domestic violence and abuse against men will not take place solely in heterosexual relationships (the same caveat, of course, applies to women).

It is true that some partner violence against men can occur in same sex relationships, as of course can some partner violence against women.

Thankfully, the ONS have also considered this so we do have the data (albeit the most recent is from 2008/9) It is here, on Page 76. I appreciate the table is sideways on the pdf, so to save you some contortionism, the main points are that partner abuse victimisation among:

  • Heterosexual men = 4.1%
  • Heterosexual women = 5.9%
  • Gay/ bisexual men = 8.9%
  • Lesbian/bisexual women = 17.3%

I would advise not reading too much into the gay / lesbian / bi categories which can be complicated by all sorts of factors (not least margins of error with small groups). The key statistics are the first two. Among purely heterosexual populations, there are (very slightly more than) four male victims for every six female victims. Another way to put that is that about 40% of heterosexual victims of partner abuse are male. If we include same sex relationships in the analysis the proportion of victims who are male does not go up, it falls.

–———–

His attempt to redefine domestic violence by volume of incidents a victim suffers is puzzling at best: to quote Mankind’s own slogan ‘ViolenceisViolence’ whether it’s once or a thousand times.

Forgive me if I’m being dense here, I don’t understand this point. I think you may be referring to my responses to Polly Neate’s attempts to redefine domestic violence by volume of incidents. It was her doing that, not me. She appeared to be suggesting that domestic violence is only real domestic violence if it happens repeatedly, as a pattern.

If you’re puzzled by that, hey, join the club. I quite agree, #ViolenceIsViolence whether it happens once or a thousand times.

–—

In order to end male violence in society against women, we need to understand and name the problem.

 

I don’t disagree with that. At no point have I denied male violence, and I am on a lifelong mission to attempt to understand it. I’m also quite happy to name male violence as male violence.

However male violence is not the only type of violence in society and I have spent much of the last week fielding angry attacks from those who would appear to demand that I accept it is, against all evidence to the contrary.

 

Ally Fogg calls himself an ally to feminists.

 

Actually he doesn’t. I am sometimes called that by others, but believe me, I’m called a lot of worse things too.