The Intersection of Intersex and Trans*

Shiv blogged about a fascinating article on TransAdvocate. The title gives you a good preview: “An intersex perspective on the trans, intersex and TERF communities.” It seems some intersex people are drawn to “gender critical” feminism; on the surface, they argue against surgery and claim to push back against the notion of binary gender.

But, when you get into the details,

intersex advocates and “gender critical feminists” have very different end positions on medical interventions into the sexed body. Intersex advocates believe that no intervention should be forced–but also that once an intersex person is old enough to give full informed consent, that hormonal, surgical, or others interventions should be performed if that’s what the individual truly wants. Many, many, many intersex people do choose interventions of their own free will. …  Intersex people often seek hormone replacement therapy to masculinize or feminize their bodies, or surgeries to move their urethras to allow neater or standing urination, or any of a wide number of other interventions. And intersex advocates support all of these choices. We just wish them to be free choices, not forced by doctors or parents or social shaming.

Gender-critical feminists, on the other hand, turn out to hold a very different position: that all interventions into the sexed body are mutilations, not just those imposed without consent. Just as it is a mutilation to surgically alter the innocent bodies of intersex babies, they say, it is a pointless self-mutilation for an adult to choose to have their sexed body medically altered, because sex cannot be changed. …  The only healthy and feminist response to unhappiness with one’s body presented is to learn to accept it as it is. For intersex people, this just replaces the rigid regime of forcing medical interventions with a rigid regime of withholding them. Switching one constraint on intersex people for another isn’t the motivation for this gender critical position–I don’t know if they are even aware that intersex people desire some medical interventions. The main purpose of their argument that one must accept the natural body is to tell trans people that they must give up on the “delusion” that one can be born with a penis but really be a woman, or born with a vagina but really be a man, or born a human being and really be a member of some alternative sex.

This is but one of the many insights Cary Costello’s article offers. At one point, I summarised early TERFs as “lesbians squicking out over potential penis.” It was unabashedly superficial, but I’m not the only one to notice the fixation on genitals.

But participating in discussions with gender crits, it quickly becomes apparent that they are indeed transphobic–and apparently obsessed with penises. They talk about them constantly, and presume that all trans women have them (because they say even a trans woman who has genital reconstructive surgery now simply possesses an “inverted penis”). And penises are always presented as dangerous–“natal [cis] girls” might see them in locker rooms and be traumatized, trans-protective laws would mean no woman could ever be sure the person in the next stall didn’t have a penis, and thus pose a threat to her. This obsession with other people’s genitals and validation of the idea that people should be upset by those with the “wrong ones” runs completely counter to the interests of intersex people. …  In painting trans women’s bodies as deceptive, dangerous and disgusting, transphobic feminists paint those born sex variant with the same brush.

But I didn’t point you to the article just because it pokes holes in TERF ideology; there are excellent observations about the overlap between the trans* and intersex communities, with suggestions for improvement. No spoilers, though, you’ll have to read those for yourself. Cary Costello’s article deserves a second shout-out.

Journal Club 2: Gender Studies

Last time, we got half-way through Gender & Societyvolume 31 issue 3, June 2017. Before the book reviews, there are two more papers, one of which I’ll cover in this post.

Contemporary Ukraine offers a dynamic case study of how money can be used to restabilize gender relations during rapid social transition. Currently adapting to a market economy, Ukrainians have invented methods of differentiating and gendering money that preserve older ideals of masculinity and femininity. Soviet definitions of masculinity stressed men’s labor in the public sphere and breadwinning in the home (Ashwin 2000). With the collapse of the state and growth of the market, the criteria for masculinity have largely remained the same, but the resources available to men have not. This creates a dilemma that couples must strategize to overcome. Making use of this theoretically illuminating case, I ask: How do couples “gender” money in Ukraine? How is men’s money symbolically different from women’s money? When and how is money used as a prop and tool to construct gender boundaries?

Drawing on 56 in-depth interviews with married and cohabiting individuals, I illustrate how individuals use money to sustain a specific gender ideology, one that both preserves men’s breadwinning status and gives symbolic deference to women’s authority in the home. By outlining this process, I demonstrate how money helps constitute gender structures.

Anderson, Nadina L. “To Provide and Protect: Gendering Money in Ukrainian Households.” Gender & Society 31.3 (2017): 360-361.

Part of the reason why the second part of this series took to long is that I fell down a few rabbit-holes. Some of the citations were especially fascinating; I love historic accounts of social issues, because our ancestors often had a very different perspective on things. For instance, imagine the following scenario: a small child is killed by a light rail train, as many places use for public transit. What would happen nowadays? I’m pretty confident you wouldn’t answer with this:

The motorman [electric train car driver] “had a narrow escape from violence of a mob estimated by police… to have been 3,000 strong.” Press accounts describe the girl’s father as “so frenzied with grief that he had to be forced to give up a frantic attempt on the motorman’s life.”

Zelizer, Viviana A. Rotman. Pricing the priceless child: The changing social value of children. Princeton University Press, 1985. pg. 22-23.

Nor would you answer with what was common before that:

Until the eighteenth century in England and in Europe, the death of an infant or a young child was a minor event, met with a mixture of indifference and resignation. As Montaigne remarked, “I have lost two or three children in infancy, not without regret, but without great sorrow.” Laurence Stone, in his investigation of the English family, found no evidence of the purchase of mourning, not even an armband, when a very young child died in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries. Parents seldom attended their own child’s funerals.

Ibid. pg. 24

There must surely be a question burning in your brain at this moment: why? Why did our view of child death shift so dramatically in less than a century, then shift again to the modern view? Which society has the “best” view? Through studying how we used to view issues, we shed light on our contemporary views. We can accomplish the same by studying other cultures.

The Soviet state declared motherhood a public good and directly paid mothers for the production of children (Ashwin 2000). Ukrainian women were not confined to the home during industrialization, nor were they seen as warm, altruistic dependents of men (Utrata 2015). Soviet culture championed male breadwinning in part because it minimized men’s role in the home and subdued private patriarchy, which was a major threat to communist solidarity (Ashwin and Lytkina 2004). Ideologically, the “progress” of white couples in Moscow was contrasted with the “backward” practices of the Tatars, Kyrgyz, Tajik, and other minorities, who were deemed inferior in part because they clung to sexist, religious ideals of private patriarchy (Harris 2004). Gender equality was championed, not by eradicating gender boundaries but by emphasizing marriage-as-partnership and a gendered division of labor (Ironside 2014).

Anderson 2017, pg. 365

It’s like looking at a fun-house mirror; we find a sexist division of labour similar to what’s in North America, but with the tweak that motherhood is rewarded both culturally and financially. The Ukrainian system follows the ideal of “separate but equal” a lot better than ours.

Alas, the methodology of this study is weak, consisting of a convenience sample coded by the researcher themselves. It’s still valuable in that it establishes plausibility, leaving the door open for better designed studies to outline the more quantitative aspects. It also provides some insights into the symbolic use of money, something (apparently) rarely considered in the literature.

For men, the act of giving money to their wives, signaled deference to women’s superior knowledge of consumption and household affairs. Men were able to wash their hands of money: letting managing be a women’s task. For women, breadwinning money signaled that men cared and trusted them; it was tangible evidence that men contributed to the marital relationship. Breadwinning money was valued, not for what it could buy in a market context, but for what it symbolized to the partners (i.e., deference, respect, and care). By contributing something, however small, poor men could still engage in this symbolic exchange. … For the symbolic exchange to occur, men’s contribution had to be earmarked and separated from other monies in the household. This prompted couples to “gender” money — to exchange, separate, and earmark money in ways that highlighted men’s earnings and made them more visible in the household.

Ibid. pg. 368-369

To us in North America, money symbolises power rather than equality or trust. Interestingly, a few of the Ukrainian couples did treat money as an expression of power:

Two men attempted to restrict women’s spending by allotting them money based on expressed need. This interrupted the symbolic exchange of men’s money. If women had to beg or ask for money, men’s breadwinning money no longer symbolized his respect for her feminine expertise in the home. The conflict that ensued had an interesting consequence: namely, when partners disagreed about the meaning of money in exchange, money in the home began to resemble money in the market — the partner with more money had more control.

Ibid. pg. 377.

There’s a faint odour of economic abuse here, but the sample size is much too small to be insightful. Still, this is one study I’d love to see some follow-up on.

Finding Her Voice

Have you ever heard of a cool scientific paper, went out to find yourself a copy, and been frustrated to find no trace of it? I’ve been there for years for one particular paper, until I got lucky.

Cutler, Anne, and Donia R. Scott. “Speaker Sex and Perceived Apportionment of Talk.” Applied Psycholinguistics 11, no. 03 (1990): 253–272.
I’m sure you’ve heard the stereotype that women talk excessively. A number of studies have actually sat down and counter total talking time, only to find that men tend to be the blabbermouths. What gives?
An alternative suggestion is more complex and may rely on a difference in content between men’s and women’s speech. Kramer (1975) and Spender (1980) suggested that women are undervalued in society, and as a consequence women’s speech is undervalued – female contributions to conversation are overestimated because they are held to have gone on “too long” relative to what female speakers are held to deserve. Preisler (1986) similarly argued that evaluation of women’s speech is a function of (under)evaluation of the social roles most usually fulfilled by women.
The former explanation suggests that overestimation of women’s conversational contributions is a perceptual bias effect that should be reproducible in the laboratory simply by asking listeners to judge amount of talk produced by male and female speakers, even if content of the talk is controlled. [pg. 255]
So Anne Cutler and the other authors tested that by having the standard reference human listen to excerpts from plays, where both speaking roles said about the same number of words. The sex was varied, of course.
In single-sex conversations, female and male first speakers received almost identical ratings (49.5% and 50%, respectively), but in mixed-sex conversations, female speakers were judged to be talking more (55.2%), male speakers to be talking less (47.8%). Although the number of words spoken was identical for each column, listeners believed that in mixed-sex conversations, females spoke more and males spoke less.

In fact, three of these mean ratings are actually underestimates, since the true mean first speaker contribution across all four dialogues was 53.7%. ….

The interaction of speaker sex with whether the dialogue was mixed- or single-sex was significant in both analyses … There was also a main effect of speaker
sex, with female speakers’ contributions being overestimated, but male speakers’ contributions being underestimated relative to the actual number of words spoken. [pg. 259-260]
What’s interesting is that when people were asked to guess the sex of each role, handed nothing more than the script, men and women sometimes differed.
When a part was not particularly sex-marked (Dialogue 1), females speaking it were judged to have said more than males speaking it. When a part was marked as female for male and for female subjects alike (Dialogue 2), the same effect was found. When, however, a part was marked as female for male subjects only (Dialogue 3), only male subjects showed the effect; and when a part was marked as female for female subjects only (Dialogue 4), only female subjects showed any effect. [pg. 268]
Unfortunately, this muddied up the conclusions a bit. And I do have other issues with the paper, primarily in their use of p-values, but I think the findings rise above it. They also fit nicely into the existing body of work on sexism and speech.
These behaviors, the interrupting and the over-talking, also happen as the result of difference in status, but gender rules. For example, male doctors invariably interrupt patients when they speak, especially female patients but patients rarely interrupt doctors in return. Unless the doctor is a woman. When that is the case, she interrupts far less and is herself interrupted more. This is also true of senior managers in the workplace. Male bosses are not frequently talked over or stopped by those working for them, especially if they are women; however, female bosses are routinely interrupted by their male subordinates.

What can we do to raise women’s voices? Maybe technology can help.

Gender Timer is the app that measures the talk times between the sexes. It is used to raise awareness and generate discussion about how airtime looks in practice. The aim is to ultimately develop your organization and its meeting culture.

Available on Android and iPhone.

Abolish Gender, unless it’s convenient for us

I was mulling over a post on Meghan Murphy, someone I’d heard about via Bill C-16, when I noticed Shiv beat me to it and did a much better job than I could. She even makes the same point I would have reached for:

… socialization cannot be both something that is possible to reject–as these feminists do with feminine gender roles–and also inevitable destiny. These are obviously mutually exclusive states. That women buck against the subordination expected of them by patriarchs is plain evidence that these socialized experiences are not fixed points of references but experiences that can be continuously and willfully re-contextualized. And if that’s the case, so-called “male socialization”–the standard idea of which does not map neatly to trans women’s experiences–is not as useful if one’s intention is to drive a wedge between cis and trans womanhood. That this observation is seldom accounted for in the TERF mythology speaks to its importance in these kinds of narratives.

This bugged me when I first learned of TERFs, I found it bizarre that they simultaneously argued gender is fluid like water, yet sticks to you like superglue.

… if anatomy is so strongly associated with a tendency to violence, how can you hope to improve things by destroying the concept of “gender?” …  I have yet to see a single TERF with a self-coherent view of sex/gender. That’s because their “criticism” isn’t actually a critique, based on solid evidence and analysis, but a fig leaf to disguise their bigotry.

I prefer Shiv’s phrasing, though, and her post covers a lot more than one note. Give it a boo.

The Cry of the Bigot

Hmph, yet again I find myself late to the party. Shiv has an excellent article up on Jesse Singal.
Back when Singal first started cluelessly meandering into trans issues, virtually every trans feminist academic I read approached him with kiddie gloves. Julia Serano gave an interview with him to help orient his slant on a Ken Zucker piece in relation to empirical evidence–he declined to use any of the information she provided. Same thing with Parker Molloy, who goes to great lengths to avoid calling Singal transphobic despite his omission of Molloy’s attempt to introduce the evidence to him. A blogger by the pseudonym of Cerberus has meticulously documented Singal’s foray into trans issues, and spends several years trying to patiently explain the sheer amount of denialism necessary to maintain the opinions Singal defends.
The chain of causality is a bit convoluted. Rebecca Tuvel wrote a clueless article comparing “transracialism” to gender identity. Some academics popped up to say “you missed the boat, and here’s why.”[2] Singal responded with, in part:
This is a witch hunt. There has simply been an explosive amount of misinformation circulating online about what is and isn’t in Tuvel’s article, which few of her most vociferous critics appear to have even skimmed, based on their inability to accurately describe its contents.
Yeeeah. There’s meatier arguments within Singal’s article, but the histrionics are well out of line. Myers noticed this too, but I want to highlight the hyperbole as a warning flag.
[9:35] HARRIS: The purpose of the podcast was to set the record straight, because I find the dishonesty and hypocrisy and moral cowardice of Murray’s critics shocking, and the fact that I was taken in by this defamation of him and effectively became part of a silent mob that was just watching what amounted to a modern witch-burning, that was intolerable to me. So it is with real pleasure (and some trepidation) that I bring you a very controversial conversation, on points about which there is virtually no scientific controversy. […]

In thinking about the frenzied monstering of me on Freethought Blogs over the past few weeks, I realized I must have been laboring under a misapprehension all the time I was there. I thought it was a network that was partly about thinking – thinking as such, thinking as a value, thinking as a goal and a pursuit and a method. I knew it was about other things too, of course, especially secularism and atheism and also progressive causes, but I did think it put the “thought” part front and center. […]

I think Freethought Blogs the network has taken a hard turn to anti-intellectualism for the sake of absolutist political commitment. I think political commitments need to be accompanied by thinking.

Benson in particular makes a fine example of this, as not only has she endorsed describing any pushback against transphobia as “witch hunts,” she’s also mocked people for playing the “witch hunt” card and hosted a co-blogger who speaks out against actual witch hunts. It’s amazing to watch the ease with which she pulls out hyperbole right to this day, to paint herself as the victim of a vast conspiracy of the blind.

One of the things I loathe most about the “SHUN HER NOW” school of non-thought is the way it forbids all that and insists that thinking has to be replaced with formulas and that the formulas have to be repeated exactly or dire punishment will follow. In short I loathe the banning of thought and probing and questions. I think I knew I couldn’t stay at FTB any longer when the goons started mocking me for daring to say it made a difference whether we were talking about ontology or politics. Fucking hell, if we can’t make distinctions as basic as that how can we think at all?

Back in the day, I pointed out this feeds “into the heightened emotions and paranoia Benson needs to keep other people (and perhaps herself) from looking at the evidence.” It is the cry of the bigot: hyperbolic and emotionally charged, so as to drive out self-reflection and critical thought. Watch for it.

Intersex and Sex Denialism

This was a pleasant surprise.

For generations those who, for biological reasons, don’t fit the usual male/female categories have faced violence and stigma in Kenya. Intersex people – as they are commonly known in Kenya – were traditionally seen as a bad omen bringing a curse upon their family and neighbours. Most were kept in hiding and many were killed at birth. But now a new generation of home-grown activists and medical experts are helping intersex people to come out into the open. They’re rejecting the old idea that intersex people must be assigned a gender in infancy and stick to it and are calling on the government to instead grant them legal recognition.

While some of those people are trans*, that podcast does talk with a number of intersex people as well. It’s great to see more advocacy, I just wish I’d see more of it in North America and less of this.

The facts of the world generally don’t support transphobic arguments, and transphobes don’t really have the option of making robust arguments based on an honest assessment of the current state of our knowledge. They know this – they make use of this same technique of pondering counterfactuals. The difference is that they work backwards to fabricate an entirely new counter-reality, tailored to support their positions and vast enough that it can substitute for reality itself in a person’s mind. It’s called denialism: an entire ideological support system made to preserve a desired belief by rejecting the overwhelming evidence that would threaten this belief.

Denialism is wrongness with an infrastructure – ignorance with an armored shell, a whole fake world weaponized against the real world.

Less of “denialism,” that is, not good analysis or Zinnia Jones. She gets a bit meta behind the link, and the contents are applicable to much more than transphobia. It’s worth a full read.
(That last item comes courtesy of Shiv. Support her work, too!)

You!

Who would you like to signal boost?

Today is Trans* Day of Visibility, and I have a gaggle of people and resources to share. Two web comics I follow are Rooster Tales and Trans Girl Next Door, which provide a great mix of silly and serious. On the educational side, TransAdvocate has been an excellent read, a mix of rigorous scholarship and activism. Zinnia Jones is in the same vein, and the Gender Analysis series she helped start is a must-see. And of course, Shiv’s blogging is worth highlighting.

Christina Hoff Sommers: Blatant Science Denialist

So, how’d my predictions of Christina Hoff Sommer’s video pan out?

The standard approach for those challenging rape culture is to either to avoid defining the term “rape culture” at all, or define it as actively encouraging sexual assault instead of passively doing so, setting up a strawperson from the get-go.

Half points for this one. Sommers never defined “rape culture,” but thanks to vague wording made it sound like “rape culture” was synonymous with “beliefs that encourage the sexual assault of women on college campuses:”

[1:12] Now, does that mean that sexual assault’s not a problem on campus? Of course not! Too many women are victimized. But it’s not an epidemic, and it’s not a culture.

Continuing with myself:

Sommers herself is a fan of cherry-picking individual studies or case reports and claiming they’re representative of the whole, and I figure we’ll see a lot of that.

Success kid: NAILED IT

There’s also the clever technique of deliberately missing the point or spinning out half-truths […] I don’t think Sommers will take that approach, preferring to cherry-pick and fiddle with definitions instead, but as a potent tool of denialists it’s worth keeping in mind.

Oooooo, almost. Almost.

While there’s a lot of things I could pick apart about this video, I’d like to focus on the most blatant examples of her denialism, her juggling of sexual assault statistics.

The first study she cites is an infamous one in conservative circles, the Campus Sexual Assault Study of 2007. Ever since Obama made a big deal of it, they’ve cranked up their noise machine and dug in deep to discredit the study. Sommers benefits greatly from that, doing just a quick hit-and-run.

[0:50] The “one in five” claim is based on a 2007 internet study, with vaguely worded questions, a low response rate, and a non-representative sample.

Oh, how many ways is that wrong? Here’s the actual methodology from the paper (pg 3-1 to 3-2):

Two large public universities participated in the CSA Study. Both universities provided us

with data files containing the following information on all undergraduate students who were enrolled in the fall of 2005: full name, gender, race/ethnicity, date of birth, year of study, grade point average, full-time/part-time status, e-mail address, and mailing address. […]

We created four sampling subframes, with cases randomly ordered within each subframe: University 1 women, University 1 men, University 2 women, and University 2 men. […]

Samples were then drawn randomly from each of the four subframes. The sizes of these samples were dictated by response rate projections and sample size targets (4,000 women and 1,000 men, evenly distributed across the universities and years of study) […]

To recruit the students who were sampled to participate in the CSA Study, we relied on both recruitment e-mails and hard copy recruitment letters that were mailed to potential respondents. Sampled students were sent an initial recruitment e-mail that described the study, provided each student with a unique CSA Study ID#, and included a hyperlink to the CSA Study Web site. During each of the following 2 weeks, students who had not completed the survey were sent a follow-up e-mail encouraging them to participate. The third week, nonrespondents were mailed a hard-copy recruitment letter. Two weeks after the hard-copy letters were mailed, nonrespondents were sent a final recruitment e-mail.

Christopher P Krebs, Christine H. Lindquist, Tara D. Warner, Bonnie S. Fisher, and Sandra L. Martin. “Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study, Final Report,” October 2007.

The actual number of responses was 5,446 women and 1,375 men, above expectations. Yes, the authors expected a low response rate with a non-representative sample, and already had methods in place to deal with that; see pages 3-7 to 3-10 of the report for how they compensated, and then verified their methods were valid. Note too that this “internet study” was quite targeted and closed to the public, contrary to what Sommers implies.

As to the “vaguely-worded” questions, that’s because many people won’t say they were raped even if they were penetrated against their will (eg. Koss, Mary P., Thomas E. Dinero, Cynthia A. Seibel, and Susan L. Cox. “Stranger and Acquaintance Rape: Are There Differences in the Victim’s Experience?Psychology of Women Quarterly 12, no. 1 (1988): 1–24). Partly that’s because denial is one way to cope with a traumatic event, and partly because they’ve been told it isn’t a crime by society. So researchers have to tip-toe around “rape culture” just to get an accurate view of sexual assault, yet more evidence that beast exists after all.

Sommers champions another study as more accurate than the CSA, one from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics which comes to the quite-different figure of one in 52. Sommers appears to be getting her data from Figure 2 in that document, and since that’s on page three either she or a research assistant must have read page two.

The NCVS is one of several surveys used to study rape and sexual assault in the general and college-age population. In addition to the NCVS, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) and the Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSA) are two recent survey efforts used in research on rape and sexual assault. The three surveys differ in important ways in how rape and sexual assault questions are asked and victimization is measured. […]

The NCVS is presented as a survey about crime, while the NISVS and CSA are presented as surveys about public health. The NISVS and CSA collect data on incidents of unwanted sexual contact that may not rise to a level of criminal behavior, and respondents may not report incidents to the NCVS that they do not consider to be criminal. […]

The NCVS, NISVS, and CSA target different types of events. The NCVS definition is shaped from a criminal justice perspective and includes threatened, attempted, and completed rape and sexual assault against males and females […]

Unlike the NCVS, which uses terms like rape and unwanted sexual activity to identify victims of rape and sexual assault, the NISVS and CSA use behaviorally specific questions to ascertain whether the respondent experienced rape or sexual assault. These surveys ask about an exhaustive list of explicit types of unwanted sexual contact a victim may have experienced, such as being made to perform or receive anal or oral sex.

Lynn Langton, Sofi Sinozich. “Rape and Sexual Assault Among College-age Females, 1995-2013” December 11, 2014.

This information repeats in Appendix A, which even includes a handy table summarizing all of the differences. If it’s been shoved into page two as well, that must indicate many people have tried to leverage this study to “discredit” others, without realizing the different methodologies make that impossible. The study authors tried to paint these differences in bright neon, to guard against any stat-mining, but alas Sommers has no qualms about ignoring all that to suit her ends. Even the NCVS authors suggest going with other numbers for prevalence and only using theirs for differences between student and non-student populations:

Despite the differences that exist between the surveys, a strength of the NCVS is its ability to be used to make comparisons over time and between population subgroups. The differences observed between students and nonstudents are reliable to the extent that both groups responded in a similar manner to the NCVS context and questions. Methodological differences that lead to higher estimates of rape and sexual assault in the NISVS and CSA should not affect the NCVS comparisons between groups.

In short, Sommers engaged in more half-truths and misleading statements than I predicted. Dang. But hold onto your butts, because things are about to get worse.

[2:41] The claim that 2% of rape accusations are false? That’s unfounded. It seems to have started with Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 feminist manifesto “Against Our Will.” Other statistics for false accusations range from 8 to 43%.

Hmph, so how did Brownmiller come to her 2% figure for false reports? Let’s check her book:

A decade ago the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports noted that 20 percent of all rapes reported to the police were determined by investigation to be unfounded.’ By 1973 the figure had dropped to 15 percent, while rape remained, in the FBI’s words, the most underreported crime.’ A 15 percent figure for false accusations is undeniably high, yet when New York City instituted a special sex crimes analysis squad and put police women (instead of men) in charge of interviewing complainants, the number of false charges in New York dropped dramatically to 2 percent, a figure that corresponded exactly to the rate of false reports for other crimes. The lesson in the mystery of the vanishing statistic is obvious. Women believe the word of other women. Men do not.

Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. Open Road Media, 2013. pg. 435.

…. waaaitaminute. Brownmiller never actually says the 2% figure is the false reporting rate; at best, she merely argues it’s more accurate than figures of 15-20%. And, in fact, it is!

In contrast, when more methodologically rigorous research has been conducted, estimates for the percentage of false reports begin to converge around 2-8%.Lonsway, Kimberly A., Joanne Archambault, and David Lisak. “False reports: Moving beyond the issue to successfully investigate and prosecute non-stranger sexual assault.” (2009).

That’s taken from the third study Sommers cites, or more accurately a summary of other work by Lisak. She quotes two of the three studies in that summary which show rates above 8%. The odd study out gives an even higher false reporting rate than the 8% one Sommers quotes, and should therefore have been better evidence, but look at how Lisak describes it:

A similar study was then again sponsored by the Home Office in 1996 (Harris & Grace, 1999). This time, the case files of 483 rape cases were examined, and supplemented with information from a limited number of interviews with sexual assault victims and criminal justice personnel. However, the determination that a report was false was made solely by the police. It is therefore not surprising that the estimate for false allegations (10.9%) was higher than those in other studies with a methodology designed to systematically evaluate these classifications.

That’s impossible to quote-mine. And while Lisak spends a lot of time discussing Kanin’s study, which is the fifth one Sommers presents, she references it directly instead of pulling from Lisak. A small sample may hint at why he’s been snubbed:

As a result of these and other serious problems with the “research,” Kanin’s (1994) article can be considered “a provocative opinion piece, but it is not a scientific study of the issue of false reporting of rape. It certainly should never be used to assert a scientific foundation for the frequency of false allegations” (Lisak, 2007, p. 1).

Well, at least that fourth study wasn’t quote-mined. Right?

internal rules on false complaints specify that this category should be limited to cases where either there is a clear and credible admission by the complainants, or where there are strong evidential grounds. On this basis, and bearing in mind the data limitations, for the cases where there is information (n=144) the designation of false complaint could be said to be probable (primarily those where the account by the complainant is referred to) in 44 cases, possible (primarily where there is some evidential basis) in a further 33 cases, and uncertain (including where victim characteristics are used to impute that they are inherently less believable) in 77 cases. If the proportion of false complaints on the basis of the probable and possible cases are recalculated, rates of three per cent are obtained, both of all reported cases (n=67 of 2,643), and of those where the outcome is known (n=67 of 2,284). Even if all those designated false by the police were accepted (a figure of approximately ten per cent), this is still much lower than the rate perceived by police officers interviewed in this study.Kelly, Liz., Jo. Lovett, Linda. Regan, Great Britain., Home Office., and Development and Statistics Directorate. Research. A Gap or a Chasm?: Attrition in Reported Rape Cases. London: Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, 2005.

Bolding mine. It’s rather convenient that Sommers quoted the police false report rate of 8% (or “approximately ten per cent” here), yet somehow overlooked the later section where the authors explain that the police inflated the false report figure. In the same way they rounded the 8% to ten, Liz Kelly and her co-authors also rounded up the “three per cent” figure; divide 67 by 2,284, and you get within fingertip distance of 2%, a false report rate of 2.5%.

Lisak did not get the low-end of his 2-8% range from Brownmiller; he got it from two large-scale, rigorous studies that concluded a 2% false report rate was reasonable. In his scientific paper, in fact, he explicitly discards Brownmiller’s number:

Another source, cited by Rumney (2006) and widely referenced in the literature on false allegations is a study conducted by the New York City police department and originally referenced by Susan Brownmiller (1975) in her book, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. According to Brownmiller, the study found a false allegation rate of 2%. However, the only citation for the study is a public remark made by a judge at a bar association meeting, and, therefore, no information is available on the study’s sample or methodology.

Lisak, David, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote. “False Allegations of Sexual Assualt: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases.” Violence Against Women 16, no. 12 (2010): 1318–34.

That 2% number is actually quite well founded, and Sommers must have known that. Feminists also know of the 2-8% stat, and cite it frequently.

In hindsight, this is a blatant example of the embrace-extend-extinguish pattern of Sommers that I discussed earlier. She took one extreme of the feminist position, then painted it as the typical one while cherry-picking the evidence in her favor. She took the other extreme as her low point, so she had the option of invoking a false concession, and then extended her false report range to encompass the majority of false rape report studies out there, most of which are useless.

very few of these estimates are based on research that could be considered credible. Most are reported without the kind of information that would be needed to evaluate their reliability and validity. A few are little more than published opinions, based either on personal experience or a non-systematic review (e.g., of police files, interviews with police investigators, or other information with unknown reliability and validity).

Lisak (2009), pg. 1

Sommers then claims this “middle ground” as her own, riding the Appeal to Moderation for all it’s worth. This is denialism so blatant that no skeptic should take it seriously.

Alas, quite a few do.

Christina Hoff Sommers: Science Denialist?

In a bizarre coincidence, just three days before my lecture on rape culture Christina Hoff Sommers happened to weigh in on the topic. I haven’t seen the video yet, which puts me in a great position to lay a little groundwork and make some predictions.

First off, we’ve got to get our definitions straight. “Rape culture” is the cloud of myths about sexual assault that exist within our society, which make it easier to excuse that crime and/or tougher for victims to recover or seek justice. Take Burt’s 1980 paper on the subject:

The burgeoning popular literature on rape (e.g., Brownmiller, 1975; Clark & Lewis, 1977) all points to the importance of stereotypes and myths — denned as prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists — in creating a climate hostile to rape victims. Examples of rape myths are “only bad girls get raped”; “any healthy woman can resist a rapist if she really wants to”; “women ask for it”; “women ‘cry rape’ only when they’ve been jilted or have something to cover up”; “rapists are sex-starved, insane, or both.” Recently, researchers have begun to document that rape myths appear in the belief systems of lay people and of professionals who interact with rape victims and assailants (e.g., Barber, 1974; Burt, 1978; Feild, 1978; Kalven & Zeisel, 1966). Writers have ana-
lyzed how rape myths have been institutionalized in the law (Berger, 1977) […]

Much feminist writing on rape maintains that we live in a rape culture that supports the objectification of, and violent and sexual abuse of, women through movies, television, advertising, and “girlie” magazines (see, e.g., Brownmiller, 197S). We hypothesized that exposure to such material would increase rape myth acceptance because it would tend to normalize coercive and brutal sexuality.
Burt, Martha R. “Cultural Myths and Supports for Rape.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38, no. 2 (1980): 217.
http://www.excellenceforchildandyouth.ca/sites/default/files/meas_attach/burt_1980.pdf

You can see how the definition has shifted a little over time; objectification certainly helps dehumanize your victim, but it’s not a strict necessity, and while in all modern societies that I know of women are disproportionately targeted for gender-based violence, there’s still a non-trivial number of male victims out there.

There are two ways to demonstrate “rape culture” is itself a myth. The most obvious route is to challenge the “rape myth” part, and show either that those myths are in line with reality or are not commonly held in society. For instance, either good girls do not get raped, or few people believe that good girls do not get raped. Based on even a small, narrow sample of the literature, this is a tough hill to climb. I did a quick Google Scholar search, and even when I asked specifically for “rape myth acceptance” I had no problem pulling a thousand results, with Google claiming to have another 2,500 or so it wouldn’t show me. There must be a consensus on “rape culture,” based merely on volume, and to pick a side opposing that consensus is to be a science denialist.

The less obvious route to challenge the “help perpetrators/harm victims” portion. Consider the “rubber sheet model” of General Relativity; we know this is wrong, and not just because it depends on gravity to explain gravity, but nonetheless the model is close enough to reality that non-physicists get the gist of things without having to delve into equations. It’s a myth, but the benefits outweigh the harms. Sommers could take a similar approach to sexual assault, not so much arguing that rape myths are a net benefit but instead riding the “correlation is not causation” line and arguing the myths don’t excuse perpetrators or harm victims. This approach has problems too, as correlation can be evidence for causation when there’s a plausible mechanism, and past a point this approach also becomes science denialism. Overall, I think it’s Sommers’ best route.

If she gets that far, of course. The standard approach for those challenging rape culture is to either to avoid defining the term “rape culture” at all, or define it as actively encouraging sexual assault instead of passively doing so, setting up a strawperson from the get-go. Sommers herself is a fan of cherry-picking individual studies or case reports and claiming they’re representative of the whole, and I figure we’ll see a lot of that. There’s also the clever technique of deliberately missing the point or spinning out half-truths: take this video about date rape drugs by her partner-in-crime Caroline Kitchens, for instance. Her conclusion is that date rape drugs are over-hyped, and having looked at the literature myself I agree with her… so long as we exclude alcohol as a “date rape drug.” If you include it, then the picture shifts dramatically.

Numerous sources implicate alcohol use/abuse as either a cause of or contributor to sexual assault. … Across both the literatures on sexual assault and on alcohol’s side effects, several lines of empirical data and theory-based logic suggest that alcohol is a contributing factor to sexual assault.
George, William H., and Susan A. Stoner. “Understanding acute alcohol effects on sexual behavior.” Annual review of sex research 11.1 (2000): 92-124.

General alcohol consumption could be related to sexual assault through multiple path-ways. First, men who often drink heavily also likely do so in social situations that frequently lead to sexual assault (e.g., on a casual or spontaneous date at a party or bar). Second, heavy drinkers may routinely use intoxication as an excuse for engaging in socially unacceptable behavior, including sexual assault (Abbey et al. 1996b). Third, certain personality characteristics (e.g., impulsivity and antisocial behavior) may increase men’s propensity both to drink heavily and to commit sexual assault (Seto and Barbaree 1997).

Certain alcohol expectancies have also been linked to sexual assault. For example, alcohol is commonly viewed as an aphrodisiac that increases sexual desire and capacity (Crowe and George 1989). Many men expect to feel more powerful, disinhibited, and aggressive after drinking alcohol. … Further-more, college men who had perpetrated sexual assault when intoxicated expected alcohol to increase male and female sexuality more than did college men who perpetrated sexual assault when sober (Abbey et al. 1996b). Men with these expectancies may feel more comfortable forcing sex when they are drinking, because they can later justify to themselves that the alcohol made them act accordingly (Kanin 1984).

Attitudes about women’s alcohol consumption also influence a perpetrator’s actions and may be used to excuse sexual assaults of intoxicated women. Despite the liberalization of gender roles during the past few decades, most people do not readily approve of alcohol consumption and sexual behavior among women, yet view these same behaviors among men with far more leniency (Norris 1994). Thus, women who drink alcohol are frequently perceived as being more sexually available and promiscuous compared with women who do not drink (Abbey et al. 1996b). … In fact, date rapists frequently report intentionally getting the woman drunk in order to have sexual intercourse with her (Abbey et al. 1996b).
Abbey, Antonia, et al. “Alcohol and sexual assault.” Alcohol Research and Health 25.1 (2001): 43-51.
http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-1/43-51.htm

I don’t think Sommers will take that approach, preferring to cherry-pick and fiddle with definitions instead, but as a potent tool of denialists it’s worth keeping in mind.

With that preamble out of the way, we can begin….

Index Post: Rape Myth Acceptance

Apologies for going silent, but I’ve been in crunch mode over a lecture on rape culture. The crush is over, thankfully, and said lecture has been released in video, transcript, and footnote form.

But one strange thing about it is that I never go into depth on the rape myth acceptance literature. There’s actually a good reason why: after thirty years of research, modern papers don’t even bother with 101 level stuff like “why is this a myth?” or even “how many people believe myth X?”, because it’s been done and covered and consensus has been reached. My intended audience was below the 101 level and hostile to the very notion of “rape culture,” rendering much of the literature useless.

But there is soooooo much literature that it feels like a grave injustice not to talk about it. So, let’s try something special: this will be an index post to said literature. It’ll give you the bare minimum of preamble you need to jump in, and offer a little curation. This will evolve and change over time, too, so check back periodically.

[section on comment policy deleted, for obvious reasons]

What is a “Rape Myth”?

A “rape myth” is pretty self-explanatory: it is a false belief about sexual assault, typically shared by more than one person. Martha Burt’s foundational paper of 1980 includes these, for instance:

“One reason that women falsely report a rape is that they frequently have a need to call attention to themselves.”
“Any healthy woman can successfully resist a rapist if she really wants to.”
“Many women have an unconscious wish to be raped, and may then unconsciously set up a situation in which they are likely to be attacked.”
“If a woman gets drunk at a party and has intercourse with a man she’s just met there, she should be considered “fair game” to other males at the party who want to have sex with her too, whether she wants to or not.”

Other myths include “men cannot be raped” and “if you orgasm, it can’t be rape” (we’re meat machines, and at some point low-level physiology will override high-level cognition).

What papers should I prioritize?

As mentioned, there’s Burt’s 1980 contribution, which goes into great detail about validity and correlations with environmental factors, and developed a questionnaire that became foundational for the field.

The present research, therefore, constitutes a first effort to provide an empirical foundation for a combination of social psychological and feminist theoretical analysis of rape attitudes and their antecedents.

The results reported here have two major implications. First, many Americans do indeed believe many rape myths. Second, their rape attitudes are strongly connected to other deeply held and pervasive attitudes such as sex role stereotyping, distrust of the opposite sex (adversarial sexual beliefs), and acceptance of interpersonal violence. When over half of the sampled individuals agree with statements such as “A women who goes to the home or apartment of a man on the first date implies she is willing to have sex” and “In the majority of rapes, the victim was promiscuous or had a bad reputation,” and when the same number think that 50% or more of reported rapes are reported as rape only because the woman was trying to get back at a man she was angry with or was trying to cover up an illegitimate pregnancy, the world is indeed not a safe place for rape victims.
Burt, Martha R. “Cultural Myths and Supports for Rape.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38, no. 2 (1980): 217.
http://www.excellenceforchildandyouth.ca/sites/default/files/meas_attach/burt_1980.pdf

But there’s also the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale, developed twenty years later and benefiting greatly from that.

First, we set out to systematically elucidate the domain and structure of the rape myth construct through reviewing the pertinent literature, discussion with experts, and empirical investigation. Second, we developed two scales, the 45-item IRMA and its 20-item short form (IRMA-SF), designed to reflect the articulated domain and structure of the rape myth construct, as well as to possess good psychometric properties. Finally, whereas content validity was determined by scale development procedures, construct validity of the IRMA and IRMA-SF was examined in a series of three studies, all using different samples, methodologies, and analytic strategies. […]

This work revealed seven stable and interpretable components of rape myth acceptance labeled (1) She asked for it; (2) It wasn’t really rape; (3) He didn’t mean to; (4) She wanted it; (5) She lied; (6) Rape is a trivial event; and (7) Rape is a deviant event. […]

individuals with higher scores on the IRMA and IRMA-SF were also more likely to (1) hold more traditional sex role stereotypes, (2) endorse the notion that the relation of the sexes is adversarial in nature, (3) express hostile attitudes toward women, and (4) be relatively accepting of both interpersonal violence and violence more generally.
Payne, Diana L., Kimberly A. Lonsway, and Louise F. Fitzgerald. “Rape Myth Acceptance: Exploration of Its Structure and Its Measurement Using theIllinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale.” Journal of Research in Personality 33, no. 1 (March 1999): 27–68. doi:10.1006/jrpe.1998.2238.

What else is interesting?

There was marked variability (…) among studies in their reported relationships between RMA and attitudinal factors related with gender and sexuality (…). Not surprisingly, however, large overall effect sizes with a positive direction were found with oppressive and adversarial attitudes against women, such as attitudes toward women (…), combined measures of sexism (…), victim-blaming attitudes (…), acceptance of interpersonal violence (…), low feminist identity (…), and adversarial sexual beliefs (…). Decision latency (i.e., estimated time for a woman to say no to sexual advances), hostility toward women, male sexuality, prostitution myth, therapists’ acceptance of rape victim scale, sexual conservatism, vengeance, and sociosexuality (i.e., openness to multiple sexual partners) were examined in one study each, and their effect sizes ranged between medium to large and were all significantly larger than zero. Homophobia had a significant moderate effect size (…) as well as male-dominance attitude (…), acceptance of rape (…), and violence (…). However, profeminist beliefs (…), having sexual submission fantasies (…), and male hostility (…) were negatively related to RMA.
Suarez, E., and T. M. Gadalla. “Stop Blaming the Victim: A Meta-Analysis on Rape Myths.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25, no. 11 (November 1, 2010): 2010–35. doi:10.1177/0886260509354503.
http://474miranairresearchpaper.wmwikis.net/file/view/metaanalysisstopblamingvictim.pdf

Results of a multiple regression analysis indicated that sexism, ageism, classism, and religious intolerance each were significant predictors of rape myth acceptance (all
p < 0.01; … ). Racism and homophobia, however, failed to enter the model. Sexism, ageism, classism, and religious intolerance accounted for almost one-half (45%) of the variance in rape myth acceptance for the present sample. Sexism accounted for the greatest proportion of the variance (35%). The other intolerant beliefs accounted for relatively smaller amounts of variance beyond that of sexism: classism (2%), ageism (2%), and religious intolerance (1%).
Aosved, Allison C., and Patricia J. Long. “Co-Occurrence of Rape Myth Acceptance, Sexism, Racism, Homophobia, Ageism, Classism, and Religious Intolerance.” Sex Roles 55, no. 7–8 (November 28, 2006): 481–92. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9101-4.
http://www.researchgate.net/publication/226582617_Co-occurrence_of_Rape_Myth_Acceptance_Sexism_Racism_Homophobia_Ageism_Classism_and_Religious_Intolerance/file/72e7e52bd021d8bc72.pdf

We did not find any effect of participant’s gender on rape attributions. Our results confirm those obtained by other authors (Check & Malamuth, 1983; Johnson & Russ, 1989; Krahe, 1988) who haven’t found significant gender effects on rape perception when situational factors were manipulated. Our results also contradict the general finding that men hold more rape myths than women do (Anderson et al., 1997). Our data indicate that it is not the observer’s gender that determines rape attributions but his or her preconceptions about rape. Thus, the influence of gender on rape attributions might be mediated by RMA, which then might explain why some studies reveal a significant gender effect (Monson et al., 1996; Stormo et al., 1997).
Frese, Bettina, Miguel Moya, and Jesús L. Megías. “Social Perception of Rape How Rape Myth Acceptance Modulates the Influence of Situational Factors.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 19, no. 2 (February 1, 2004): 143–61. doi:10.1177/0886260503260245.
http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/3925/4925HomeComputer/Rape%20myths/Social%20Perception.pdf

The current research further corroborates the role of rape myths as a factor facilitating sexual aggression. Taken together, our findings suggest that salient ingroup norms may be important determinants of the professed willingness to engage in sexually aggressive behavior. Our studies go beyond quasi-experimental and correlational work that had shown a close relationship between RMA and rape proclivity [RP] as well as our own previous experimental studies, which have shown individuals’ RMA to causally affect RP. They demonstrate that salient information about others’ RMA may cause differences in men’s self-reported proclivity to exert sexual violence.
Frese, Bettina, Miguel Moya, and Jesús L. Megías. “Social Perception of Rape How Rape Myth Acceptance Modulates the Influence of Situational Factors.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 19, no. 2 (February 1, 2004): 143–61. doi:10.1177/0886260503260245.
http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/3925/4925HomeComputer/Rape%20myths/Social%20Norms.pdf

Rape myth acceptance and time of initial resistance appeared to be determining factors in the assignment of blame and perception of avoid-ability of a sexual assault for both men and women. Consistent with the literature, women in this study obtained a lower mean rape myth acceptance score than men. As hypothesized, men and women with low rape myth acceptance attributed significantly less blame to the victim and situation, more blame to the perpetrator, and were less likely to believe the assault could have been avoided. Likewise, when time of initial resistance occurred early in the encounter, men and women attributed significantly less blame to the victim and situation, more blame to the perpetrator, and were less likely to believe the sexual assault could have been avoided.

The hypothesis that traditional gender-role types (masculine and feminine) would be more likely to blame the victim following an acquaintance rape than nontraditional gender-role types (androgynous and undifferentiated) was unsupported.
Kopper, Beverly A. “Gender, Gender Identity, Rape Myth Acceptance, and Time of Initial Resistance on the Perception of Acquaintance Rape Blame and Avoidability.” Sex Roles 34, no. 1–2 (January 1, 1996): 81–93. doi:10.1007/BF01544797.
http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Allison_Aosved/publication/226582617_Co-occurrence_of_Rape_Myth_Acceptance_Sexism_Racism_Homophobia_Ageism_Classism_and_Religious_Intolerance/links/02e7e52bd021d8bc72000000.pdf

Given that callous sexual attitudes permit violence and consider women as passive sexual objects, it follows that for men who endorse these, sexual aggression becomes an appropriate and accepted expression of masculinity. In this sense, using force to obtain intercourse does not become an act of
rape, but rather an expression of hypermasculinity, which may be thought of as a desirable disposition in certain subcultures. Taken together, these research findings suggest that an expression of hypermasculinity through callous sexual attitudes may relate to an inclination to endorse a behavioral description
(i.e., using force to hold an individual down) versus referring to a sexually aggressive act as rape. Hence, we hypothesize that the construct of callous sexual attitudes will be found at the highest levels in those men who endorse intentions to force a woman to sexual acts but deny intentions to rape.Edwards, Sarah R., Kathryn A. Bradshaw, and Verlin B. Hinsz. “Denying Rape but Endorsing Forceful Intercourse: Exploring Differences among Responders.” Violence and Gender 1, no. 4 (2014): 188–93.

The majority of participants were classified as either sexually coercive (51.4%) or sexually aggressive (19.7%) based on the most severe form of sexual perpetration self-reported on the SEQ or indicated in criminal history information obtained from institutional files. Approximately one third (33.5%) of coercers and three fourths (76%) of aggressors endorsed the use of two or more tactics for obtaining unwanted sexual contact on the SEQ. Although 63.4% of sexually aggressive men were classified based on their self-reported behavior on the SEQ alone, another 31% were classified on the basis of criminal history information indicating a prior sexual offense conviction involving an adult female, or on the agreement of both sources (5.6%). Notably, 90.1% of sexually aggressive men also reported engaging in lower level sexually coercive behaviors.DeGue, S., D. DiLillo, and M. Scalora. “Are All Perpetrators Alike? Comparing Risk Factors for Sexual Coercion and Aggression.” Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment 22, no. 4 (December 1, 2010): 402–26. doi:10.1177/1079063210372140.

The tactics category reported most frequently was sexual arousal, with 65% of all participants being subjected to at least one
expenence. Within this category, persistent kissing and touching was the most cited tactic (62% of all participants). Emotional manipulation
and deception was the next most frequently reported category, with 60% of participants being subjected to at least one experience. Within this category, participants
cited the specific tactics of repeated requests (54%) and telling lies (34No) most often. Intoxication was the third most frequently reported category, with 38% of all participants being subjected to at least one tactic. More participants reported being taken advantage of while already intoxicated (37%) than being purposely intoxicated (19%). The category with the lowest frequency of reports was physical force and harm, with 28% of participants being subjected to at least one tactic.Struckman-Johnson, Cindy, David Struckman-Johnson, and Peter B. Anderson. “Tactics of Sexual Coercion: When Men and Women Won’t Take No for an Answer.” The Journal of Sex Research 40, no. 1 (February 1, 2003): 76–86.

HJH 2015-02-08: Bolded comment policy, to increase the chance of it being read.
HJH 2015-10-31: Added a few more papers, relating to sexual coercion and hostility.