Lack of Women Skeptics

As I pointed out in my review of the Pew Forum survey on religion, there are far fewer women who self-identify as atheists. Some of us female atheists & skeptics are wondering why. I haven’t been in this movement for very long, yet I have now come across two incidences where violence against women is minimized and arguments from the anti-feminist movement are presented.

First, Ken on Open Parachute points out – rightly – that women can also be perpetrators of family violence. However, as I point out in my comment to his post, the numbers he uses are distorted (by rounding up a percentage that is based on a tiny sample). He links to “men’s rights” Websites without pointing out that both Straus and Gelles have been fighting their misuse of statistics ever since their 1985 study was published. (Here are two rebuttals of those arguments: Feminism 101 and a very thorough analysis).

Then, the article by Heather MacDonald on the Campus Rape Myth was presented for discussion (unfortunately, the person who submitted it for discussion was not present, so I cannot gauge his intent). I actually fell for that one. I just couldn’t believe that the statistic of 25% is correct (“one in four” just seemed way too high). While I think that calling ourselves victims can be eventually detrimental to our healing, after the Straus/Gelles data misuse, I decided to look into the 1-in-4 statistic a bit more. It is true. Jill on Feministe wrote an excellent rebuttal of that article.

At this point, I will only note these incidences because all of this is confusing and this might’ve been simply (uneducated) oversights (for one thing, I fell for MacDonald’s argument at first, too). But they do make me a bit uncomfortable. Why is it that skeptics dig into statistics for everything else but run with conclusions about supposed female violence without checking the facts? Why do we have trouble noticing the false jumps of conclusions made in an article that presents itself as debunking myths but is itself perpetuating the myth that rapes on campus are greatly exaggerated? I am not suggesting that we can’t talk about these things, that we cannot question the statistics. We can and we should. But we also need to question the questioners to see if there’s – maybe – more behind the story.

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Lack of Women Skeptics — 4 Comments

  1. Thank you, Dan, for pointing out the misuse of the term “rape” when it really should be “sexual assault.” And you’re right the 1-in-4 statistic refers to sexual assault. I do suspect some political motivation in that renaming… As I mentioned, there are some feminists who consider any sexual intercourse rape, whether it was consensual or not. I think such arguments are ultimately undermining rape awareness work.

    And thank you for the link to the NOW site. I am very much hoping that the 25% rate is too high! It might just simply be out-dated, which I could argue might be due to the work on rape awareness…

  2. We were talking about this MacDonald article earlier today. I had only briefly scanned the article beforehand and hadn’t fully appreciated its character. If I had made my way down to the “drunken cheerleader” anecdotes, I would definitely have been much more critical.

    The term I was searching the inside of my upper eyelids for is “sexual assault”. I don’t know if someone suggested it at the time or not, but that’s what I was looking for. People often copy statistics for “sexual assault” and somewhere in the cut and paste they mysteriously turn into inflated statistics for “rape”. I have found a number of web sites quoting alarming rape statistics where I was able to track down the originals and found just such a misquote. Such as this site:

    Which claims “Every 2 minutes, a woman is raped in the U.S.”.
    The statistic comes from the RAINN web site. RAINN is aware of the frequent misquote and they have a page addressing it:

    Which reduces it to a rape every 8 minutes, better, but hardly reassuring.

    “Sexual assault” is too often misunderstood to mean “rape”, but sexual assault has a much broader definition which can even vary with the agency using the term. Here is one:

    including uninvited groping and witnessing an exhibitionist exposing themselves, etc. While all these other forms of sexual assault are foul in their own way and rightly punishable under the law, they do not rise to the level of trauma of true “rape”.

    In my earlier hasty reading, I misunderstood MacDonald as talking about similar kinds of rape statistic inflation and not the “drunken slut was asking for it” kind of mischaracterization that she was actually engaging in.

    MacDonald aside, I am still somewhat skeptical of the 1 in 4 statistic.
    These data seem to indicate a somewhat lower incidence:

    I’m glad I stopped by your blog to be set straight on MacDonald’s article. A true skeptic should not have stated an opinion on such a hasty reading.

  3. Ken: I did not deny the fact that women perpetrate child abuse.

    The statistics are not irrelevant, especially when they are misused. You are linking to men’s rights sites that are claiming that there are just as many female abusers as there are male. That is simply not true. As the document you are selectively citing from also shows.

  4. Unfortunately, Rachel, I think your reaction illustrates the point I was making. My post Facing up to child abuse had the purpose of describing how society’s refusal to recognise the reality of child abuse in the cases where the offender is/was the mother is another form of abuse of the victim – a slap in his/her face carried out by society itself.

    I think there is a knee-jerk reaction of denial when the reality of this specific form of abuse is mentioned – it being interpreted as a denial of the problem of male violence. The statistics relating to general male/female violence, and there interpretation, are irrelevant here. It the interests of compassion for the survivors, and of attempting to prevent future occurrences, this specific form of child abuse should be recognised and its relative prevalence acknowledged.

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