Dr. Laura Debates Feminists on Men and Violence

Tuesday , September 05, 2006

By Wendy McElroy


In a recent radio broadcast and newspaper column, Dr. Laura Schlessinger addressed the 'Take Back the Night' movement that protests violence against women. She accused it of deliberately ignoring data that suggests men may be more vulnerable to violence than women.

In the Santa Barbara News-Press on Aug. 27, Schlessinger wrote, "This information should, but probably won't, usher in a new approach to gender and violence." The new approach would offer male victims as much attention and compassion as female ones.

Why won't this happen? Schlessinger explained, because "the ideology, fomented by politically correct [PC] feminists, that women are an endangered class has been supported almost universally in our culture, government, and educational facilities."

That PC ideology rests on the concept of women as victims and men as aggressors.

The backlash against Schlessinger was dramatic and instructive to others who consider questioning the dominant paradigm of victimhood.

Through a letter in another Santa Barbara periodical, The Independent, an array of community leaders collectively denounced her. The leaders represent feminist, gay and reproductive rights organizations, many of which are tax-funded and based upon the approach to gender and violence that Schlessinger decried.

The specific data to which they objected came from the first national Personal Safety Survey (PSS, 2005) released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Aug. 10.

The PSS is the first national survey by a 'Western' nation that uses the sex of a respondent to break down the degree and types of violence experienced by ordinary people. The population surveyed was massive and the results are publicly available without cost. In short, the PSS is the best snapshot we have of the dynamics of personal violence within a Western society.

The PSS is particularly important because some of its findings are surprising. Schlessinger touched on one of the surprises; although men are three times more likely than women to be the perpetrators of violence, they are twice as likely to become victims of physical violence or threats.

Eleven percent of men surveyed experienced personal violence compared to 5.8 percent of women.

(Schlessinger cited these statistics from an Aug. 22 FOX News column I wrote on the same subject, entitled "'Take Back the Night' for Men as Well.")

Similar data on male victimization has been presented by men's rights advocates for years now. Typically, however, PC feminists have dismissed such studies as biased and driven by an 'anti-woman agenda'.

But it is difficult to dismiss the Australian government as 'anti-woman'. Australia's gender policies -- on affirmative action, domestic violence, sexual harassment, etc. -- are comparable to those of North America because it has been shaped by the same cultural influences.

Moreover, if the PSS has a gender bias, it is probably 'pro-woman'.

For example, the survey used only women interviewers. Women respondents may have discussed their experiences more freely with their own sex but male respondents may have been inhibited.

Despite its significance, a remarkable silence has surrounded the PSS.

Silence from PC feminists is understandable; the survey challenges their ideology and policies. For example, the fact that one in 100 women reported being victimized by family (domestic) violence in the previous year is difficult to integrate with the claim that domestic violence is epidemic.

Silence in the media is less understandable until you consider the response to Schlessinger. Even prominent commentators risk their reputations when they speak out against the current approach to gender and violence.

Consider the letter of collective denunciation. It opens with a vague slap at Schlessinger's "views" on unrelated issues such as gay rights and public education.

Then, the signatories state a claim. They had been giving Schlessinger the "benefit of the doubt" on her new column with the Santa Barbara News-Press "because we assumed you would undertake a rational discourse on issues relating to our community."

Now, in a rival publication, they withdrew that doubt and invited the rest of the community to "add your name to the list [protesting Schlessinger] by posting a comment!"

The letter briefly cites a selection of data that supports the view of women as the victims of violence. These references, at least, are on point and could be the opening of valuable discussion.

Instead, they are used to close it.

Statistics have been improperly cited and debunked so often that scrutiny and skepticism are necessary when approaching data from either side of the gender divide. It is easy to criticize the letter for offering one-sided data. For example, it states that "1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before age 18" without stating that the comparable statistic for boys is one in six.

But a more fundamental question is whether the statistics offered are correct. Their accuracy is presented as an unassailable conclusion but 'the battle of the stats' has been raging for over a decade now. Each side wields the latest Johns Hopkins study or cherry-picks findings from the most 'favorable' year of data offered by the Department of Justice; each position is proven and disproven over and over again.

For those who want facts without agendas, the PSS offers hope. The survey may have methodological flaws but it seems relatively unbiased.

Because it is based on an anonymous general survey and not on police reports, it reduces problems such as 'unreported rapes' driving down the statistics. It includes both sexes; it is massive and comprehensive; it doesn't make policy recommendations. In short, the PSS could be the genesis of a much-needed and candid re-evaluation of gender and violence in society.

But, as Schlessinger noted, this won't happen. At least, it won't happen as long as those who publicize the data are dismissed, or defamed so that others will dismiss them.

The PSS should be debated. It should be debunked if grounds for doing so can be found. But it should not be buried, nor should those who raise it for discussion.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, "Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century" (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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