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Feminist Urban Legends

Feminist Urban Legends
November 12, 2002
by Wendy McElroy,
mac@ifeminists.com


Advocacy research refers to studies and reports produced by people
with a vested interest in reaching a foregone conclusion. PC feminism
is notorious for its advocacy research and for the shoddy methodology
that so often accompanies political bias. Theory is paraded as fact,
anecdotal accounts as hard data. Those who raise contradicting
evidence are slandered in ad hominem attacks.

Such "research" could be dismissed as worthless and irrelevant if it
did not form the basis of so much public policy. Feminist smears
could be written off as bad manners if it did not damage people's
lives. As it stands, PC feminism and the urban legends it creates
hurt innocent people. And that can never be ignored.

In 1994, Christina Hoff Sommers exposed the urban legends feminism
has perpetrated on the North American public in her book Who Stole
Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. Examples of feminist urban
legends include:

150,000 American women die of anorexia nervosa each year. Sommers
went to the figure's source and found that 150,000 people have
anorexia, with yearly deaths ranging around 100.

domestic violence soars by 40% on Super Bowl Sunday . When the source
was tracked down, the "researcher" refused to verify the data,
claiming that the study was not "for public consumption."

a March of Dimes study found that battery during pregnancy was the
leading cause of birth defects. But the March of Dimes did no such
study and was misquoted.
Such urban legends are used as scare tactics to support demands for
laws and increased funding to benefit women.

Meanwhile, anyone who challenges the PC findings of flawed or non-
existent "studies" is likely to slandered or worse. Three pioneering
researchers on domestic violence -- Murray Straus, Richard Gelles,
and Suzanne Steinmetz -- encountered this PC gambit for silencing
dissent. They conducted a now classic study (1980), "Behind closed
doors: Violence in American Families," that indicated men and women
initiate domestic violence at about the same rate, although men
receive fewer injuries.

As a result of this study and continuing research, Straus' career was
injured by bitter personal attacks that included a false rumor that
he was a wife-beater. As Gelles commented, almost every male
researcher or writer who counters feminist urban legends is branded
as batterer. Female researchers fare no better. Steinmetz's family --
including her children -- were threatened with physical violence and
a conference at which she was to speak received a bomb threat.

To this day, most of the people I know who speak out with any
effectiveness against PC feminism are slandered and targeted for
intimidation. Certainly, I receive my share of strange libels and
threats. Yet is essential that thug-like strategies not be allowed to
silence valid research and dissenting opinion.

It is important for people to regain confidence in the objective
research that is fundamental to establishing facts. Scare tactics
have been so overused by PC advocates that a "Peter and the Wolf
Syndrome" is starting to set in. Inaccurate and shoddy "research" has
been used to sound alarm bells so often that a cynical public is
starting to ignore valid data. Who can blame them for this reaction?

But honest research is possible. And the media must cease being
complicit in ringing false alarms and spreading inaccuracies. Even
cursory attention to common sense guidelines would allow journalists
and reporters to filter out the worst of the legends that pose as
fact instead of passing them on to listeners as "news."

What are some of these common sense guidelines? The media should
ignore, or severely question, any report:

with highly emotive language;
with specific policy recommendations or funding demands;
with a "snapshot" approach rather than data over time;
with internal and unexplained anomalies or contradictions;
without collaborating empirical evidence;
without a statement of parameters, e.g. margin for error;
without disclosure of researchers' relevant affiliations;
which has an unrepresentative or small sampling;
which does not attempt to verify the accounts;
which stresses anecdotal accounts
which does not independently verify accounts from subjects
Moreover, the media should stop treating ad hominem and slander as
though they were counter-arguments. When men who question feminist
data are bashed as batterers, reporters should demand the hard
evidence of this criminal charge. When women who speak out are
threatened and slandered, journalists should expose the feminist
preference to destroy lives instead of dealing with arguments.

If the media took that first step, perhaps then the public would
regain confidence in another essential aspect of public debate. The
idea of an honest disagreement is possible between people who respect
each other instead of the mud-slinging matches that pass for dialogue
on "hardball" talk shows.

I learned that respectful disagreement was possible from Queen
Silver, a woman who was my best friend and inspiration up until her
death a few years ago. We disagreed on almost everything political.
From Queen, I discovered that someone who diametrically opposes me on
important issues could have a good heart and care every bit as much
as I do about justice.

A generation has been raised to believe that shouting is debate,
defamation of character is argument, and valid research does not
exist. This PC legacy must not be allowed to stand.


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