by Christina Hoff Sommers
If we’re genuinely committed to improving the circumstances of women, we need to get the facts straight
Much of what we hear about the plight of American women is false. Some faux facts have been repeated so often they are almost beyond the reach of critical analysis. Though they are baseless, these canards have become the foundation of Congressional debates, the inspiration for new legislation and the focus of college programs. Here are five of the most popular myths that should be rejected by all who are genuinely committed to improving the circumstances of women:
MYTH 1: Women are half the world’s population, working two-thirds of the world’s working hours, receiving 10% of the world’s income, owning less than 1% of the world’s property.
FACTS: This injustice confection is routinely quoted by advocacy groups, the World Bank, Oxfam and the United Nations. It is sheer fabrication. More than 15 years ago, Sussex University experts on gender and development Sally Baden and Anne Marie Goetz, repudiated the claim: “The figure was made up by someone working at the UN because it seemed to her to represent the scale of gender-based inequality at the time.” But there is no evidence that it was ever accurate, and it certainly is not today.
Precise figures do not exist, but no serious economist believes women earn only 10% of the world’s income or own only 1% of property. As one critic noted in an excellent debunking in The Atlantic, “U.S. women alone earn 5.4 percent of world income today.” Moreover, in African countries, where women have made far less progress than their Western and Asian counterparts, Yale economist Cheryl Doss found female land ownership ranged from 11% in Senegal to 54% in Rwanda and Burundi. Doss warns that “using unsubstantiated statistics for advocacy is counterproductive.” Bad data not only undermine credibility, they obstruct progress by making it impossible to measure change.
MYTH 2: Between 100,000 and 300,000 girls are pressed into sexual slavery each year in the United States.
FACTS: This sensational claim is a favorite of politicians, celebrities and journalists. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore turned it into a cause célèbre. Both conservatives and liberal reformers deploy it. Former President Jimmy Carter recently said that the sexual enslavement of girls in the U.S. today is worse than American slavery in the 19th century.
The source for the figure is a 2001 report on child sexual exploitation by University of Pennsylvania sociologists Richard Estes and Neil Alan Weiner. But their 100,000–300,000 estimate referred to children at risk for exploitation—not actual victims. When three reporters from the Village Voice questioned Estes on the number of children who are abducted and pressed into sexual slavery each year, he replied, “We’re talking about a few hundred people.” And this number is likely to include a lot of boys: According to a 2008 census of underage prostitutes in New York City, nearly half turned out to be male. A few hundred children is still a few hundred too many, but they will not be helped by thousand-fold inflation of their numbers.
MYTH 3: In the United States, 22%–35% of women who visit hospital emergency rooms do so because of domestic violence.
FACTS: This claim has appeared in countless fact sheets, books and articles—for example, in the leading textbook on family violence, Domestic Violence Law, and in the Penguin Atlas of Women in the World. The Penguin Atlas uses the emergency room figure to justify placing the U.S. on par with Uganda and Haiti for intimate violence.
What is the provenance? The Atlas provides no primary source, but the editor of Domestic Violence Law cites a 1997 Justice Department study, as well as a 2009 post on the Centers for Disease Control website. But the Justice Department and the CDC are not referring to the 40 million women who annually visit emergency rooms, but to women, numbering about 550,000 annually, who come to emergency rooms “for violence-related injuries.” Of these, approximately 37% were attacked by intimates. So, it’s not the case that 22%-35% of women who visit emergency rooms are there for domestic violence. The correct figure is less than half of 1%.
MYTH 4: One in five in college women will be sexually assaulted.
FACTS: This incendiary figure is everywhere in the media today. Journalists, senators and even President Obama cite it routinely. Can it be true that the American college campus is one of the most dangerous places on earth for women?
The one-in-five figure is based on the Campus Sexual Assault Study, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and conducted from 2005 to 2007. Two prominent criminologists, Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox and Mount Holyoke College’s Richard Moran, have noted its weaknesses:
“The estimated 19% sexual assault rate among college women is based on a survey at two large four-year universities, which might not accurately reflect our nation’s colleges overall. In addition, the survey had a large non-response rate, with the clear possibility that those who had been victimized were more apt to have completed the questionnaire, resulting in an inflated prevalence figure.”
Fox and Moran also point out that the study used an overly broad definition of sexual assault. Respondents were counted as sexual assault victims if they had been subject to “attempted forced kissing” or engaged in intimate encounters while intoxicated.
Defenders of the one-in-five figure will reply that the finding has been replicated by other studies. But these studies suffer from some or all of the same flaws. Campus sexual assault is a serious problem and will not be solved by statistical hijinks.
MYTH 5: Women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns—for doing the same work.
FACTS: No matter how many times this wage gap claim is decisively refuted by economists, it always comes back. The bottom line: the 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure or hours worked per week. When such relevant factors are considered, the wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing.
Wage gap activists say women with identical backgrounds and jobs as men still earn less. But they always fail to take into account critical variables. Activist groups like the National Organization for Women have a fallback position: that women’s education and career choices are not truly free—they are driven by powerful sexist stereotypes. In this view, women’s tendency to retreat from the workplace to raise children or to enter fields like early childhood education and psychology, rather than better paying professions like petroleum engineering, is evidence of continued social coercion. Here is the problem: American women are among the best informed and most self-determining human beings in the world. To say that they are manipulated into their life choices by forces beyond their control is divorced from reality and demeaning, to boot.
Why do these reckless claims have so much appeal and staying power? For one thing, there is a lot of statistical illiteracy among journalists, feminist academics and political leaders. There is also an admirable human tendency to be protective of women—stories of female exploitation are readily believed, and vocal skeptics risk appearing indifferent to women’s suffering. Finally, armies of advocates depend on “killer stats” to galvanize their cause. But killer stats obliterate distinctions between more and less serious problems and send scarce resources in the wrong directions. They also promote bigotry. The idea that American men are annually enslaving more than 100,000 girls, sending millions of women to emergency rooms, sustaining a rape culture and cheating women out of their rightful salary creates rancor in true believers and disdain in those who would otherwise be sympathetic allies.
My advice to women’s advocates: Take back the truth.
Christina Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of several books, including Who Stole Feminism and The War Against Boys, and is the host of a weekly video blog, The Factual Feminist. Follow her @CHSommers.
I’m still alive.
Because people are hypocrites. :\
Because every line of Blurred Lunes is something a rapist has said to their victims.
Because Robin Thicke claims that CONSENT is a blurry line WHEN IT’S NOT.
Because Thicke DELIBERATELY dehumanizes and degrades women in both the song and video.
Because Thicke has outright SAID he did it on purpose, and has said “What a joy it is to degrade women.”
Daft Punk’s song is about staying out all night to have (presumably consensual) sex.
Blurred Lines is about rape.
First of all, I am a rape victim. Hi. My rapist told me, “I love you.” He said a lot of things to me, but those things probably aren’t good enough to warrant censoring; not to you or others like you. You wouldn’t shout, “‘I LOVE YOU’ COULD TRIGGER RAPE VICTIMS!!!” from the rooftops, would you? Of course you wouldn’t, even though that’s what he told me every time he raped me, for almost a year, over and fucking over again. That’s what a lot of rapists tell their victims. They tell us that they love us, and we have to deal with the aftermath.
You also won’t acknowledge that the video was directed by a woman, and that the naked video was her suggestion. You probably also won’t acknowledge Pharrell’s part in the whole thing, because, no, it’s only Robin Thicke. He did everything. He’s responsible for everything. No one helped him with that song or music video, and there are no other suggestive songs out there, about black women needing to hush and not say a word, or about ladies needing to shake their asses for men’s pleasure, or, y’know, just shit that’s all around far more dehumanizing than Blurred fucking Lines. You won’t address the misogyny in the rap genre, no, no. It’s all Robin Thicke.
For some unfathomable reason, this is the song. This is the song that gets your panties in a knot. This one. This fucking song, out of all fucking songs.
This song that is about THE BLURRED LINES INVOLVED IN AN AFFAIR.
THE SONG IS ABOUT CHEATING.
The woman in the song puts her hands on the man singing. She grabs all over him, shows obvious and enthusiastic consent, even initiates sexual contact, and he reciprocates, but she’s in a relationship with a guy who doesn’t fulfill her needs, because she’s kinky as fuck and he’s like, “Nah, vanilla sex is the way to go, bitch.” Like, shit, I’d dump his ass, but, ey, she wants to just cheat on him or some shit, whatever.
The blurred lines aren’t about consent in the song, and you’d know this if you’d given the lyrics even a cursory fucking glance. The woman is going to cheat on her significant other; that’s where the blurred lines come into play. She gonna do it? She not? She gonna fuck both of ‘em? Who the fuck knows?
Neither song is about rape. They’re both just sexual songs with sexual connotations, but one gets a ton of shit, because people didn’t like the video and completely misinterpreted the lyrics, and I, a rape victim, stopped being able to listen to that song on the radio, because fucking assholes like you insisting it’s about rape fucked me over big time.
Not denying that Robin Thicke’s an asshole, but the song’s not about rape. Blurred Lines is about goddamn, motherfucking cheating. You want a song about rape to rail against? How about Brown Sugar? Father Figure? Date Rape? Secretary Hump? The Childcatcher? These are all songs that are actually about rape, and that could actually be potentially triggering to rape victims.
You know what else triggered me for a while?
The smell of pine needles, because that’s what he always smelled like. Fucking pine needles. But I can’t ban pine needles. I can’t censor pine needles. Many of the things I and other rape victims are triggered by can’t be censored, and we’re not going to recover if we ignore our triggers. If we never try to overcome them, we’re going to live in fear for the rest of our fucking lives, and I’m not going to let you and other people tell me that that’s the way to live, that I should just censor everything that upsets me or makes me uncomfortable rather than face it and overcome it.
The world is full of scary fucking bullshit. Fireworks aren’t censored for war veterans, but you want people to censor a fucking song? Really? Do you think we’ll just be able to go through our lives never being triggered if we censor one fucking song? You’re outta your goddamn mind if you think railing against a song about cheating that uses language that could potentially be triggering is gonna solve any fucking problems.Hi. I’m also a rape victim. I didn’t talk about other songs because the question wasn’t about other songs, it was about Blurred Lines. I didn’t mention Pharrell’s part because I was talking about the song in general. Which includes his part. Which includes some hideous lines. Other songs being more explicitly about rape and pedophilia (Father Figure has always made me uneasy) don’t change the fact that Blurred Lines comes across as EXTREMELY RAPEY. There’s a project someone started with rape victims holding up signs with what their rapists told them written on them, juxtaposed with nearly identical lyrics from Blurred Lines. I’m not asking to ban this song. I was explaining why people got more upset at it than about Daft Punk’s song. And yes, I know a woman directed the video. I know women - actresses - were paid to put their hands all over Thicke in the video, doing what the director told them to do. That doesn’t change the fact that BL is extremely problematic at best. I’ve read the lyrics. It still, to me and thousands of other women -a lot of us also rape victims - sounds a whole hell of a lot like he’s taking about consent. I understand that you’re very upset at me. But you are making a whole shit ton of assumptions about me and I would like you to stop. PM me and ask me about my feelings about misogyny in rap. In country. In every musical genre. Ask me what I know about Robin Thicke and Pharrell. But stop making assumptions about me and then judging me on them.
When you do nothing but parrot feminist rhetoric that has been used against me and other rape victims time and time again, I’m going to get pissed and I’m going to make assumptions, because y’all misunderstanding this song about cheating has harmed me and others, and it’s sent a very shitty, very ~problematic~ message to the world.
It sends the message, “We’re children. We need to be coddled. We’ll break if not handled with care.”
It sends an infantalizing message. It sends a degrading message.
You continue to say, “Well, I mean, it sounds rapey,” but that means jack shit, because the song isn’t about rape, like other songs actually are. You’re backpedaling hard. You’ve changed your stance of, “Blurred Lines is about rape,” to, “Blurred Lines sounds rapey.” Is it backpedaling, or did you actually learn something from my angry bitching up there?
And aren’t you the one who came onto my blog, onto my post, making assumptions about me? You didn’t pause to consider that I may also be a rape victim, that you may be addressing a rape victim, so why should I pause to consider that you might be? You showed me none of that courtesy. You barged onto the post spouting a bunch of bullshit that you can’t back up. You barged onto the post claiming the song was about rape, and I dismantled that argument, stated that neither of the songs mentioned were about rape, and went on to explain to you that the massive wanking butthurt over the song was fucking ridiculous, and it still is. It’s twenty-fucking-fourteen, and people still think this song is about rape, still think Robin Thicke is the only one to blame (and you did pretty much place all of the blame on Robin Thicke, since he’s the only one you mentioned; don’t try to weasel outta that one), and still think rape victims are five-year-olds who can’t deal with their problems and with the obstacles they face as a result of their trauma.
Forgive me for being pissed off when you’re saying the exact same shit I’ve heard fifty million times from every other douchebag that irrationally loathes this song while giving other songs a pass for various (stupid) reasons.
Don’t spout bullshit, and I won’t get pissed. Simple as that. Fact check. Do your research. And stop insinuating that because a song uses language you aren’t personally comfortable with, it’s bad or wrong or deserves backlash, because you aren’t the world, I’m not the world, and it’s really dumb to use the, “This language upsets me” card, because, goddammit, you’re gonna have to move past it eventually. We all are.
If you can’t glean the song’s meaning from the lyrics, I can’t help you. The lyrics are readily available for reading on the Internet, and they tell a straight-forward story, with basically no room for other interpretations. The song’s about a cheating woman. This is pretty much outright stated in the first fucking verse, and she initiates sexual contact in the chorus.
Personal interpretations hold no water when the song has a clear meaning. Personal interpretations are YOUR PROBLEM, and no one else’s. Not Robin Thicke’s, not his wife’s, not Pharrell’s.
If YOU interpret the song INCORRECTLY, it’s not the song’s fault.
And, again, where’s my campaign regarding the phrase, “I love you”? Where’s that at? Oh, it’s nowhere? I thought as much. Because no other rape victims who were told things other than what Robin Thicke and Pharrell wrote in their shitty little pop song matter, I guess. Am I allowed to complain about every song with the words “I love you” in them?
Or can I just be a fucking adult and recognize that songs use language that can be triggering, and that’s something I need to work on and overcome, rather than whining about them being problematic?
I know how this is going to end and I’m so fucking scared.
I should just ask him but I’m a coward.
That was way cuter than I was expecting, aw. I mean it’s ridiculous no doubt. But very, very cute.
I am one minute into Meganebu what the fuck is going on???