Some Feminist Readers May Want to Sit Before Continuing

Is the attack against sexual communication and the language of sexuality justified? Is the position of women in sexual relations with men so abusive, desperate, and violent that the step taken by feminism – disqualifying almost the entire language – should be endorsed even if the price is a cessation of human sexuality between the sexes?

Feminist women and feminism-sympathizers have absolute confidence that the answer is an unequivocal yes: the feminist belief is that all women were sexually injured and that all men sexually harass, if not in practice then potentially, if not directly then indirectly in creating an environment that encourages harassment. Feminists see this as a plain, clear picture of reality that is easy to establish. The problems begin when one attempts to do just that.

In 2015, the Journal of Public Health published a study that was conducted in Spain and included 10,171 women. The researchers, all women themselves, contacted randomly-sampled women to avoid data bias, and performed in-person interviews with each of the thousands of participants to find out if they had experienced assault or harassment, from rape to “Has anyone touched you sexually, or did anything else sexually that you did not want.” In case the women weren’t comfortable answering verbally, the interviewers offered to point to cards. It is important to emphasize that the study addressed assaults and harassment from any person of any type of acquaintance, except for a spouse (regarding sexual assaults by spouses, according to the World Health Organization, the prevalence ranges between 3% and 11% in the West and reaches up to 40% in small tribal communities in Latin America where weddings between minors are frequent).

Some feminist readers may want to sit before continuing: the results were that a total of 7.2% of women reported some form of rape or harassment of the types examined. Specifically, out of 10,171 participants, 1.4% went through an offense of rape of any kind by a man of any acquaintance, 2.8% have experienced attempted assault that did not end in rape, and 5.6% reported some form of sexual harassment. We should pay attention to a crucial aspect of the data that will later take on dramatic significance: when we mentioned how many of the women reported each type of event, we got the numbers 1.4% plus 2.8% plus 5.6%, which when added up give 9.8%. But it was written here that overall, 7.2% of women reported some form of assault or harassment. Not 9.8%. How is it possible? This happens because there are overlaps between the groups. Some women who reported a particular type of incident, also reported another type and are included in both groups. If we were to calculate the total number of women who experienced any kind of wrongdoing by adding the percentage of the second group to that of the first group, women appearing in both would be counted twice, and we will not arrive at the percentage of individuals who reported some kind of incident. We would get the wrong percentage – a higher one. Therefore, the researchers reported the total percentage of women who went through any kind of event. Only the researchers themselves could have reached this figure; it cannot be derived from simply reading the percentages of the different events. In order to reach this total, the researchers had to calculate the percentage of affirmative questionnaires out of all questionnaires. If the researchers had not reported the result, we wouldn’t be able to arrive at it ourselves because we have no way of knowing the overlap between the percentages of the different groups.

If the figure 7.2% seems surprising compared to the information you may have heard, you may want to remain seated. Because in a study published in 2014 in the Lancet, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world, researchers conducted a review (meta-analysis) of 7,231 different studies that examined the percentage of women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed, excluding incidents from a spouse. This is not a mistake, these are seven thousand, two hundred, and thirty-one different studies. The summary of the studies reached the following figure: 7.2%.

The critical reader will quickly turn to the possibility that the studies rely on legal definitions, which would entail omitting harassment that women experience during their lives but supposedly is not reported in the studies. The chances that this explains the figure 7.2% are extremely low: the definitions of harassment in such studies, usually refer to the interviewee’s subjective experience (“have you felt harassed”) and not to any rigid definition taken from criminology or the law, nor to whether a complaint was filed or legal actions taken. For example, the purpose of the Spanish study was to examine the long-term psychological impact of harassment and sexual assault. It was a study in Psychology, which takes no interest in criminology or legal definitions. Most studies on the prevalence of harassment, such as those included in the Lancet review, are of this type. They ask about those events that women experienced as harassment and, most of the time, do not limit themselves at all to what the law defines as criminal. Still, feminists will have a hard time digesting the figure 7.2%. They may demand that new studies will be performed, with some broader definitions of harassment. Fortunately to them, these studies have already been carried out.

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US published a study conducted by telephone in 2010 among 16,507 respondents, in order to assess the prevalence of harassment and rape in women and men, and published again in 2014 findings from 2012. The study is particularly interesting because of the way the questions were worded and how harassment and sexual assault were defined. Unlike in most studies, participants were not asked, “have you been assaulted” or “were you harassed.” Instead, situation-descriptions were given. Respondents were asked, for example, “How many people have you had sex with after they pressured you by… lies, (or) making promises about the future?”, “How many people have you had sex with after they pressured you by… showing they were unhappy?” or whether they had sex “when you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.” If the respondent answered in the affirmative on the last question, the interviewer recorded that she was raped, and an affirmative answer on the other two was recorded as sexual violence. Non-physical harassment was similarly defined with the broadest definitions. Did this study support the feminist assertion that 100% of women were harassed?

The findings of the 2014 study (the 2011 study presented similar data) were that in total, 43.9% of women reported incidents that the study defined as types of non-rape harassment. Specifically, 32.1% answered in the affirmative on questions defined as non-physical harassment (exposure, nudity, verbal harassment in public), 27.3% responded affirmatively on questions defined as physical harassment (“Caressing, cornering, grasping or touching in a way that made you feel insecure”), and 12.5% answered in the affirmative to questions defined as verbal coercion to sex, including with dishonesty or sadness, defined as sexual violence (the three categories are contained in the number 43.9 but do not add up to it, because of the overlaps between groups). Regarding rape and attempted rape, a total of 19.3% answered in the affirmative to questions defined in the study as sexual assault. Specifically, out of all the participants, 11.5% answered in the affirmative to questions that according to the study definitions indicate they had been raped, and 6.4% answered in the affirmative to questions defined in the study as attempted rape. Finally, 8.8% reported being sexually assaulted by a spouse. These last three figures together add up to 19.3%, as mentioned earlier. Also, all sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs was categorized as rape, constituting 9.3% included in the figure 19.3%. 

Regrettably, the CDC researchers did not publish how the figures of 43.9 and 19.3 are summed up. They did not report the overall percentage of women who experienced any form of assault or harassment. This is at least 43.9% (full overlap between categories) and at most 63.2% (complete lack of overlap – that is, no woman in the study was harassed in two or more ways). The two extreme states do not appear in reality in studies, so the sum is likely to range between the two values – possibly around 50%, that is, that 50% of women were sexually harassed or attacked. If one wishes to compare this figure to the 7.2% that 7,231 studies have reached, it’s necessary to add sexual assaults by a spouse, because these were studies that focused on incidents from any person other than a spouse. The prevalence of incidents caused by a spouse can be found, for example, in the World Health Organization figures mentioned above, pointing to 3% to 11% in the West. When added to 7.2%, these incidence rates reach an overall prevalence of between 11% and 18% (this addition is done under the stricter assumption of no-overlap, so the actual sum can only be lower). No doubt, if 11-18% of all women have gone through any kind of sexual harassment or assault, from the mildest possible verbal innuendo to actual rape, this is a high figure, but it is still very far from the 50% arguably reported by the CDC. Which is more reliable? The finding reached by 7,231 studies, or the CDC’s?

Shortly after their release, the two CDC studies were criticized in the Washington Post, by prof. Christina Hoff Sommers (who also runs a very revealing YouTube channel, called The Factual Feminist) and in Time magazine by Dr. Kathy Young. Both have wondered if the CDC’s questions distinguished at all between women who were harassed, and women who were in consensual situations. Because, in order to reach the figure of around 50%, the researchers defined any sexual relations under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as rape (9.3%). There were no follow-up questions – just a phone call asking the respondents if they had sex “when you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent” – the Or made the statement just as true for those who were not passed out but that had a drink. The question could very well receive an affirmative answer from those who would not think of themselves as assaulted in any way, but have responded that at least once in their life, they had sex after drinking. Due to the wording of the questions, there is a very likely possibility that women who drank a few glasses of wine in a restaurant and slept with their husband or boyfriend were counted as raped. In the same manner, any verbal persuasion for having sex, including lying and expressing sadness, was counted as sexual harassment (12.5%), so a woman who slept with a man only to find out a week later that he was married, would be counted as harassed because she was lied to, even if she was married herself and lied as well to the man she was with, and may have felt angry, but not necessarily sexually harassed. Non-physical harassment, which reached 32.1%, included showing and taking nude photos, so teens who voluntarily exchanged photos with their boyfriends were most likely considered harassed because the researchers only asked, “How many people have ever… made you look at or participate in sexual photos or movies?” (the rest of the sentence – “against your will”, did not exist in the study).

Unlike studies that reach 7.2%, the CDC study did not ask anyone, “were you harassed.” Instead, the researchers formulated situation-descriptions, thinking only of the negative examples for each description and not of the positive ones. As a result, very innocent situations that also fit the same rigid situation-description (having a drink before sex, exchanging photos for fun) should have been counted as violent incidents, making it extremely plausible that some proportion of those who responded in the affirmative, were women and men who did not feel harassed at all and yet counted as such. This is probably the most plausible explanation for the gap between 11-18% reached by thousands of studies, and the 40-60% reached by the CDC, whose creators were associated by the commentators with radical feminism.

Importantly, studies reporting 7.2% assaulted and harassed, also record much less rape cases than the numbers commonly used in public discourse today. For example, the Spanish study found the number to be 1.4% of women. What is then the source of expressions such as “one in five” (20%) and “one in four” (25%), that are being spread? Even the CDC study reached 11.5% assault incidents, not 1 in 5 or 1 in 4, and this figure was obtained with rigid situation-descriptions that probably counted many who were not assaulted, thus artificially increasing the actual number. Where did the feminist belief in extraordinary figures 20 times higher than the data come from? One possibility is that the number comes from biased samples. Feminism-sympathizers run internal surveys, but without minding methodological considerations such as random sampling, that are necessary for the results to apply to the entire population and not just to the site where respondents were recruited. For example, in such surveys, feminism-sympathizers may approach women in places where rape rates are exceptionally high, such as busy city centers, and then report the findings as applying to the entire population (in fact, one gender-studies department published instructions to its teachers and students not to apply random sampling, but to focus on “interesting cases,” which amounts to intentionally introducing a sampling bias that would render results uninterpretable). Another explanation might be that feminism-sympathizers summed up percentages of different categories (from the same research or even from different studies). If done while ignoring the overlap between groups, this would cause an error that inflates the numbers. Another likely possibility is that feminists applied the same way of thinking of the CDC investigators, of defining rigid situation-descriptions, and counting as assault the categories that studies created in their questionnaires, because the sympathizers decided that a question is a rigid situation-description that constitutes an assault, without having access to the respondents to verify this.

The feminist statement that all women were harassed was formulated only very recently, and as part of a broader endeavor, to convince in a different claim – that all men have harassed women, directly or indirectly. Notably, even if it would have been true that every women was sexually harassed, this would not necessitate that all men have harassed because such a result could just as well ensue from a small number of men harassing all women. That is, even if “all women were harassed” was a true proposition, it would not entail in any way that “all men have harassed”. However, this plain fact was missed entirely by feminists, who, believing in the logical fallacy that if all women were harassed then all men have harassed, aspire to reach 100% harassed first and foremost, to show, basically, that all men are guilty.

The feminist motivation to show that all men are guilty by attempting to show that all women were harassed continues to grow. The use of arbitrary situation-descriptions without ever inquiring “were you harassed”, that is, without taking interest in personal will, thus forcing on respondents a negative interpretation of innocent experiences, has become ever more popular since Me Too. In feminism, the situation-descriptions expanded to encompass almost all of daily life, until nearly every human interaction between men and women may be regarded as harassment, the greeting “hello” included. This forcing of situation-descriptions on interactions to count them as offenses, enabled recent pseudo-research to conclude that 81% and even 97% of women were sexually harassed. Feminism-sympathizers joined the efforts and apply voluntarily the new situation-descriptions to their own lives to count innocent interactions as “harassment”. Just recently the New York Times reported that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was accused by an assistant of sexual harassment because “he inquired about her lack of a wedding ring”, “him telling her she was beautiful — in Italian”, and once “gazed down her shirt and commented on a necklace”. All along, what drives this ever-increasing expansion of the definitions of harassment by situation-descriptions that become more and more arbitrary, is the relentless aspiration to point a blaming finger at all men, to argue, “all men are guilty”.

Thus we arrive at the underlying question that drives this entire discussion – how many men have actually sexually harassed women? While there are plenty of studies assessing how many women were harassed, it is difficult to find ones that examine what percentage of men out of all men behave in a harassing way. Still, my searches led me to a 2013 study performed in the United States with a thousand young men and women of the ages 14 to 21. And here are the results: Of the boys and young men, 9% have harassed – far from the notion that all or most men engage in such behavior. But the findings also revealed that the proportion of girls and young women who committed the same sexual harassment was the same – 9% – and the girls’ harassment was directed primarily, like the boys’, toward the opposite sex. It is generally very difficult to find studies examining the question “what percentage of men have sexually harassed,” because until recently, this was an absurd question. It was clear to everyone that there is crime in the world, committed by both men and women, and everyone knew that criminals are a tiny fraction of humanity. The notion that all men might be criminals, so that studies should seriously look into the question of “what percentage of men are criminals,” was unthinkable and therefore almost no studies can be found that have examined such a question.

Some historians specialize in trying to understand how a popular error about research facts has been created. Historians will be able to examine in the future what caused the feminist false beliefs that all women were harassed, and that one in five, four or three were raped. In reality, studies that apply a verified methodology to identify the number of women who have been raped, reach 1.4%. In the West, another 3% to 11% of women have been sexually assaulted by a spouse. As for harassment, these studies show that 5.6% of women have been sexually harassed.

Continue reading in Lovism: A Humanist Alternative to Feminism, available on amazon.

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