(Anonymous blog post by 2 academic researchers*)
A Telegraph article, by Neil Lyndon, entitled ‘Why do we believe such terrible things about men that can’t be true?’ reveals breathtaking ignorance from a journalist known for his unsavoury views towards women and feminism.
What has got him so het up, incredulous and spitting venom at women and feminists? The small matter of the global incidence of sexual violence against women. Specifically, he is incredulous at a United Nations (UN) report saying one in three women experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. Actually, the report said : ‘at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime.’ To emphasise his disbelief, he turns to his own life and asked his mother if she or her 5 sisters have ever experienced anything like this. “Of course not” came the reply. Anecdotes of course provide the best source of information on which to base our beliefs and better still global policy on serious matters. Why not disband the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN and instead just stop some folk in the street and ask them for their views. That will be policy sorted.
This is obviously a rather facetious response to him, but it’s hard to take such staggeringly idiotic views seriously. To troll women in this manner on the back of a paycheck from a national newspaper does not deserve serious engagement. It does not deserve a response that refers to evidence such as the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) revealing 1 in 10 women in Britain have experienced some form of sex against their will (attempt or actual); it does not deserve defense of a WHO or UN report. This vile misogyny deserves contempt.
Nevertheless, Lyndon assumes that answering a question about personal experience of sexual violence would be unproblematic, and that his mother and aunts would be open and willing to disclose such experiences without hesitation. This is startlingly naïve. Decades of research has documented the frequent non-disclosure of sexually violent experiences in women’s lives, to the extent that many women tell no one. We also know that many women have difficulty naming experiences as sexually violent. They may struggle with how to make sense of, give name and meaning to, the experience in their own lives. These difficulties in both disclosure and naming, are not made easier with the culture of silence that has long surrounded sexual violence in our society, and to which Lyndon’s article contributes.
Developing a critical mind is important, as it can help us to sift the sound from the flawed. If we believe a 1 in 3 figure is outrageous then read the report, consider the methodology and think about whether it all stands up to scientific scrutiny. You don’t ask your mum. So, rather than waste time countering Mr Lyndon’s article point by point, it’s perhaps wiser to raise a wider point about the value of social science research. At a time when we see so many of the world’s problems requiring a social perspective not just a scientific one, we are seeing social sciences ‘unloved and sidelined’. To understand sexual violence demands an understanding of gender, class, race, culture, politics and economics, to name a few. Perhaps if we can engage the public to better understand social science research, and we social scientists can better communicate our work (because, for example, we can be very guilty of being verbose) then we won’t find so many anecdotes being held up as ‘evidence’.
* Uploaded to the site by Karen