For decades, feminists have promoted a narrative deeming western civilization a “rape culture” in which the female population at large is sexually dominated by the male population at large. While different subgroups of feminist ideologues use different wording to describe the concept, the overall narrative has a set of characteristics that are common to most of the descriptions I’ve come across from feminist sources, including that expressed by wikiproject feminism’s editors in wikipedia’s article on rape culture. These characteristics are consistent with the earliest feminist writing to use the term to describe western culture, an article titled The Rape Culture, by Dianne F. Herman. Herman is cited in numerous other feminist writings on the topic.
Based on Herman’s long-form description it is fair to call the wikipedia definition, which cites her article, an accurate representation of the term’s meaning in feminist narratives. The definition:
Rape culture is a sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.
Many feminists treat this supposed culture as a gendered attack on women, perpetrated and perpetuated by male society in general as a means of dominating and controlling the female population. Others view it as a dysfunction rather than a form of malice, one that results from growing pains in the evolution of gender roles throughout history. Regardless of which camp they fall into, most feminists seem united in considering the phenomenon gendered, with women as a victim class, and men as a privileged or perpetrator class.
In the latter half of the 20th century, feminists in academia started from that narrow range of perspectives, which do appear to be rooted in Patriarchy theory, and set about trying to validate their belief in that male-perpetrated, female-victimizing rape culture.
This effort began with ideological writing, but in the 80s it expanded into academic initiatives that feminists called “research.” A 1993 article in the Toledo Blade, Rape, the Making of an Epidemic, by Nara Shoenberg and Sam Roe, covered this process. In it, the writers described the conflict between researchers seeking to understand the phenomenon of sexual violence in order to make prevention more possible, and radical feminists who wanted to prove male sexual violence against female victims was common, in order to justify funding for their initiatives.
The article describes an environment in which various researchers were trying to come up with a research method that would show the prevalence of rape in US society without relying on Justice Bureau crime statistics.
Feminists assert that Justice Bureau crime statistics are not an accurate reflection of the actual prevalence of rape, because they measure only crimes that are reported to police. Feminists assert that for a variety of reasons including fear of being stigmatized, many victims do not report rape to police.
Beyond that, researchers in the field have been divided into two main camps. One camp relies on legal and socially prevalent definitions of sex crimes, and measures prevalence based on individuals describing and labeling their own lived experiences. The other relies on ideological definitions of sex crimes and measures prevalence based on labeling individuals’ descriptions of their lived experiences for them.
Both the differences, definition and experience-labeling, are significant.
Traditionally, the legal definition and social understanding of rape relied on intent, wherein the perpetrator of the crime deliberately took measures or exploited conditions to contravene the victim’s rejection or refusal of sexual contact. The law’s recognition of this was contained in wording that only criminalized actions committed against the victim’s will, or against fully incapacitated or incompetent victims. This definition recognizes normal sexual conduct as a mutually engaged behavior between freely-acting, competent adults.
Feminism’s ideological definition of rape starts from a seeker/gatekeeper model, or a view in which one side of a sexual encounter acts upon the other, with the crime being defined as the acting party engaging in the sex act without the other party’s explicit, unmistakable permission. This view does not rely on intent, and requires normal sexual conduct to include a series of requests for permission in order to not be considered rape. Feminists spent over 20 years pushing for the state to adopt this model, reflected in a change of wording from “against the victim’s will” to “without the victim’s consent.” There is disagreement among feminists over whether a woman’s consent can be nonverbal, even when she initiates sex and physically controls the encounter.
The research described in the Toledo Blade article ranged across both camps, with researchers like Margaret Gordon of Northwestern University finding a prevalence rate of 1 victim in 50 women based on a survey that asked women if they’d ever been a victim of rape or knew anyone who was a victim of rape, while Mary P. Koss of Kent State university found 1 victim in 4 women using much more vague and indirect questioning, then imposing a label on women’s answers rather than asking them theirs.
Feminists criticize the use of women’s opinions on their own experiences as an inaccurate means of measuring those experiences. Their excuse is that they consider women commonly ignorant of the nature and scope of sexual violence. They claim there are victims who don’t know they’ve been victimized, and accepting their assessment of their own experiences obscures prevalence rather than measuring it.
Critics of the Koss method argue that vague, indirect questioning followed by researcher labeling of respondents’ experiences results in consensual encounters being lumped in with sexual violence, inflating prevalence statistics. In Koss’s first published research sample, 73% of her respondents disagreed with the way she labeled their experiences, and 42% continued to have sex with their alleged rapists. In response to criticism of her methods, Koss eventually made revisions her survey questions but did not change them enough to account for intent. She solved the problem of respondents’ disagreement with her assessment of their responses by eliminating the part of her process that measured respondents’ opinions and choices.
Despite these issues, Koss’s career received a major boost when Ms. Magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem took an interest in promoting her work, sponsoring the survey that received so much criticism. Koss’s conclusions from it were used to advocate for the passage of the Violence Against Women act of 1994, which “updated” the Family Violence Protection and Services act by gendering the law, attacking due process considerations, and imposing ideological indoctrination on law enforcement, prosecutor, and court personnel. Her methods have been adopted not only by the mainstream of feminism’s sexual violence research community, but also the Centers for Disease control and the United Nations. Her statistics are cited by feminists all over the world as evidence for the validity of their rape culture narrative.
Remember the substance of that narrative: Rape is supposedly pervasive and normalized in our society due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.
When feminists make this claim, they’re talking about male-perpetrated, female-victimizing rape. They are not talking about female-perpetrated sexual violence.
So what does sexual violence prevalence research show about that?
Contrary to feminists’ expectations, when male victims and female perpetrators are not excluded from prevalence research, the results show near-equal rates of both victimization of and perpetration by both sexes.
Using Koss’s survey methods and definitions, the Centers for Disease Control did National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence surveys during 3 separate years, recording responses from both sexes each time. In order to get an accurate reading of the results, one has to get past one sneaky definition.
Koss defined rape to require that the victim be penetrated, her specific intent being to ensure that female perpetrators against male victims would not be labeled rapists. This is explained in her report, Detecting the Scope of Rape : A Review of Prevalence Research Methods, in which she “justifies” her exclusion of men from the term’s definition, thus:
“Although consideration of male victims is within the scope of the legal statutes, it is important to restrict the term rape to instances where male victims were penetrated by offenders. It is inappropriate to consider as a rape victim a man who engages in unwanted sexual intercourse with a woman.”
If you’re wondering where to find the explanation as to why she actually chose to make that exclusion, don’t worry. You’re not alone. She didn’t give an explanation. She just claimed it was inappropriate to label forced sexual intercourse “rape” when a woman is the one forcing it, and the victim is male.
Because CDC researches used Koss’s definitions, in order for the reader to evaluate the prevalence of female-perpetrated rape of male victims, one must look at the “made to penetrate” statistic from this research. Alison Tieman did that not long after the CDC began publishing its NISVS report. Her article, Manufacturing female victims, marginalizing vulnerable men, outlines what the research’s methods had obscured, and how.
If we look at the more reliable statistic, the risk of rape in the last twelve months, and we fix the NIPSVS’s mistake in classifying forced envelopment as “other sexual assault” and not rape, we find that 80% of men report a female rapist and 98% of women report a male rapist. (This estimate is based on the sex of reported perpetrators for sexual assault over a lifetime. There is no reason to think the number of female perpetrators for ‘forced envelopment’ would decline between the lifetime and last year reports: if anything they would increase.)
Since there were roughly equal numbers of men(forced to penetrate) and women(forced to envelop) raped in the last year, if we look at a population of 100 rape victims, 50 of which are male and 50 of which are female and apply the statistic that 80% of the male victims were raped by a woman, we get 40 male victims raped by a woman.
That works out to about 40% of rapists being female and 60% being male. A far cry from 95+% of rapists being male.
Incidentally, the researchers didn’t even know why they defined rape the way they did. They just relied on existing feminist research to tell them what to do, and were therefore unable to explain it when asked about it.
Since the 2010 NISVS report was published, men’s rights advocates have been discussing this issue. There are equity feminists who have responded more rationally to this information. Christina Hoff Sommers has been a critic of Koss since the publication of her original research, and in 2016, Lara Stemple published similar observations to those Alison and others in the men’s rights movement had been articulating.
Gender feminists, however, have been outraged at these discussions. They do not like the fact that it has been pointed out that feminist researchers deliberately designed biases into their research not only to inflate overall rape statistics, but also to obscure female perpetration. They do not like the fact that examination of the made-to-penetrate statistics reveal a far higher rate of female sexual violence than they have previously been willing to acknowledge. They do not like the fact that this contradicts aspects of their rape culture narrative – in particular the charge laid by gender feminists that sexual violence is a male weapon of domination and control used against the female population to keep them in line.
They’ve tried numerous arguments attempting to counter criticisms of Koss’s biased methodology, its implications for feminist sexual violence prevalence research, and its implications for feminism’s rape culture narrative. They’ve made fallacious appeals to authority and claimed that the research can’t be interpreted that way (all without backing their claim with evidence.) They engaged in circular reasoning, claiming “it’s different because women are targeted with sexual violence by men for being women, while men aren’t targeted for being men.” The basis for that claim is the existing rape culture narrative, which in turn relies on male perpetration being pervasive and normalized, but female perpetration not being pervasive and normalized. Acknowledgement of the NISVS and other research findings on female perpetration against men contradicts that. Feminists attempt to ignore that contradiction by circling back around to the claim that it’s different because of that narrative on gender-based targeting. They’re using their own argument as evidence for itself.
That argument has gone on for a few years, and it’s become obvious that feminists aren’t going to win it. Fewer and fewer bystanders are siding with them on social media where this topic is discussed. Media personalities and politicians are beginning to acknowledge the facts.
The more radical feminists on Twitter have given us their response.
Now, when the question of female perpetration presented, they want to cite those Justice Bureau statistics they previously called an insufficient measure of prevalence due to under-reporting of the crime. Where women’s experiences are concerned, feminists will not accept conviction stats as a representation of the prevalence of sexual violence perpetration. This is why the Koss method was created – to increase sexual violence prevalence statistics.
Where men’s experiences are concerned, feminists are quite content to presume conviction stats to be an accurate measure of the number of male victims and female perpetrators. They have been citing these to support the claim that 95% of perpetrators of rape are men, and only 5% are women, most of whom victimized children, not men. Even feminists who cite men’s tendency to not report these crimes, as well as the system’s poor response when they do, as evidence of “Toxic Masculinity” refer to conviction stats as evidence that men are 95% of perpetrators.
Yet again, we have feminists trying to have their cake and eat it too… using a measuring standard that casts a wide net when examining male perpetration against female victims, but attempting to limit measurement to a much more narrow standard when examining female perpetration against male victims, all for the sake of maintaining the illusion that these crimes are a gendered phenomenon.
Nobody engaged in discussion of intimate partner and sexual violence issues should let this get by them in the process. It is one or the other, not one standard for women, and another for men. They wouldn’t like the results of taking their standard for men’s experiences, and applying it to those of women.
So far, none of them has had any answer when confronted with the point that if the measuring prevalence by limited to BJS would discredit the 1 in 4 statistic their movement uses to promote their rape culture narrative. Should they make that choice, rape can once again be considered a rare crime. We can stop turning university campuses into a gender-war-zone in the name of protecting young women from a so-called epidemic, because according to BJS statistics, there isn’t one. We can stop gendering intimate partner and sexual violence law, because if police reports are evidence of perpetration, then we don’t need laws limiting citizens’ access to the justice system, or the response the justice system can offer them. After all, we wouldn’t want to prevent victims from reporting their crimes to police, would we? And certainly, if women are not engaging in sexual violence, they have nothing to fear from de-gendering laws that criminalize sexual violence, do they?
It seems in order to protect one foot, feminists are prepared to shoot themselves in the other. It will be interesting to see where this turn in the discussion leads.
- The long march that rattles the institutions | HBR Talk 179 - May 6, 2021
- Unsafety nets: The deceptive nature of safety net culture | HBR Talk 178 - April 29, 2021
- The destructive nature of Patriarchy scapegoating | HBR Talk 177 - April 22, 2021