I’ve previously noted the tendency of some academic activists to indulge in wild overstatement, not least those entranced by the Holy Trinity of race, class and gender. As, for instance, when Barbara Barnett, a product of Duke’s infamous English department, claimed that, “20%–25% of college students report that they have experienced a rape or attempted rape.” Barnett’s assertions were subsequently debunked by KC Johnson:
Barnett… thereby [suggests] that college campuses have a rate of sexual assault around 2.5 times higher than the rate of sexual assault, murder, armed robbery and assault combined in Detroit, the U.S. city with the highest murder rate. For those in the reality-based community, FBI figures provide a counterweight to Barnett’s theories: not 20%-25% but instead around .03% of students are victims of rape while in college. Duke’s 2000-2006 figures, which use a much broader reporting standard than the FBI database, indicate that 0.2% of Duke students “report that they have experienced a rape or attempted rape.”
Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Christina Hoff Sommers spies more academic work in which accuracy appears peripheral to a political agenda:
Consider The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World (2008), by the feminist scholar Joni Seager, chair of the Hunter College geography department… One color-coded map illustrates how women are kept “in their place” by restrictions on their mobility, dress, and behavior. Somehow the United States comes out looking as bad in this respect as Somalia, Uganda, Yemen, Niger, and Libya. All are coded with the same shade of green to indicate places where “patriarchal assumptions” operate in “potent combination with fundamentalist religious interpretations.”
Seager’s logic? She notes that in parts of Uganda, a man can claim an unmarried woman as his wife by raping her. The United States gets the same low rating on Seager’s charts because, she notes, “State legislators enacted 301 anti-abortion measures between 1995 and 2001.” Never mind that the Ugandan practice is barbaric, that U.S. abortion law is exceptionally liberal among the nations of the world, and that the activism and controversy surrounding the issue of abortion in the United States is a sign of a vigorous free democracy working out its disagreements.
Among the scholarly lapses discussed is the following nugget, from Nancy K.D. Lemon’s Domestic Violence Law, which includes an historical perspective by Cheryl Ward Smith.
According to Ward Smith:
“The history of women’s abuse began over 2,700 years ago in the year 753 BC. It was during the reign of Romulus of Rome that wife abuse was accepted and condoned under the Laws of Chastisement... The laws permitted a man to beat his wife with a rod or switch so long as its circumference was no greater than the girth of the base of the man’s right thumb. The law became commonly know as ‘The Rule of Thumb.’ These laws established a tradition which was perpetuated in English Common Law in most of Europe.”
Where to begin? How about with the fact that Romulus of Rome never existed. He is a figure in Roman mythology - the son of Mars, nursed by a wolf. Problem 2: The phrase “rule of thumb” did not originate with any law about wife beating, nor has anyone ever been able to locate any such law. It is now widely regarded as a myth, even among feminist professors.
That Sommers does not get that the vast majority of American women are every bit as hobbled by constrictions around dress, mobility and behaviour as women in developing countries tells me Sommers needs to get out more.
Readers will, I’m sure, be nodding in agreement. After all, women across America are accustomed to being given a three-day deadline to shroud themselves from head to toe or face imprisonment. And doubtless when American women find themselves pregnant out of wedlock they too have a very real fear of execution at the hands of local government. You see, in degree of constriction, the “vast majority” of American women are indistinguishable from Aisho Ibrahim Dhuhulow, a Somalian woman found guilty of extra-marital intercourse by her local Islamic court. No doubt all across America unfaithful wives risk sharing Dhuhulow’s fate. Which is to say, they too risk being bound from head to foot and buried up to the neck, screaming, while their skulls are pelted with rocks by 50 pious men until, finally, they scream no more. All in front of a crowd of equally pious onlookers.
Yes, “every bit as hobbled.” Not one iota less.
This rickety barge is kept afloat by donations. And sheer force of will.