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Is Logical Discussion a Lost Art?

Sunday, June 30, 2013, 17:03 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

People who don’t frequent electronic media, particularly conservative blogs, might not realize that there is a sense among conservatives and independents that there is a so-called “war on men” that is at least as valid as the “war on women” liberals complain about. The background is extensive, but a couple of examples given to support that contention are the negative male stereotypes used in advertising (e.g. the clueless husband, the inept father, the quasi-Neanderthal beer-swilling sports nut, etc.) and the treatment of men in domestic legal disputes with women (e.g. custody, alimony, restraining orders).

I am a bit of an anomaly in that I am a feminist who not only recognizes that women are sometimes treated unfairly but also acknowledges that men are sometimes treated unfairly, too, and no, it isn’t a zero-sum game, there’s more than enough equality to go around. As a result, I often face ridicule from both sides. And in the nebulous area known as the interwebs, that ridicule can border on the ridiculous.

Such is the case with the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the United States armed forces. We have heard a great deal over the last couple of decades about sexual harassment and assault against military women, but lately a lesser-known fact has emerged: the majority of sexual attack victims in the military are men.

In its latest report on sexual assault, the Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Of those cases, the Pentagon says, 53 percent involved attacks on men, mostly by other men.

I was surprised by that. I know that sexual assault against men happens, but 13,780 (53% of 26,000) seems like a big number, certainly enough to warrant more attention. The numbers might even seem to suggest that the problem is fairly equally divided and that military women, far from being more vulnerable than their male colleagues, are actually somewhat less likely to be victimized.

But I also know that statistics are often not what they seem when taken in a vacuum. So being something of a numbers geek, I delved deeper.

According to CNN, in 2011, 14.5% of active-duty forces and about 18% of reservists and National Guard were female. From all the numbers given in the article, I calculated that overall (active duty plus reserve/Guard), women comprised 15.9%—or 354,430—of military personnel compared to 1,880,750 men. That’s quite an improvement over a generation ago, but women are still a minority in our military. And that sheds some additional light on the assault statistics. Consider:

  • 13,780 male sexual assault victims out of 1,880,750 male military service members means that one out of 136 military men are victimized.
  • 12,220 female sexual assault victims out of 354,430 female military service members means that one out of 29 military women are victimized.

Those numbers are abysmal any way you look at them. But as bad as they are for men, they are worse for women because a woman in the U.S. armed forces is more than four times as likely as her male counterpart to be sexually assaulted. Would you be more afraid if you were male or female? So when I saw this on Twitter…

Majority of military sexual assault victims are male. #WaronMen http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/us/…

…I felt compelled to reply:

But women are *disproportionately* victims.

And let the shit storm begin. Within 45 minutes, I got a sequence of replies from an entirely different user:

How about we care about all survivors instead of looking for excuses to exclude?

My PTSD is not lessened in proportion to any form of statistical analysis. Male survivors deserve a voice too.

I’m sick of excuses to further silence us.

Prudence might have dictated that I walk away, given that 1) I had unwittingly roused the ire of a victim, and 2) it’s virtually impossible to have a substantive discussion in 140-character fragments. But one thing I have never been is uncaring of crime victims, particularly when the crimes are of a sexual nature. So I ventured forth, using a non-controversial example in an effort to elucidate my point:

Of course. But that doesn’t change the fact that the “majority of victims” statistic is misleading.

Take a group of 100 ppl, 10 redheads & 90 brunettes. 9 of 10 RHs are victims compared to 10 of 90 BRs.

The *majority* of victims are BRe [sic], but RHs are *more likely* than brunettes to be victims.

To your point, each BR victim is as much a victim as each RH victim.

But that doesn’t alter the overall statistical pic, which has nothing to do w/ how each victim should be treated.

Clear, yes? Only if you actually read it, apparently. I won’t reproduce the rest of the tweets, but I will point out that I was accused, by both the author of the original tweet and the person who replied to my reply, of ignoring male rape victims, using statistics to alienate and minimize them, manipulating and refusing to accept statistics, and best of all, “intentionally triggering a rape survivor.” Sigh.

The rape victim eventually blocked me, but the person who posted the original tweet wouldn’t quit. So I laid into her but good. I also told her that while I agreed with her that male victims are given short shrift, that doesn’t prevent me from acknowledging facts. As the saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts. Someone advocating for a cause does herself or the cause no favors by lashing out irrationally at people who deal with all the information instead of cherry-picking just what looks best. After a while she seemed to back off, finally shutting up entirely when I informed her that I have two male relatives who were raped and am very well aware how damaging it is.

What was most disturbing about the entire exchange wasn’t the mud-slinging, faulty assumptions, or bogus accusations. It was the use of those tactics by people who, judging from their Twitter profiles, seem to be conservative/libertarian. Crackpots come in all ideological stripes, but in my experience it is most often liberals who substitute straw-man attacks and emotional tirades for reasoned debate, leaving it to independents, conservatives, and libertarians to be the adults in the room. (Example: A conservative says that Obama’s medical insurance overhaul will increase premium costs, decrease hiring by employers, and limit physician availability. A liberal responds, RAAAACIST!!!) For that reason, I have found it easier to co-exist with conservatives than with liberals over shared opinions. I have a surprising number of religious and/or conservative abortion opponents who are not only willing but eager to form coalitions with feminist, liberal, gay/lesbian, or secular pro-lifers, but rare indeed are abortion advocates who will partner with abortion opponents on, say, domestic violence issues.

That doesn’t bode well for the future of rational debate. You can’t have a discussion between opposing parties if one side is busy screaming, but the more reasonable party can influence those who are undecided. If both sides are screaming, the person in the middle has nowhere to go.

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