Are All Men Like This? No, They're Not

I'm back after an extended family holiday. I would have liked to been posting about this NewsWeek craziness during that time, but playing with nieces and nephews is just more important.

So for those who haven't heard, there was an article published in Newsweek on July 18th which reported on a 'study' just released that seems to show that men who 'buy' sex commit more violent crimes and that actually, most men buy sex. It paints a very distressing picture of men in our culture as misogynistic bastards who see not just sex trade workers, but all women, as their objects to use and abuse as they see fit. The article has got a lot of panties in a twist - I have to admit it had me going at first. But something in the back of my mind kept saying 'This can't possibly be true.' I understand that human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children and adolescents is a horrifying thing that needs to be addressed - but this all just didn't seem right. And so I went in search of answers and I was right. What Newsweek would have believe was proven by this study is not true at all.

This thing is now such a huge mess of controversy and the study and the subsequent reporting of it is so rife with issues that I'm going to bite off small pieces of it and make several posts. It just can't be addressed in one post - my fingers will fall off from hours of typing.

So the first thing is, Are All Men Like This? That was the title of a post on Jezebel about the article. In the article, the author of the 'study' is quoted as saying that they had a hard time finding men who did not buy sex. That sounds awful. It makes it sound like most men are using the services of sex trade workers. And yes, that's what the study author wants us to believe. But let's take a closer look.

first of all, let's just be clear about this, the study was funded by an organization who's express purpose is to eliminate prostitution. Just a bit of a bias, wouldn't you say? Secondly, the lead author of the study is a well-known anti-prostitution and anti-porn activist. Again, a bit biased, don't you think?

Now, their definition of men who do not 'buy' sex was published in the Newsweek article. It was 'men who have not been to a strip club more than two times in the past year, have not purchased a lap dance, have not used pornography more than one time in the last month, and have not purchased phone sex or the services of a sex worker, escort, erotic masseuse, or prostitute'. Okay - there are two big big problems here. First of all, why is the use of pornography and strip clubs included in this definition? How, in any way, are those things the same as prostitution. Secondly, and this is vitally important, what Newsweek does not tell you, is that the definition of 'buyer' was much more strict. It included only men who had bought a lap dance, or used the services of a sex worker. The Newsweek article leads one to believe that the buying group - which they then go on to talk about at length, also includes men who use porn and go to strip clubs but don't use the services of sex trade workers. This is where NewsWeek really loses their credibility. The alarm bells start sounding because they make it seem as if pretty much all men (because you find me a man who doesn't watch some kind of porn from time to time) are a part of this group that is then described as hating women, having violent tendencies, being more likely to commit crimes of all kinds but particularly violent crimes against women. But that's not the case. These things that they talk about are true only of the men in the buying group and those are men who actually used the services of sex trade workers.

The other major issue is, the selection process and criteria as well as the details of the study sample were not described. The sample was only 101 men and the control group was an additional 100 men. That's not a lot of men. Also, the men were recruited through an ad that asked invited them to participate in an interview about their sex lives for which they would be paid. Doesn't it make sense to assume that men who would respond to such as an would be men how are open and comfortable with their sexuality and have more liberal views on things like pornography and prostitution? It makes sense to believe that men with less open boundaries around sexuality would not be interested in participating in an interview like that. So there's a selection bias there.

As well, they do not disclose how many people responded to the survey as opposed to how many were selected into the buying group. The lead author simply says that they had a 'hard time' finding men who did not buy sex. But they don't say how many responded. If 200 responded and 101 used the services of a sex trade worker, that's one thing. If 2000 responded and 101 used the services of sex trade worker, that's quite another.

Another issue is that they do not disclose the questions that were asked. We have no idea what they asked these men in order to elicit the responses they got. They simply give us tables with numbers of men who had done this or that and a table of heinous quotes from the buying group. Oh, and about that table of heinous quotes, they also do not disclose how many of the participants made these comments. Again, if those 20 awful despicable things were said by 20 different men in that group of 101, that's one thing. If one man in that group of 101 said all of those things, that quite another thing.

The study, and particularly the NewsWeek article seem to want us to draw these conclusions:
- men who visit sex trade workers and men who never have but who watch porn and go to strip clubs are exactly the same and most men do at least some of these things
- watching porn makes men want to solicit prostitutes
- men who do use the services of sex trade workers (and who watch porn and go to strip clubs) are alarmingly more likely to commit violent crimes
- it is the prostitution itself that causes them to do these things

Not a single one of these claims about men is supported by the information in that 'study'.

Yes there are some men who do these things, but we know that already. The authors of this study set out to make us believe that most men do them and that they do them because they watch porn and use the services of sex trade workers. It's an insult to all men and it's an alarmist sentiment that it simple not true.

In my next post, I'll deal with the confusion and conflation of pornography, prostitution and human trafficking.