Misusing Data to Promote Ideology

Cathy Young
July 14, 2013

…Also worth noting is [Stony Brook University sociologist Michael] Kimmel’s active campaign against equal recognition for male victims of domestic abuse (an ironic crusade for someone dedicated to shattering male/female stereotypes). While men’s rights activists do tend to exaggerate “gender symmetry” in partner violence (most notably by downplaying women’s higher risk of injury), Kimmel’s anti-gender symmetry polemic, published in the journal Violence Against Women in 2002, is at least as skewed. In a 2006 analysis on the politics of domestic violence scholarship, psychologists Donald Dutton of the University of British Columbia and Kenneth Corvo of Syracuse University bluntly accuse him of misusing data “in a direction favoring activist ideology” and trying to “manufacture” desired conclusions.

Thus, in critiquing studies based on the “Conflict Tactics Scale” questionnaire, which usually find similar rates of family violence by women and men, Kimmel invokes the 1998 National Violence Against Women Survey in which both women and men were asked about experiences of victimization: “The NVAW found that in 1998, men physically assaulted their partners at three times the rate at which women assaulted their partners.” But that disparity was for reports of lifetime assault; for the past year, men reported such assaults at about two-thirds the rate of women. (Men may be more likely to forget them over time for various reasons–including, perhaps, lack of cultural support in the victim role.)

Kimmel also cites leading family violence researchers Richard Gelles and Murray Straus as saying that “nearly three-fourths of the violence committed by women is done in self-defense.” But he omits the crucial fact that Straus later repudiated this claim as based on his own mistaken assumption that mutual violence was always male-initiated.

Near the end of his article, Kimmel offers an obligatory disclaimer: male victims do exist and deserve assistance and compassion. Yet in The Gendered Society, a text widely read by college students, he discusses the abuse of men in a snidely dismissive tone, with sarcastic asides about O.J. Simpson’s claim to be “an abused husband” and a battered men’s shelter in Canada which quickly closed “because no one came to it” (the source for this factoid is unclear). Confusing and contradictory statistics are trotted out with no apparent purpose but to minimize the issue (at one point Kimmel cites old Bureau of Justice Statistics numbers showing that about 8 percent of partner assaults are on men, then adds that “perhaps it’s a bit higher” so that “as much as 3-4 percent of all spousal violence is committed by women”). The late sociologist Susan Steinmetz, who pioneered the concept of “battered husband syndrome,” is ridiculed as a crank who supposedly twisted a small study of couples with no husbands reporting abuse into “bogus data” of 250,000 husbands battered every year. (In fact, Steinmetz’s estimates were based on several sources including a major national survey on domestic violence.)

Excepted from: http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2013/07/uh-ohhere_come_masculinity_stu.html