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Fourth-Wave Feminist Hysteria Gets Scope Of Sexual Assault Problem Wrong


The basic idea of equality between the sexes isn’t an inherently bad concept. It’s when its excesses are on display, when it’s taken to extremes, and it’s used to justify Victorian-era attitudes that women are weak and need fainting couches for danger is lurking behind every corner, that it becomes a problem.

This was on full display on Twitter as hyperbolic fourth-wave feminist tweets went viral this week, garnering thousands of likes a pop (warning: language):

(Men, do not worry, this is not true for most women. In fact, in our current Tinder-addled society, it might be better if more men and women got comfortable casually interacting in a variety of normal settings, like the grocery store, with no screen to separate them.)

The tweeter in question hits on a few important grains of truth: violence against women is real, women are often the physically weaker (and smaller) sex, and some men are creepy. Men should be taught, from a young age, to read social cues, to never physically harm or coerce a woman, and to understand what forceful behavior looks like (as to avoid it).

But women, too, must be taught to hone their ability to sniff out danger. Teaching them that every dark alleyway, unlit parking lot, or grocery store aisle is a hotbed of would-be assaults is absurd. Teaching them they can never go out alone anywhere, which would obviously follow if danger were as ever-prevalent as the OP claims, would severely hinder basic autonomy for half the population.

Fourth-Wave Feminists, Unite

Tweets like these are largely embraced by fourth-wave feminists, the newest incarnation of feminism that began roughly around 2008 or 2009 (although people differ on the exact year). Fourth-wave feminists tend to be concerned with campus sexual assault, sexual harassment, harassment in the workplace, MeToo, catcalling, and the like, much of which could be fit under the “rape culture” umbrella. With lots of online organizing, many participate in on-the-ground activism through SlutWalks and the Women’s March.

The issue is that fourth-wave feminists’ very valid concerns about sexual violence are diminished by flimsy “zombie statistics” and fearmongering. Then naysayers of those practices, who very much believe in women’s equality, are cast away as heretics for daring to dissent––they’re victim-blaming, the logic goes.

But what’s the line between victim-blaming and advocating for the use of common sense and sound judgment? Wouldn’t Neomi Rao like to know.

The potential Brett Kavanaugh replacement for Washington D.C.’s federal appeals court has been trailed by controversy over the past few weeks for her now-provocative writings that surfaced from the ’90s, when she was in her early twenties. Rao wrote, “a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober,” and “If she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was a part of her choice.”

In 1994, Rao wrote: “It has always seemed self-evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions. A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.”

Activists were predictably pissed, and filled hallways outside Rao’s nomination hearing wearing shirts that read “#RejectRao.” Rao was certainly insensitive in the way she placed some of the not-being-raped onus on young women, but fourth-wavers can’t have it both ways.

If sexual assault and sex-based violent crime is as prevalent as they seem to claim in other contexts, like this Twitter post and the oft-circulated but poorly sourced statistics on campus rape (one in FIVE!), why would drastic measures not be taken? Why would Rao’s advice be bad, given the life-or-death scenarios women allegedly constantly face? Something doesn’t add up, here. My hunch is that the regularity with which these terrible crimes occur is different than activists claim.

Lisak’s Bad Statistics

Take the one in five statistic, for example. Widely cited by activists all over the internet, it originated from a 2002 David Lisak study. He hadn’t even collected the data––it was pooled from four studies in the ’90s, looking at part-time commuter students. The study identified 120 men as meeting the legal definition of rape, or of attempted rape, but the study subsequently referred to them all as rapists, taking no time to parse out the attempted from the real. Then, 76 of those men were marked as “serial” offenders.

The other issue with nontraditional students, as Linda M. LeFauve noted at Reason, is that they could’ve committed their offenses at any time during their lives; they don’t fall into the typical 18-to-22 category. But no matter: this Lisak statistic was then churned out into the world by the Obama White House, so we have a bloated sense of how often campus rape occurs because of one study with bad methodology of data that was collected more than 20 years ago.

No wonder fourth-wave feminism is a mess. You’re not allowed to challenge activist dogma, and often operating off disproven or poorly sourced numbers.

People in activist and online communities should greet Twitter threads like these with immense skepticism. We shouldn’t engage in “cancel culture” or any sort of censoring idiocy; we should advocate for moderation and less hysteria.

As journalists, we shouldn’t recycle bunk statistics or statistics that seem too insane to be true. And as women, we should voice concern about potential myths that might reduce our independence and make droves of us feel we need to live in fear.

Perhaps most of all, we should stop trying to verbally flay people like Rao, who committed none other than the egregious sin of trying to advocate for personal responsibility. Did she do so perfectly at age 22? No. Did any of us?

As to this tweeter’s last point, do not listen to the masses, that’s a terrible idea. The masses have historically done all kinds of bad things. Just because a belief is endorsed by lots of people does not mean it is true. Sometimes it just means it’s a lazy and cheap way of thinking, sweeping lots of sheeple up in it.