Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mainstream Media Puff Bogus Data on “Street Harassment” of Women

Via The Word Warrior, a Marquette feminist blog that deserves credit for good reporting on this issue.

It started with the following story reported by CNN.
(LifeWire) -- When Holly Kearl was researching her master’s thesis on street harassment last winter, she was pleasantly surprised that lewd remarks were few and far between. Then spring rolled around.

“Suddenly, it was April, and I was getting yelled at everywhere by men in cars,” said Kearl, who has since completed a degree in women’s studies and public policy from George Washington University.

As part of her research, Kearl conducted an anonymous, informal e-mail survey of 225 women on the subject. She found that 98 percent of respondents experienced some form of street harassment at least a few times, and about 30 percent reported being harassed on a regular basis.

“For me, anyone who interrupts my personal space to objectify me or make me feel uncomfortable or threatened is harassing me,” she says.
The CNN article admits that some women like the attention, which in the more moderate forms simply says “hey, you’re attractive.”

But then it resumes the feminist blather.
But Kimberly Fairchild, 29, an assistant professor of psychology at Manhattan College in New York, says catcalling can take a larger emotional toll than many women realize.

“There seems to be some evidence that it increases self-objectification,” said Fairchild, who surveyed 550 women both online and at Rutgers University in 2006 and 2007. The women -- who ranged in age from 15 to 64 in the international online component and from 18 to 24 in the Rutgers survey of women from central New Jersey -- were asked about their experiences with street harassment.

Catcalling “encourages women to look at themselves as body parts instead of as full, whole, intelligent human beings” and can cause women to fear for their safety, Fairchild says.

“When a man catcalls you, you don’t know if it will end at that point or if it could escalate to assault,” she added.
The problem, which the CNN story failed to mention, is that the sample of women that produced the “98 percent” figure was absurdly skewed.

The author, Holly Kearl, left a comment on The Word Warrior explaining the problem.
“My survey wasn’t meant to be representative of the larger population. I specifically targeted people I thought would be feminists and thereby might know about anti-street harassment websites like the HollaBacks. That was more what my thesis focused on - how were people responding to and combating street harassment, and did they use these websites? I sent the survey to women’s studies listservs and other feminist groups, so I knew the data was skewed and stated that in my thesis when I talked about the data from my survey. The survey was just one component of how I gathered data. Most of my data came from reading 706 postings on 6 anti-street harassment websites which offered me voluntarily given, first-hand accounts of how people had been harassed, how they reacted, and how they used the websites. In the survey, asking people if they had been harassed was a side question to the ones I was more interested in - how did people respond and what did they think of the hollaback websites . . . and the information about how many people had been harassed warranted two sentences in my 129 page thesis…”

“It’s been hard having the large scope of my thesis reduced to a few sentences put in a context not of my choosing with a headline and photo I would never have chosen either.”
The photo most certainly was a bit salacious.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But the fundamental, indeed fatal, problem is that Kearl sought a sample of feminists, who would be expected to see this issue through the feminist lens of victimization and aggrievement.

Further, there was a massive amount of self-selection into her sample, since it was heavily drawn from women who frequented feminist websites dealing with the issue.

Implying that her sample in any way generalizes to all women was absurd.

There is no doubt that feminists (like all academics who are essentially activists, and not dispassionate scholars) have trafficked in bogus statistics -- most notably on the incidence of date rape.

But in this case, at least, Kearl and The Word Warrior deserve some credit for trying to keep the record straight.

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Blogger James Pawlak said...

This confirms my opinion that "feminist studies" are as far removed from science, mathematics and reality as any university program can be (With the possible exception of "Peace Studies" as taught at MU and most English-USA literature courses taught in any school.)

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And so to, with theology? Or is that ok?

2:35 PM  
Blogger James Pawlak said...

Theology is based on belief and not (As claimed by "womens' studies priestesses) on scientific thought.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have absolutely no problem with ensuring the validity of any given study, but it seems to me that this post detracts from the issue at stake--catcalling/harassments and how it can be detrimental. Regardless of how much or how little clothing I've been wearing, I've been a target of catcalls/harassment more times than I'd like to remember. This happens on MU's campus, initiated by Marquette students. While I would label myself a feminist, this is doubtlessly an issue of human decency. And for the record, studies of human behavior and identity formation are considered to be as much as a soft science as is political science. Peace Studies and English courses however, fall into the academic arts realm of Arts and Sciences and make little claim to be scientific.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear James,

From Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics: "For a well-schooled man is one who searches for that degree of precision in each kind of study which the nature of the subject at hand admits: it is obviously just as foolish to accept arguments of probability from a mathematician as to demand strict demonstrations from an orator."

Any Marquette graduate ought easily to recognize this.

4:59 PM  

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