Statistics are a feminist issue

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Prominent feminist blog #4 to jump on the horrible gun statistics round robin.

Is it possible to consider yourself a feminist, and be at odds with a site that calls itself "Feministe" or "Feministing"? Let's find out.

For all that Feministe, in particular, is fond of labelling me "anti-feminist", I think the feminist movement is doing something important. Society treats men and women differently in ways that it shouldn't. I'm glad that there are people who focus their lives on changing that--even when I disagree with them; even when I think many of the battles they have chosen can't be won.

There are three things I really dislike about the feminist movement, all of them sadly reinforcing stereotypes about women.

1) The way that thinking women should be equal is assumed to be necessarily equated with a left economic agenda, and disagreement is treated as a betrayal.

2) The practice of labelling anyone who doesn't share their agenda as an "anti-feminist". Anyone who has gone to an all girls institution has probably noticed what I did at my girl's camp: every year, every single cabin broke down along the same lines. In the group of five or six, there was one girl who was picked on, one girl who was neutral--and the rest ganged up on the "out" girl. The need to shore up group solidarity by labelling someone as the enemy is probably the least attractive feature of feminine life in America, and it's pretty disappointing to see it so widely reproduced in a movement that's supposed to be liberating us from tired gender roles. I understand wanting to say that people who disagree with you shouldn't use a label you think is important. But I hate the term's implication that anyone who disagrees is an enemy.

3) The practice of handing around bad statistics like Grade Z Oaxaca Ditch Weed on the last night of Senior Week. It's bad enough in itself, but it also hideously supports stereotypes that women can't cope with real math. This is certainly not a practice limited to feminism--any political movement does a lot of it. But many of the worst statistics come out of women's study and feminist advocacy. There are the appallingly shaky statistics on the number of rapes based on badly designed surveys manipulated with statistical methods so crude that Bayes must be spinning in his grave fast enough to power a high-speed monorail between New York and LA. The confident assertions that abortions have not increased significantly since legalization, when the pre-Roe figure is obviously unknowable, and the data we do have--on pregnancies--points firmly in the other direction. The various numbers on domestic violence that are thrown around with abandon even though a moment's thought is enough to dismiss them as ridiculous--the infamous Super Bowl claims being only the worst of the breed. And, of course, the silly assertion that we know how many women are helped with guns vs. hurt by them, when the data needed to decide such a claim are unavailable, and the coding problems enough to make Jesus weep.

Having written a follow-up posts on exactly why you can't infer from flat tabulations of shootings that guns hurt women more than they help, it's pretty discouraging to see four feminist sites link the original with exactly those sorts of ham-fisted statistics.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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