TIME feminism

Halle Berry’s Child-Support Fight: Female Breadwinners Can’t Have It Both Ways

Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - May 24, 2009
Nahla, Gabriel Aubry and Halle Berry at the Topanga Canyon Festival on May 24, 2009 in Topanga Canyon, California. David Aguilera—FilmMagic

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

We need to shed the notion that providing for one’s family is an essential part of masculinity

The latest celebrity tussle over child support has an unusual twist. The parent seeking a reduction in child-support payments is the mother, Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry. The parent collecting the checks is her ex-boyfriend, French-Canadian fashion model Gabriel Aubry, who shares custody of their 6-year-old daughter Nahla. The gossip website TMZ reports that Berry has petitioned the judge overseeing the couple’s custody arrangement to reduce the monthly child-support payment of $16,000 to just $3,000, alleging that Aubry is refusing to get a job. Is this what equality looks like? Sometimes, it is—though the reactions to this skirmish show that a double standard definitely persists when it comes to men “living off” women.

TMZ ran the story under the headline, “Halle Berry: GABRIEL AUBRY IS A BUM; I Want Child Support Slashed.” A piece on Gawker’s Defamer blog sarcastically complimented Aubry on finding a great gravy train and suggested that Berry could not be blamed for wanting to put a stop to it. When a Gawker commenter posted a crude remark questioning Aubry’s manhood and joking about “medical bills to reattach his penis,” blogger Jordan Sargent’s only response was, “Strong comment.”

Would a woman collecting a lot of child support from her wealthy ex be derided as a lazy bum? Certainly not. (She might be attacked as a greedy vixen, but such attacks would likely be seen as misogynist.) For all the feminism-inspired changes in cultural beliefs about what it means to be a woman or a man, the idea that providing for one’s family is an essential part of masculinity has endured. While 40% of mothers in the U.S. are now their family’s primary breadwinner—including nearly a quarter of married moms—nearly a third of Americans still agree it’s best for everyone when the man provides for his family. One person’s Mr. Mom is another’s Mr. Bum.

While men are somewhat more likely than women to hold traditional views on gender issues, there is evidence that in their personal preferences, women may actually be more wedded—as it were—to the male-breadwinner ideal. In a 1994 study based on U.S. survey data of single adults, men were almost as willing to marry “someone who earns much more” than them as “someone who earns much less.” For women, a higher-earning partner rated 6 points out of a maximum of 7, compared with 3.5 for a lower-earning one. Women were also much less willing than men to marry someone who did not have a steady job.

Have things changed in 20 years? Perhaps not, in this regard. In the latest Pew Research Center poll on marriage, one of the biggest gender gaps for singles is in how important people consider employment for a spouse or long-term partner: 78% of women regard having “a steady job” as “very important” in choosing a mate, while only 46% of men do. Sorry, Gabriel Aubry.

These preferences are largely related to family roles. It’s not that women are materialistic gold diggers; rather, most want the option to curtail or interrupt paid work for motherhood. But prejudice against men who aren’t good providers may paradoxically clash with ambitious women’s life plans.

Take one of the women interviewed for feminist journalist Peggy Orenstein’s 2000 book, Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids and Life in a Half-Changed World. “Abbey,” a 26-year-old artist and comic-book sales rep planning a career in the industry, admitted to growing ambivalence about her art-director boyfriend Jeremy. While Jeremy was devoted, supportive of Abbey’s goals and willing to follow her when she had to move, she was put off by his lack of ambition and limited earning potential. Ultimately, Abbey confessed that she’d rather have the choice to stay home after having children—despite being virtually certain that she wouldn’t exercise that choice and being strongly attached to her identity as a professional woman. Yet marriage to a Jeremy may be the best choice for a woman who wants to balance career and family.

Generally, it’s conservatives like RedState.org blogger Erik Erikson who defend the male-breadwinner role as biological (not quite the case if you look at the animal kingdom). Yet when a man and woman are in financial conflict, many feminists will line up in apparent solidarity behind a woman who upholds the most stereotypical of attitudes about gender and providing.

During the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, prosecutor Marcia Clark sought more child support from her estranged husband—who earned half her salary—because of trial-related child-care expenses. (Imagine the derision if a male attorney had done the same.) When Gordon Clark asked for temporary custody, a chorus of feminist voices rose to defend Clark as a strong woman under attack. Today feminist websites like Jezebel mock affluent men who want to pay less child support as cheap crybabies—but offer no comment on Halle Berry’s bid for child-support reduction.

To be sure, $16,000 a month for a 6-year-old who spends half her time with her dad may raise questions about appropriate levels of child support in cases involving wealthy parents—and about when child support becomes a subsidy for a parent who should be pulling his, or her, weight. But such questions should be raised across the board, without double standards. In his own accidental way, Aubry is a pioneer for gender equality.

Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME feminism

Sorry, Emma Watson, but HeForShe Is Rotten for Men

"Noah" - UK Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals
"I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me," said Emma Watson at a UN Women speech in September. "Men-- I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender Equality is your issue, too." Anthony Harvey—Getty Images

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

Until feminism recognizes discrimination against men, the movement for gender equality will be incomplete.

“Gender equality is your issue too.” That was the message to men from Emma Watson, Harry Potter star and now United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador, in her widely hailed U.N. speech earlier this week announcing a new feminist campaign with a “formal invitation” to male allies to join. Noting that men suffer from sexism in their own ways, Watson asked, “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” Truer words were never spoken. Too bad they are belied by the campaign itself, which is called “HeForShe” and asks men to pledge to “take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls” but says nothing about problems affecting men and boys.

Watson clearly believes that feminism — which, she stressed, is about equality and not bashing men — will also solve men’s problems. But, unfortunately, feminism in its present form has too often ignored sexist biases against males, and sometimes has actively contributed to them. Until that changes, the movement for gender equality will be incomplete.

Take one of the men’s issues Watson mentioned in her speech: seeing her divorced father’s role as a parent “valued less by society” than her mother’s. It is true that in the 1970s and 1980s, feminist challenges to discriminatory, sex-specific laws helped end formal preferences for mothers in child custody matters. But as fathers began to fight against more covert anti-male biases in the court system, most feminists sided with mothers.

There are plenty of other examples. The women’s movement has fought, rightly, for more societal attention to domestic abuse and sexual violence. But male victims of these crimes still tend to get short shrift, from the media and activists alike. Despite several recent high-profile recent sexual assault cases in which the victims were teenage girls, disturbing cases in which boys were victimized — by other boys or by girls — have received far less publicity and sparked little outrage. Experiments have shown that while people are quick to intervene when a man in a staged public quarrel becomes physically abusive to his girlfriend, reactions to a similar situation with the genders reversed mostly range from indifference to amusement or even sympathy for the woman. To a large extent, as feminists sometimes point out, these attitudes stem from traditional gender norms which treat victimhood, especially at a woman’s hands, as unmanly. But today’s mainstream feminism, which regards sexual assault and domestic violence as byproducts of male power over women, tends to reinforce rather than challenge such double standards.

Just in the past few days, many feminist commentators have taken great umbrage at suggestions that soccer star Hope Solo, currently facing charges for assaulting her sister and teenage nephew, deserves similar censure to football player Ray Rice, who was caught on video striking his fiancée. Their argument boils down to the assertion that violence by men toward their female partners should be singled out because it’s a bigger problem than female violence toward family members. Meanwhile, in Watson’s native England, activists from women’s organizations recently blamed the shortage of services for abused women on efforts to accommodate abused men (despite the fact that, as Guardian columnist and blogger Ally Fogg demonstrated, even the lowest estimates of the prevalence of domestic violence against men suggest that male victims are far less likely than women to get help).

Watson deserves credit for wanting to end the idea that “fighting for women’s rights [is] synonymous with man-hating.” But she cannot do that if she treats such notions only as unfair stereotypes. How about addressing this message to feminists who complain about being “asked to modify our language so we don’t hurt men’s feelings” when talking about misogyny — for instance, not to generalize about all men as oppressors? Or to those who argue that “Kill all men” mugs and “I bathe in male tears” T-shirts are a great way to celebrate women’s empowerment and separate the “cool dudes” who get the joke from the “dumb bros”? Or to those who accuse a feminist woman of “victim-blaming” for defending her son against a sexual assault accusation — even one of which he is eventually cleared?

Men must, indeed, “feel welcome to participate in the conversation” about gender issues. But very few will do so if that “conversation” amounts to being told to “shut up and listen” while women talk about the horrible things men do to women, and being labeled a misogynist for daring to point out that bad things happen to men too and that women are not always innocent victims in gender conflicts. A real conversation must let men talk not only about feminist-approved topics such as gender stereotypes that keep them from expressing their feelings, but about more controversial concerns: wrongful accusations of rape; sexual harassment policies that selectively penalize men for innocuous banter; lack of options to avoid unwanted parenthood once conception has occurred. Such a conversation would also acknowledge that pressures on men to be successful come not only from “the patriarchy” but, often, from women as well. And it would include an honest discussion of parenthood, including many women’s reluctance to give up or share the primary caregiver role.

It goes without saying that these are “First World problems.” In far too many countries around the world, women still lack basic rights and patriarchy remains very real (though it is worth noting that even in those places, men and boys often have to deal with gender-specific hardships, from forced recruitment into war to mass violence that singles out males). But in the industrial democracies of North America and Europe, the revolution in women’s rights over the past century has been a stunning success — and, while there is still work to be done, it must include the other side of that revolution. Not “he for she,” but “She and he for us.”

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Sexual Assault

The CDC’s Rape Numbers Are Misleading

Obama Ebola
The entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Oct. 8, 2013. David Goldman—AP

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

Men reported being “made to penetrate” at virtually the same rates as women reported rape

CDC: Nearly 1 in 5 Women Raped.” “One in Five U.S. Women Has Been Raped: CDC Survey.” These alarming headlines were typical of the coverage of last week’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on sexual and intimate violence in the United States. The CDC study—the second in two years—seems to support a radical feminist narrative that has been gaining mainstream attention recently: that modern America is a “rape culture” saturated with misogynistic violence. But a closer look at the data, obtained from telephone surveys done in 2011, yields a far more complex picture and raises some surprising question about gender, victimization, and bias.

Both critics and supporters of the CDC’s methodology note the striking disparity between CDC figures and the Justice Department’s crime statistics based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (which includes crimes unreported to the police). While the CDC estimates that nearly 2 million adult American women were raped in 2011 and nearly 6.7 million suffered some other form of sexual violence, the NCVS estimate for that year was 238,000 rapes and sexual assaults.

New Republic reporter Claire Groden points out that while the NCVS focuses on criminal acts, the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey asks about instances of forced sex which respondents may or may not regard as crimes. Yet it is worth noting that in the early 1990s, the NCVS was redesigned to elicit more reports of sexual and domestic violence that may not fit the conventional mold of criminal attacks. In addition to being asked directly about rape, attempted rape or sexual assault, respondents now get a follow-up question about “forced or unwanted sexual acts” committed by a stranger, a casual acquaintance, or someone they know well.

The CDC study goes much further in asking about specific unwanted acts. But there are other important differences. For one, CDC survey respondents are not asked whether anyone has used physical force or threats to make them engage in a sexual activity, but “how many” people have done this (in their lifetime and in the past year). This wording removes the extra hurdle of admitting that such a violation has happened, and thus encourages more reporting. But could it also create “false positives” by nudging people toward the assumption that the default answer is affirmative—especially when preceded by a battery of other questions and statements about sexually coercive behavior?

A much bigger problem is the wording of the question measuring “incapacitated rape” (which accounted for nearly two-thirds of the CDC’s estimate of rapes that occurred in the past year). Respondents were asked about sexual acts that happened when they were “drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.” This seems to imply that “unable to consent” is only one of the variables and to include situations in which a person is intoxicated—perhaps enough to have impaired judgment—but not incapacitated as the legal definition of rape requires.

A CDC spokesperson told The New Republic that “being unable to consent is key to the CDC’s definition of rape.” Presumably, this is conveyed by the introduction to the question about alcohol- and drug-enabled rape: “Sometimes sex happens when a person is unable to consent to it or stop it from happening because they were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out from alcohol, drugs, or medications.” However, in a telephone survey, some people may focus only on the question itself and let the introduction slide by.

Moreover, the introductory message ends with an advisory that may create more confusion: “Please remember that even if someone uses alcohol or drugs, what happens to them is not their fault.” Obviously, the intended point is that even if you got drunk, you’re not to blame for being raped. But this vaguely phrased reminder could also be taken to mean that it’s not your fault if you do something stupid while drunk or on drugs. At no point are respondents given any instructions that could result in fewer reports of alleged victimization: for instance, that they should not include instances in which they had voluntary sex while drunk but not incapacitated.

For many feminists, questioning claims of rampant sexual violence in our society amounts to misogynist “rape denial.” However, if the CDC figures are to be taken at face value, then we must also conclude that, far from being a product of patriarchal violence against women, “rape culture” is a two-way street, with plenty of female perpetrators and male victims.

How could that be? After all, very few men in the CDC study were classified as victims of rape: 1.7 percent in their lifetime, and too few for a reliable estimate in the past year. But these numbers refer only to men who have been forced into anal sex or made to perform oral sex on another male. Nearly 7 percent of men, however, reported that at some point in their lives, they were “made to penetrate” another person—usually in reference to vaginal intercourse, receiving oral sex, or performing oral sex on a woman. This was not classified as rape, but as “other sexual violence.”

And now the real surprise: when asked about experiences in the last 12 months, men reported being “made to penetrate”—either by physical force or due to intoxication—at virtually the same rates as women reported rape (both 1.1 percent in 2010, and 1.7 and 1.6 respectively in 2011).

In other words, if being made to penetrate someone was counted as rape—and why shouldn’t it be?—then the headlines could have focused on a truly sensational CDC finding: that women rape men as often as men rape women.

The CDC also reports that men account for over a third of those experiencing another form of sexual violence—“sexual coercion.” That was defined as being pressured into sexual activity by psychological means: lies or false promises, threats to end a relationship or spread negative gossip, or “making repeated requests” for sex and expressing unhappiness at being turned down.

Should we, then, regard sexual violence as a reciprocal problem? Getting away from the simplistic and adversarial “war against women” model is undoubtedly a positive step, as is admitting that women are human beings with the capacity for aggression and wrongdoing—including sexual assault. On the other hand, most of us would agree that to equate a victim of violent rape and a man who engages in a drunken sexual act he wouldn’t have chosen when sober is to trivialize a terrible crime. It is safe to assume that the vast majority of the CDC’s male respondents who were “made to penetrate” someone would not call themselves rape victims—and with good reason.

But if that’s the case, it is just as misleading to equate a woman’s experience of alcohol-addled sex with the experience of a rape victim who is either physically overpowered or attacked when genuinely incapacitated. For purely biological reasons, there is little doubt that adult victims of such crimes are mostly female—though male children and adolescents are at fairly high risk: as criminologists Richard Felson and Patrick Cundiff report in a fascinating recent analysis, a 15-year-old male is considerably more likely to be sexually assaulted than a woman over 40. The CDC reports that 12.3 percent of female victims were 10 or younger at the time of their first completed rape victimization; for male victims, that number is 27.8 percent.

We must either start treating sexual assault as a gender-neutral issue or stop using the CDC’s inflated statistics. Few would deny that sex crimes in America are a real, serious, and tragic problem. But studies of sexual violence should use accurate and clear definitions of rape and sexual assault, rather than lump these criminal acts together with a wide range of unsavory but non-criminal scenarios of men—and women—behaving badly.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME feminism

Campus Rape: The Problem With ‘Yes Means Yes’

New students at San Diego State University watch a video on sexual consent during an orientation meeting, Aug. 1, 2014, in San Diego.
New students at San Diego State University watch a video on sexual consent during an orientation meeting, Aug. 1, 2014, in San Diego. Gregory Bull—AP

Having the government dictate how people should behave in sexual encounters is a terrible idea

The campus crusade against rape has achieved a major victory in California with the passage of a so-called “Yes means yes” law. Unanimously approved by the state Senate yesterday after a 52-16 vote in the assembly on Monday, SB967 requires colleges and universities to evaluate disciplinary charges of sexual assault under an “affirmative consent” standard as a condition of qualifying for state funds. The bill’s supporters praise it as an important step in preventing sexual violence on campus. In fact, it is very unlikely to deter predators or protect victims. Instead, its effect will be to codify vague and capricious rules governing student conduct, to shift the burden of proof to (usually male) students accused of sexual offenses, and to create a disturbing precedent for government regulation of consensual sex.

No sane person would quarrel with the principle that sex without consent is rape and should be severely punished. But while sexual consent is widely defined as the absence of a “no” (except in cases of incapacitation), anti-rape activists and many feminists have long argued that this definition needs to shift toward an active “yes.” Or, as the California bill puts it:

“Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. … Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent.

The law’s defenders, such as feminist writer Amanda Hess, dismiss as hyperbole claims that it would turn people into unwitting rapists every time they have sex without obtaining an explicit “yes” (or, better yet, a notarized signature) from their partner. Hess points out that consent can include nonverbal cues such as body language. Indeed, the warning that “relying solely on nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstanding,” included in the initial draft of the bill, was dropped from later versions. Yet even after those revisions, one of the bill’s co-authors, Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that the affirmative consent standard means a person “must say ‘yes.’ ”

Nonverbal cues indicating consent are almost certainly present in most consensual sexual encounters. But as a legal standard, nonverbal affirmative consent leaves campus tribunals in the position of trying to answer murky and confusing questions — for instance, whether a passionate response to a kiss was just a kiss, or an expression of “voluntary agreement” to have sexual intercourse. Faced with such ambiguities, administrators are likely to err on the side of caution and treat only explicit verbal agreement as sufficient proof of consent. In fact, many affirmative-consent-based student codes of sexual conduct today either discourage reliance on nonverbal communication as leaving too much room for mistakes (among them California’s Occidental College and North Carolina’s Duke University) or explicitly require asking for and obtaining verbal consent (the University of Houston). At Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College, nonverbal communication is allowed but a verbal request for consent absolutely requires a verbal response: If you ask, “Do you want this?”, you may not infer consent from the mere fact that your partner pulls you down on the bed and moves to take off your clothes.

Meanwhile, workshops and other activities promoting the idea that one must “ask first and ask often” and that sex without verbal agreement is rape have proliferated on college campuses.

The consent evangelists often admit that discussing consent is widely seen as awkward and likely to kill the mood — though they seem to assume that the problem can be resolved if you just keep repeating that such verbal exchanges can be “hot,” “cool,” and “creative.” It’s not that talk during a sexual encounter is inherently a turn-off — far from it. But there’s a big difference between sexy banter or endearments, and mandatory checks to confirm you aren’t assaulting your partner (especially when you’re told that such checks must be conducted “in an ongoing manner”). Most people prefer spontaneous give-and-take and even some mystery, however old-fashioned that may sound; sex therapists will also tell you that good sex requires “letting go” of self-consciousness. When ThinkProgress.com columnist Tara Culp-Ressler writes approvingly that under affirmative consent “both partners are required to pay more attention to whether they’re feeling enthusiastic about the sexual experience they’re having,” it sounds more like a prescription for overthinking.

Of course anyone who believes that verbal communication about consent is essential to healthy sexual relationships can preach that message to others. The problem is that advocates of affirmative consent don’t rely simply on persuasion but on guilt-tripping (one handout stresses that verbal communication is “worth the risk of embarrassment or awkwardness” since the alternative is the risk of sexual assault) and, more importantly, on the threat of sanctions.

Until now, these sanctions have been voluntarily adopted by colleges; SB-967 gives them the backing of a government mandate. In addition to creating a vaguely and subjectively defined offense of nonconsensual sex, the bill also explicitly places the burden of proof on the accused, who must demonstrate that he (or she) took “reasonable steps … to ascertain whether the complainant affirmatively consented.” When the San Gabriel Valley Tribune asked Lowenthal how an innocent person could prove consent under such a standard, her reply was, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Meanwhile, Culp-Ressler reassures her readers that passionate trysts without explicit agreement “aren’t necessarily breaches of an affirmative consent standard,” since, “if both partners were enthusiastic about the sexual encounter, there will be no reason for anyone to report a rape later.” But it’s not always that simple. One of the partners could start feeling ambivalent about an encounter after the fact and reinterpret it as coerced — especially after repeatedly hearing the message that only a clear “yes” constitutes real consent. In essence, advocates of affirmative consent are admitting that they’re not sure what constitutes a violation; they are asking people to trust that the system won’t be abused. This is not how the rule of law works.

This is not a matter of criminal trials, and suspension or even expulsion from college is not the same as going to prison. Nonetheless, having the government codify a standard that may implicitly criminalize most human sexual interaction is a very bad idea.

Such rules are unlikely to protect anyone from sexual assault. The activists often cite a scenario in which a woman submits without saying no because she is paralyzed by fear. Yet the perpetrator in such a case is very likely to be a sexual predator, not a clueless guy making an innocent mistake — and there is nothing to stop him from lying and claiming that he obtained explicit consent. As for sex with an incapacitated victim, it is already not only a violation of college codes of conduct but a felony.

Many feminists say that affirmative consent is not about getting permission but about making sure sexual encounters are based on mutual desire and enthusiasm. No one could oppose such a goal. But having the government dictate how people should behave in sexual encounters is hardly the way to go about it.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME feminism

Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right

Young woman using laptop on bed
Getty Images

The charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists — but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism

The latest skirmish on the gender battlefield is “Women Against Feminism”: women and girls taking to social media to declare that they don’t need or want feminism, usually via photos of themselves with handwritten placards. The feminist reaction has ranged from mockery to dismay to somewhat patronizing (or should that be “matronizing”?) lectures on why these dissidents are wrong. But, while the anti-feminist rebellion has its eye-rolling moments, it raises valid questions about the state of Western feminism in the 21st century — questions that must be addressed if we are to continue making progress toward real gender equality.

Female anti-feminism is nothing new. In the 19th century, plenty of women were hostile to the women’s movement and to women who pursued nontraditional paths. In the 1970s, Marabel Morgan’s regressive manifesto The Total Woman was a top best seller, and Phyllis Schlafly led opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. But such anti-feminism was invariably about defending women’s traditional roles. Some of today’s “women against feminism” fit that mold: they feel that feminism demeans stay-at-home mothers, or that being a “true woman” means loving to cook and clean for your man. Many others, however, say they repudiate feminism even though — indeed, because — they support equality and female empowerment:

“I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”

“I don’t need feminism because it reinforces the men as agents/women as victims dichotomy.”

“I do not need modern feminism because it has become confused with misandry which is as bad as misogyny, and whatever I want to do or be in life, I will become through my own hard work.”

Or, more than once: “I don’t need feminism because egalitarianism is better!”

Again and again, the dissenters say that feminism belittles and demonizes men, treating them as presumptive rapists while encouraging women to see themselves as victims. “I am not a victim” and “I can take responsibility for my actions” are recurring themes. Many also challenge the notion that American women in the 21st century are “oppressed,” defiantly asserting that “the patriarchy doesn’t exist” and “there is no rape culture.”

One common response from feminists is to say that Women Against Feminism “don’t understand what feminism is” and to invoke its dictionary definition: “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” The new anti-feminists have a rejoinder for that, too: they’re judging modern feminism by its actions, not by the book. And here, they have a point.

Consider the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag, dubbed by one blogger “the Arab Spring of 21st century feminism.” Created in response to Elliot Rodger’s deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista, Calif. — and to reminders that “not all men” are violent misogynists — the tag was a relentless catalog of female victimization by male terrorism and abuse. Some of its most popular tweets seemed to literally dehumanize men, comparing them to sharks or M&M candies of which 10% are poisoned.

Consider assertions that men as a group must be taught “not to rape,” or that to accord the presumption of innocence to a man accused of sexual violence against a woman or girl is to be complicit in “rape culture.” Consider that last year, when an Ohio University student made a rape complaint after getting caught on video engaging in a drunken public sex act, she was championed by campus activists and at least one prominent feminist blogger — but a grand jury declined to hand down charges after reviewing the video of the incident and evidence that both students were inebriated.

Consider that a prominent British feminist writer, Laurie Penny, decries the notion that feminists should avoid such generalizations as “men oppress women”; in her view, all men are steeped in a woman-hating culture and “even the sweetest, gentlest man” benefits from women’s oppression. Consider, too, that an extended quote from Penny’s column was reposted by a mainstream reproductive-rights group and shared by nearly 84,000 Tumblr users in six months.

Sure, some Women Against Feminism claims are caricatures based on fringe views — for instance, that feminism mandates hairy armpits, or that feminists regard all heterosexual intercourse as rape. On the other hand, the charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists — but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.

Are Women Against Feminism ignorant and naive to insist they are not oppressed? Perhaps some are too giddy with youthful optimism. But they make a strong argument that a “patriarchy” that lets women vote, work, attend college, get divorced, run for political office and own businesses on the same terms as men isn’t quite living up to its label. They also raise valid questions about politicizing personal violence along gender lines; research shows that surprisingly high numbers of men may have been raped, sometimes by women.

For the most part, Women Against Feminism are quite willing to acknowledge and credit feminism’s past battles for women’s rights in the West, as well as the severe oppression women still suffer in many parts of the world. But they also say that modern Western feminism has become a divisive and sometimes hateful force, a movement that dramatically exaggerates female woes while ignoring men’s problems, stifles dissenting views, and dwells obsessively on men’s misbehavior and women’s personal wrongs. These are trends about which feminists have voiced alarm in the past — including the movement’s founding mother Betty Friedan, who tried in the 1970s to steer feminism from the path of what she called “sex/class warfare.” Friedan would have been aghast had she known that, 50 years after she began her battle, feminist energies were being spent on bashing men who commit the heinous crime of taking too much space on the subway.

Is there still a place in modern-day America for a gender-equality movement? I think so. Work-family balance remains a real and complicated challenge. And there are gender-based cultural biases and pressures that still exist — though, in 21st century Western countries, they almost certainly affect men as much as women. A true equality movement would be concerned with the needs and interests of both sexes. It would, for instance, advocate for all victims of domestic and sexual violence regardless of gender — and for fairness to those accused of these offenses. It would support both women and men as workers and as parents.

Should such a movement take back feminism — or, as the new egalitarians suggest, give up on the label altogether because of its inherent connotations of advocating for women only? I’m not sure what the answer is. But Women Against Feminism are asking the right questions. And they deserve to be heard, not harangued. As one of the group’s graphics says, “I have my own mind. Please stop fem-splaining it to me.”

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME society

The Surprising Truth About Women and Violence

France v United States
Goalkeeper Hope Solo takes her position in goal during the second half of a women's friendly soccer match against France on June 14, 2014 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Brian Blanco—Getty Images

Traditional stereotypes have led to double standards that often cause women’s violence—especially against men—to be trivialized.

The arrest of an Olympic gold medalist on charges of domestic violence would normally be an occasion for a soul-searching conversation about machismo in sports, toxic masculinity and violence against women. But not when the alleged offender is a woman: 32-year-old Hope Solo, goalkeeper of the U.S. women’s soccer team, who is facing charges of assaulting her sister and 17-year-old nephew in a drunken, violent outburst. While the outcome of the case is far from clear, this is an occasion for conversation about a rarely acknowledged fact: family violence is not necessarily a gender issue, and women—like singer Beyoncé Knowles’ sister Solange, who attacked her brother-in-law, the rapper Jay Z, in a notorious recent incident caught on video—are not always its innocent victims.

Male violence against women and girls has been the focus of heightened attention since Eliot Rodger’s horrific rampage in California last month, driven at least partly by his rage at women. Many people argue that even far less extreme forms of gender-related violence are both a product and a weapon of deeply ingrained cultural misogyny. Meanwhile, the men’s rights activists also brought into the spotlight by Rodger’s killing spree defend another perspective—one that, in this case, is backed by a surprising amount of evidence from both research and current events: that violence is best understood as a human problem whose gender dynamics are much more complex than commonly understood.

There is little dispute that men commit far more violent acts than women. According to FBI data on crime in the U.S., they account for some 90% of known murderers. And a study published in American Society of Criminology finds that men account for nearly 80% of all violent offenders reported in crime surveys, despite a substantial narrowing of the gap since the 1970s. But, whatever explains the higher levels of male violence—biology, culture or both—the indisputable fact is that it’s directed primarily at other males: in 2010, men were the victims in almost four out of five homicides and almost two-thirds of robberies and non-domestic aggravated assaults. Family and intimate relationships—the one area feminists often identify as a key battleground in the war on women—are also an area in which women are most likely to be violent, and not just in response to male aggression but toward children, elders, female relatives or partners, and non-violent men, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Violence.

Last April, when Connecticut high school student Maren Sanchez was stabbed to death by her a classmate allegedly because she refused to go to the prom with him, feminist writer Soraya Chemaly asserted that such tragedies were the result of “pervasive, violently maintained, gender hierarchy,” male entitlement, and societal “contempt for the lives of girls and women.” But what, then, explains another stabbing death in Connecticut two months earlier—that of 25-year-old David Vazquez, whose girlfriend reportedly shouted, “If I can’t have you, no one can!” before plunging a knife into his chest shortly after Vazquez said he was leaving her for a former girlfriend? Or the actions of a 22-year-old former student at New York’s Hofstra University who pleaded guilty last November to killing her boyfriend by deliberately hitting him with her car due to a dispute about another woman? Or the actions of the Florida woman who killed her ex-partner’s 2-year-old daughter and tried to kill the woman’s 10-year-old son last month shortly after their breakup?

Research showing that women are often aggressors in domestic violence has been causing controversy for almost 40 years, ever since the 1975 National Family Violence Survey by sociologists Murray Straus and Richard Gelles of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire found that women were just as likely as men to report hitting a spouse and men were just as likely as women to report getting hit. The researchers initially assumed that, at least in cases of mutual violence, the women were defending themselves or retaliating. But when subsequent surveys asked who struck first, it turned out that women were as likely as men to initiate violence—a finding confirmed by more than 200 studies of intimate violence. In a 2010 review essay in the journal Partner Abuse, Straus concludes that women’s motives for domestic violence are often similar to men’s, ranging from anger to coercive control.

Critics have argued that the survey format used in most family violence studies, the Conflict Tactics Scale, is flawed and likely to miss some of the worst assaults on women—especially post-separation attacks. Yet two major studies using a different methodology—the 2000 National Violence Against Women Survey by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published last February—have also found that some 40% of those reporting serious partner violence in the past year are men. (Both studies show a much larger gender gap in lifetime reports of partner violence; one possible explanation for this discrepancy is that men may be more likely to let such experiences fade from memory over time since they have less cultural support for seeing themselves as victims, particularly of female violence.)

Violence by women causes less harm due to obvious differences in size and strength, but it is by no means harmless. Women may use weapons, from knives to household objects—including highly dangerous ones such as boiling water—to neutralize their disadvantage, and men may be held back by cultural prohibitions on using force toward a woman even in self-defense. In his 2010 review, Straus concludes that in various studies, men account for 12% to 40% of those injured in heterosexual couple violence. Men also make up about 30% of intimate homicide victims—not counting cases in which women kill in self-defense. And women are at least as likely as men to kill their children—more so if one counts killings of newborns—and account for more than half of child maltreatment perpetrators.

What about same-sex violence? The February CDC study found that, over their lifetime, 44% of lesbians had been physically assaulted by a partner (more than two-thirds of them only by women), compared to 35% of straight women, 26% of gay men, and 29% of straight men. While these figures suggest that women are somewhat less likely than men to commit partner violence, they also show a fairly small gap. The findings are consistent with other evidence that same-sex relationships are no less violent than heterosexual ones.

For the most part, feminists’ reactions to reports of female violence toward men have ranged from dismissal to outright hostility. Straus chronicles a troubling history of attempts to suppress research on the subject, including intimidation of heretical scholars of both sexes and tendentious interpretation of the data to portray women’s violence as defensive. In the early 1990s, when laws mandating arrest in domestic violence resulted in a spike of dual arrests and arrests of women, battered women’s advocates complained that the laws were “backfiring on victims,” claiming that women were being punished for lashing back at their abusers. Several years ago in Maryland, the director and several staffers of a local domestic violence crisis center walked out of a meeting in protest of the showing of a news segment about male victims of family violence. Women who have written about female violence, such as Patricia Pearson, author of the 1997 book When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence, have often been accused of colluding with an anti-female backlash.

But this woman-as-victim bias is at odds with the feminist emphasis on equality of the sexes. If we want our culture to recognize women’s capacity for leadership and competition, it is hypocritical to deny or downplay women’s capacity for aggression and even evil. We cannot argue that biology should not keep women from being soldiers while treating women as fragile and harmless in domestic battles. Traditional stereotypes both of female weakness and female innocence have led to double standards that often cause women’s violence—especially against men—to be trivialized, excused, or even (like Solange’s assault on Jay Z) treated as humorous. Today, simplistic feminist assumptions about male power and female oppression effectively perpetuate those stereotypes. It is time to see women as fully human—which includes the dark side of humanity.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME Education

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Skewed White House Crusade on Sexual Assault

Vice President Biden Speaks On White House Task Force To Protect Students From Sexual Assault
U.S Vice President Joe Biden listens as Madeleine Smith, a graduate of Harvard University who was raped while attending college, speaks during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, April 29, 2014 in Washington, DC. During the event, Biden announced the release of the first report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Win McNamee—Getty Images

What's missing is virtually any recognition of the need for fairness to the accused.

Last year, a University of North Carolina student who remained anonymous for safety reasons spoke to the campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, about feeling victimized by the school’s response to a sexual assault report—the handling of which is now the target of a federal civil rights investigation.

But there’s a twist: The student is a man who says he was wrongly accused.

It doesn’t help that at many colleges, a zealous cadre of activists regards any rape exoneration as a defeat and defines rape so broadly as to criminalize insufficiently enthusiastic sex.During his freshman year, four months after their breakup, his former girlfriend—a fellow UNC student he had started dating in high school—filed a complaint alleging repeated rapes. The student was promptly suspendedand forced to undergo an evaluation that included demeaning sexual questions; the results, he claims, were improperly shared with his accuser. Even after a student and faculty panel of three women and two men cleared him of all charges except one of verbal abuse, he was barred from campus for another semester pending additional psychological tests, then ordered to avoid classes that could place him near his ex-girlfriend.

Of course, the federal probe—one of the 55 cases on the list just released by the Department of Education—addresses the complaint by the alleged victim, Landen Gambill, who feels the university let her down. No one but Gambill and her ex-boyfriend knows what really happened (and there may be a “his” and “her” version of the truth). But only one side of the story has the government’s backing—which highlights some of the problems with the Obama Administration’s initiative against sexual violence on college campuses.

The administration’s effort, which made headlines last week with a report by the White House task force on campus sexual assault and new Department of Education guidelines, has an indisputably noble goal. Unfortunately, it is marred by flaws, including alarmist statistics, fuzzy definitions and a polarizing ideology of presumed guilt.

One of the foundations of this crusade is the staggering claim that one in five female students are sexually assaulted while in college. This figure comes from the 2005-2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study, which, as Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler has noted, was conducted at just two schools, with a fairly low response rate. Moreover, the survey’s data for “drug- and/or alcohol-enabled sexual assault” (about 70% of the incidents in the study) lump together unconsciousness or incapacitation with intoxication that may cloud one’s judgment and affect consent. Notably, despite widespread sexual assault awareness programs, two-thirds of the college women whom the study counted as victims of drug- or alcohol-enabled rape did not think they were raped, and few felt they had suffered psychological harm.

University of Michigan economist Mark Perry also points out that, if you take police records from university campuses and factor in the White House estimate that only about 12% of campus sexual offenses are reported, you don’t get anywhere near a one-in-five victimization rate over the course of a woman’s college attendance—more like 1 in 20 or 1 in 30.

Even in smaller numbers, sexual assault on campus is a cause for concern. But the government’s quest to address it creates new troubling issues.

Thus, since 2011, the Department of Education has recommended that colleges use the lowest burden of proof—“preponderance of the evidence,” which means a finding of guilt if one feels the evidence tips even slightly toward the complainant—in disciplinary proceedings on sexual assault. (Traditionally, charges of student misconduct have been judged by the higher standard of “clear and convincing evidence.”) The new guidelines make this a requirement; they also encourage “juries” with no student participation and even a shift to a single-investigator process.

Missing is virtually any recognition of the need for fairness to the accused. The recent White House Council on Women and Girls report on sexual assault dismisses false accusations as a “myth,” citing a 2010 article by University of Massachusetts Boston psychologist David Lisak that concluded that “only 2-10% of reported rapes are false.” Yet a 10% error rate is hardly trivial. This estimate also refers only to proven fabrications; no one knows how many unresolved charges, nearly half of Lisak’s university sample, may be false. And people may be wrongly accused because of confusion rather than deliberate lies—especially when drinking is involved.

It doesn’t help that at many colleges, a zealous cadre of activists regards any rape exoneration as a defeat and defines rape so broadly as to criminalize insufficiently enthusiastic sex. (A campus campaign in Canada warns that “if it’s not loud and clear, it’s not consent. It’s sexual assault,” using posters with “fine” and “okay” in tiny print to convey that “muted” or “uncertain” expression of consent doesn’t count.)

Do see-no-evil college bureaucrats sometimes discourage victims from complaining or coddle perpetrators? No doubt, especially if the accused is a star athlete or another privileged student. But some claims of neglect may be shaky. An accuser at Swarthmore who faults the school for not supporting her complaint admits that, after rebuffing a former hook-up partner’s first attempt to initiate sex while staying in her room overnight, she did not protest when he tried again because she was tired and sleepy. In a University of Colorado case under federal investigation, the complainant was outraged by the light punishment for her alleged assailant (eight months’ suspension and a $75 fine). Yet her complaint to law enforcement resulted in no charges at all; according to police, the woman admitted she was inebriated but “not ‘blackout drunk’” during the encounter, which the man insisted was consensual.

Meanwhile, there is a countertrend of civil rights suits from young men accusing colleges of wrongful, gender-biased expulsion on charges of sexual misconduct. Last month, Xavier University settled a lawsuit from basketball player Dez Wells, whose expulsion in 2012—on a charge local authorities called false—may have been meant to appease federal scrutiny. Even a prominent advocate for strong action against campus sexual assault, National Center for Higher Education Risk Management founder Brett Sokolow, has recently voiced alarm that schools are rushing to judge male students for mutual drunken hook-ups.

The administration’s one-sided involvement may exacerbate this type of injustice. A far better solution would be to draw a clear line between forced sex (by violence, threats or incapacitation) and unwanted sex due to alcohol-impaired judgment, miscommunication or verbal pressure. For the former, victims should be encouraged to seek real justice: a rapist deserves prison, not expulsion from college. For the latter, the answer is to promote mutual responsible behavior, not female victimhood.

TIME Foreign Policy

The Problem With the New Isolationism

Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russia has once again focused attention on the question of America’s international role. There is, across the political spectrum, a strong streak of anti-interventionism which holds that we should minimize our involvement abroad except for clear-cut national security purposes. In this view, the United States should avoid not only any non-defensive use of military force but any exercise of its power to influence world affairs — especially for “moral” causes such as human rights or democracy. Leftists wary of American power deplore what they see as President Obama’s continuation of his predecessors’ imperialist policies. Libertarians and libertarian conservatives wary of government power and foreign entanglements, such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and his father, ex-Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, reject what they see as the mindless hawkishness of the mainstream Republican Party.

Caution about adventures abroad, which have cost the United States dearly in lost lives and morale as well as money in the past decade, is entirely sensible. But a prudent foreign policy is not the same as an American retreat from an active global role — which would be bad for the world, bad for Americans and, at the risk of lapsing into Team America cliché, bad for freedom. Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If the United States scales back its presence on the international scene, others will step up to fill the gap.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia, as the latest events starkly remind us, is seeking to reclaim its great-power status — under the banner of an explicitly authoritarian ideology, this time in “conservative” colors. A shadowy guru of the Putin regime, political theorist Alexander Dugin (head of a think tank at Moscow State University who has close ties to top government figures and is directly involved in stirring up pro-Russian separatism in Ukraine) speaks of Russia as a central player in the struggle against Western “liberal hegemony” with its principles of “the free market… parliamentarian democracy, human rights, and absolute individualism.” Putin may not share this messianic vision, but he is quite likely to use it purpose of maintaining his power; indeed, Dugin’s idea of an anti-liberal coalition of radical religious, right-wing nationalist, and far-left socialist forces is startlingly similar to the Kremlin’s actual alliances.

Elsewhere, there is resurgent radical Islamism, often vying for control with brutal secular tyrannies; there is China, combining capitalist-style economic success with communist political dictatorship. A world in which these forces are dominant, and able to spread their influence, will not be a freedom-friendly one.

Would this affect Americans? Even aside from the moral dimension of abandoning our present-day democratic allies — and, say, standing by while Poland is brought back under Russia’s boot — the interconnected world of the 21st Century is a reality. Anti-interventionist libertarians and conservatives nearly always support free trade; but international trade, and American business abroad, would not fare well under the ascendancy of authoritarian nationalism in other countries. At best, American companies would have to deal with repressive regimes that use the benefits of trade to solidify their power, which they may later use against U.S. interests. At worst, they may see their foreign assets seized by lawless governments, or their local employees terrorized and persecuted (like Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer working for a U.S. investment fund who died in prison after being framed for fraud).

Such abuses would sorely test the limits of American non-interference. So would inevitable collisions between American freedoms and authoritarian regimes and movements around the world — from the “corrupting” influence of American culture to the “subversive” work of émigré dissidents living in the U.S. or of American activists and private organizations promoting human rights. This factor alone makes it very unlikely that, as proponents of retrenchment often claim, anti-Americanism would wane if we only stopped “meddling” — particularly since authoritarians and extremists often assume that all private activity and expression in the U.S. takes place with the government’s blessing. Russians obsessed with American subversion barely distinguish between George Soros’s Open Society Foundation and the CIA; Islamist radicals attacked U.S. diplomatic missions and American schools over the YouTube video, “Innocence of Muslims.”

To some extent, the neo-isolationist trend is an understandable result of the fiasco in Iraq, which started as a grandiose experiment in the use of American power for democracy-building. It is sobering to recall that in 2003, not only neoconservative hawks but many liberals and even libertarians supported what was officially known as “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Shortly before its launch, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “It is not unreasonable to believe that if the U.S. removed Saddam and helped Iraqis build not an overnight democracy but a more accountable, progressive and democratizing regime, it would have a positive, transforming effect on the entire Arab world.” In retrospect, it does seem vastly unreasonable to stake a war on such a big “if” — on the hope that a country with no base for democratic self-government, decades of brutal dictatorship, and deep tribal and religious divisions could be steered toward stable democratization by an occupying force.

But the Iraq Syndrome has generated its own myths and knee-jerk reactions. Among those is an oversimplification of the Iraq war itself, often portrayed (both by leftists and Ron Paul libertarians) as a criminal act of wanton slaughter by the U.S. In reality, nearly 90 percent of war-related Iraqi deaths were at the hands of other Iraqis in sectarian or insurgent violence — and numerous surveys over the years have found Iraqis themselves consistently ambivalent about the invasion, with just over a quarter calling it “absolutely wrong” and three out of four agreeing that Saddam Hussein’s removal was worth it. A similarly simplistic narrative of American evildoing shows up in denunciations of drone strikes, which even some critics grudgingly admit are far less deadly to civilians than either terrorist attacks or anti-terror operations by the domestic military in the same regions.

The anti-interventionist tendency to demonize America’s actions is often paralleled by a bias against the U.S.-backed side in foreign conflicts and in favor of the opposing side — which can lead to defending the reprehensible. Ron Paul has portrayed Iran as a victim of American bullying while casting the solitary vote against a 2009 U.S. House resolution condemning the Iranian regime’s violent crackdown on protests against perceived election fraud; more recently, he has defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea, arguing that the referendum under Russian guns was no less fair than elections in U.S.-occupied Iraq (as if Iraqis in those elections were pressured to vote for becoming an American colony). Glenn Greenwald, the lawyer-turned-journalist and crusader against America’s imperialist “National Security State,” has commented on the Russia-Ukraine crisis only to praise the Kremlin’s foreign-consumption propaganda network, Russia Today, for allowing host Abby Martin to make a brief on-air statement criticizing the invasion of Crimea — without mentioning the Putin regime’s ongoing crackdown on dissenting media at home.

Even Rand Paul, far more mainstream than his father, initially suggested that the U.S. mustn’t “tweak” Russia and should respect its interest in keeping Ukraine “within [its] sphere.” Yet, as Russian aggression escalated, he shifted to a more hardline position, calling for the U.S. to be “a global leader” in punishing and isolating Russia. While Sen. Paul stressed that our response should not involve military action, he did propose resuming the missile shield program in Eastern Europe (with the caveat that European nations should pay for it). This shift may reflect Sen. Paul’s response to changing circumstances; but it may also reflect his realization that anyone wanting to be a serious contender in American politics should have a vision for an active U.S. role on the world stage.

Obviously, the U.S. should tread carefully in using its muscle in foreign conflicts, especially when there may be no best-case scenario in sight and no minimally reliable friends. (Syria may well have been one such situation.) But prudence does not equal abdication. There are meaningful things we can do to support pro-freedom forces where they exist and to exert some check on aggressive anti-freedom regimes.

Writing recently on the independent Russian website Grani.ru, dissident writer and left-wing activist Alexander Skobov noted that today’s conflict between Russia and the West was not so much a clash of civilizations as a “clash of systems”: “The essential difference between them lies in who has ‘primacy’: the individual or the state, society or the ‘elite’? The conflict over this issue is not between civilizations but within each of them. Every state seeks to dominate the individual; every elite seeks to dominate society. But some countries have succeeded at developing a set of institutions that limit the power of the state and the elite over the individual and society, while others have not.”

Obviously, these institutions don’t always work. Yet, while the United States and the other capitalist liberal democracies may be very far from either the libertarian ideal of freedom or the progressive ideal of social justice, the unvarnished truth is that it’s only within this loosely knit global community — the “global liberal hegemony” deplored by far-left and far-right radicals — that these ideals have any chance to survive and develop. A world in which these values are on the ascendancy rather than in retreat is very much a part of our national interest.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63.

TIME russia

We Don’t Owe Russia More ‘Respect’

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with ministers from the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) to discuss the fight against money laundering on March 4, 2014 in Moscow, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with ministers from the Federal Financial Monitoring Service (Rosfinmonitoring) to discuss the fight against money laundering on March 4, 2014 in Moscow. Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images

Contrary to what some believe, we did not "humiliate" Russia after Communism. In fact, America did quite the opposite.

As Russia’s bizarre non-invasion invasion of Ukraine continues to rattle the world, a familiar theme has emerged in some of the commentary: that Western powers, especially the United States, bear at least partial blame for inciting Russian bellicosity by kicking their Cold War foe when it was down. New York University Slavic scholar Stephen F. Cohen, a frequent Russia expert on TV, makes this claim in the left-wing magazine, The Nation; across the Atlantic, he is seconded by conservative Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens. Even some pundits with little sympathy for the Kremlin’s actions, such as the New York Times’s Tom Friedman, claim that reckless U.S. policies, above all NATO’s eastward expansion, helped generate the current crisis.

Did we create a monster by humiliating Russia after the collapse of Communism? Is the answer — as advised by foreign policy “realists,” including anti-interventionist conservatives such as Sen. Rand Paul — to avoid antagonizing the Russian state, treat it with more respect, and recognize its “sphere of influence” in nearby countries? A look at the facts suggests that whatever mistakes the West may have made in the post-Cold War years, Russia’s grievances are less about actual wrongs than about paranoid insecurities and outsized imperial ambitions — a mindset Vladimir Putin harbors himself, but also deftly exploits in the Russian public to shore up his power. And rewarding these attitudes with more “respect” can only take Russia further down a road dangerous to itself and the world.

After the demise of the Soviet empire in 1991, there certainly was a widespread view that the West had won the Cold War. But it was also generally presumed to be a victory over Communism, not Russians — who were widely seen as an oppressed people newly liberated from the totalitarian yoke. In the early 1990s, the United States eagerly embraced Russia’s fledgling democracy, its new status as a partner and ally symbolized by the cordial relationship between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin; Clinton’s first trip abroad as President, in April 1993, included a meeting with Yeltsin in Vancouver.

“Russia wasn’t even treated as an equal partner but as a favored child who was petted and given treats,” the late Elena Bonner, an icon of Soviet-era human rights activism and widow of the great physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, told me a few years ago, discussing an earlier round of laments about Russia’s wrongs at the hands of the West. (Then as now, the chorus of sympathy came in response to a Russian military adventure in a former Soviet republic trying to break away from its “sphere of influence” — Georgia.)

The “treats” were quite meaty: Western aid to Russia from 1992 to 1997 alone totaled $55 billion — not counting private charity and business investment. (In 1995, when the CIA submitted a report to the White House detailing Russian corruption that included aid money being pocketed by high-level officials, Vice President Al Gore reportedly rejected it and sent the document back with a crude epithet scrawled across the cover.) In a move that had more to do with political respect than economic reality, Russia was included in the annual forum for leaders of the world’s top economies — first in an informal “G7+1” arrangement, then, from 1998 onward, as a full member of the G8.

What about the alleged insult and injury of NATO expansion, which is also said to break a promise given to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990? The real story is far more complex. For one, Mark Kramer, director of Harvard’s Cold War Studies Project, make a fairly conclusive case in a 2009 article in The Wilson Quarterly that the non-expansion pledge is a myth (the 1990 negotiations concerned only the military status of the Eastern part of Germany after reunification). Ira L. Straus, founder and U.S. coordinator of the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO, has pointed out that when the admission of former Eastern bloc countries to NATO first came up for serious consideration in 1993, it was with a view to more extensive engagement with Russia — and its possible membership in the alliance down the road.

Due to lingering mistrust on both sides, Russia’s leadership often questioned the sincerity of NATO’s inclusive intentions when former Soviet satellites such as Poland were given priority in admission — while the West often interpreted Russia’s opposition to fast-track admission for those countries as blanket opposition to NATO expansion. In fact, both Yeltsin and Putin at different times voiced interest in NATO membership for Russia, and Straus is critical of the West for not being more receptive to these overtures. Nonetheless, his own accounts in a 1997 paper and a lengthy 2003 article leave little doubt that Russian attitudes — suspicion of the West, reluctance to commit to NATO’s strategic agenda, and resentment at being invited to join NATO’s membership plan on the same terms as other countries — were a big part of the problem.

Notably, Russia was included in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994 and in the NATO-Russia Council in 2002; both provided a framework not only for military cooperation (and Western assistance to Russia in such areas as job training for decommissioned officers) but for a NATO obligation to consult Russia about possible threats to its security.

The prospect of Georgia and Ukraine membership in NATO is often said to stoke Russia’s fear of “encirclement” by hostile entities, provoking an understandably aggressive reaction. But fear of what, exactly? In October 2008, not long after the war in Georgia, retired Russian general Vladimir Dvorkin, formerly a top-level arms negotiator, published a fascinating column on the independent Russian website EJ.ru (“The Daily Journal”). Dvorkin pointed out the obvious: given Russia’s nuclear arsenal, a military attack on Russia by NATO forces is unthinkable no matter how many of its neighbors join NATO. The real danger to Russia, he warned, is “civilizational isolation” if it fails to modernize its economy and liberalize its political system and finds itself surrounded by neighbors integrated into the democratic capitalist West.

For Dvorkin, the solution to was to embrace modernization and freedom. Not so for Putin, who is keenly aware of the threat of such “encirclement” — and, crucially, of its effect at home. It is worth recalling that Moscow’s sharp anti-Western, anti-American turn in the mid-2000s came after the “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine, where peaceful demonstrations against rigged elections brought down authoritarian pro-Kremlin regimes. It wasn’t just the loss of allies that mattered but the power of example: today the Maidan, tomorrow Red Square.

Putin’s response was to blame these revolutions on American perfidy, with George Soros and George W. Bush implicated in the same conspiracy. In the lingo of the Russian political establishment, “orange” — the color worn by Ukraine’s pro-democracy protesters — acquired the meaning of “foreign-backed subversive” and became a standard epithet to smear the liberal opposition. In 2011-2012, it was widely used as a slur against Russia’s own protesters who turned out to denounce rampant election fraud and Putin’s cynical gambit to return to the presidency after using his obedient “heir” Dmitry Medvedev to get around the constitutional two-term limit.

In his third term, Putin has been more blatant than ever in his use of nationalist and anti-Western rhetoric to prop up an authoritarian kleptocracy. In doing so, he taps into a real sentiment among Russians — 78 percent of whom completely or mostly agree that Russia should reclaim its status as a “great empire.” Yet this sentiment is more nuanced than appears at first glance. The share of those who “completely” support empire restoration has dropped from 59 percent in 1999 to 40 percent in 2011. And, in a 2012 poll, Russians overwhelmingly preferred (by 78 to 22 percent) to see Russia as a country with a comfortable standard of living in which individual well-being is paramount than a great military power in which the prestige of the state comes first. Russians are not inherently anti-liberal or democracy-averse; but when the state controls virtually all of the mass media, it has a great deal of power to cultivate society’s most illiberal attitudes.

Behind those attitudes is the very real national humiliation many Russians felt after the collapse of Communism. But, as Bonner told me in 2008, it was hardly the West’s fault: “Russia humiliated itself. It spent 70-plus years building Communism, and reaped the results.” A wise leadership would help Russia come to terms with this reality. Instead, Putin has worked to channel popular discontent into resentment of the West while promoting pride in the Soviet-era past and using imperial dreams to salve the nation’s bruised ego.

Of course the United States should not seek out confrontation with Russia. But a respectful relationship should not include recognizing Russia’s “right” to bully its former colonies so that it can maintain a zone of friendly “buffer states.” Losing its buffer against democracy could be the best thing to happen to Russia as well as its neighbors.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. She is also the author of Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood (Ticknor & Fields, 1989). You can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63.

TIME feminism

Woody Allen, Feminism, and ‘Believing the Survivor’

2012 Los Angeles Film Festival - "To Rome With Love" - Arrivals
Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images

How a new feminist dogma asks us to throw reason to the wind — harming both men and women

The revived sexual abuse allegations against filmmaker Woody Allen have become the newest gender-war battlefield. Renewed claims by Allen’s 28-year-old adopted daughter, the former Dylan Farrow, that he sexually assaulted her more than two decades ago have generated an intense debate about the facts and the issues. Yet some voices, all from the feminist camp, are saying that there shouldn’t be a debate at all: We must “believe the survivor” and condemn the perpetrator. While allegations of child abuse certainly should be taken seriously, the assumption that such an accusation equals guilt is repugnant and dangerous — not only to innocent men but to women too.

Writing for The Nation, Jessica Valenti argues that if we believe Dylan Farrow’s account leaves any room for doubt, it’s because “patriarchy pushes us to put aside our good judgment.” After all, says Valenti, we know that sexual violence against women and girls is pervasive and vastly underreported, and victims come forward at great personal cost.

(MORE: Dylan Farrow Fires Back At Woody Allen’s Denial Of Sex Abuse Claims)

What about the fact that the charges were originally made during a bitter breakup and custody dispute between Allen and Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow? If you think this is relevant, the feminists say, you are embracing the misogynist myth of vengeful women using sexual abuse allegations as a weapon. In fact, asserts Zoe Zolbrod in Salon.com, “research shows that it is not more common for accusations made during custody battles to be proved false than it is for any other sex abuse accusation,” with only 1% to 6% of abuse charges found to be maliciously fabricated; what’s more, writes Zolbrod, custody-related false accusations usually come from fathers, not mothers.

But these claims are contradicted by a major Canadian study that tracked more than 11,000 reports of child abuse and neglect in Canada in 2003. While reports of sexual abuse made during custody or visitation conflicts are fairly rare — the study identified 69 such cases — they are also quite likely to prove unfounded. Child protection workers substantiated just 11% of these charges, while 34% were “suspected” to be valid but not fully confirmed; 36% were classified as unsubstantiated but made “in good faith,” and 18% as deliberately false. By contrast, the rate of false allegations for all child sexual abuse reports was 5%. (The claim that malicious accusations in custody disputes come mostly from fathers is based on an earlier phase of the same study. However, fathers’ false reports were overwhelmingly of child neglect and sometimes physical abuse; false charges of sexual molestation were more likely to come from mothers.)

(MORE: Dylan Farrow’s Child-Abuse Accusations: What We’ve Learned About When and How Children Should Confront Abuse)

In a 2007 U.S. survey of child welfare workers, 80% reported having seen cases in which a child was coached to make false allegations of sexual abuse, usually by the mother in a custody dispute; more than a fourth said they had encountered 20 or more such cases. Notably, as author Kathleen Faller pointed out, these estimates came from professionals inclined to be supportive of children; it is also worth noting that three-quarters of them were women.

Research cannot tell us anything about the specific allegations made against Allen in 1992. But it does show that, statistically, there is at least a 50-50 chance that sexual abuse charges brought in such circumstances are groundless — either deliberately false, or sincere but mistaken. And the lines between malice and mistake are not always clear. When you’re ready to think the worst of your ex, innocent parent-child contact — playful roughhousing, cuddling, helping a child get dressed — can seem suspect.

In the Allen/Farrow case, this is magnified by Farrow’s discovery that Allen, her 56-year-old longtime partner, was sexually involved with her adopted daughter. While Soon Yi Previn was an adult (her birthdate is unknown but her age was in the range of 18 to 20) and Allen had never acted as her stepfather, even his defenders generally agree that the affair was sordid and grossly inappropriate. While this does not make Allen a pedophile, Farrow may well have seen the relationship as quasi-incestuous child abuse, coloring her perception of his conduct toward Dylan.

(MORE: When Bystanders Are as Bad as Abusers)

Does Dylan Farrow’s present-day insistence that she was abused by Allen prove that it’s true? Not necessarily; children can be coaxed into false memories, especially when they want to please an adult, and such memories can last. Some of the now-grown “victims” in the day-care sexual abuse scandals of the 1980s, now widely recognized as hoaxes, still believe that they were abused and claim to have painful flashbacks. Of the dozens of children who testified in the notorious McMartin Preschool case in California, only one has recanted.

The claims and counterclaims over Dylan Farrow’s accusations and Woody Allen’s defense will keep flying, with partisans lining up on both sides. I have, for the record, no strong investment in Allen’s innocence; I am not a major fan of his work or his person, both of which display an obnoxious streak of narcissism. My concern is with the attacks on the presumption of innocence — perhaps “only” in the court of public opinion, but with likely spillover into the legal system — and the state of our conversation on gender.

It is appalling when a feminist blogger derides talk of the presumption of innocence and calls for hearing both sides as ways to “undermine the victim”; when Nicholas Kristoff, the New York Times columnist who published Dylan Farrow’s letter on his blog, gets attacked for merely conceding that we cannot be sure of Allen’s guilt; when people who raise questions about the evidence are bashed as rape apologists and misogynists. It is particularly appalling when Valenti, hailed as a leading feminist voice of her generation, asserts that we must “start to believe victims en masse.”

Such arguments are ostensibly rooted in female solidarity. Indeed, Valenti seems so unconcerned with male lives that she even ignores the molestation of boys — who reportedly account for up to 40% of sexually abused children — and mentions only girls’ victimization. This brings to mind the words of British philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards in the 1980 book, The Skeptical Feminist: “No feminist whose concern for women stems from a concern for justice in general can ever legitimately allow her only interest to be the advantage of women.”

Yet undermining the presumption of innocence is not good for women, either. In the 1980s, the first wave of feminist zealotry on child sexual abuse — based on the idea that such abuse was a ubiquitous patriarchal atrocity and even a tacitly condoned method of training girls into submission — helped feed the day care sex-abuse scare and the rise of “recovered memories” of incest. Feminists, including recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Gloria Steinem, played a shameful role in promoting this frenzy. Then, too, the battle cry was, “Believe the victims.” And the real victims included many women.

(MORE: Is It Still O.K. to Have a Favorite Woody Allen Movie?)

Some were day care workers like Margaret Kelly Michaels, the New Jersey preschool teacher who spent five years in prison before being exonerated. Some were mothers and grandmothers like Shirley Souza, the Massachusetts woman convicted of child molestation after her grown daughter underwent recovered-memory therapy and two granddaughters were heavily pressured to “disclose” abuse. Some were patients like Patricia Burgus, who sought treatment for depression and was brainwashed into believing she was raised in a satanic cult, repeatedly raped, and forced to participate in cannibalism.

Feminist dissenters who questioned the panic, such as psychologist Carol Tavris and journalist Debbie Nathan, were accused of colluding in anti-woman backlash. In 1993, after the left-wing magazine Mother Jones ran a critical story on recovered memory, Harvard psychiatrist Judith Herman accused the magazine of promoting “the myth that hysterical women fantasize about sexual abuse” and siding with men’s attempts to silence and discredit women who speak out about sexual violence.

Today, few doubt that Mother Jones was right and Herman was wrong. Yet similar attacks continue on those who won’t toe the “Stand with Dylan” party line.

Perhaps we still haven’t learned the larger lesson. A movement that demands belief in one person’s accusations against another as a matter of faith, not fact, is not a movement for justice. It is a lynch mob waiting to happen.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63.

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