4 Myths About Sex and Women That Prop Up the New Misogyny

The Isla Vista mass murder has shone a spotlight on a weird but influential world where ugly myths flourish.

Trading in myths and misinformation is the bread and butter of any reactionary movement, as is amply demonstrated by the various myths that prop up everything from gun nuttery to the anti-choice movement. Unsurprisingly, then, there’s a great deal of misinformation upholding the troubling trend of new misogyny that festers in everything from “men’s rights” forums to “pick-up artist” communities to the various rape apologists and two-bit woman haters that litter the right wing media landscape. The tragic shooting in Isla Vista, which was committed by a young but hardened misogynist named Elliot Rodger, has shown a spotlight on this weird but influential world where ugly myths about gender and sexuality flourish. Here are some of those myths, some of which influenced Rodger, and why they are so very, very wrong.

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1. Evoutionary psychology nonsense.While the more mainstream conservative movement embraces a religious form of misogyny, the new misogyny often prefers to pretend to have a “scientific” rationale for its negative attitudes towards women. Anti-feminist writer James Taranto, who is not a scientist, distilled this theory in the Wall Street Journal, positing that evolution made men and women’s sexual desires complete opposites, with men trying to get away with sex with as many women as possible and women being “hypergamous,” which is the new pseudo-scientific word for “gold digger.” His sole evidence for this theory was a long-discredited 1989 study that showed that men were more quick to say yes to sex with a stranger. 

None of them have stopped pushing the belief that women are disinterested in sex itself, but only use it as a commodity to trade with “high status” men, since pushing this belief allows self-appointed “pick-up artists” to sell dating books and classes to men who want to learn to fake being “high status” to get more sex. Nor do they stop pushing the idea that men are more promiscuous than women, a self-serving myth that allows them to demand chastity in female partners while excusing their own sexual dalliance.

In reality, men and women have roughly the same number of sexual partners over a lifetime. Both sexes are interested in casual sex, but men more readily agree because they both feel less likely to be violently assaulted by a stranger and are more likely to expect the encounter to end in orgasm. Nor are women programmed to be gold diggers. As women’s ability to make their own money has increased, there has been a decline in women seeking richer husbands. Women aren’t preprogrammed to be gold diggers, because the second they’re freed from having to chase rich men, most are happy to date men more like themselves.

2. The “friend zone” nonsense. One of the most pernicious myths of the new misogynists---one that has spread out from misogynist circles into the culture at large in a big way---is that when a woman realizes a man likes her, she deliberately puts him in the “friend zone,” supposedly exploiting him for love and attention without giving him the sex he believes he has earned. The underlying assumption here is that women don’t want to have sex, and so if she can get attention from men without having sex, she’ll do that, and men are hapless victims of this terrible scheme. Often the man who believe he’s in the “friend zone” also believes the female object of his attention is having sex with other men, who are smart and cruel enough to extract sex by ignoring women and getting those women to try to attract attention by offering sex to get it.  

The reality suggests, however, that women who use lines like, “Let’s just be friends” are not, in fact, trying to extract attention from men without “giving up” sex. On the contrary, research shows women are attempting a “soft” rejection, using a line like that not to hurt a man, but to let him down easily. Research---as well as the actual complaints of the “friend zoned”---demonstrates that men do, in fact, understand these soft rejections. Far from a woman exploiting a man’s offer of friendship, the “friend zone” is usually more a matter of a man exploiting a woman’s desire to be polite and save face, to avoid accepting that the rejection is final.

3. "Sexual harassers are just awkward guys who mean well" nonsense. A frequent concern in new misogynist forums and blogs is making excuses for sexual harassment. By far, one of the most popular is to argue that men who harass women mean well but are crippled by being socially awkward. Sometimes the apologist will try to diagnose the person from afar, arguing that he must have Asperger’s. Not sure “grabbing your crotch and yelling ‘suck this’ is really a symptom of Asperger’s, though. In some cases, misogynists will claim women employ unfair double standards, arguing that, “It’s only sexual harassment if he’s ugly.”

The fact of the matter is there is zero evidence for the misogynist assumption that women scream “sexual harassment!” in a hysterical fashion just because some guy stammers at her when asking her out on a date. While some sexual harassment does take the form of a come-on, it’s not a sincere attempt to gauge interest but a threat (crotch-grabbing, cat-calling), disingenuous asks in inappropriate situations to make a woman feel awkward (asking a panelist or speaker you’ve never met before on a date), or persistent asks after a woman has indicated disinterest. The federal government only bans sexual harassment if it’s “so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment,” so even if there is occasionally a woman who claims harassment when it was just an innocent mistake, the actual employment or legal consequences are non-existent.

4. "Women frequently lie about rape to cover up their sexual indiscretions" nonsense.The new misogynists aren’t really the most consistent group of people, both assuming on one hand that women hold onto sex in order to trade it for money/status, and that women frequently get sucked into the moment and end up having sex when they don’t want to. While the latter is closer to the truth---both men and women are quite capable of being swept away by the moment, a myth has grown up that women routinely regret it and decide to “cry rape” in order to conceal their decision to have sex. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal claimed that most rapes are consensual, drunken sex, and implied that most women are simply trying to cover up their behavior.  A.J. Delgado of the National Review made the same claim, even going so far as to accuse a “friend” of making up a rape to punish a man for not calling in the morning.

This is, simply put, false. No one has ever argued that consensual, drunken sex can be rounded up to rape. The Department of Justice and the White House both define alcohol-assisted rape not as consensual but drunk sex, but as forcing yourself on a non-consenting woman by using alcohol to disable. The lack of consent is what makes it rape. False accusations of rape are incredibly rare. Only 2-8 percent of reported rapes are false, but many of those are not accusations. The typical false rape reporter makes up a stranger in the bushes, and doesn’t name the wrong person. False accusations are also rarely to never after a bout of consensual sex. In many cases, such as the Duke lacrosse case, there was no sex that happened at all. In other cases, the rape actually happened, but the wrong man was fingered.  The Innocence Project’s database shows most of the false accusations were cases where there was, in fact, a rape, but the wrong man was accused. Perhaps it has happened at some point in time that a “slut” tried to hide her sexual choices by “crying rape”, but the examples of this actually happening are too elusive to find. “Too rare to find” is the opposite of common.

It’s tempting, of course, to ignore these myths as the self-serving drivel of men (and their female allies) who want to blame women for their own failures, excuse their own sexual harassment and abuse, and ignore the realities of sexism. But, as the Elliot Rodger shooting makes clear, ignoring misogynists won’t make them go away. Their lies and misrepresentations must be confronted, loudly and often.