By Mark B. Rosenthal
November 7, 2009
On Thursday, November 5, 2009, Slate.com's new woman-oriented
publication "Double X" published Kathryn Joyce's article
"'Men's Rights' Groups Have Become Frighteningly
Effective," based in large part on her interview with me.
When Ms. Joyce first contacted me, she clearly stated that she
considers herself a feminist. But the label "feminist" means
different things to different people. There are many people I
respect who sincerely believe that calling themselves
"feminist" means they support equal treatment for men as well
as for women. Unfortunately there are also many people who
publicly proclaim that "feminist" means equal treatment, but
accept as an article of faith that all women are oppressed
and all men are oppressors.
I've found that conversations that rely heavily on labels tend
to close minds, whereas conversations that avoid labels and
instead discuss real human experience can often be far more
productive in opening minds. I chose to speak to Ms. Joyce
fully aware that her friendly demeanor might be nothing more
than play-acting to mask an "all men are oppressors" attitude,
but hopeful that she might truly believe in equal treatment
for all and might be capable of ordinary human compassion. On
occasion I've had some success informing "equal treatment for
all" type feminists about injustices they've previously been
unaware of, and building bridges to people like that is one of
the most effective steps one can take toward healing the
injustices and suffering in the world. So I felt it
worthwhile to make the effort with Ms. Joyce. Although I was
disappointed, I was not surprised to find that when the mask
was removed, she turned out to be an "all men are oppressors"
According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional
Journalists (http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp), journalistic
ethics require that journalists:
seek truth and report it,
Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise
care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never
and that journalists:
Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and
commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
Ms. Joyce's article is so larded with falsehoods and
misrepresentations that it would take a month to refute all of
them. For the moment I'll limit myself to two in particular:
The writer misrepresented what I said and placed it in
a context that makes it sound like I'm defending mass murderers!
Throughout the interview and in her article, Kathryn Joyce
completely ignored my explanation to her that both RADAR
(Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – http://www.mediaradar.org) and I personally
advocate as zealously on behalf of women victimized by the system
as we do on behalf of men. She instead insisted on
characterizing RADAR as a men's rights organization and me
personally as a men's rights activist. Years ago at http://www.breakingthescience.org/Why.php,
I explained why I don't accept that label.
Then at the end of the interview, she asked me if I was concerned
about people she called "extremists" in the men's rights
movement. I told her that it was unreasonable for her to demand
that I defend the statements or actions of others who speak for
themselves and not for me. "Extremists" was her word, not mine.
I asked her, since she considers herself to be a feminist, if she
felt obliged to defend the behavior of extremists in the feminist
movement. Ms. Joyce initially had great difficulty imagining
such a thing as a feminist extremist. Eventually she asked me if
I had in mind someone like Valerie Solanas. Solanas is the woman
who wrote the "SCUM Manifesto" calling for the gendercide of men,
and whose brutal attempted murder of Andy Warhol left him in
excruciating pain for the rest of his life. I said that Solanas
would be one example. Ms. Joyce then refused to discuss it, even
as she demanded that I defend people she called "extremists" whom
I know little or nothing about, and who certainly don't speak for
When Ms. Joyce refused to accept that I wouldn't comment, I told
her what she was doing was as illegitimate as a reporter
demanding that Martin Luther King, Jr. justify the actions of
Malcolm X. I then gave the example that the gay rights movement
didn't make much progress until Act Up! came along, and explained
that history demonstrates that no social ills ever get rectified
unless you have both reasonable groups and more radical groups
working on the issue.
In the 1960s, college professors pleaded with students to engage
in "rational discourse". But the Viet Nam War didn't end because
people engaged in "rational discourse", but rather because an
entire generation marched on Washington. The Women's Liberation
movement didn't gain traction because people sat around and held
deep intellectual discussions, but rather because Women's
Libbers, who at the time were considered "extremists", held
"consciousness raising" groups designed to portray men as
monstrous oppressors in order to radicalize the women who
A few days before the publication of the article, Ms. Joyce
called me to verify that she'd quoted me accurately. When I
found that she intended to quote me as saying, "no movement is
going to get anywhere without extremists," I objected that she'd
grossly misrepresented my viewpoint. I told her that it would be
accurate to quote me as saying "no movement is going to get
anywhere without both." By "both" I meant both a reasonable
component and a radical component.
It's bad enough that Ms. Joyce ignored my objection and
misrepresented my opinion. She was fully aware that the example
I had in mind of a more radical element was a group like Act Up!,
which stages noisy protests and political theater, but to the
best of my knowledge has never been accused of murder. It's
unconscionable, bordering on libelous, that Ms. Joyce portrays me
as defending "extremists" (her word) shortly after planting the
idea in the reader's mind that the word "extremist" refers to
people who've gone ballistic and committed mass murder!
The writer quotes a false claim that Dr. Murray Straus
distributed RADAR literature at an APA conference, apparently
without making any effort to verify the truth of the claim.
It is not uncommon for those with an agenda to throw mud at
scientists whose research results they dislike. In a transparent
attempt to cast doubt on Dr. Murray Straus' academic integrity,
Ms. Joyce quoted a false assertion that Dr. Straus distributed
RADAR literature at a conference. She failed to follow the
standard practice of reputable journalists, which is to contact
the subject of an accusation and give him the opportunity to
respond. In her article she wrote, "Most notable are the studies
conducted by sociologist Murray Straus of the University of New
Hampshire, who has written extensively on female violence (and
who Dawson saw distributing RADAR flyers at an APA conference)."
The characterization of Straus as someone who has written
extensively on female violence is like characterizing Susan
B. Anthony as someone who wrote extensively on temperance -- true
but misleading because of what it leaves out. Straus has devoted
his professional career to the study of all forms of family
violence -- parent-to-child, child-to-parent, sibling-to-sibling,
as well as partner violence in all its configurations --
male-to-female, female-to-male, and mutual. He has never focused
exclusively on female violence.
But more important than the misleading characterization of
Straus' work is the attempt to disparage his academic integrity
by claiming he distributed RADAR flyers at an APA conference.
Knowing Dr. Straus' high academic standards, it struck me as
thoroughly out of character for him to distribute non-academic
literature, ours or anyone else's, at a professional conference.
Straus' phone number and email address can be easily found on the
Univ. of New Hampshire website. A reputable journalist would
have contacted Dr. Straus and allowed him to respond to the
accusation. However Ms. Joyce's article gives no indication that
she made any effort to verify her facts before publishing this
accusation. So, after I read her article, I contacted him.
Dr. Straus stated unequivocally, "I have never distributed a
RADAR flyer at any conference, or anywhere else."
Finally, the SPJ Code of Ethics mentioned above also states:
Journalists should be free of obligation to any
interest other than the public's right to
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
Remain free of associations and activities that may
compromise integrity or damage credibility.
... shun secondary employment, political involvement, public
office and service in community organizations if they
compromise journalistic integrity.
Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
During our conversation, Ms. Joyce revealed that in addition to
writing for Slate.com's Double X, she's also employed by
a non-profit organization, although she didn't specify which one.
The public has a right to know whether Ms. Joyce is employed by or
affiliated with any organization that has a stake in perpetuating our
nation's badly flawed domestic violence policies. If so, her failure
to disclose that to her readers represents a serious breach of