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Evidence basis for feminism

(50 Posts)
FloraFox Mon 24-Nov-14 11:50:38

When discussing feminist issues on FWR (and elsewhere), we frequently are asked for evidence to support any claim that underpins the issue being discussed. Sometimes this is intentionally derailing but sometimes it comes from a way of thinking that prioritises an attempt to be scientific and objective and to focus on things that can be measured. Buffy and others have made very interesting points in response to particular posts about the difficulty in measuring social issues objectively, scientifically or neutrally. Is there any form of positivism that can be used for feminist analysis?

One example for me is the use of statistics about men who are subject to domestic violence. Regardless of any statistics that might be collected, I cannot see DV against men by women in the same category of DV against women by men. Not just because of the cultural context for DV but even on the numbers. It's not consistent with my life experience that the number of families affected by a violent mother are remotely close to the number of families affected by a violent father. The latter is quite common whereas the former is vanishingly small.

I'm not even sure if these are the same issues TBH confused but how should feminists approach statistics and evidence about feminist issues?

PetulaGordino Mon 24-Nov-14 12:02:56

Rudely marking place - nothing useful to add but interested in responses

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EilisCitron Mon 24-Nov-14 12:35:10

I am interested in this too.

My cynical view is that often demands for statistics and "hard facts" is, as Flora says, just a way of getting us to scurry off and do some admin. It's a challenge intended to put you on the back foot; it reinforces exactly where our culture places the burden of proof.

My experience is that "hard facts", when they are forthcoming, will be waved away. They are treated as "aggressive" or "petty" and "no one has time to get bogged down in the detail". Someone started an argument with me (about a work issue) on a "rational" footing the other day, convinced he would win, and when his arguments started to founder against mine, laughed at me and said "you're like a lawyer" and walked off. I was discredited for being rational just as efficiently as I could have been, had I taken a different tack, for being irrational.

I am interested in this and I do see the positivist stuff from both sides. I get its value but I also worry that there is a huge weight of potentially aggregatable (?!) fact about actual time, money, labour, violence, disadvantage, that consolidates into a huge lump of numerical material FACT and you miss that when you listen to individual voices in a more fluid way. And when you start saying "we have to listen to individuals' experiences" (which you do) you are in danger of it just being seen as individuals, just nice interesting little collections of stories, rather than a massive quanitifiable injustice.

But just as all these epistemological approaches have value and different purposes, I am pretty much equally defeatist about any of them actually gaining any traction when no one wants to listen to us, or has to, and I think it is a mistake to lodge the fault with ourselves that maybe we are providing the material in the wrong format and if we were to get that right, everything would be ok.

EilisCitron Mon 24-Nov-14 12:39:23

Great post Buffy.

sorry my penultimate paragraph is wrong and badly edited, I mean stuff under a non-positivist paradigm can be too easily waved away as being about individuals.... but my overall point is the same, ie, they just don't want to hear it

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

FloraFox Mon 24-Nov-14 13:21:04

Thanks for the thoughtful posts Buffy and Eilis.

So you can conduct the most scientific, unbiased study ever; and if it goes anywhere near policy or public discourse those claims to objectivity become very murky indeed. IMO.

Can you though? Is it possible to construct any study in social sciences that is unbiased?

Eilis I agree, the overall point is they don't want to hear it and this is just another way to deflect the conversation.

Buffy I agree positivist methods seem to be at the top of the knowledge hierarchy, especially as far as internet discussions are concerned. The most benign statements can be met with "Do you have a citation for that?" when it seems clear the person asking the question doesn't know much, if anything, about research and evidence.

I see you patiently explaining problems with positivist methods in social sciences on lots of threads Buffy but rarely (ever?) do the posters concerned acknowledge the validity of your points. It's worthwhile to make the point because I think there are lurkers who reflect on what you've said and it would influence them. Maybe they don't acknowledge it because, as Eilis said, they just don't want to hear the underlying point.

How do we deal with this problem of knowledge hierarchies? Do we need more studies with feminist underpinnings ("BIAS!") or do we reject the utility of evidence or research? Or something else?

EilisCitron Mon 24-Nov-14 13:23:15

I don't think the problem is that there is a knowledge hierarchy and a certain thing is at the top. I mean maybe it is a general problem but I don't think this is a particular problem for feminism, because I believe you can engage with a positivist model in good faith and get very pro-feminist outcomes.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

JeanneDeMontbaston Mon 24-Nov-14 14:00:31

Place marking too. I find this very interesting.

This isn't quite the same, but something that frustrates me intensely is that, doing what I do, I get asked for evidence of women's lives and end up wading through so much misinformation - often 'research' done years ago that simply wasn't up to scratch and perpetuated Victorian myths or idiotic conjectures. You get a really strong sense that people just don't care enough what happened to women, that they don't want or need to know the facts. But then someone will say, 'but you're only talking about a few rich women' and it's often true, I am.

I really don't know how to get past that. I am just putting it out there, but please feel free to keep talking about proper sciency evidence and ignore this!

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EilisCitron Mon 24-Nov-14 14:51:13

Where this leads you is directly to ethics, I suppose. When you reveal the shifting sands of positivism then you are thrown back upon an ethical basis for deciding what matters

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BobbyDarin Mon 24-Nov-14 16:13:57

So for example, if I were to design a study on (to pick a topical one on several threads) the under-reporting of rape. I have the skills and training to use social research methods underpinned by the positivist paradigm to satisfy peer review for good academic journals (though you'll have to take my word that that's the case, 'cause I'm not linking to anything smile). But because of who I am and how I see the social world, I would not design a survey instrument that asked 'have you been raped' I would design one that sought to uncover those uncomfortable instances that we tell ourselves weren't OK, but weren't rape. So 'have you ever woken up to find your partner has started having sex with you' 'have you ever felt pressured into having sex you didn't want and that your partner carried on with even though you didn't change your mind' etc. Note that these questions aren't perfect, validated or whatever and probably have issues, they're just me offering examples.

I think this method was used in a study published last year which said that about 1 in 4 men in Asia admitted to committing rape (as far as my memory serves). If you asked men if they were rapists, obviously most people would never admit it. But asking about consent in different ways reveals different things. That study asked the question "Have you ever had sex with your current or previous wife or girlfriend when you knew she didn't want it but you believed she should agree because she was your wife/partner?" to which something like one in four men answered yes.

I don't see the issue with using statistics really. There are plenty of stats which demonstrate that feminism is necessary and important because women and girls are not treated fairly or equally. Perhaps it's better to describe them fully as 'statistical evidence', because that reminds everyone that they are not the answer in themselves but part of a general discourse/argument/dialectic/debate - evidence to be used to prove an argument. It works for academia and the law and legislation. Although if you want to read something that deconstructs that, then I can point you in the direction of the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge - how science is constructed to make it believed. As starting points en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociology_of_knowledge and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociology_of_scientific_knowledge are interesting.

Having said all that, it's vital to remember that there is really no point in arguing with someone on the Internet. If only there was a cartoon that said that in a pithy way.

EilisCitron Mon 24-Nov-14 16:40:26

yes, Buffy, which is why I resist all this politically. Philosophically I get positivism and I understand its value. Politically it just seems to be a way of justifying "well, you would say that" responses to important, life and death issues.
I get why all this "objective" "empiricism" doesn't deserve the badge of honour of purity that it has awarded itself, but you can talk feminist and talk "objective" or "statistical" at the same time, and sometimes you just have to play the game. Yes, my politics are underpinned by ethics - my ethics - which, goddammit, are the right ethics! But I don't want to be tainted by being side tracked into "whose voices matter"and "you would say that" and "why should we care about them?" It is easier and more patriarchal-friendly to say "x million women are in poverty due to benefit cuts and their children are suffering" and let it be unspoken that this matters.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

FloraFox Mon 24-Nov-14 17:22:49

Do I sound as though I don't know what I'm talking about as regards the various ways in which knowledge is constructed then, that you'd recommend wiki to me?

Absolutely not. What a bizarre recommendation.

JeanneDeMontbaston Mon 24-Nov-14 17:30:25

Wow ... buffy, you are so polite.

JeanneDeMontbaston Mon 24-Nov-14 17:33:05

Also, I do think it is nonsense to say it's pointless to argue with people on the internet. I am currently too tired to take in much of this brilliant thread, but I can tell it's going to be hugely productive. And there have been previous great threads where we've hammered out points, too. And it's not all argument of the 'polite debate' variety. There are people posting on here (me included) who've radically changed how they think about feminist issues as a result of properly angry, charged arguments.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EilisCitron Mon 24-Nov-14 19:34:52

thanks Buffy that makes a lot of sense, if I understand you... which I think I do

FloraFox Mon 24-Nov-14 23:11:41

A poster on another thread has said that it is important to establish data about oppression to ensure that resolving oppression does not lead to any injustice. That is another form of derailing and blocking feminism. Before anything is allowed to be done, feminists must not only prove the precise nature and extent of their oppression to the objective (ie privileged standard) but also that any potential measures to resolve it go precisely far enough to resolve but not go too far. I have to say I haven't come across that attitude in quite that way but I think this may a fairly prevalent among the men who continually demand evidence of a sort that meets their specific (although not necessarily consistent) requirements.

PetulaGordino Tue 25-Nov-14 06:47:11

The thing is I never see feminists demanding XYZ specific data about suicide among men (for example). we accept that this is something that affects men more than women

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