On Pop Feminism.

This is an interesting critique of what the author describes as “pop feminism” – from Claire Lehmann, whose writing (when I come across it) I always find thought provoking:


It’s interesting to read this essay now, particular the passage: “Pop feminist articles are generally put together wholly from second-hand material – stories about studies – not the studies themselves. Not only is this bad feminist critique; it is bad journalism.”

Perhaps this only applies to feminists when they attempt to disagree with studies, or put forth an argument the author does not agree with, as I recall Lehmann tweeted support for Mia Freedman’s editorial on the link between girls drinking and girls being sexually assaulted – a piece that caused a stir on social media late last year.

Much like the pop feminist article Lehmann generally characterises in her essay, Freedman’s editorial linked to another op ed as evidence for her position. That other op ed does refer to a reputable cross-sectional, US Web-based survey conducted on college students about their experiences of sexual assault on campus, and their consumption of alcohol.

But for Australia-based evidence, Freedman’s editorial presented stats that pertain to the perpetrators of physical assault as if they were stats relating to victims of sexual assault:

“Victims of sexual assault were more likely to believe alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to the most recent incident they experienced if the offender was a friend (76%). This was significantly higher than the overall proportion of victims of physical assault who believed alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident (59%).”

This quote, in the editorial, is not contained in the document linked to in it – which is actually this Australian Institute Of Criminology document. The passage does appear almost verbatim in this ABS report called ‘Contribution Of Alcohol And/Or Any Other Substance To Assault’, under the heading ‘CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OFFENDER’. Only, instead of “victims of sexual assault” it says “victims of physical assault.”

And the first paragraph in the report is this: “Research has indicated that the consumption of alcohol is associated with acts of violence, although there is no clear relationship between the level of alcohol consumed and the likelihood of becoming either a victim or perpetrator of violence (AIC 2000).”

I am not taking a shot at Lehmann here – I appreciate the clarity of her writing. What I take from this is rather a note to myself that when we are reading an article putting forth a position that we are partial to, we should probably consciously attempt to apply the same standard of analysis to it, as we would to an article putting forth a position we are hostile to (or written by an author we are not particular fond of. In Lehmann’s case this is undoubtably Daily Life columnist Clementine Ford).

On a related note, this here is a great essay from Lehmann published in the SMH last December – about hyperbolic opinion pieces and the creation (or worsening) of division. Here’s a taste: “Reinforcing bitterness between groups of people by invoking indignant outrage may be a good business strategy for online news outlets but it is terrible for encouraging the social cohesion required to address problems facing the community as a whole.”


P.S. My criticism of that sexual assault piece is about the way Freedman presented her evidence in that editorial, as a journalist – I certainly don’t think binge drinking is benign. As someone with a disability I often wonder how healthy people can do that shit to their bodies.

P.P.S. I heard Clementine Ford speak once about writing online, and she admitted that often the pieces that get the most traffic are not the ones that are carefully researched and nuanced, but the ones that are most incendiary, or take the firmest stance in one particular direction. Of course, it’s a thing.

P.P.P.S I’ve read things written by Freedman and by Ford before that I have enjoyed. Any critique here from me does not equal blanket “hate”.

One love, people 🙂 How cool is it to have so many influential women writers to discuss on International Women’s Day?


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