Percentages Need More R-E-S-P-E-C-T
From a March '07 editorial entitled "Let's solve the problem of male violence" in a Boulder weekly comes this list:
- 90 percent of people who commit violent physical assault are men.
- Males perpetrate 95 percent of all serious domestic violence.
- 99.8 percent of people in prison convicted of rape are men.
- Men commit up to 95 percent of child sexual assault.
The writer goes on to deplore these percentages, asserting that all men should be outragedLadies, just glow! . Whether you happen to be male, female, or Guess!, think for a moment about what he's saying.
Exactly what it is that we are to become enraged about is a bit ambiguous, but my best guess is that the problem is the percentages of men committing violence.
Fair enough. But, when partially unspecified, percentages can refer to many thingsAn attribute not common solely to percentages, that ability. . For example, 10 percent of your income can mean of your current gross income, of your current taxed income, of your after-medical-savings subtracted income ...
So to what do the writer's percentages refer? They are evidently referring to the percent of the totality of people who commit these various examples of assault and rape, wouldn't you say? Men are way over-represented at 90, 95 (twice), and 99.8 percent, there's no denying it.
To address that issue then, being those outrageous percentages, the writer must be seeking more equality:
- 50 percent of people who commit violent physical assault are men, and 50 percent are women.
- Males perpetrate 50 percent of all serious domestic violence.
- 50.8 percent of people in prison convicted of rape are men and 49.2 are women. (Not quite equal, but provides some variety.)
- Men commit 50 percent of child sexual assault while women once again rise to the occasion and do their part, committing the other half.
It is difficult, in this case, to know what the writer was really advocating. But, judging from the title of the article—"Let's solve the problem of male violence"—he wants men to stop being violent, or as violent as they are.
What he really wants, I presume to infer, is that less violence be perpetrated all around. That the number (not the percentage) of violent physical assaults, serious domestic violence, rapes, and child sexual assults declines. If men suddenly stopped being violent but women took up the clarion call, not much would have been accomplished, would it?
The statistics presented in this article provide a sterling example of good intentions not thought through. His use of percentages to make his point indeed made a point, just not the one he wanted, I would hazard to guess.
Few of us are consistently free of that transgression, failure to think things through. (Or even, having thought things through resoundingly, of writing them ambiguously.) But when an article is to be published, the process of thinking things through is a demon with which to be grappled. In this case I see problems not only with the statistics shown, but also with the writer's entire argument.
Of course, who will argue that male violence can be a problem—in prisons, in abusive relationships, in road rage, in psychosis, in explosive psychic cluster-bombs that most of us seek to avoid. But how are we to address this problem? Can we solve it by becoming enraged about percentages that, when duly considered, fail to applyAt that realization there is but one thing to do with our freshly engendered rage—direct it at the writer! ? Here is the text of the sidebar:
"We have to move from the relatively comfortable place of saying, 'I'm not violent, so there's nothing I can do,' to the uncomfortable place of confronting violence."
I don't want to come across as inclining toward the wing-nut social-improvement-naysayer crew, but bear with me as I take this argument a tad further.
Okay, so duly enraged and on the lookout to confront violence (male, that is), what exactly are we to do? Do we prowl the alleys and parks after dark, seeking tell-tale discarded beer bottles, especially broken ones, that will lead us to a 95-percent-certain male perpetrator of domestic violence?
Once we stumble across male-perpetrated domestic violence in action, what is our next step? Handing a beer bottle to the embattled and presumed woman, that she may respond in kind (but not toward us, we hope!)?
Of course that is not what the writer meant. Is it?
And if this is not what the writer meant, what in fact are we, the audience, to do?
Maybe this frustrates me so much because that writer's goal may be entirely as quixoticUm, a kind word would be "impractical". as my own.
But of this I am sure: Percentages don't deserve to be treated so thoughtlessly. I am reminded of a movement, known as "Take Back the Night", that was popular several years ago in Fort Collins when I was a graduate student there. In this movement women would congregate at dusk and march in darkness and presumably invulnerable numbers, holding candles and signs, protesting the unsafe status of women who dared tread darkness alone.
The movement indeed brought attention to the plight of lone women at night, but I must ponder: Did it catalyze either exodus or mass reform of past and potential offenders?
If you think it might have, you may be one of those alternate-universe denizens of whom I've heard.