Even while lying, you’ll be believed if you speak with authority. – Anton Chekhov
By now many if not most of you have probably read (or at least heard about) the latest Melissa Farley product, a bogus study for Newsweek (published on July 17th) which purports to “prove” that virtually all men hate women. Blinded by her own unreasoning hatred of men and sex, Farley has at last exposed herself to widespread scrutiny; normally her mad lies are only directed against sex workers (I use the broad term because her hatred isn’t limited to prostitutes), and since these are a minority among women it’s easy for the ignorant to accept her statements as factual. But this time her hubris has resulted in an attack on literally half of the human race, and that’s not such an easy sell. Lest you think I exaggerate, consider the statement: “…buying sex is so pervasive that Farley’s team had a shockingly difficult time locating men who really don’t do it…The use of pornography, phone sex, lap dances, and other services has become so widespread that the researchers were forced to loosen their definition in order to assemble a 100-person control group,” taken together with this one: “the attitudes and habits of sex buyers reveal them as men who dehumanize and commodify women, view them with anger and contempt, lack empathy for their suffering, and relish their own ability to inflict pain and degradation.” If “virtually all men buy sex” and “all sex buyers hate and dehumanize women”, then “virtually all men hate and dehumanize women,” Q.E.D. That kind of sophistry may impress sheltered, middle-class white girls in “Womyn’s Studies” programs, but in the real world it’s about as appropriate as a cow pie on the dining room table and three times as rude. Take a look down the comment thread of that article; with a couple of castrated exceptions every male who replied is pretty damned angry, and rightfully so.
I’ve discussed Farley’s laughable methods before; she begins with a farfetched premise, selects a group that she thinks will prove her “theory”, uses leading questions to garner the desired responses, discards whatever data fails to fit the model, rejects noncomforming answers as evidence of “denial” and then conjures numbers out of qualitative answers without bothering to explain how she did so. Her reports then juxtapose these “findings” with unrepresentative but lurid quotations and her own hateful, unsupported rhetoric; they contain no proper explanation of methodology, are not published in professional journals and are never subjected to peer review or examined by ethics committees. Don’t take my word for it; read her new “study”, then this short but ruthless critique of another Farley client “study” from 2008. Virtually every point the 18 authors make about the earlier paper is true of the new one as well. Nor are psychologists and social scientists the only ones who recognize her as a charlatan; when she appeared as an “expert witness” for the state in the hearings which eventually resulted in prostitution laws being struck down in Ontario last September, Justice Susan Himel found her testimony highly questionable:
I found the evidence of Dr. Melissa Farley to be problematic…her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion…that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence. Furthermore…she failed to qualify her opinion…that [post-traumatic stress disorder] could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution. Dr. Farley’s choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. For example, comments such as, “prostitution is to the community what incest is to the family,” and “just as pedophiles justify sexual assault of children….men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women” make her opinions less persuasive. Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including, “that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her.” Accordingly…I assign less weight to Dr. Farley’s evidence.
This study actually uses a control group, a first for Farley despite being the norm in ethical research. Of course, Farley’s idea of a control leaves much to be desired; she provides essentially no significant information on the group other than that it had 100 members. And Newsweek didn’t even deign to reveal the report at all, obviously because somebody over there was smart enough to recognize it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on and they didn’t want to make it available for refutation (my link to it was located by Brandy Devereaux). Instead, they just printed a few choice quotes and a “trafficked children” narrative, added a lot of rhetoric from prohibitionists and the obligatory scare quotes around words like “choose”, and crowned the steaming pile with a selection of outright lies such as the debunked claim that the Swedish Model “dramatically reduced trafficking” and the outrageous libel that decriminalization and legalization in most countries has created an “explosive growth in demand that generated an increase in trafficking and other crimes”, though mysteriously never in the countries which supposedly caused the problem.
By refusing to publish in any relevant peer-reviewed journal, or indeed to expose herself to meaningful criticism of any kind, Farley seals herself into an echo chamber populated only by academic feminists, credulous reporters and politicians who need the filth she peddles to justify further suppression of sex work. Unlike true academics, she avoids the pressure to publish in journals by pandering to government entities and NGOs with an anti-sex agenda; the current specimen was sponsored by the Hunt Alternatives Fund, the entity behind the anti-male, anti-sex-worker group “Demand Abolition”. This results in her completely losing touch with reality and thereby becoming totally unable to recognize either the hateful bigotry of her rhetoric (she has referred to the vast majority of prostitutes as “house niggers“) or the transparency of her misrepresentations. Take, for example, the statement “Prostitution has always been risky for women; the average age of death is 34, and the American Journal of Epidemiology reported that prostitutes suffer a ‘workplace homicide rate’ 51 times higher than that of the next most dangerous occupation, working in a liquor store.” The flaws with the statement become instantly obvious to anyone who reads the report in question; it is, of course, a study of arrested streetwalkers, and therefore bases its conclusions on the most unfortunate third of the most dangerous segment of prostitution, which is a bit like calculating the mortality rate for soldiers at the front lines of a regional war and then extrapolating that figure to all members of the armed services of every country in the world. Furthermore, the claim that “the average age of death is 34” is badly misstated from the actual finding that the average murdered streetwalker is 34; continuing our analogy, this is exactly the same as concluding “the average soldier dies at 21” by the simple expedient of excluding from the “average” all those who survived! The figure thus produced is as spurious as the ubiquitous “average age at entry is 13” which I have previously debunked. Now imagine that someone used such distorted figures to advocate for more wars in order to “end soldiering”, and you’ll have a picture of the rat’s nest Farley uses for a brain.
Incidentally, that American Journal of Epidemiology article was unearthed and forwarded to me by regular reader Jason Congdon (who also helpfully pointed out several flaws in the article); the Newsweek reporter didn’t want people to see it and so linked the Journal’s website instead. Nor are Jason and I the only ones who felt moved to shred this third-rate propaganda; Tracy Clark-Flory critiqued it in Salon, Charlotte Shane skewered it in Tits and Sass, and Laura Agustín connected it to the bigger picture of U.S. government-sponsored “end demand” anti-sex work schemes in Good Vibrations. Marty Klein of Psychology Today called it “disgusting, dishonest and damaging”. Even Debra Dickerson of Slate, who believes that “…Farley is at least partially right about the potentially dangerous effects of… phone sex and Internet porn,” called the study an insult to readers’ intelligence full of “overblown rhetoric and outlandish conclusions,” and wrote that “an undergrad would earn an easy A pointing out the flaws in…methodology and analysis.” Will any of this sway the opinions of those who already embrace prohibitionist fanaticism? Of course not, but neither did Farley’s piece sway anyone who knows the truth about sex work, and it may have alienated a large number of male fence-sitters and the women who love them.
One Year Ago Today
“Playing the Part” is an answer to the reader question, “How easy is it for a prostitute to play her part if the man concerned is personally unattractive to her?” I think you’ll find it quite interesting.