Thursday, February 4, 2010


Reclusive Leftist is objecting to the Tebow Super Bowl ad from a more ideological and less slanderous point of view than the women’s organizations* I mentioned in my previous post. Although I will admit that I am not super happy about NFL cheerleaders, I don’t agree with RL’s take on this in general; “the patriarchy” is simply not a term I’m comfortable with.

However, what I find truly objectionable about RL’s post is its total disregard for facts. I gather that the Super Bowl is not a a big deal in far Left feminist circles and I don’t have a problem with that. It’s not a big deal with most of my female relatives either and I can assure you they are not far Left feminists. Nonetheless, I think if you’re going to write about a topic and especially if you’re going to draw sweeping conclusions about it, you should at least get your facts straight. Yet RL quotes approvingly the following from Jaclyn Friedman, writing for The Nation and NPR:

The ad becomes even more disturbing when we consider who it’s trying to reach. Assuming that Focus on the Family operates with the same mindset as most Super Bowl advertisers (and there’s really no evidence to suggest otherwise), it’s also safe to assume that men are one of the primary targets of this spot.

Um, no. As this article makes clear, ads targeted at women are nothing new during the Super Bowl:

So what does the increase in viewers translate to? For advertisers, the answer is more commercials geared toward a female audience.

A study by Venables Bell and Partners, an independent ad agency in San Francisco, found that, in general, women look forward more to the commercials than the game [snip]

Dove used the 2006 Super Bowl as a means to launch its highly successful "Dove Self Esteem Fund" with its "Little Girls" commercial, which discussed everyday insecurities of young girls and promoted a campaign to re-empower them. [snip]

last year Budweiser, Pedigree, Pepsi ( PEP - news - people ) and Cheetos also took a special interest in their female demographic with feel-good commercials. [snip]

... while men are more likely to discuss their favorite play after the game, women are more likely to discuss their favorite ads.

They are also more likely than men to purchase a product they see advertised during the game (and share it on Facebook with their friends), which hasn't been lost on the female-friendly advertisers planning commercials for this year's Super Bowl.

There is no reason to believe that the Tebow Super Bowl ad is targeted at men. (It took a second reading, but I did notice that Friedman covered herself by saying, “men are one of the primary targets of this spot.” I’m not always on top on the latest demographic information but based on my understanding of the makeup of our society, that would seem to leave women as the other primary target of the ad. (Sadly, my tolerance for idiocy is very low today.))

RL goes on to quote further from Friedman:

So now what we’ve got is an ad telling men that it’s wrong for women to abort their potential children, lest those children not get the chance to grow up to be famous quarterbacks who paint Scripture references into their eyeblack. In light of new research revealing that about a third of women who report partner violence also report that their partners try to pressure them into pregnancy and motherhood (as do 15 percent of women who had never reported relationship violence), this male-targeted argument is particularly chilling.

Um, no. Neither Friedman nor RL provide a link to the “new research” but given the date and the results, I assume the study being referenced is this one. First of all, based on the Abstract (I do not have access to the entire text), it is most emphatically not the case that “15 percent of women who had never reported relationship violence” report that “their partners try to pressure them into pregnancy and motherhood”. Rather 15 percent of all the women surveyed reported that.

Second, the number that leaps out at me is this: 53% of the young women “said they had experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner.” I simply refuse to believe that these young women are a representative sample. There is no way more than half the women in this country are physically assaulted by their husbands, boyfriends, lovers, or significant others. Whatever is going on with these extremely unfortunate young women, their circumstances tell us nothing about “pregnancy coercion” or “birth control sabotage” in the population as a whole.

Let’s do some math. Of the 53% who experienced violence in their relationships, 35% reported “reproductive control”; that is, either “pregnancy coercion” or “birth control sabotage”. So of the 1,278 women in the study, 677 of them (53%) experienced violence. Of these, 237 (35%) reported reproductive control. If those 237 were the only women in the survey who reported reproductive control, then 18.4% of the total sample (237/1287) would have reported reproductive control. In fact, the abstract tells us that 19% of the entire sample reported experiencing pregnancy coercion and 15% reported birth control sabotage. It appears that the women who experienced violence in their relationships were, in fact, the only women who reported reproductive control. This numerical conclusion is born out by the final sentence of the “Results” section:

In analyses stratified by partner violence exposure, associations of reproductive control with unintended pregnancy persisted only among women with a history of partner violence.

In other words, only those women with violent partners became unintentionally pregnant as a result of “reproductive control”.** To me that means incidents of reproductive control fall well outside the norm of society. Normal men do not assault their romantic or sexual partners and women whose partners do not assault them do not become unintentionally pregnant as a result of their partners’ coercion and sabotage. To believe that watching a Super Bowl ad will somehow make a perfectly normal man decide to beat his woman to keep her pregnant (and probably barefoot) requires a leap of (bad) faith far beyond what anyone who actually knows a fair number of men would be willing to make.

Given RL’s concept of The Patriarchy, her disdain for the Super Bowl is understandable. I sympathize to some extent with her concerns about the extent to which football in general and the Super Bowl in particular represent women as sexual objects. However, to use a bogus representation of an interesting but not generalizable study to argue that presenting a mother glad she carried her child to term will cause men across this country to force their wives and girlfriends to become “baby machines” is way out of line.

And, finally, I would like to point out that - as far as I know - nobody actually knows what the ad looks like anyhow.


* This is the same old naming problem. I don’t consider organizations like NARAL and NOW to be truly feminist organizations. Neither do I consider them to represent the views of all - or even most - women. So what do we call them? Sally Jenkins has some wonderful suggestions in her very highly recommended piece on the Tebow ad:

The National Organization for Women Who Only Think Like Us;
The National Organization of Fewer and Fewer Women All The Time;
and my favorite:
Dwindling Organizations of Ladies in Lockstep (DOLL)

** Apparently one of the questions asked of the young women was:

Has someone you were dating or going out with ever told you not to use any birth control?

If this is truly how the question was worded - with no qualifiers about “other than in the heat of the moment” - and replying “Yes” to it was considered proof of “pregnancy coercion” I believe the entire study should be taken with a very large grain of salt.


Grim said...

The question about "not get pregnant" is an interesting one, too.

You're talking about intimate partners. Such partners really should be having a conversation about the future, and especially their intentions about pregnancy and childrearing.

Is it coercion for a man, during such a conversation, to state that he really wants to have children someday, and wouldn't want to commit to a woman who never wished to be a mother? Or is that just an honest conversation of the type we'd really like these young people to be having?

Grim said...

I should have quoted more of that, since the string I copied and pasted doesn't capture the question adequately.

Has a man ever "...said he would leave you if you would not get pregnant?"

So, is this Henry VIII coercion we're talking about? "If you don't give me a son soon, I'll put you aside for someone who will"?

Or is it that kind of honest and important conversation we want them to have? "I think the world of you, but I really do think I'd like to have children someday. If you are sure you'll never want them, maybe we have to think about whether we're right for each other."

If it's the latter, it's a good thing, not a problem. The alternative to this conversation could easily be building a life around a man whose sense of loss over not being a father may cause him to divorce you or leave you in the future. It's better that they should talk it through at the start (preferably before they become intimate at all, but certainly once they have begun to be).

Elise said...

I agree, Grim. I think the real prism here is the physical violence. When a normal man talks to a woman about wanting children if he's going to stay in the relationship, that's a conversation that should definitely take place.

When a man who physically assaults his wife or girlfriend has that conversation, something very different is going on. You simply can't generalize from that situation to make blanket statements about male-female relationships. It's like looking at how prostitutes deal with their customers and deciding that gives you great insight into all women.

Lynne said...

I believe such coercion exists- I've experienced it.
But I don't believe it's triggered by some ad. The ad might be used to bolster various arguments, but the urge to force pregnancy onto a woman starts deep in a man's emotional background.

I make no claims about the veracity of the study. I will say I've lived thru some of it's premises. They exist.

Grim said...

I may be unclear on what's being argued here.

"Of the 53% who experienced violence in their relationships, 35% reported “reproductive control”; that is, either “pregnancy coercion” or “birth control sabotage”."

Does that mean that 35% of the 53% experienced both "violence" and, in addition, "reproductive control"? Or does it mean that we're counting "reproductive control" as a form of violence, and so 35% of these 53% of cases are cases of that type -- as opposed to cases where there was, say, physical violence?

In other words, is the violence always physical, or are we counting emotional acts as potentially violent too? If it's the latter, does a conversation where the man 'said he would leave you if you would not get pregnant' count as emotional violence?

If these are additional factors in cases where physical violence is already proven, I take your point entirely. I had thought they might be considering this a form of emotional violence, though. In that case, there's a chance that some people who had conversations of the good type were being considered 'cases of [emotional] violence' by the study.

None of which is meant to imply that there is no such thing as domestic violence. I'm just trying to sort out the parameters of what was asked, and how it was counted.

Elise said...

Lynne, I don't doubt that a man coercing a woman to get pregnant exists. I also don't doubt that a man coercing a woman to not get pregnant or to end a pregnancy exists. And before anyone says anything, yes, I'm sure women "coerce" men about pregnancy by getting pregnant when they know their partner doesn't want them to or by taking birth control or having an abortion when they know their partner wants a child.

I also think that once you throw physical violence into the mix, everything changes. A woman who is being coerced by a non-violent partner to get pregnant - or not get pregnant or get un-pregnant - always has the option of leaving the relationship. (The psychological and practical difficulties or doing so are another issue.) A woman who is being physically abused will find leaving far more difficult.

I also don't think we can decide what ads we allow - or what political discourse we allow - out of fear of pathological responses. (Like the fear that if we discuss the fact that most of the people trying to blow us up are Muslim then suddenly perfectly normal decent Americans will start burning down mosques.) At some point, we have to trust that most people are healthy enough to behave decently. If not, then we might just as well give up right now.

Somewhat tangentially, the fact that 53% of the young womens surveyed are experiencing relationship violence makes me nuts. I believe that the one and only goal that organizations like NOW should be spending their time, energy, and money on is teaching girls and young women that they can manage on their own, that they don't need a boyfriend or husband so badly they have to put up with creeps, and that life holds a lot more than getting married right out of high school to some guy who treats you like dirt. And I think the underpinning for girls and young women believing that about themselves is helping them figure out what job they can do to support themselves financially. We don't need more laws to take care of women; we need to teach young girls and women how to take care of themselves.

Okay, stepping off the soapbox now.

Lynne said...

Well, I think Elise pretty much made my point.
One ad is not going to make a guy suddenly freak out and become a control nut. That goes for the ad under discussion and the urban legend that men suddenly become wife-beaters while watching the super bowl each year.
But it should be said that a gift for psychological manipulation of the victim is what sets the stage for the violence to come, and just about anything can be used as a manipulative tool- including an ad.
Does that mean the ad should be pulled? For Pete's sake.
These groups should have spent their time crafting their own response ad instead of wailing and screaming. That's the answer, if you ask me.
As far as the accuracy of the figures- I bow to your superior experience and math skills. I would be interested to see how the figures would break out if specific population groups were identified and surveyed- some groups do place tremendous pressure on young women to conform to birthing expectations.

Elise said...

As far as the accuracy of the figures- I bow to your superior experience and math skills.

Please, please don't bow. I'm as prone to bias and human error as the next guy and I always figured part of a commenter's "job" is to point out when the blogger has gone astray - or, if you prefer, has made a total idiot of herself either numerically or conceptually.

I would be interested to see how the figures would break out if specific population groups were identified and surveyed- some groups do place tremendous pressure on young women to conform to birthing expectations.

This would be interesting. My guess is that we would find greater pressure among poorer groups, conforming to what we know about countries: greater wealth means women have fewer children. I also suspect that there would be outliers in deeply religious groups: my wholly unscientific impression is that the more fundamental or orthodox branches of at least the three major monotheistic religions favor large families. I'd love to see to what extent those patterns exist and to what extent they correlate with "birthing coercion".

As Grim points out, such a study would have to be structured carefully. A conversation about wanting to have children *soon* is not necessarily coercion - but it's also not necessarily an honest, open dialogue between two people who care about each other.

But it should be said that a gift for psychological manipulation of the victim is what sets the stage for the violence to come, and just about anything can be used as a manipulative tool- including an ad.

Agreed. Which is why I think it's so important to make sure women know they have options - knowing one is financially able to walk out is really the best response to the sort of domestic manipulation that can escalate into violence. I know it won't solve the problem - there are other factors - but I believe it would help. Not just directly with the practical concerns but psychologically by giving women a better chance at connections outside the home and the community.

Of course, all this is written from the perspective of someone who has never encountered coercion or violence in a romantic relationship and whose basic stance toward life has always remained that of a rebellious 15-year-old. I would very much appreciate reading a more in-depth discussion of this from someone whose experience is more personal and whose stance toward life is more mature.