Fact-checking MRAs: Bogus statistics and factoids

There are various claims made by men’s rights advocates (MRAs) that have no basis in truth. They are ‘factoids’, items of unreliable or false information that are reported and repeated so often that they become accepted as fact. On this page, we fact-check some of the inaccurate claims routinely made by MRAs. Additions and revisions are welcome.

This page covers the issues listed below. See other sections of XY for assessment of men's rights advocates' claims about the impact of feminist identities and beliefs among women, false accusations, fathers and fatherlessness, domestic violence, men's health, war, and so on.

The media as man-hating

Fact: Media content continues to show patterns of male dominance and sexist stereotyping. And much of media control and ownership is in the hands of men.

Anti-feminist commentators often claim that we live in a ‘misandric’ or man-hating culture, in which the media is dominated by anti-male content. This is false.

Looking at media content, it is simply false to claim that there are uniformly negative representations of men. Instead:

  • There are far more representations of men than women.
  • Men are depicted in a wider range of behaviour than women.
  • There are at least as many men who play heroes as villains (Anderson 2014: 75).

Thus, there is a diversity of positive and negative roles, especially for white men.

Anti-feminist commentators claim that women are taking over the major institutions of society, including the mass media. The reality is that mass media content continues to show male dominance and sexist stereotyping:

  • Major male characters in top-grossing films outnumber female characters 73% to 27%.
  • Men make up 55% of the regular characters in prime-time TV.
  • Men shown are more likely to be in their 30s and 40s, while women shown are more likely to be in the age range 20-30. And women virtually disappear at older ages, e.g. in their 50s and 60s.
  • Older male characters on TV and in film, but not older female characters, have more power, status, and leadership (Anderson 2014: 75-76).

As a media report documents,

  • Women comprise only 28 percent of the characters in family films, 39 percent of the characters on prime-time TV, and 31 percent of those in children’s programs (Smith et al. 2012).

Roles for men and stories about men continue to be the norm. Films focused on female characters with storylines supposedly of interest to women are termed ‘chick flicks’, while films focused on male characters with characters and plots telling men’s stories are considered the norm.

On TV men are likely than women to play criminals, but also more likely to be in professional roles, law enforcement roles, and blue collar jobs. While women are more likely not to work or their work is not shown.

Anti-feminist commentators neglect the question of race and racism. But media portrayals of men of colour often are poor, e.g. the frequent portrayal of African American men as dangerous thugs (Anderson 2014: 76-77).

In music videos:

  • When women appear typically their role is as sexual objects (Anderson 2014: 77).

In advertising:

  • There have been positive shifts over time in advertising’s portrayals of women’s roles. However, many still show men as leaders and protectors and women in roles dependent on men. And the sexual objectification of women in advertising has worsened (Anderson 2014: 77-78).
  • Male dominance also is visible in TV commercials. 32% of women’s roles, but only 1% of men’s, are as homemakers. 14% of the men are professionals (doctors, lawyers), but only 5% of the women.
  • Voiceovers are used to convey authority and wisdom, and men’s voices make up 73% of commercial voiceovers (Anderson 2014: 78).

There are further gender disparities and stereotypes in newspaper comics and clipart (78-79).

Men even dominate media coverage of “women’s issues”. For example, one study found that on abortion men were 81% of those quoted, on birth control 75% of those quoted, and even on women’s rights they were 52% of those quoted (women were only 31%, and organisations were 17%) (Anderson 2014: 79).

Thus,

women are hardly in the position of threatening the traditional domains of men. In every aspect of the mass media they are underrepresented compared to their actual numbers in the population. When women are seen, they are more likely to be portrayed as homemakers, as sexual objects, and as young. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be portrayed in a range of professional fields; they are more active, and they are older and portrayed with more power and influence. (Anderson 2014: 79).

Children’s media

Anti-feminist commentators also claim that the media is mean to boys. Again, the evidence debunks this.

In children’s television cartoons:

  • Male cartoon characters continue to outnumber female characters: 4 to 1 in the traditional adventure genre, 2 to 1 in comedy cartoons.
  • Cartoons’ content is still gender stereotyped: “Male characters are portrayed in highly masculinized ways. They are more likely to engage in physical aggression and less likely to show fear than female characters. They are less likely to be supportive and polite, and less likely to be romantic, than female characters.” (Anderson 2014: 80).
  • The gender content of cartoons has changed little over a 60-year period. Physical attractiveness is emphasised more for female characters, and intelligence more for male characters. Female characters are more likely than male to be shown in secondary roles such as helpers.

In children’s picture books:

  • There are nearly twice as many male as female main characters. Female characters are more likely to be portrayed inside the home and without a paid occupation

In toy commercials on TV

  • Toy commercials show boys in a wider range of interactions (e.g., competitive, cooperative, independent) than girls (Anderson 2014: 81).

Thus, in media representations, “boys are not marginal, nor are they denigrated. Boys are portrayed as the gender that matters, that gets things done; boys are the default, the norm.” (Anderson 2014: 81).

In the upside-down world of men-are-marginalized rhetoric, such as Steve Biddulph’s book Raising Boys, men are “often targets of ridicule in the media”. Yet actual studies on media representation find persistent patterns of male dominance and sexist stereotyping.

Media ownership and control

A second important way in which the media is not anti-male but in fact male-dominated is that much of the media industry is *owned and controlled* by men. Women historically were absent and excluded from decision-making and ownership in the media industries, and this pattern continues today (Byerly & Mendes 2008).

Ownership of, and policy-setting for, media is overwhelmingly dominated by men (typically, highly economically privileged white men). More widely, formal and informal discrimination has prevented women from being hired, promoted, and retained in news and other media industries (Byerly & Mendes 2008). For example, in news media men are a majority of journalists, and an overwhelming majority of upper management. Men are a majority of TV news directors, TV news reporters, and front page newspaper writers.

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Note: Much of the above is summarised from Chapter 4 in this book: Anderson, K. J. (2014). Modern Misogyny: Anti-feminism in a post-feminist era. New York: Oxford University Press.

References and further reading

Anderson, K. J. (2014). Modern Misogyny: Anti-feminism in a post-feminist era. New York: Oxford University Press.

M. Byerly, C., & Mendes, K. (2008). Sexism in the Media. In The International Encyclopedia of Communication. Ed., W. Donsbach. Wiley.

Smith, S., Choueiti, M., Prescott, A., & Pieper, K. (2012). Gender Roles & Occupations: A look at character attributes and job-related aspirations in film and television. Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. URL: https://seejane.org/wp-content/uploads/full-study-gender-roles-and-occupations-v2.pdf, Accessed May 23, 2020.

Resources

Statistics on gender and media (Women and Hollywood): https://womenandhollywood.com/resources/statistics/

Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Myths and facts: https://seejane.org/research-informs-empowers/gender-in-media-the-myths-facts/

Bibliography on gender and the media: https://xyonline.net/books/bibliography/33-masculinities-culture-and-representation/bibliography-7

 

Women’s control of personal wealth

Fact: It is unlikely that women control the majority of personal wealth or even half of personal wealth in the USA, given that men in general receive higher wages than women.

MRA claim: Women control 51% of the personal wealth in the USA. This claim is false. It is based on a prediction, made in a 2005 book, about likely future patterns of personal wealth. It is not based on data about women’s and men’s actual personal wealth.

Many sources cite a report by the BMO Wealth Institute titled Financial Concerns of Women, released in 2015. This report is here, and gives the claim on p. 2, citing the Family Wealth Advisors Council report, Women of Wealth (2012). This report is here. It gives the claim on p. 5, citing a 2005 book by Fara Warner, Power of the Purse: How Smart Businesses Are Adapting to the World’s Most Important Consumers—Women (FT Press 2005). And this book merely *predicts* women’s control of personal wealth.

Thus, the claim that women control 51% of the personal wealth in the USA is bogus. It has no basis in actual data.

Paternity fraud

Fact: Levels of paternity fraud are very low.

MRAs claim that there are high levels of ‘paternity fraud’, in which women lie about who the father of their child is. The actual evidence on misattributed paternity shows that the actual rate is around 1%, despite the widespread myth that 10-30% of births involve a father other than the identified one (Gilding 2005).

Women and children first

Fact: In most shipping disasters, women’s survival rates are poorer than men’s.

MRAs claim that the chivalric notion of “Women and children first” rules in shipping disasters, such that women are prioritised over men. They give the example of the Titanic. However, the Titanic’s patterns of deaths are unusual. Research on a large sample of ship disasters finds that the survival rate of women is only half that of men. Compliance with a “Women and children first” norm is rare, and the Titantic is an anomaly.

Domestic violence and suicide

Fact: We do not know what contribution suicide caused by domestic violence makes to deaths among female and male victims, or whether male or female victims of domestic violence are more likely to commit suicide as a result of their victimisation. A systematic review of intimate partner violence and suicide attempts (Devries et al. 2013) finds that among female victims intimate partner violence (IPV) was associated with suicide attempts, but in the few studies among male victims there was no clear evidence of an association between IPV and suicide attempts.

Some MRAs claim that there are four times as many suicides associated with domestic violence victimisation among males as among females, or that men are four times as likely as women to commit suicide because of domestic abuse. Both claims are *false*.

The two opening claims differ. The first is a claim about the raw numbers of suicides among male victims compared to female victims. The second is a claim that among male victims, the proportion who commit suicide as a result of their abuse is four times that of the proportion of female victims who commit suicide as a result of their abuse. People making these claims draw on Davis (2010), and he makes only the first claim. In any case, the claim is incorrect.

Davis (2010) claims that "as many as 7,832 male and 1,958 domestic violence-related suicides occur annually in the US". His statistic, however, involves a fundamentally flawed extrapolation. The problem is that the paper conflates *intimate partner problems* in general with *domestic violence in particular*.

Davis takes the proportion of suicides associated with any kind of *intimate partner problem* (30%) (from a 2005 study in 16 US states), and uses this to make a claim about suicides associated with *domestic violence in particular* (for the USA overall). His paper literally treats all suicides coded by CDC as related to intimate partner problems ("a divorce, break-up, argument, jealousy, conflict, or discord", CDC) as caused by domestic violence. *Some* of these suicides may be related to domestic violence, but it is clearly false to claim that it’s all of them.

Davis draws on a study of 2005 data from 16 USA states (Karch et al, 2008), finding that intimate partner problems contributed to 30% of the suicides in those states. But these intimate partner problems are *not* necessarily about domestic violence.

The relevant CDC coding manual (2008) codes suicides as related to intimate partner problems “if at the time of the incident the victim was experiencing problems with a current or former intimate partner, such as a divorce, break-up, argument, jealousy, conflict, or discord. ” (7-26).

In that suicide data, we simply do not know whether or how domestic violence may be at play in the suicides coded as involving 'intimate partner problems'. In addition, the proportions involving domestic violence may be *different* for men and women. So we simply cannot use Karch et al’s data to make claims about domestic violence and suicide.

Davis takes the fact that 30% of the suicides in the study of 16 US states were linked to intimate partner problems, applies this to all suicides in the US that year, and claims that all of these are not about intimate partner problems in general but related to domestic violence in particular. This is not a defensible claim.

There is no doubt that domestic violence has significant impacts on health and wellbeing, for female and male victims. But Davis’ claim about this impact proves to be false.

Citations

Davis, R. L. (2010). Domestic violence-related deaths. Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 2(2), 44.

Devries, K. M., Mak, J. Y., Bacchus, L. J., Child, J. C., Falder, G., Petzold, M., . . . Watts, C. H. (2013). Intimate partner violence and incident depressive symptoms and suicide attempts: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. PLoS medicine, 10(5). https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article/file?type=printable&id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001439

Karch DL, Lubell KM, Friday J, Patel N & Williams DD (2008) Surveillance for Violent Deaths – National Violent Death Reporting System, 16 States, 2005. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 57 (SS03) 1–45. Available at: www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5703a1.htm