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Warren Farrell, whose 1993 book The Myth of Male Power essentially set the agenda for the Men’s Rights movement we know (and don’t love) today, did an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit yesterday.
Most of the questions he chose to answer were pretty much softballs, and his answers largely reiterated things he’s said before many times. But he was also asked some pointed questions about his views on incest which he chose to answer. Well, sort of. Instead of clearing up the issue, he dug his hole a little deeper.
[TRIGGER WARNING for incest/child abuse apologia.]
Some backstory: As longtime readers of this blog know, Farrell spent several years in the 1970s researching a book about incest, which ultimately never appeared. In 1977, Farrell gave an interview to, of all things, Penthouse magazine, in which he tried to explain his “findings” and his views on the topic generally. The interview revealed that Farrell at the time had some exceedingly creepy views on incest and child sexual abuse.
If you haven’t read my post on the subject, going through the interview in detail, I suggest you take a few moments to read it now. (Here’s a transcript of the entire Penthouse article; in my post you can find links to high-quality scans of the original magazine pages – in case anyone still doubts he said what he indeed said.)
In short, Farrell believed there were “positive” aspects to incest that weren’t being talked about because society deemed the topic “taboo.” Indeed, the working title of Farrell’s book was The Last Taboo: The Three Faces of Incest.
In the past, Farrell has been, to say the least, a bit evasive when it comes to clarifying what he meant by some of the most troubling comments in the Penthouse interview, and would seem to prefer that all evidence of his interest in the issue of incest vanish down Orwell’s famous memory hole.
On Reddit, Farrell was presented with a perfect opportunity to set the record straight, both on his views on incest and child sexual abuse generally as well as on a number of specific quotes. (Note: as you’ll see, most of the first quote listed is the Penthouse author’s paraphrase, but the rest are all directly from Farrell.)
In his response, Farrell addresses none of the quotes directly, and his comments raise more questions than they answer.
“Excellent questions,” he says, before going on to answer none of them. Let’s break down his non-answer.
bottom-line, i did this research when my research skills as a new Ph.D. were in the foreground and my raising two daughters was in the future. had i and my wife helped raise two daughters first, the intellectual interest would have evaporated. life teaches; children teach you more.
He starts off by mentioning his Ph.D., though he doesn’t mention that it was in political science and not psychology. Moreover, his discussions of his research in the Penthouse interview suggest that his methodology was anything but scientific.
His reference to his daughters seems to suggest that if he had had children he would have realized that there really was no “positive” aspect to incest. One might have assumed he would have picked up on this when the overwhelming majority of the women he interviewed “admitted to having negative attitudes toward their incest,” as the Penthouse article delicately puts it.
Farrell ends this paragraph with a smiley, as if the years he spent trying to find examples of “positive” incest were all just a harmless misunderstanding.
now, for some depth. i haven’t published anything on this research because i saw from the article from which you are quoting how easy it was to have the things i said about the way the people i interviewed felt be confused with what i felt.
This is completely disingenuous. It’s not uncommon to find sexual abusers who’ve convinced themselves that the abuse they inflicted upon children was a good thing for their victims, and most people who write about the subject have no problem distinguishing their views from the abusers and abuse apologists they report on.
No, the really disturbing things about Farrell’s interview are the statements in which he expresses his own opinions on the subject. For example, this quote (referenced in the questions on Reddit), in which he describes some of what he evidently sees as the negative aspects of the incest “taboo.”
[M]illions of people … are now refraining from touching, holding, and genitally caressing their children, when that is really a part of a caring, loving expression, are repressing the sexuality of a lot of children and themselves. Maybe this needs repressing, and maybe it doesn’t. My book should at least begin the exploration.
You can see that whole quote in context in the original article here. Farrell now claims that he didn’t say “genitally” but “generally,” though if you replace that one word in that quote it’s scarcely any better.
The Penthouse article also contains this astounding quote from him:
“When I get my most glowing positive cases, 6 out of 200,” says Farrell, “the incest is part of the family’s open, sensual style of life, wherein sex is an outgrowth of warmth and affection. It is more likely that the father has good sex with his wife, and his wife is likely to know and approve — and in one or two cases to join in.”
“Incest is like a magnifying glass,” he summarizes. “In some circumstances it magnifies the beauty of a relationship, and in others it magnifies the trauma.”
In some circumstances it magnifies the beauty. Farrell gives absolutely no indication here that he is explaining someone else’s views; it seems to be what he himself believes. And until and unless he specifically addresses this quote it is hard to read it any other way.
Let’s go back to Farrell’s “answer.”
i have always been opposed to incest, and still am … .
That’s true, at least to an extent. In the Penthouse article, even though he seems to agree with many of the abusers’ rationalizations for their abuse, he does state specifically that he’s
not recommending incest between parent and child, and especially not between father and daughter.
But then he goes on to say this:
The great majority of fathers can grasp the dynamics of positive incest ‘intellectually’. But in a society that encourages looking at women in almost purely sexual terms, I don’t believe they can translate this understanding into practice.
As far as I can figure it, he’s saying that he’s opposed to father-daughter incest because in today’s sexist society it’s … hard for fathers to do incest properly? If that can be seen as being “opposed to incest” I guess he is opposed. I would love some clarification from Farrell on this point.
Back to Farrell’s answers on Reddit. After sort of, kind of, suggesting maybe his research was a bad idea (in that part above about his daughters) he returns to defending it:
but i was trying to be a good researcher and ask people about their experience without the bias of assuming it was negative or positive.
Really? Seeing abuse as abuse is “bias?” Would you consider it reasonable to study, say, murder, or violent assault, or even someone falling to their death off a mountain “without the bias of assuming it was negative or positive?” Or is it just sexual abuse of young girls and boys that merits such “objectivity?”
And yes, though Farrell now portrays himself as an advocate for both men and boys, he told the Penthouse interviewer that “boys don’t seem to suffer” from sexual abuse — sorry, incest. (That quote is a paraphrase of Farrell’s views from the Penthouse author.)
And then comes this amazing bit, in which he suggests that his interest in challenging the “taboo” of incest was in some ways inspired by the gay liberation movement of the 1970s – because on some level the sexual abuse of children is roughly similar to gay sex between consenting adults?
i had learned this from the misinformation we had gotten about gay people by working from the starting assumption of its dysfunction.
Amazing, just amazing.
You might think that Reddit’s Men’s Rightsers would be appalled by Farrell’s creepy non-answer. Nope. Most of them seem to think he addressed all possible concerns with the issue, with one poster getting dozens of upvotes for suggesting that MRAs bookmark “Dr Farrell’s response to the incest (mis)quote … for easy reference!”
It wasn’t a misquote, and his “response” was worse than no response at all.
The apologies for Farrell’s non-answer aren’t surprising. Other MRAs who are familiar with the interview have also gone to great lengths to explain it away; indeed, one of Farrell’s fans went as far as suggesting that “Penthouse was not always “pornographic” and to characterise it as that is just to demonise and imply that the article as being far more overtly sexual that it was.”
I will repeat what I said last time I wrote about Farrell: if he disagrees with any of my conclusions here, or feels he wishes to clarify or explicitly repudiate anything or everything in the Penthouse article, I’m offering him a chance to explain himself here in a post on this blog — in his own words, unedited.