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What Men’s Rights guru Warren Farrell actually said about the allegedly positive aspects of incest. (Note: it’s even more repugnant than that sounds.)

So there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the recent talk that old school Men’s Rights guru Warren Farrell gave at the University of Toronto. Protesters troubled by Farrell’s repugnant views on incest and date rape, among other things, blocked the entrance to the building holding the talk; police broke up the blockade. You can find various videos of what went down on YouTube. I’m not going to try to sort out all the various claims and counterclaims about what happened.

I personally don’t approve of blocking people from giving talks, even if their ideas are repugnant. But I certainly do approve of holding people responsible for what they say, and Farrell – in addition to being wrong about nearly every aspect of relations between men and women – has said some truly awful things over the years.

Exhibit A: A notorious interview he gave Penthouse magazine in the 1970s in which he discussed a book he was researching about incest, tetatively titled The Last Taboo: The Three Faces of Incest.

Let me put a giant TRIGGER WARNING here for disturbing discussion of incest and child sexual abuse.

In the interview, he argued that incest could be a good thing for everyone involved. Indeed, he waxed poetic about the possible positive effects:

“Incest is like a magnifying glass,” he told interviewer Philip Nobile. “In some circumstances it magnifies the beauty of the relationship, and in others it magnifies the trauma.”

The book Farrell was working on never appeared, and Farrell would apparently prefer it if what he said in that interview simply vanished into the memory hole, but a radical feminist site called the Liz Library has a copy of the original 1977 magazine in which it appeared, and has put high quality scans of it online. You can find them here.

Here are some of the things Farrell said in that interview. I’ve put the direct quotes from Farrell in bold; the rest is Nobile’s summary of what Farrell told him.

The article summarized the “findings” of Farrell’s (at that time incomplete) incest research, starting with his take on mother-son incest:

Mother-son incest represents 10 percent of the incidence and is 70 percent positive, 20 percent mixed, and 10 percent negative for the son. For the mother it is mostly positive. Farrell points out that boys don’t seem to suffer, not even from the negative experience. “Girls are much more influenced by the dictates of society and are more willing to take on sexual guilt.”

Apparently, in his view, girls feel bad about the abuse not so much because abuse is inherently bad, but because “society” tells them it’s bad; he returns to this theme repeatedly.

Apparently Farrell’s “findings” about father-daughter incest were not quite as cheery:

The father-daughter scene, ineluctably complicated by feelings of dominance and control, is not nearly so sanguine. Despite some advertisements, calling explicitly for positive female experiences, Farrell discovered that 85 percent of the daughters admitted to having negative attitudes toward their incest. Only 15 percent felt positive about the experience. On the other hand, statistics from the vantage of the fathers involved were almost the reverse — 60 percent positive 10 percent mixed, and 20 percent negative. “Either men see these relationships differently,” comments Farrell, “or I am getting selective reporting from women.”

Yea, that’s right. He’s saying that the overwhelming majority of the abusive men he interviewed enjoyed sexually abusing their daughters, but for some baffling reason their daughters generally didn’t enjoy the abuse. And the explanation for this is that perhaps the daughters are lying – er, sorry, “selectively reporting?”

The bit about advertisements seems to suggest that Farrell went out of his way to try to find and interview women who felt positively about being sexually abused, but still was unable to find more than a small percentage who did.

The article continues. (This is Nobile summarzing Farrell, not Farrell’s direct words.)

In a typical traumatic case, an authoritarian father, unhappily married in a sexually repressed household and probably unemployed, drunkenly imposes himself on his young daughter. Genital petting may have started as early as age eight with first intercourse occurring around twelve. Since the father otherwise extends very little attention to his daughter, his sexual advances may be one of the few pleasant experiences she has with him.

Let’s just repeat that last sentence for emphasis:

Since the father otherwise extends very little attention to his daughter, his sexual advances may be one of the few pleasant experiences she has with him.

The article continues:

If she is unaware of society’s taboo and if the mother does not intervene, she has no reason to suspect the enormity of the aberration. But when she grows up and learns of the taboo, she feels cheapened.

So the incest “taboo” is the main problem, not the abuse itself?

And here is a doozy of a quote from Farrell directly:

“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.”

(Note: I’m relying on the Liz Library’s transcription of this quote; some of the text in their scan of this page is blurry.)

Farrell told Nobile that he was feeling hesitant about publishing his book, because it might encourage exploitation of daughters, but that he felt compelled to continue researching it for two main reasons:

“First, because millions of people who 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.”

“Second, I’m finding that thousands of people in therapy for incest are being told, in essence , that their lives have been ruined by incest. In fact, their lives have not generally been affected as much by the incest as by the overall atmosphere.

Farrell also hopes to change public attitudes so that participants in incest will no longer be automatically perceived as victims. “The average incest participant can’t evaluate his or her experience for what it was. As soon as society gets into the picture, they have to tell themselves it was bad. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. “

According to The Liz Library, Farrell now claims that the bit about “genitally caressing” children is a misquote, and that what he really said was “generally caressing.” You can see the scan of the page here; Penthouse clearly has him saying “genitally.”

But let’s assume that Farrell is telling the truth and Nobile misheard the word. Here’s the quote again, with that one word changed.

First, because millions of people who are now refraining from touching, holding, and generally 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.

I’m not sure that’s much better; he’s still talking about “touching, holding, and … caressing” children in a sexual context.

Farrell has not, to my knowledge, challenged any of the other quotes in this interview besides that one. Nor, again to the best of my knowledge, has he forthrightly repudiated the substance of what he said. If he wishes to clarify or challenge any of this I will happily give him space here on this blog to do so.

I should note that in the interview Farrell stopped short of actually advocating incest. But his reasoning here is curious, to say the least:

“I’m not recommending incest between parent and child, and especially not between father and daughter. 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.”

So apparently father-daughter incest – ie, sexual abuse – isn’t a good idea because in a sexist society fathers are likely to do it wrong?

I encourage everyone with the stomach for it to read the entire Penthouse piece, which also discusses the incredibly creepy views of some other incest “researchers” at the time.

I will highlight more of Farrell’s problematic views in future posts.

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nerdypants
nerdypants
9 years ago

D-:

melty
melty
9 years ago

well I feel sick after reading that

Greg Canning
9 years ago

Yes one wonders how history and future commentators will view your words in 42 years DF , as someone whose commentary is puritanical and free of bias I guess you’ll be seen as entirely above reproach.

Despite this obscure piece you choose to highlight as representative of the man, Warren Farrell has published extensively well researched and referenced works that have positively contributed to the discourse around relations between the sexes, and his talk titled “Boys to Men: Transforming the Boys Crisis into our Sons’ Opportunities” had noting to do with incest rape or abuse of children , let alone “defending” those things as the over reacting bigoted students would have you believe. their actions are those of a desperate, ill informed and ignorant group, whose violent obstruction of freedom of expression and association is simply hypocritical.

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

Brain bleach time: no videos yet, but here’s a picture of Melako, the zebra born on Friday at Werribee Open Range Zoo in Melbourne.

hippodameia8527
hippodameia8527
9 years ago

That is beyond disgusting – and accelerating.

ClioPersephone
ClioPersephone
9 years ago

Ugh… This makes me seriously ill. 🙁

damselindetech
9 years ago

No, no. You see, he meant “blah” people.

KathleenB
KathleenB
9 years ago

I’ll just be in the corner, hating the entire universe.

hellkell
hellkell
9 years ago

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Jesus, Mary, and Oprah, what the fuck? And this turd is who MRAs hold up as some great founder of their movement?

I shouldn’t have read that after dinner, gorge is rising.

I just can’t with this. KathleenB, is there room for one more in that corner?

quantumscale
quantumscale
9 years ago

Oh god, he has children.

hellkell
hellkell
9 years ago

Mr. Canning, please STFU, you’re not helping.

popcornculturejunkie
popcornculturejunkie
9 years ago

“‘But the inference is that all incest is abuse. And that’s not true.” Yeah…I’m sure Elisabeth Fritzl would gladly believe those words. *shakes head*

melty
melty
9 years ago

Whoa Greg Canning. Why should we excuse this mans actions? Unless he’s formally apologized for that article and recanted on it, it is still relevant and he should get criticized for it. Please go away

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

Canning, the man defends and effectively advocates men having sex with children – their own children, at that. So I don’t actually give a flying fuck for what else he might have done, and I wonder just what your game is that you’re defending a rape apologist.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

You’re right, changing the word that he claims was misheard doesn’t actually improve the statement all that much. It’s still saying that not interacting with your children in a sexual way represses the sexuality of the kids.

The whole thing is just so self-serving. Let’s say for the sake of argument that most abusers who are parents very much enjoy abusing their children, and it’s the children who mostly don’t enjoy it and find it traumatic (please insert “well DUH” sentiments here). Why should that lead to a societal reevaluation of the incest taboo? If most of the kids were very unhappy about what was done to them, then it shouldn’t have happened. The fact that the abusers enjoyed it is irrelevant. Why are we supposed to care about them? If people who want to abuse kids feel that not being allowed to do so by society is a repression of their sexuality, well, too bad. There is no right to express your sexuality in a way that hurts the people you’re having sex with, which is why we refer to it as “abuse” and not “sex”.

The fact that so many MRAs do think this guy is a moral and upright person and a great source of philosophical wisdom does explain the whole “abusers lobby” thing. Farrell was quite explicitly advocating on the behalf of abusers and suggesting that if they enjoy abusing people then it’s wrong for society to prevent them from doing so.

CassandraSays
CassandraSays
9 years ago

Also please nobody tell these guys about the Japanese/Korean concept of skinship, or they’ll turn that into an excuse for abusing kids too.

Polliwog
Polliwog
9 years ago

…I can’t even.

*nukes Earth from orbit*

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

No, no – you need a nuking device that’s selective. Otherwise you end up nuking all the cute critters as well as the human scum!

2-D Man
2-D Man
9 years ago

Yes one wonders how history and future commentators will view your words in 42 years DF , as someone whose commentary is puritanical and free of bias I guess you’ll be seen as entirely above reproach.

You do realize that you said this while your profile picture features a man holding a coffee mug which blatantly displays the phrase “Fuck Their Shit Up”, right?

That doesn’t sound good now.

2-D Man
2-D Man
9 years ago

No, no – you need a nuking device that’s selective. Otherwise you end up nuking all the cute critters as well as the human scum!

It’s the only way to be sure.

pillowinhell
pillowinhell
9 years ago

And the rest of Manboobz comes to realize the source of my distress the other evening.

David, why didn’t you shred this lovely article and point out the singularly victim blamey bullshit conveniently placed so the worlds pedophiles could feel better? This article is rape apologism at its worst, and far too many people aren’t going to see what’s going on.

Yes, three percent of girls report a positive experience, so clearly the only problem with incest is that society is sexist and the other girls are lying.

Also, why does that seventy percent of boys had awesome incest with their mothers smell so very off? I have a hard time believing that boys are just so much more eager to have sex with their parents. No, seriously world, boys and men DON’T always want sex even if you don’t want to believe it.

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

This guy should be investigated. He thinks fondling your children is normal, just stifled by societal norms? So sickening. I really do feel ill after reading this.

pillowinhell
pillowinhell
9 years ago

Greg, Farrels book on incest isn’t well researched or referenced because he never had it published.

And just for future reference, I ran that article past my aunt who’s a psychologist. Her reply was that just that article alone raises enough red flags to carpet north america with and that incest has devastating consequences to both genders, but the fallout may be expressed differently.

pillowinhell
pillowinhell
9 years ago

http://mindbleach.org/g/183.html

In case anyone needs it…

The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

Lovely kits and pups … very necessary.

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