Staying alive in the aviary.
There's no scarier bird than the flightless but fearsome cassowary. Provoke it and it may sprint up and perforate your guts with the rapier-like claw on its middle toe. Did Twitter founder Jack Dorsey choose the wrong bird? Tweet and twitter suggest delicate chirping by canaries or perhaps – at the wildest – sparrows. Yet Twitter exchanges can be terrifyingly raucous, like the call of a cassowary on attack, or at least what I imagine its war-cry to be. Maybe no one who's heard it has survived. Maybe an enraged cassowary just lets that claw do the talking.
Twitter's limit of 280 characters can preclude any softening detail, stripping opinions to their bare bones and provoking outraged retaliation from opponents. Yet that enforced brevity should be seen as a challenge to try harder – to moderate controversial opinions with careful phrasing. That's why I try to tread lightly on my narrow topic of false sexual allegations. I doubt, I concede, I qualify. My adversaries, determined to pigeonhole me as a fanatic, tend to ignore this and put the most extreme spin on my claims. Questions are twisted into statements. If I write some, their response implies all; if I mention sexual crime, they substitute rape. If I call a sexual allegation wrongful, they imply an accusation of malice with lie. In short, they squawk at my tweets.
I admit there are limits to my tiptoeing, because sometimes a forceful statement is all that works, as in the last sentence of Tweet 1:
You're on a jury for a sexual case. There's no evidence beyond the accuser's testimony, and you think your appraisal of her demeanour is enough to decide beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty? Sorry, you're deluded.
...because you are deluded, even if this particular defendant happens to be guilty.
I've belonged to Twitter since 2012, but I started using it regularly only after the false historical sexual accusation against me in 2015, as reported in my self-published book, Dry Ice. I came to see Twitter as a useful advocacy platform for the wrongfully accused, and it's been my sole Twitter purpose ever since. My profile handle proclaims me as “a one-trick Twitter pony”, which means I never dip my toe into other issues, even ones on which I have strong opinions. I need to keep onside with followers who share this commitment to the wrongfully accused, and it wouldn't be smart to frighten them off with my views on electric cars, Trump, abortion or Brexit. I've even kept quiet on some hot-button stories that should have been right up my alley. For example, I tweeted nothing on the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial because I didn't follow it closely enough to contribute a useful opinion.
Still, my chosen topic is enough to alienate twitterers with an opposing agenda, and some radfems have tarred me as a men's rights activist (MRA) and attacked me with various levels of vitriol. One said my support for the falsely accused made me a rape apologist and embellished her tweet with a cartoon image of someone vomiting into a toilet. Another was triggered by the “one trick Twitter pony” handle and asked rhetorically, “Do you mean you spend your whole online life campaigning for sex offenders?” I had to laugh, because my Twitter “life” amounts to about ten minutes a day. If I'm an activist, I'm not very active.
I've never responded to any of these jibes, but I've never blocked anyone either. Partly this is because I accept Twitter is a battleground, and partly it's because my tweets mainly go unnoticed, so I don't receive many responses for or against. I'd like to claim I stand my ground resiliently in the face of a constant, withering barrage of abuse, but that would overplay my importance. Kim Kardashian could tweet about a change of lip gloss and score a million times the hits that I can aspire to.
I don't call myself an MRA, but I could be one without being aware of it. After all, how many racists think they're racists? One advantage of feminism is that it's been around long enough to have had waves and eddies – so many, in fact, that the term has become almost meaningless. When anyone is tagged as a feminist, it's now necessary to ask, “What kind?” Camille Paglia and Roxanne Gay are both feminists but their opinions are almost opposite (I use radfem in this article to denote the latter kind, who I think are called third wave).
MRAs aren't granted this luxury of nuance, so they tend to be treated as a lunatic fringe by definition, perhaps as feminists once were. I'd happily be labelled a moderate MRA, if such a thing existed, because I do agree with some MRA claims. I'm not of them, but I'm sometimes with them. Must I be considered an extremist just because I don't accept that women and girls are consistently at a disadvantage in developed countries, despite what we're repeatedly told by politicians and by feminist writers? These are writers for whom all masculinity is toxic and rape culture is a given; who bemoan that they're victims of the patriarchal mass media but always seem to get published and broadcast – and paid – by those same media. Try becoming a professional men's rights activist.
The patriarchy, if it exists, doesn't seem to bring men much advantage. For example, a little knowledge of averages and means soon calls into doubt the mathematics behind the so-called gender wage gap. Also, more men than women are homeless or incarcerated, and more commit suicide or die in work accidents. In most countries they are now less likely than women to pursue tertiary education. The radfem response, either stated or implied, is that men are improvable, but it's over to them to replace their risky, testosterone-fueled behaviour with a new form of feminist-defined masculinity. Yet no one would dare to recommend to members of other groups with disheartening outcomes – ethnic minorities, for example – that everything would be fine if they just behaved differently. If raw statistics can count as proof of systemic discrimination for one under-performing group, why not for another?
We're fed questionable data bolstering the gender orthodoxy on many social issues. For example, women abuse their children and even partners far more often than we would assume from media coverage; so often, in fact, that there are calls from some quarters to “de-gender” the whole notion of domestic violence. Erin Pizzey, who achieved prominence in 1971 for setting up the world's first women's refuge, is one who has advocated this.
In 2015 the UK passed legislation criminalising what it called coercive or controlling behaviour in a relationship. Unlike physical violence, this offence usually involves a lasting pattern of manipulative behaviour. It takes many forms, such as controlling the purse strings, prohibiting contact with certain friends and limiting access to social media. It may be persistent intimidation or humiliation. The media consistently portrays this as a women's rights issue. A 2019 editorial advocating a similar law in New Zealand in The Press, Christchurch, was headlined At-Risk Women Need Action, not Words, and the text quoted at length from a spokesperson for women's affairs. I wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that Atomik Research in the UK had just surveyed a thousand women and a thousand men, and discovered that an almost exactly equal number claimed to have been victims of such behaviour. My letter wasn't published.
It also appears that fathers are treated unfairly by family courts in many countries. I've heard that here in New Zealand some lawyers encourage wives in marital disputes to claim as a matter of course that their estranged husbands are abusers in order to attain custody of the children, or at least as a bargaining chip in a divorce settlement. Of course, this is anecdotal, because it's very difficult to provide evidence for these claims.
In summary, men have it tougher than we would assume from the scant attention given by media, government and the justice system to the problems they face. This media cold shoulder compels anyone wanting to write about the plight of men to resort to social media and be lumped in with incels, misogynists and other weirdos. The suggestion that a government should devote funding to leveling up the status of men brings hoots of derision, but I'm not sure why. There are flickers of promise that this may be changing. Washington state, for example, is considering establishing a commission for men's affairs. Naturally, debate on the topic is fierce.
However, none of these issues are my field, and I can't claim to be an expert on them. I'd like to return to my specialist Twitter topic: false sexual allegations. Reactions by radfems differ in sophistication. The most strident respondents in effect just stamp their feet and squawk that false accusations never happen. They're the kind who, when I mention the accusation against me, glibly reply that I must simply be a sexual predator who got away with it. The dispute sometimes concerns numbers, and I've been firmly told that false allegations are “vanishingly rare”. Others claim numbers are immaterial, because false allegations are of no importance. They cause no stress and highlighting them distracts from the real problem: the vast number of unreported and unprosecuted sexual crimes. If an innocent man is sometimes caught in the net, what does it matter? This is justified compensation for the centuries of despair experienced by female victims of abuse by males. Here's Tweet 2:
A female acquaintance said men have been getting away with sexual crime for years, as if to suggest #FalseAllegations are some sort of fair payback, a levelling of scores. But justice must be individual; it cannot be about group retribution, social trends or swinging pendulums.
Such a view conflates two very different notions: justice, which concerns specific cases, and social justice, which concerns groups. Justice must always prevail over social justice. As Tweet 3 asserts (Verity is the ironic fake moniker I gave my false accuser, whom I couldn't name),
There are no degrees of innocence. If I didn't rape Verity I didn't rape her, and the fact that I happen to be an adult male makes me no more guilty of this crime than our neighbours' ten-year-old daughter.
One respondent was prepared to believe that I'd been falsely accused but concluded it was my fault, making the extraordinary claim that if she'd been falsely accused of a sexual crime, she would give “serious thought” to the way she'd been leading her life.
The most sophisticated ones are those who concede that false accusations occur and can destroy lives. However, their open-mindedness is often a sham because it's only an abstract possibility that any sexual accuser may be a liar or fantasist. For example, when it's in the news that a jury has acquitted a prominent man of a sexual crime, these enlightened ones can only see it as a miscarriage of justice – even when the only evidence was the complainant's testimony. Couldn't it be one of those false allegations? No, because they're so uncommon that no particular case can ever be an actual example. Tweet 4 shows the enlightened ones will only play the data game until they see they may lose:
Prominent NZ journalist feigned balance by telling me she supported false accusers being prosecuted “to the full extent of the law”. I sent her evidence they weren't prosecuted at all. Far from anger at the injustice, her response was not to contact me again.
I've acknowledged in other articles on this site that many sexual perpetrators face no consequences. This may be because the victim doesn't report the offence or because the private nature of the crime makes it hard to prosecute. Using the moral argument of the greatest misery for the greatest number, I admit that sexual crime, mainly male-to-female, is a more pervasive injustice than false accusations. However, it's also true that false sexual allegations are common. How common? I explore the statistics in my piece Figuring the Figures, on this site. For now, consider Tweet 5:
We don't know how common #FalseAllegations are. However, we do know that they're more common than the number of prosecutions. Rather like sexual crime itself.
The evidence is overwhelming that some police investigators, prosecutors and judges all over the world, under political pressure to increase convictions for sexual crime, develop tunnel vision if they have a suspect in their sights. When they follow this course they have not the slightest interest in following lines of inquiry that might cast doubt on the guilt of the accused. In most legal systems prosecutors have a legal duty to make exonerating evidence available to the defence, a requirement called disclosure in the UK and here in New Zealand, and discovery in the US. However, it's an outrage that such evidence is often ignored, withheld, “lost”, not released in time for trial or ruled inadmissible in court. Complainants known to be fantasists or liars are permitted to tweak their sworn testimonies to make them appear consistent and credible, in the only kind of trial in which one person's story is sufficient evidence for conviction. Countless innocent people are in jail. As I wrote in Tweet 6,
#FalseAllegations are common, so “Believe the women” surely can mean we believe the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters when they protest “I know that the man I love hasn't done what this fantasist and these incompetent so-called investigators say he has done.”
That golden thread of justice, the presumption of innocence, is in effect withheld from those accused of sexual crimes. This won't change soon, so I'll keep tweeting the way I always do: part-time but persistent, detached but determined. Fortunately, the accusation against me ultimately led to no charges being laid, but that fact is a poor reason to quit the campaign. I'm buoyed by the support I receive from the coterie of followers who do appreciate what I write, most of whom have been falsely accused or support husbands, brothers and sons who've endured this terrible ordeal. I'll continue to ruffle the feathers of those who refuse to believe this is a story worth telling, and I hope to stay resilient enough to live with the squawks.