Feminism and First-World Problems: ‘Hypervigilance’ as Irrational Phobia

Barb Wire

Jessica Valenti wants mentally ill women to know that their mental illness is the fault of the oppressive patriarchy:

A study published this month in the journal Sex Roles reveals that some of the sexism women face — from catcalling and sexual harassment to sexual objectification and violence — makes women generally more fearful and anxious. The researchers from the University of Missouri-Kansas and Georgia State University found a substantive “link between physical safety concerns and psychological distress” . . .

When I spoke to Dr. Laurel B Watson, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and one of the researchers in the study, she told me that one of the hurdles in studying the impact that sexism has on women’s mental health is that women have normalized this fear and anxiety so completely. . . .

This fear and anxiety that women experience isn’t simply anecdotal: women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression and we’re twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder, something Watson,who has a degree in counseling psychology, says is “absolutely” related to living with misogyny.

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“Over time, existing in a state of hypervigilance has a negative impact, and leads to a higher level of psychological distress,” she explained. . . .

You can read the whole thing, because (a) you have an expensive computer in front of you, (b) you’re sufficiently well-educated to be able to read at college-level and (c) you have nothing better to do with your time than to read a Jessica Valenti column, which tells you that (d) you’re living in a prosperous industrialized society. Congratulations!

Gratitude for one’s good fortune, however, is not what feminism is all about. Feminism is about endless misery and dissatisfaction and — lest we forget — blaming the oppressive patriarchy.

Would it surprise anyone to discover that Professor Watson’s undergraduate degree was in psychology, “with a concentration in women’s studies”? Perhaps you will also be surprised to learn that Professor Watson once worked as a counselor at an Atlanta abortion clinic, the Feminist Women’s Health Center. And I’m sure you will then be shocked to learn that Professor Watson’s publications include “Gay-Straight Alliance Advisors: Negotiating Multiple Ecological Systems When Advocating for LGBTQ” (Journal of LGBT Youth, 2010) and “Experiences of Objectification and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among Sexual Minority Men” (Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2014)? But here, let’s just look at the “Major Research Interests” listed on Professor Watson’s curriculum vitae:

Research interests include: women’s and gender-related themes, sexual objectification experiences, interpersonal violence and trauma, social justice and advocacy, LGBTQIQ-related themes, body image/disordered eating, race and ethnicity-related themes, feminist identity development, feminist pedagogy and epistemology.

Where does research end and advocacy begin, Professor Watson? And does it not occur to you that your own privileged position within the Feminist-Industrial Complex of academia — where you’re paid to produce research for such publications as the Journal of LGBT Youth — is evidence contradicting your basic premise, i.e., that American society is a wall-to-wall nightmare of sexist, racist, homophobic oppression so intensely traumatic as to induce psychiatric disorders?

Only within the comfort of the Higher Education Bubble, is it possible for Laura B. Watson, Ph.D., to assert that American woman are “existing in a state of hypervigilance” that “leads to a higher level of psychological distress,” and to have this bizarre assertion taken seriously.

You know what might cause “psychological distress,” Professor Watson? Murder. According to the FBI, the city of Detroit had the highest homicide rate (45 per 100,000 residents) in the country in 2013, edging out New Orleans (41 per 100,000 residents) as the most dangerous city in America. Checking the data provided on victims, we find that 78% of murder victims (9,523) were male, compared to 22% (2,707) who were female. Furthermore, 44% of murder victims (5,352) were black males, although black people are only 13% of the U.S. population, so that black males (less than 7% of the population) were overrepresented among murder victims by a factor of more than 6-to-1.

Males are at greatest risk of violent death, especially black males, yet here we have Professor Watson telling us that women are living in a condition “psychological distress”? Here we have Jessica Valenti using Professor Watson’s research to tell us that “everyday expressions of misogyny could be seriously impacting [women’s] mental health”? And here we have Professor Watson herself bolstering her assertions with a convenient anecdote:

For example, she said “I went for a jog recently, and I saw a guy in a van — and if I jogged past him, he could have opened the door and snatched me,” Watson told me. “I had an immediate response to move to the other side of the van or to change my direction, I didn’t think twice about it.”

“It’s normalized, but it has such an effect on your life — women constrain their behaviors every day.”

OMG! Men drive vans! Women are in “a state of hypervigilance”!

While I would not wish to underestimate the risk of psychology professors face of being snatched off the streets of Kansas City — violent crime there is bad enough to make it No. 10 on the list of the FBI’s 2013 most dangerous cities — when one looks at the overall picture, Dr. Watson’s “hypervigilance” would seem to reflect an irrational fear. And the word for irrational fear is phobia. To say that the ways “women constrain their behaviors” to avoid risk is “normalized” is simply to say that most women exercise common sense, e.g., staying as far as possible from dangerous places like Kansas City.

Despite the menace that male van drivers pose to jogging psychology professors, common sense tells us that avoiding danger requires us to make a rational estimate of risks we face. While people are sometimes victimized in ways that they could not reasonably be expected to predict — Mohamed Atta piloting a commercial airliner into the World Trade Center — most of the risks we face can be rationally estimated, if we pay attention to actual facts, rather than letting ourselves be distracted by media hype and academic propaganda.

Is “living with misogyny” making women crazy, as Jessica Valenti would have us believe? Or is it possible that crazy women are afflicted with irrational fears that academics like Professor Watson interpret through the warped lens of feminism that sees “misogyny” everywhere? Having been teased along for more than a thousand words, now you’re ready to read the abstract of Professor Watson’s research:

Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) asserted that sexual objectification experiences are likely related to women’s physical safety anxiety; however, to date, very few studies have examined this relationship. Using a sample of 228 U.S. undergraduate women (n?=?133 Black/African American; n?=?95 White) from a Southeastern university, this study explored the relationships among sexual objectification experiences, physical safety concerns (i.e., perceived risk of crime, fear of crime, and fear of rape), and overall psychological distress. Findings revealed that Black/African American women reported more sexual objectification experiences and fear of crime than White women.

Results of a measured variable path analysis suggested that perceived risk of crime fully mediated the relationships between sexual objectification experiences and fear of crime for both groups of women. Moreover, perceived risk of crime fully mediated the relationship between sexual objectification experiences and psychological distress for Black/African American women, but not White women. For White women only, fear of rape partially mediated the relationship between perceived risk of crime and fear of crime, and perceived risk of crime fully mediated the relationship between sexual objectification experiences and fear of rape. Taken together, the results suggest that a sociocultural context that objectifies women and their bodies is related to their sense of safety and security in the world.

While I don’t have a Ph.D. in psychology and hesitate to make any general statements based merely on this brief description without having examined the actual data in Professor Watson’s study, it seems to me she has found that white female college students have a heightened fear of rape compared to black women. Note that her research involves only women’s subjective perception, rather than their actual risk. The question that Professor Watson doesn’t seem concerned to answer is whether these white students — who, in fact, report experiencing less “sexual objectification” than do black women — are irrational in their perceptions and, if so, what are the causes of their disproportionate fear of rape? Once we have compared actual risk to perceived risk, we are left to ask what is the “sociocultural context” that could explain these differences in women’s “sense of safety”?

It might be helpful if, rather than relying on survey questions about “objectification” to explain these differences, we instead had some hard socioeconomic data about the survey respondents (e.g., parents’ marital status, household income, urban, suburban or rural community, etc.) to be able to correlate with the survey response data. It is a truism of social science that you can’t measure what you don’t study, and Professor Watson’s research is focused on “sexual objectification experiences” to the exclusion of every other possible factor. Were it within my power to direct psychological research on such matters, I would suggest this: Solicit detailed socioeconomic background information from the survey participants, aggregate their subjective reports of “objectification,” perceived risk, etc., on a 1-to-10 scale, and compare the top quintile (20%) to the bottom quintile. What factors in the socioeconomic data correlate with either high or low response on the subjective reports? What factors are most strongly correlated with the experience of “objectification” and fear of rape?

Absent that kind of information, we have only Professor Watson’s limited analysis, which doesn’t explain what she hasn’t bothered to study. While I’m not a Ph.D., my hunch is that socioeconomic factors explain far more about these phenomena than Jessica Valenti would have her readers believe. Never trust feminist ideologues with social science research. However, speaking of Kansas City and female fears of crime:

Three Kansas City teenagers have been charged in the murder of a 14-year-old girl at a water park.
They’re accused of brutally beating and then taking turns shooting Alexis Kane, an eighth-grader at Smith-Hale Middle School in the Hickman Mills School District.

Alexis’ body was found outside The Bay Waterpark, 7101 Longview Rd., in south Kansas City on Jan. 11, not far from her school. . . .

Court reports and surveillance video show that Alexis got into a car with two of the suspects at a 7-Eleven on Blue Ridge Boulevard.

Her friends said she had arranged to meet with “Malik” whom she had been communicating with on Facebook.

The victim’s friends told Alexis not to get into the vehicle and began to follow the vehicle with her inside, court records state.

After losing sight of her, Alexis’ friends asked her to turn on her cell phone’s location service in order to be located.

The teen suspects went to a Grandview apartment and then left, heading towards The Bay Waterpark.

Surveillance video from the waterpark showed one of the teens hit Alexis in the face with a handgun.

Then, the two others passed the gun to one another to shoot her multiple times.

No report on whether the victim experienced “psychological distress” because of a “state of hypervigilance” that was “related to living with misogyny.” Meanwhile, in Nigeria:

Hundreds of Boko Haram gunmen on Sunday launched a predawn attack on the Nigerian city of Maiduguri and were locked in a fierce battle with government troops on the outskirts of the city, according to the military, residents and citizen vigilantes.

The militants launched a simultaneous attack on the town of Monguno and were apparently successful in taking control of the town and its military barracks, a Nigerian military officer in Maiduguri told CNN.

The New York Times:

Hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes and at least 10,000 have been killed over the course of the Islamists’ insurgency, now stretching into its sixth year.

This is worse than Kansas City — even worse than Detroit! — yet Jessica Valenti can’t be bothered to notice such things, because somewhere a college girl is being objectified by a sexist.

First published at TheOtherMcCain.com

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Robert Stacy McCain
Robert Stacy McCain is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of experience in the news business. He is a correspondent for The American Spectator, editor-in-chief at Viral Read and blogs at TheOtherMcCain.com.

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