Male Fear of False Accusations Is Irrational

In the wake of revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s long history of abusing women, a lot of men have retreated to a position of fear. What if the only way to avoid having your life ruined by a woman’s false accusations of assault is to never be alone with a woman? Like Vice President Pence?

This fear is itself sexist and irrational. This is an opportunity to grow and mature. Let’s dig into why.

Scared Man

Why are men scared that they could be the victims of false accusations? Here’s my observation: men who abuse and are accused of it always categorically deny it. The media reports only the knowable facts, creating an impression that serial abusers and their victims have equal credibility. This pattern repeats until it’s familiar, inviting the idea that *some of those men have to be innocent, right?* There’s a small leap between that and thinking what if it happened to me?

You can see this happening all around us. For example, a bunch of powerful scared people were quoted in this surreal New York Times article:

Some tech investors have taken similar steps. "A big chill came across Silicon Valley in the wake of all these stories, and people are hyperaware and scared of behaving wrongly, so I think they’re drawing all kinds of parameters," said a venture capitalist who spoke anonymously for the same reason.

Some are avoiding solo meetings with female entrepreneurs, potential recruits and those who ask for an informational or networking meeting.

"Before, you might have said, 'Of course I would do that, and I will especially do it for minorities, including women in Silicon Valley,'" the investor said. "Now you cancel it because you have huge reputational risk all of a sudden."

Is there really huge risk in meeting women without a witness to keep you safe? No. That’s irrational. Here’s an illustration:

  1. If you’re a man: have you, yourself, been falsely accused? Odds are overwhelmingly no.

  2. If you’re a woman: have you been abused? Odds are 1:4 that you have been.

I haven’t been falsely accused. I don’t know of a single man who’s been falsely accused. I am not even aware of any second-degree connections whom I know have been. I know dozens of women who’ve been abused, and so do you even if you’re unable to name any. It’s rampant.

In reality, the chance that a man accused of sexual assault is being slandered is infinitesimal. But when a woman says a man abused her, the odds are a zillion times higher that she’s telling the truth. When women say they’ve been abused, the rational thing to do is believe them.

Now for the easy part: how to avoid being falsely accused. There are two steps:

  1. Don’t worry, it basically doesn’t happen.

  2. Live your life being decent to others. Just be a normal human being.

Here, listen to Jon:

Or Claire:

I said it’s sexist to act as if it’s not safe to be alone with a woman. Why did I say that?

There are at least three major types of sexism that I’ve identified in this fearful reaction.

The first is sexism masquerading as chivalry. I will illustrate with a story from my childhood, when I asked my father why he didn’t think women should vote, work, or hold public office. In my memory, my father’s face grows serious, his voice lowers to a reverent hush, and he says “it’s not that I think women are lesser than men, it’s just that God designed women with a higher purpose in mind, and it’s such a shame…”

Here’s another story: my former coworker, a deeply insecure man who leered at women constantly and commented on their bodies openly. He touted his taste in jazz as a badge of superiority. I trolled him by name-dropping some Sade songs, and he immediately changed his tone, similar to my father: “you have no idea how much I respect Sade!” There was such emphasis on respect. I never saw him respect someone (as a verb) in the years I worked with him.

You see, these stories illustrate men who are overcome by feelings whose nature they mischaracterize to themselves. I know, because in my twenties I was a lot like them, and I only changed through examining and understanding those feelings in myself. It’s sexism masquerading as chivalry because it’s really just desire to own women, which requires objectifying and seeing women as lesser, as beings whose existence is justified in relationship to a man. And a man in that frame of mind tells himself that he has tender, loyal feelings towards a woman. This is terrifying to women, because hell hath no irrationality like a man whose protective (possessive) feelings are scorned.

That’s not all. This attitude of inability to be safe near women blames women for men’s immaturity, lack of self-awareness, and lack of self-control. It reinforces a narrative that a man is an enlightened being who can be corrupted by a baser person. It says that a woman wields power that a man is incapable of resisting, and the only safe course of action is never to put oneself in that position. This is explicitly victim-blaming and denial of responsibility and agency. Don’t do this. It’s the original Eve-blaming sin. It cloaks itself in honor, virtue, righteousness, but it’s patronizing and condescending to the extreme. And you can’t condescend without assuming a sexist attitude of being loftier, a false moral high ground.

Finally, this fear and “self-protection strategy” reinforces the structural norm that men believe men. What we need to end sexism, more than any other single thing, is for men to call out other men on sexism. We need men to stop protecting each other. We live in a society where sexism is part of the structure of how power works. This is quite apart from individual, personal sexism. And it will persist as long as individual men are complicit in it en masse.

So, men, grow the hell up. I know it will be hard if you’ve been trained and cultured to see women as possessions, while guarding yourself against realizing it by labeling it as noble. I know, because I’ve come from that place myself. When some people helped me see my own thinking, it was humiliating to realize I’d been such a boor. But you need to be responsible for your own thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Mature people do not blame others for those things.

Just be a real person. You aren’t going to get falsely accused of sexual assault. A woman isn’t going to trap you into ruining your life. These things are like shark attacks: they theoretically happen, but they happen way more on TV, and they’re not going to happen to you.

Hot takes by other people:

  • Venture capitalists who won’t meet with women are either trying to punish them, or bad at their jobs—link
  • Every part of the false accusation narrative is wrong in ways that help real rapists escape justice and make it harder to detect false accusers—link

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I'm Baron Schwartz, the founder and CEO of VividCortex. I am the author of High Performance MySQL and lots of open-source software for performance analysis, monitoring, and system administration. I contribute to various database communities such as Oracle, PostgreSQL, Redis and MongoDB. More about me.


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