Monday, May 02, 2005

When Hysteria Takes Root

Mass hysteria is a dangerous social pathology. It even has a medical term: Mass Sociogenic Illness or MSI. History provides a number of examples of MSI, ranging from the Salem witch hunts to the internment of Japanese during World War II. We have a modern form of MSI infecting society today: domestic violence hysteria.

Run-away bride Jennifer Wilbanks provides the segway into examining this societal illness. While the cable TV networks slice and dice the Wilbanks story, presumably to fill the space they set aside for their hoped for Scott Peterson redux, they seem to miss the point entirely. News analysis focuses on whether she is guilty of something for her bizarre exodus. That’s a waste of time. Jennifer Wilbanks treated her family with utter disrespect and she will have to answer to them. Outside that fact, adult women are free to come and go as they please. The real story here is in what happened to John Mason, Jennifer’s fiancée, and how that relates to feminist mythology.

Contemporary feminist theory holds that we live in a patriarchal society in which women are oppressed by men. As a consequence, men are prone to physically abusing their wives and intimate partners. In fact, according to this ideology, every marriage is a patriarchal institution in which a man creates his own private Idaho of spousal abuse. This has inspired the Duluth model, which proports to explain how patriarchal "control" manifests in domestic violence against women (with its ridiculous "wheel of control"), and is used by such places at the Eastside Domestic Violence Program.

This is a load of hooey, of course, and would be easy to ignore as a view held on the margins of society. But, somehow, this odd and extreme ideology was given credence not long after the OJ Simpson trial. The passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) marked the government institutionalization of this view. VAWA is like a turbo-charger for the spread of the baseless belief that men are innately dangerous to women.

Through VAWA, the federal government spends billions of dollars per year to fund local governments in a full-scale assault on the most basic rights of men. Scholarly research before and after VAWA has shown clearly that men and women are equally likely to instigate violence within a relationship. The brutal murderer Clara Harris, who ran over her husband with his daughter in the car, and a series of Vagina Warriors raping adolescent boys are further evidence that violence and sexual misconduct are not a problem resulting from the patriarchy, but a human problem. This doesn’t matter, though, because when an MSI takes hold, reality and facts mean little.

This brings us to poor John Mason. Mason had to suffer the unthinkable horror of believing that his fiancée had been abducted. Even the most hopeful possibility, that Jennifer Wilbanks had simply gotten cold feet before their wedding day, was only a source of humiliation for him. But, in this age of exaggerated and usually made-up statistics about the behavior of men in a relationship, the cold comfort John received was to be named Suspect #1.

The police and the FBI were not willing to say it. But, after demanding a lie detector test and several intense interrogations, everyone knew that Mason was being blamed. The FBI and local police began building their case against Mason before anyone even knew what had happened to Jennifer. Meanwhile, the news networks set up shop in Duluth, GA and began what they hoped would be a long ratings boon of another man being lynched and hung. They were all accusing Mason (here and here for example) and salivating at their ratings prospects. When Jennifer finally phoned home, you could almost here the collective sighs of disappointment from news organizations across the country. Even Jennifer’s father said poor Mason was, “being crucified by the media.”

How did this happen? Well, according to contemporary wisdom, when a woman disappears her intimate male partner is most likely the culprit. Sadly, even John Mason bought into the mythology, commenting, “Statistically, I was guilty.”

The problem with this is that belief in such a statistic becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By immediately assigning guilt to the man in the equation, and building a case against him before anyone even knows what happened, more men are falsely accused and as a result, falsely found guilty. This, of course, feeds the statistic that everyone points to, substantiating the myth. Could you imagine where innocent John Mason would be now if Jennifer had not turned up?

These sorts of events happen every day and out of the sight of media. When government becomes the chief agent for spreading MSI, as it has with VAWA, the results are devastating. Family Courts, particularly in Washington State, routinely strip a man of access to his home and his children on trumped up charges of domestic violence. These charges are more often than not baseless and are used by women as a tactic in divorce proceedings, usually with devastating results for the man. King County routinely hauls large numbers of men into jail each night on charges of upsetting their wives; these men end up in DV gulag, a soviet style re-education system that is designed to beat the “patriarchy” out of them.

Medical textbooks prescribe a cure for MSI:

The most powerful tool is for a calm authority figure to give clear and accurate information repeatedly, and to remain visible and available to provide updates and reassurance.
One would be reasonable to expect that leaders in government would stand up and be that authority figure that quells the irrational tide. But, with few men until recently connecting the dots on what has happened to them, there has been little political pressure for a cure to the disease. The Washington state legislature just perpetuated and exacerbated it, cynically assigning new fees to the cost of acquiring a marriage license and putting the money into an account for “domestic violence advocacy.” These “advocates” are usually social workers steeped in Women Studies ideology who find domestic violence in their morning coffee.

Recognizing a problem is the first step in solving it. Since the people we entrust with our governance do not step-up to the plate to cure the MSI plaguing our society, men will need to stand up and make it clear that this an issue on which they will vote. Groups like Fathers4Justice have had success fighting back in the UK and hero’s like Glenn Sacks have had some success fighting for father’s rights in the California legislature. The next step should be the repeal of VAWA when it comes up for re-authorization in September.

Washington State is far behind other parts of the country on coming to its senses. But, with a particularly viral form of MSI hysteria gripping this state, and men increasingly up in arms, it won’t be long before our voices are heard. In the meantime, whenever false charges are raised, we should all be yelling, “Remember Mason!”


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