I so, so wish there was a way to start this blog post without linking to the Daily Mail, but since the demise of splendid proxy service istyosty, there isn’t, so here goes. Columnist Liz Jones wrote an article this week in which she confessed to stealing sperm from first a boyfriend and then her husband in clandestine attempt to fall pregnant, despite the fact that both men had made it clear that they did not want to have children. It’s a horrible, sordid little story, but the worst part about it is that Jones asserts that she is far from alone in these actions. She cites a few examples of “friends” of hers who have done something similar, but most worryingly says, “I don’t understand why more men aren’t wise to this risk — maybe sex addles their brain. So let me offer a warning to men wishing to avoid any chance of unwanted fatherhood: if a woman disappears to the loo immediately after sex, I suggest you find out exactly what she is up to.”
And, “…any man who moves in with a woman in her late 30s or early 40s should take it as read that she will want to use them to procreate, by fair means or foul, no matter how much she protests otherwise. A 2001 survey revealed that 42 per cent of women would lie about using contraception in order to get pregnant in spite of their partners’ wishes.”
Well, I’m a firm believer in the statistic that 85% of statistics are made up on the spot, so I decided to go looking for Liz’s source. It took some digging on the Net, but it turns out her survey does exist. It’s widely quoted all over the Internet, and it was called The National Scruples and Lies Survey, and polled 5,000 UK women. So far, so believable, very scientific. Except the poll was not conducted by a psychology unit at a reputable university, or even an investigative journalist at a broadsheet. It was a tick-box survey of readers of That’s Life magazine. If you’re not familiar with That’s Life, it’s one of those printed-on-tissue-paper 69p weeklies you find in doctors’ waiting rooms. This is their current cover.
There’s a “poll” on their homepage right now, which I am sure will form part of the next sound and academic piece of research they publish. Here it is.
It would be funny if it weren’t so sad and scary. Liz Jones’ article has prompted an outpouring of wrath in the comments on the DM website, and she’s been trending on twitter for two days – no mean feat in these days of the short attention span. Much of the vitriol is of the personal “ugly old bag, no wonder no one wanted a baby with you” ilk, but a disturbingly high number of commenters say with great satisfaction, “I knew it all along! All women are evil and deceitful and want to trick a man and take him for everything he’s got”. As one self-satisfied chap said, “They don’t want a baby, they want a child support cheque”. Well, of course we do… having raised one child as a single parent, I can tell you it’s just like a constant five-star holiday in the Bahamas, as you and the child you are responsible for 24/7 live it large on the few hundred pounds a grudging father would be forced to pay.
The truth is I’m not so concerned with the details of Ms Jones’ story. What worries me is that a prominent journalist has used the platform of a national newspaper to assert that almost half of all women are devious about reproduction, and she has then backed it up with what, at first glance, looks like a solid statistic. And while I spent a little of my time trying to see whether that factoid had any basis in rigorous scientific research, I can guarantee that 99,99% of other people who read that column did not do the same. Already the web is full of articles and blogs requoting the statistic, and using Liz Jones’ article as their source. After a while it will be so widely reported, it will just become true.
There was a wonderfully creepy 1944 George Cukor film called Gaslight, where a husband persuades his wife she is mad by constantly questioning her perception of reality. I’m sure it happens to you. Your partner says something that upsets you, and when you say so, they tell you you’re being over-sensitive. A colleague makes a racist or sexist joke and when you call them on it, they laugh, punch you on the shoulder and say, “It’s just a joke!” Well, in my opinion, Liz Jones, in her own deluded way, has gone some distance towards gaslighting the nation. So here’s my Friday advice. Question, challenge, research. If it smells like rubbish, it probably is.
* And if you didn't know, a succubus is a mythical demon in the shape of a woman who seduces men in order to steal their sperm. Don't say you don't learn anything here.
One monkey, one typewriter, seldom Hamlet.