Posted on | April 25, 2014 | 81 Comments
The first thing you need to know about Lynn Beisner — it’s right there on her profile at The Guardian — is that her name is not Lynn Beisner and thus, whenever she offers personal anecdotes as arguments (as is her habit), the skeptical reader must reply, “Oh, really?”
Why this matters, as I’ve explained before, is that feminists frequently make personal anecdotes the basis of their arguments and, as is the case with “Lynn Beisner,” these anecdotes are often offered by persons writing under pseudonyms, thus making it impossible to verify the accuracy of their stories. Grant that there are legitimate reasons why authors may wish to conceal their identities. Grant that “whistleblowers” may need to hide their identities in order to be able to tell the hidden truth. Grant all of this, and one must nevertheless maintain skepticism toward the anonymous authors who rely upon personal anecdote to justify extraordinary arguments. After Texas Democrat Wendy Davis was caught fudging her biography in January, I explained how this related to a pattern I’d first noticed when reading feminist memoirs in the 1990s:
After reading about a half-dozen of these books, I noticed . . . that many elements of their narratives were “just so” stories, i.e., unverifiable anecdotes that — coincidentally! magically! — just happened to prove whatever political point they were trying to make.
As Daphne Patai pointed out in her 1998 book Heterophobia, feminists arguments rely heavily upon “the authority of experience.” Only women can say what it feels like to suffer sexist discrimination and harassment, etc., and so first-person narratives of experience — and women’s subjective feelings about those experiences — enjoy a privileged position within feminist culture.
The problem with this tendency is that it denies the possibility of objective truth. Facts are made less important than feelings and, indeed, feelings become “facts” in their own right: So-called “hostile environment” harassment cases depend on the claim that women suffered discrimination because of how the workplace climate made them feel. How can any defendant disprove such a claim?
Feminism’s reliance on storytelling and subjective emotion reflects what Thomas Sowell has called “The Irrelevance of Evidence,” a notable phenomenon of contemporary liberal discourse. Facts, statistics and logic never seem to make a dent in liberals’ policy preferences. Abundant evidence exists, for example, that “homelessness” is a problem directly resulting from decades of liberal policies (inter alia, deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill), and yet liberals from the 1980s onward have blamed the problem on Republican “greed” and offered only more liberal policies to “solve” the problem that previous liberal policies clearly caused!
Every public policy argument becomes warped by this preference for emotional anecdotes (“Look at this family thrown into the street after the father lost his job at the steel plant”) over objective fact — in this case, the fact that a majority of the homeless have problems of mental illness, substance abuse and, quite often, criminality.
Nowhere is the irrelevance of evidence more obvious than when encountering feminists in debate. We saw this, for example, in the way the “War on Women” narrative was built around Sandra Fluke’s claim that she and other women at Georgetown Law were horribly disadvantaged by the university’s failure to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. It didn’t take much research to discover that contraceptives were both readily available and cheap ($33 per month at a CVS two blocks from the Georgetown campus) even without insurance, but the facts had no impact on Fluke’s appeal to “women’s rights.”
Even granted license by media sympathizers to make tendentious arguments short on facts and long on emotion, however, sometimes feminists still feel a need to tell outright lies. This was the case, for example, with University of Wyoming student Meg Lanker-Simons, who fabricated Facebook rape threats against herself, then staged a campus rally to call attention to her alleged victimhood.
This documented background of feminist dishonesty, therefore, caused me to raise a skeptical eyebrow when I encountered Lynn Beisner — or, I should say, “Lynn Beisner” — making a bizarre argument at the progressive blog AlterNet: “How Christian Purity Culture Enabled My Step Dad to Sexually Abuse Me.”
Perhaps every Christian who saw that headline had the same instantaneous reaction as I did: “How can she possibly claim that Christianity enables what it quite clearly condemns?”
We shall examine this weird argument in a moment, but first things first: It is my habit, whenever encountering a weird argument by an author unknown to me, to find out all I can about the person making the argument. Often, the biographical background yields some clue as to why they hold such unusual opinions. And what I found when I researched “Lynn Beisner,” starting with the fact that her byline is a pseudonym, only intensified my skepticism.
You may remember the character Joe Btfsplk from the old Li’l Abner comic strip: Joe was cursed with bad luck, so that a dark cloud followed him wherever he went. Lynn Beinsner is a female Joe Btfsplk, so perpetually victimized that the headline of her August 2012 Guardian column was, “I wish my mother had aborted me”:
If we want to keep our reproductive rights, we must be willing to tell our stories, to be willing and able to say, “I love my life, but I wish my mother had aborted me.”
An abortion would have absolutely been better for my mother. An abortion would have made it more likely that she would finish high school and get a college education. At college in the late 1960s, it seems likely she would have found feminism or psychology or something that would have helped her overcome her childhood trauma and pick better partners. She would have been better prepared when she had children. If nothing else, getting an abortion would have saved her from plunging into poverty. She likely would have stayed in the same socioeconomic strata as her parents and grandparents who were professors. . . .
Abortion would have been a better option for me. . . . I would chose the brief pain or fear of an abortion over the decades of suffering I endured. . . .
[My mother] was in no position to raise a child. She had suffered a traumatic brain injury, witnessed and experienced severe domestic violence, and while she was in grade school she was raped by a stranger and her mother committed suicide. She was severely depressed and suicidal, had an extremely poor support system, was experiencing an unplanned pregnancy that resulted from coercive sex, and she was so young that her brain was still undeveloped. . . .
She abused me, beating me viciously and often. We lived in bone-crushing poverty, and our little family became a magnet for predatory men and organisations. My mother found minimal support in a small church, and became involved with the pastor who was undeniably schizophrenic, narcissistic and sadistic. The abuse I endured was compounded by deprivation. Before the age of 14, I had never been to a sleepover, been allowed to talk to a friend on the phone, eaten in a restaurant, watched a television show, listened to the radio, read a non-Christian book, or even worn a pair of jeans.
Wow. Three generations of disaster: Her grandmother committed suicide, her mother’s life sucked and her life sucked, too. With such a background, what could she expect from life but pain and disappointment? Next, read her December 2013 column:
“This has never been a real marriage because I never really loved you. I married you because I thought that was what I was supposed to do.”
Those were the words that Todd, my first husband, used to end our marriage. They hit me like a physical blow, shattered me into a million little pieces of jagged pain. After the first raw wave of grief passed, I was hit by shame so intense that it felt like burning ink in my veins. How horrible must I be if my own husband, the father of my children had never been able to love me?
I begged Todd to stay with me. I tried to convince him — and myself — that I could become a person he would love. He responded as if I were crazy to have believed our marriage and his love were ever genuine, and he made it clear that me thinking so was simply an indicator of how out of touch I was with reality. He insisted that any sane person would have recognized our marriage as a sham from the start.
She doesn’t go further into the details of her divorce in that column, but she described it in a column last month at another site:
I know how much self-loathing most welfare mothers endure because, on a dark fall day in 1995, I became a single mother on welfare. . . .
Two days before, I had woken up in overwhelming pain, stuck in the rubble of what had once been my car, but was now a scene thick with chaos and emergency responders. Sparks flew from cutting equipment, the rainy night air was filled with the sound of splashing feet, metal groaning, sirens blaring, and someone screaming in sustained agony. I had no idea where or who I was.
Over the next two days, I remembered who I was and then learned that woman was now gone. In her place was a woman who had broken nearly every bone on the right side of her body, had sustained a serious head injury, and was still in grave danger of having one of her legs amputated. She was also newly single. Next to my bed in the Intensive Care Unit was a sheaf of divorce papers that a process server had delivered during one of my brief periods of wakefulness.
The papers hadn’t been a complete shock, but they were a blow. My husband and I had been having some serious differences. I believed that our marriage should continue as it had started — an agreement between two individuals. I was open to polyamory, under the right circumstances. But my husband had fallen in love with a woman named Caroline, and he wanted her to be his primary partner for life.
My husband had plunged deeply into the alternative and poly community, coming out to our families with aplomb. We would have a new family, one of choice. It might have worked out, but Caroline felt compelled to destroy every woman that she saw as competition. . . .
By the time of my accident, my reputation was ruined. My family had me pegged as a godless sexual reprobate. I lost all support from family and friends when they heard that my first husband and I were trying a polyamorous relationship.
In case you didn’t know, “polyamory” means she and her first husband were what are commonly called “swingers.”
Predictably, this lifestyle led to divorce — the same divorce where her husband told her their marriage had been a sham from the start — and just before her husband was ready to file the papers, “Lynn Beisner” nearly died in a serious automobile accident.
OK, let’s stipulate that everything “Lynn Beisner” has told us about her life in these three columns is true. Not only has her life been a constant series of disasters, beginning with the misfortune of her birth, but each of these disasters has been extraordinarily dramatic. She was not merely a poor child, but grew up in “bone-crushing poverty.” The pastor with whom her mother became involved wasn’t just a bad man, he “was undeniably schizophrenic, narcissistic and sadistic.” Her first marriage ended because her swinger husband brought into their “polyamorous relationship” a rival who “felt compelled to destroy every woman that she saw as competition.” Her heartless husband told her he never loved her at all, and served her with divorce papers in the intensive care unit.
All of this, as I say, we will stipulate as true, if only to make the point that “Lynn Beisner” has lived a life so extraordinarily catastrophic, it is impossible to generalize from her experience and find any life lessons that would be useful to most people.
Except maybe, “Don’t be Joe Btfsplk.”
This dispiriting tale of woe and doom, however, is the biography of “Lynn Beisner,” so far as we know. There’s no way to verify it, of course, but let’s just assume all this misery actually happened to her. Now, after reading that lengthy preamble, maybe you’re ready for Lynn Beisner to tell you why “Christian purity culture” is bad:
My step-father began having problems getting erections when I was a senior in high school. How did I find out about this? He told me that he was using me to get an erection so that he could have sex with my mother.
We were very religious people. We attended a Fundamentalist Baptist Church so sexually conservative I was not even allowed to wear jeans. But still, he would sit me down and discuss what he had been thinking on those nights when he pressed my body against his and stroked my hair, the curve of my hip and the area between my collar bone and breasts until his penis was hard against my thigh. . . .
“Dear Penthouse Forum . . .”
Excuse my entirely inappropriate sarcasm, but the way “Lynn Beisner” tells this story invites ridicule. Taking her previous biographical revelations at face-value — the endless bad luck of Joe Btfsplk — now we encounter this weird story of her being molested by her step-father. Well, guess what? Elsewhere, on her own blog, she tells us a lot more about her mother and step-father:
She had married a man when I was a junior in high school who was the head of the deacon board, leader of a bus ministry and generally considered “on fire for God.” . . .
Part of my step-father being the spiritual leader of their marriage, and of me when I was a part of their family, was enforcing church attendance for no fewer than six two hour services per week and at least eight hours of additional volunteer work.
WHOA! First as Lynn Beisner previously told us, her mother “became involved with the pastor who was undeniably schizophrenic, narcissistic and sadistic.” Next — when Lynn was a junior in high school — her mother married “the head of the deacon board,” who subsequently molested her, using her “to get an erection so that he could have sex with my mother.” And her mother is still married to that same creepy stepfather, who is still active in church.
All kinds of alarm bells are going off here. Based on her lifelong experience of disaster, however, “Lynn Beisner” doesn’t come up with a story about the danger of creepy stepfathers who maybe should be in prison. Instead, she decides to turn this into a story about the harms she attributes to “Christian purity culture.”
Complete Rebuttal in 26 Words: Next time I see a story about a public school teacher molesting a student, I’ll turn that into an argument for the abolition of public education.
From any bad experience, we can learn lessons. But when disaster follows disaster and someone gets that Joe Btfsplk attitude of hopeless doom, their embrace of resentful victimhood can make it impossible for them to learn anything useful from their experience.
Lynn Beisner wrote a blog post, “How God’s Opinion of My Pussy Unravelled Me,” which tells us more about her than it tells us about God.
Also, she says, “I too suffer from clinical depression.” No surprise.
Finally, “Lynn Beisner’s husband . . . helps her daughter shop for prom dresses.” Maybe Joe Btfsplk would see that as an ominous cloud, but Lynn Beisner seems to perceive no possibility the pattern of disaster could extend to a fourth generation.
ADDENDUM: Lynn Beisner tells us about “The Moment I Became a Feminist.” It involves an extraordinarily dramatic story.
You’re surprised, right?