The cultural narrative is pretty clear on this topic — which is that to a large extent women who claim sexual assualt/rape are lying whores hellbent on vindictively ruining good men’s names. It’s in part because we don’t like to imagine that boys/men we admire would do such things, but also because this country hates victims (it’s a function of the dominance hierarchy — think of Trumps statement about McCain and how he likes people who didn’t get caught and made POWs).

False rape accusations loom large in the cultural imagination. We don’t forget the big ones: The widely-read 2014 Rolling Stone article, later retracted, about a brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia; the 2006 accusations against innocent members of the Duke University lacrosse team. These cases are readily cited by defense attorneys and Republican lawmakers and anyone else who wants a reason to discuss the dangers of false allegations. What if a woman has consensual sex, and then regrets it the next day? What if a woman gets dumped by her boyfriend and decides to accuse him of rape as revenge? What if she’s just doing it for attention? Are false accusations reaching epidemic levels in today’s hard-drinking hookup culture, where the lines of consent have been blurred? Critics argue that reports of rape should be treated with more caution, since men’s lives are so often ruined by women’s malicious lies.

But my research — including academic studies, journalistic accounts, and cases recorded in the US National Registry of Exonerations — suggests that every part of this narrative is wrong. What’s more, it’s wrong in ways that help real rapists escape justice, while perversely making it more likely that we will miss the signs of false reports.

And then there’s the part of the equation that views women kind of as children in larger bodies. It’s why women get talked over in meetings, and in life, why they are often treated like they don’t know what what they are talking about, despite objective expertise. There have been some interesting studies with trans people where they compare and contrast how they are treated and perceived as first one gender and then another, and although life is not universally always better when being perceived as male, particularly for POC, the default is that men are considered authoritative out of the box and women are required to fight for and prove their authority. This is a direct function of patriarchy.

The patriarchal systems that emerged brought women for the first time under the direct control of fathers and husbands with few cross-cutting sources of support. Women as wives under this system were not social adults, and women’s lives were defined in terms of being a wife. Women’s mothering and women’s sexuality came to be seen as requiring protection by fathers and husbands. Protecting unmarried women’s virginity appears to go along with the idea of the domestication of women and an emphasis on a radical dichtomy between the public and the private sphere. The private sphere is watched over and protected by men, and women are excluded from the public domain. These agrarian societies that give power over women and sons to fathers should properly be called “patriarchal.”

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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