What Men’s Rights guru Warren Farrell actually said about the allegedly positive aspects of incest. (Note: it’s even more repugnant than that sounds.)

So there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the recent talk that old school Men’s Rights guru Warren Farrell gave at the University of Toronto. Protesters troubled by Farrell’s repugnant views on incest and date rape, among other things, blocked the entrance to the building holding the talk; police broke up the blockade. You can find various videos of what went down on YouTube. I’m not going to try to sort out all the various claims and counterclaims about what happened.

I personally don’t approve of blocking people from giving talks, even if their ideas are repugnant. But I certainly do approve of holding people responsible for what they say, and Farrell – in addition to being wrong about nearly every aspect of relations between men and women – has said some truly awful things over the years.

Exhibit A: A notorious interview he gave Penthouse magazine in the 1970s in which he discussed a book he was researching about incest, tetatively titled The Last Taboo: The Three Faces of Incest.

Let me put a giant TRIGGER WARNING here for disturbing discussion of incest and child sexual abuse.

In the interview, he argued that incest could be a good thing for everyone involved. Indeed, he waxed poetic about the possible positive effects:

“Incest is like a magnifying glass,” he told interviewer Philip Nobile. “In some circumstances it magnifies the beauty of the relationship, and in others it magnifies the trauma.”

The book Farrell was working on never appeared, and Farrell would apparently prefer it if what he said in that interview simply vanished into the memory hole, but a radical feminist site called the Liz Library has a copy of the original 1977 magazine in which it appeared, and has put high quality scans of it online. You can find them here.

Here are some of the things Farrell said in that interview. I’ve put the direct quotes from Farrell in bold; the rest is Nobile’s summary of what Farrell told him.

The article summarized the “findings” of Farrell’s (at that time incomplete) incest research, starting with his take on mother-son incest:

Mother-son incest represents 10 percent of the incidence and is 70 percent positive, 20 percent mixed, and 10 percent negative for the son. For the mother it is mostly positive. Farrell points out that boys don’t seem to suffer, not even from the negative experience. “Girls are much more influenced by the dictates of society and are more willing to take on sexual guilt.”

Apparently, in his view, girls feel bad about the abuse not so much because abuse is inherently bad, but because “society” tells them it’s bad; he returns to this theme repeatedly.

Apparently Farrell’s “findings” about father-daughter incest were not quite as cheery:

The father-daughter scene, ineluctably complicated by feelings of dominance and control, is not nearly so sanguine. Despite some advertisements, calling explicitly for positive female experiences, Farrell discovered that 85 percent of the daughters admitted to having negative attitudes toward their incest. Only 15 percent felt positive about the experience. On the other hand, statistics from the vantage of the fathers involved were almost the reverse — 60 percent positive 10 percent mixed, and 20 percent negative. “Either men see these relationships differently,” comments Farrell, “or I am getting selective reporting from women.”

Yea, that’s right. He’s saying that the overwhelming majority of the abusive men he interviewed enjoyed sexually abusing their daughters, but for some baffling reason their daughters generally didn’t enjoy the abuse. And the explanation for this is that perhaps the daughters are lying – er, sorry, “selectively reporting?”

The bit about advertisements seems to suggest that Farrell went out of his way to try to find and interview women who felt positively about being sexually abused, but still was unable to find more than a small percentage who did.

The article continues. (This is Nobile summarzing Farrell, not Farrell’s direct words.)

In a typical traumatic case, an authoritarian father, unhappily married in a sexually repressed household and probably unemployed, drunkenly imposes himself on his young daughter. Genital petting may have started as early as age eight with first intercourse occurring around twelve. Since the father otherwise extends very little attention to his daughter, his sexual advances may be one of the few pleasant experiences she has with him.

Let’s just repeat that last sentence for emphasis:

Since the father otherwise extends very little attention to his daughter, his sexual advances may be one of the few pleasant experiences she has with him.

The article continues:

If she is unaware of society’s taboo and if the mother does not intervene, she has no reason to suspect the enormity of the aberration. But when she grows up and learns of the taboo, she feels cheapened.

So the incest “taboo” is the main problem, not the abuse itself?

And here is a doozy of a quote from Farrell directly:

“When I get my most glowing positive cases, 6 out of 200,” says Farrell, “the incest is part of the family’s open, sensual style of life, wherein sex is an outgrowth of warmth and affection. It is more likely that the father has good sex with his wife, and his wife is likely to know and approve — and in one or two cases to join in.”

(Note: I’m relying on the Liz Library’s transcription of this quote; some of the text in their scan of this page is blurry.)

Farrell told Nobile that he was feeling hesitant about publishing his book, because it might encourage exploitation of daughters, but that he felt compelled to continue researching it for two main reasons:

“First, because millions of people who are now refraining from touching, holding, and genitally caressing their children, when that is really a part of a caring, loving expression, are repressing the sexuality of a lot of children and themselves. Maybe this needs repressing, and maybe it doesn’t. My book should at least begin the exploration.”

“Second, I’m finding that thousands of people in therapy for incest are being told, in essence , that their lives have been ruined by incest. In fact, their lives have not generally been affected as much by the incest as by the overall atmosphere.

Farrell also hopes to change public attitudes so that participants in incest will no longer be automatically perceived as victims. “The average incest participant can’t evaluate his or her experience for what it was. As soon as society gets into the picture, they have to tell themselves it was bad. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. “

According to The Liz Library, Farrell now claims that the bit about “genitally caressing” children is a misquote, and that what he really said was “generally caressing.” You can see the scan of the page here; Penthouse clearly has him saying “genitally.”

But let’s assume that Farrell is telling the truth and Nobile misheard the word. Here’s the quote again, with that one word changed.

First, because millions of people who are now refraining from touching, holding, and generally caressing their children, when that is really a part of a caring, loving expression, are repressing the sexuality of a lot of children and themselves.

I’m not sure that’s much better; he’s still talking about “touching, holding, and … caressing” children in a sexual context.

Farrell has not, to my knowledge, challenged any of the other quotes in this interview besides that one. Nor, again to the best of my knowledge, has he forthrightly repudiated the substance of what he said. If he wishes to clarify or challenge any of this I will happily give him space here on this blog to do so.

I should note that in the interview Farrell stopped short of actually advocating incest. But his reasoning here is curious, to say the least:

“I’m not recommending incest between parent and child, and especially not between father and daughter. The great majority of fathers can grasp the dynamics of positive incest intellectually. But in a society that encourages looking at women in almost purely sexual terms, I don’t believe they can translate this understanding into practice.”

So apparently father-daughter incest – ie, sexual abuse – isn’t a good idea because in a sexist society fathers are likely to do it wrong?

I encourage everyone with the stomach for it to read the entire Penthouse piece, which also discusses the incredibly creepy views of some other incest “researchers” at the time.

I will highlight more of Farrell’s problematic views in future posts.

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Posted on November 21, 2012, in facepalm, misogyny, MRA, pedophiles oh sorry ephebophiles, sexual abuse, victim blaming, warren farrell and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 451 Comments.

  1. Argenti Aertheri

    *sigh* I wrote up a nice long detailed explaination of the sicentific method, and got accused of not having an open enough mind.

    Hey Mike? Do us all a favor and reread what I wrote, for you are the one who may want to open one’s mind just a wee little bit.

    In less annoying topics, can anyone explain what an “English style spread” means in relation to Christmas Eve dinner? I apparently will be dining at one this evening, and would like some clue what I’m in for!

  2. I’d imagine some sort of roasted bird (goose if you’re going to be really traditioal), gravy, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, some sort of boring vegetable side dish (oh, England), and Christmas pudding. Hopefully they’ll light the pudding on fire, and have Christmas crackers with little hats in them.

  3. Argenti Aertheri

    So…roast potatoes and boring vegetables, dandy…thank the gods my mother already made the lasagna!

    Sorry for my lack of enthusism, clearly some people like it, and I might be interested depending on the bird being roasted, but I don’t do mystery gravy, and Christmas pudding looks gross, so that leaves the boring stuff, and maybe the Yorkshire “pudding” (how is that pudding?)

    Oh well, at least I have lasagna, and my mother’s given me permission to make a salad if I want, so maybe I’ll decide I do want to. (w00t for dinner with my cousin’s GF cooking for both sets of kids?)

  4. Yorkshire pudding done well is amazing, but I dunno how good it’s going to be if the person making it doesn’t do so all the time. Christmas pudding is nasty, but the floorshow part can be fun?

  5. Argenti Aertheri

    Well here’s hoping they decide to allow fire near the 9~14 year old crowd (I wouldn’t, I’ve met my cousin’s older son! Kid’s just like his father, lol)

  6. Argenti Aertheri

    They decided to light the cake on fire, took 3 tries, but POOF!

    And the yorkshire pudding was delicious, and I *finally* got to do those cracker things and wear a silly papar crown (which I will likely treasure far too much because I got introduced to them when the 10th Doctor wore one!)

    I don’t know what was roasted, but my brother enjoyed it. I was too stuffed to try the Christmas cake, he liked the first bite, and then the brandy got the better of him so he passed it on to our mother, who enjoyed it.

    All in all, a good time was had!

    Ironically, considering the newest post here, among the guests were my (divorced) cousin, his two boys, and his mother…but yeah, divorced men never see their kids and the paternal grandparents side with the DiL. (Then again, they’d have issues with a reservist // history teacher // kitty rescuer, that little ball of fur is even cuter in person btw)

  7. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    Glad your Christmas dinner went well, Argenti!

    Yorkshire pudding … oh, memories! Last time I had it was in York. It. Was. To. Die. For.

    Christmas pudding gross? Never say so! :D It’s just like very, very heavy Christmas cake, best heated (I like it cold, too, but it’s even heavier that way) and eaten with cream and hot custard.


  8. then the brandy got the better of him so he passed it on to our mother

    Totally read this as “so he passed out on our mother.” That would indeed be the brandy getting the better of him!

    I tried making crepes suzette this morning, but lighting brandy is trickier than I expected. (No injuries; we got it lit in the pan for one second but then it just went out.)

  9. Argenti Aertheri

    katz — my brother Does. Not. Drink. so I’m kinda surprised he wasn’t drunk from all the brandy in/on it. I actually asked if he’d ever been drunk, he replied that something about falling down and slurring — my mother and I both laughed and noted that that’s well past drunk and into alcohol poisoning.

    Ok, time for bed for me, with any luck I’ll be out until my mother gets home from work and I can open my iPad…I mean, open my presents… (Yeah, she has to work Christmas Day — AAA roadside service, because car failure doesn’t take the holidays off)

    ‘night guys, have fun with any trolls that stop by!

  10. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    Niters Argenti!

  11. katz: The trick to lighting brandy is to get it warm (trufax, get any alcoholic beverage warm enough and it will light-off. I did a white wine and chicken dish at Joshua Tree (MLK Weekend) and the cast iron was 1: hot, and 2: over an open fire.

    The Sauvignon Blanc I poured in went, “FOOMF!”

  12. Mr K and I had the flaming pudding at Home last night! We had a wonderful Noel, even if it did include getting seriously pelted with snowballs. :)

  13. Pecunium, you have to get it warm so that the alcohol will be fuming, but then you have to light it *right away* or the alcohol will boil off and there won’t be anything to light. Doad and I will need to practice…maybe with cherries jubilee.

  14. For 80 proof spirits, put the bottle into a pot with HOT water (until the tap is running straight hot) for about ten minutes. Then pour it onto the pudding, and ignite.

  15. MRA Incest Agenda in the Family Courts

    This fits perfectly with the MRA agenda which Farrell would take up years after this Penthouse interview about incest. He was laying the foundation for the latter acceptance of abusive fathers to get access to their children through courts. By making incest “nuanced” then fathers who molested their own kids would have an easier time in the family courts, which is exactly what Farrell is working towards today. Oh yeah, they call it “false accusations” now since mainstream society was slow on the “nuance” uptake and has yet to de-taboo-ize incest and child sexual abuse.

    It all makes perfect sense now.

  16. Hah, way to challenge “societal gender roles” by supporting them. I like incest, and agree that the taboos should be lifted. Defining something as “abuse” when some people like it does not make sense.

  17. Likewise, defining something as “not abuse” when some people are traumatized by it makes no sense. In fact, it hurts people and creates a climate that allows such abuses to continue.

    If you read the thread, you’ll see that people are not talking about consensual incest (as long as it’s actually consensual). Farrell is trying to argue that men molesting their daughters isn’t traumatic because the fathers weren’t upset by it. Surely you see why that’s a problematic approach?

  18. Argenti Aertheri

    “I like incest…”

    Um…might care to clarify if you mean, say, adults and step-parents or such, and not Farrell’s father and young daughter.

  19. “Defining something as “abuse” when some people like it does not make sense.”

    Rapists like rape. Does that mean it’s not abuse?

    Pedophiles like raping children. Does that mean it’s not abuse?

  20. Please do not pass off my statement as trolling, be it “drive-by” or not, just because you are bound and determined to perceive Warren Farrell and his work in the most negative view available.

  21. OK. Instead, I will pass it off as trolling because it added nothing to the conversation and you failed to engage in good faith (or, indeed, at all). You don’t get to just show up three months later, stomp your feet, and demand that people not judge you by the way you behaved.

  22. Yeah was there a point there? Maybe I missed it while trying to figure out wtf to wear in barely above freezing weather, but I see no actual point to discuss.

    Drive-by trolling has yet to be determined, we’ll see if you return, if not, it’s a drive-by comment. The lack of point, desire to tell us how to perceive you, and general lack of good faith all point towards troll. Drive-by comment + troll = drive-by trolling.

  23. There is no further point to discuss. I am neither “stomping my feet” or “demanding I not be judged”. I happened upon an old comment I posted, rather neutral if I do say so myself, and saw the hostility it received that would be on par with a post-holocaust roman salute.

    It was a comment, not an argument nor an attempt to garner attention as a troll would.

    To reiterate over what I initially said:
    [Judge and be judged. Mr. Farrell has simply analyzed incest and its place in modern society.]

    Since we clearly need to break it down:
    [Judge and be judged.]
    A partial quote from the christian bible, see Matthew 7:2.

    [Mr. Farrell has simply analyzed incest and its place in modern society.]
    In no way false, he did as I said, whether he was selective with his process, conclusion, neither or both does not invalidate the above statement.

    So you are right Argenti Aerheri, there was no point to discuss, yet the proceeding comment after it clearly indicates you thought otherwise at the time.

  24. This entire article seems to be one big, straw-man argument. It repeatedly quotes Farrell, then assumes a meaning that isn’t there, then attacks that meaning as though it were relevant. This isn’t the only repeated logical fallacy present but it is the most glaring.

  25. Although I don’t agree with Farrell’s ideas about incest back in the 70′s when he was a feminist and I assume that even he doesn’t agree anymore with what he said and believed in those days (he is not a feminist anymore), David here tries to judge him by our much more sensitive standards of today. Every time I watch a recording of an old TV program from those days I can’t help noticing how “improper” attitudes and jokes where considered OK and mainstream. A lot of things changed from the 70′s. It was the time of the “sexual revolution” when breaking sex related accepted norms and taboos was the fashion.

    Another problem I have is about the timing of the criticism. Back in the 70′s when he was a renown feminist, nobody seam to have the slightest problem with what he said despite the fact that it was a lot more “fresh” and relevant than it is today.

    Why is that everyone began to be bother by it only after he switched sides to the MRA?

  26. pillowinhell

    Dude, lots of people would have had a problem with an incest advocate. There were people who challenged him on it at the time the book came out.

    Farrel being an incest advocate isn’t an MRA thing either, except that Farrel also excuses and defends rape (of all the child victims), which is why the Male Rapists Association loves him so.

  27. Sebastian, I see you trying to imply that his thoughts on incest were related to his feminism. No one’s buying it, though.

  28. Sebastian: DUH, people have always had problems with Farrell. Learn to goddamn read.

  29. Sebastian: Way to try to be clever with the poisoning of the well. Although I don’t agree with Farrell’s ideas about incest back in the 70′s when he was a feminist

    As if the two were related.

    , David here tries to judge him by our much more sensitive standards of today.

    Um… as someone who remembers the seventies… no. Incest is not seen all that more, “sensitively” today (by which you mean we oppose it more?). Look at the one-handed mags section of your local sex shop. All sorts of titles on incest.

    The thing to remember is he was talking about pedopheliac incest. Now he’s talking about how exciting it was to rape people, and he’s not actually denied his comments on incest.

    So you lose twice.

    Another problem I have is about the timing of the criticism. Back in the 70′s when he was a renown feminist, nobody seam to have the slightest problem with what he said despite the fact that it was a lot more “fresh” and relevant than it is today.

    He wasn’t renowned. What renown he has garnered has been from his attacks on feminism. More strikeouts.

    Also, since you clearly weren’t there (what with the, when I watch an old recording comment), how do you know no one was paying attention? It’s not as if Dave was the first person to ever go, “WTF”?

    As to his, “feminist” cred, this interview was in Penthouse. Not a bastion of feminism (they were prone to decrying the evils of Dworkin and McKinnon. Not that they weren’t problematic, but Penthouse was pretty fond of misrepresenting all their arguments, not just the times they did less than brilliant things (such as teaming up with the Religious Right).

    If this had been in Playboy, you’d be on slightly thicker ice, but still striking out.

    So far you are batting .0000. Keep up the good work.

  30. martindufresne

    I appreciate your holding Farrell’s feet to th fire he lit in the groins of so many dads but pleae correct the unfortunate typo where you correct his claim of having said “generally carressing chidren by that screen shot proving that Penthouse quoted him as having said “genitally carressing” and NOT “gentitally” as you wrote (genially). Pleeeeeeze!

  31. martindufresne

    Feminists also make the point that Farrell isn’t on record as having asked Penthouse at the time to correct what he how calls a “misquote”. You would think he would have if that had really been one and if he cared about fathers NOT genitally “carressing” children. A creep is a creep is a creep – and it says a lot about the men’s rights movement that a child abuse apologist remains their star father figure. He is due to speak in Australia soon and this excellent article will be distributed to attendants and to the media.
    (But do correct that “gentitally”…)

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