The Prevalence of Eating Disorders Is Overstated
Source Database: Opposing Viewpoints: Eating Disorders
Table of Contents: Further Readings | Source Citation
In the viewpoint that follows, Donald DeMarco disputes claims made by prominent feminists that approximately 150,000 women die each year of anorexia. A more accurate assessment, he argues, places the approximate number of women who die of anorexia at fifty-four per year. DeMarco contends that feminists exaggerate the problem of eating disorders as a means of supporting their claim that women are the victims of a misogynistic culture that objectifies female bodies. DeMarco is a professor of philosophy at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, the author of seventeen books, and a member of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission.
As you read, consider the following questions:
What do women who study eating disorders hope to demonstrate, as stated by Joan Brumberg and quoted by the author?
How does DeMarco support his claim that feminists have overstated the problem of eating disorders?
What is the danger of the current "misinformation explosion," as explained by the author?
Approximately 150,000 women die each year in the United States of anorexia! Startling? Shocking? Unbelievable? Implausible? Well, it must be true. Gloria Steinem said so on page 222 of her best-seller, Revolution Within: A Book of Self-Esteem: "in this country alone ... about 150,000 females die of anorexia each year." Besides, Ann Landers, who works with an impressive coterie of experts, also said so in her syndicated column of April 1992: "Every year, 150,000 American women die from complications associated with anorexia and bulimia." Thus, it must be true. And surely no one should question its citation in the preface of a women's studies text, entitled, The Knowledge Explosion: Generations of Feminist Scholarship. The startling figure is not only true, thinks Naomi Wolf, but of such magnitude that it fully justifies a powerful indictment against America's (and no doubt, Canada's) misogynistic culture. She asks, indignantly, in her own bestseller, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, "How would America react to the mass of self-immolation by hunger of its favorite sons?" Pushing her rhetoric a bit further, she finds the phenomenon of male-initiated anorexia comparable with the Holocaust: "When confronted with a vast number of emaciated bodies starved not by nature but by men, one must notice a certain resemblance."
We find evidence of the same transition from statistics to ideology in Joan Brumberg's book, Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease. Brumberg, a historian and former director of women's studies at Cornell University, contends that the women who study eating problems "seek to demonstrate that these disorders are an inevitable consequence of a misogynistic society that demeans women ... by objectifying their bodies."
Despite what the so-called authorities have said, is it really possible that almost three times as many women die each year in the United States of anorexia than the total number of American men who died in the Vietnam War? Brumberg takes her figure from the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association. Yet, that organization insists it was misquoted. In a 1985 newsletter, the association had referred to 150,000 to 200,000 sufferers (not fatalities) of anorexia. The National Center for Health Statistics has reported 101 deaths from anorexia in 1983 and 67 deaths in 1988. Thomas Dunn, of the Division of Vital Statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, has reported that in 1991 there were 54 deaths from anorexia nervosa and none from bulimia. To her credit, Naomi Wolf, after being apprised of her error, has instructed her publisher that her statistics on anorexia are not accurate.
It may be true that more women die each year from complications associated with being over- rather than underweight. But statistics to this effect would not serve to indict the male establishment. It would be difficult to convince society that men everywhere are pressuring women to be grossly overweight.
The Current "Misinformation Explosion"
The great danger connected with the current "misinformation explosion" is that it can readily attach itself to an ideology, in this case, a feminist ideology which, in turn, can actually fuel discrimination. People who fight discrimination, even where the discrimination is real and not merely imagined, with false information (or lies), will find that they are advancing the very thing they are trying to end.
Information is omnipresent. It is readily accessible and is available in limitless supply. But one has little of value to say or write if his information has no relation with truth. Truth alone, not mere information, remains the sine qua non of education. It is what, in the final analysis, distinguished education from propaganda. Because ideologies are essentially disconnected from reality, their principal means of sustenance and propagation must come through the exploitation of false data. The anorexia issue is hardly proof that contemporary culture is misogynistic.
The Popular Sport of Male-Bashing Male-bashing is a popular sport these days, and men are now paying a heavy price for the fabrications that pass for feminist scholarship. There can be little question that men are, to a certain extent, themselves victims of discrimination.
Misinformation, rash judgment, irresponsible rhetoric, and toxic ideology are potent allies. Bernard Nathanson now readily admits that in the 1960's, when he and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion were fuelling pro-abortion propaganda with lies, that approximately 300 women died each year from criminal abortions, not the 5,000 that they stated in a press release. Yet this calculated lie was a most powerful lever in lifting protection from the unborn.
It may be difficult to get at the truth. The Internet is infested with misstatements of fact, while the Media is more disposed to disseminate fiction than fact. But ideologies, woven as they are, by lies, deceptions, and inaccuracies, in the end, serve no one. They may appear to be self-serving at first, but when the truth finally comes to light, as it inevitably does, given enough time, they are sources of great embarrassment. The truth sets us free; the lie keeps us locked in fear.
The ignorance infuriates me.