March is Women's History Month, but hard-line feminists in universities and major women's groups are deciding who counts as a woman. I have been labeled a non-woman. An angry critic once referred to Margaret Thatcher and me as "those two female impersonators." Why? Because in my books and articles I have questioned the basic premise of contemporary American feminism.
For instance, I do not believe that women in American society are oppressed, or members of a subordinate class. It is no longer reasonable to say that as a group, women are worse off than men. The truth is that American women are among the freest in the world. And yet hearing me say that, there are women who wish to excommunicate me from my sex!
Feminism in this country has become a parody of itself. We need a forward-looking movement, guided by common sense and fairness. Instead, we've got political correctness, victim politics and male-bashing. There's the women's studies professor who has renamed her seminar an "ovular." A feminist musicologist at UCLA claims to have discovered themes of rape and sexual assault in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
What happened to the "equity feminism" bequeathed by our feminist foremothers? Equity feminism demands for women what it demands for everyone--fairness and equal opportunity. From the 1880s, feminist pioneers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and the remarkable African-American woman, Sojourner Truth, led difficult and even dangerous battles for emancipation. That wave culminated in 1920, when American women won the vote. A second surge in the late 1960s and early '70s brought many badly needed reforms, such as laws making it illegal to pay men and women differently for the same work. As a result, American women are now among the most liberated in the world.
More women than men now go to college, for example. Yet for many women's studies professors and contemporary feminist leaders such good news is no news. The most vocal among them persist in complaining that the United States is a "patriarchy" that subordinates women. They have rejected the original "equity feminism" in favor of a more radical doctrine best termed "gender feminism."
Gender feminists take a very dim view of American society. In fact, the more things improve for women, the angrier their rhetoric grows. Harvard psychologist Carol Gilligan, a moderate among gender feminists, asserts that young women in today's American society undergo a "psychological foot-binding." One leading feminist text refers to American society as a "rape culture."
Gender feminists continually spread fraudulent statistics, claiming, for example, that 80 percent of girls are sexually harassed at school and that "battery is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States." This is just a small sample of the false and inflammatory news--call it Ms.information--that women's groups routinely disseminate and the media happily repeat.
Suppose we got rid of the hyperbole, half-truths and untruths. Surely, some would argue, it would still turn out that women in our society are worse off than men? There is simply no evidence for that. In some ways women are better off. In other ways, men are.
Does it really matter that a small group of statistically challenged activists and scholars say and believe a lot of false things about women in America? The answer is that it does matter. Third World women, many of whom really are grievously subordinated, desperately need help. But most of our prominent women's organizations are preoccupied only with saving American women from the ravages of patriarchy.
If feminism is allowed to continue in this direction, we will soon be polarized along a fault-line of gender. What we need is a Third Wave of the women's movement, which would revive classic equity feminism and base itself on accurate information, common sense and fairness.
Instead of castigating the U.S. for being sexist, the Third Wave would acknowledge that American women are blessed to live in a society that offers them genuine freedom and opportunity. And it would work tirelessly to share this blessing with less fortunate women throughout the world.
The women's movement has been hijacked by a small group of chronically offended gender feminists who believe that women are from Venus and men are from Hell. Women who value harmony between the sexes and who are concerned about the plight of subjugated women throughout the world will have to find a way to get the movement back.
Christina Hoff Sommers, the author of The War against Boys, is chairman of the National Advisory Board of the Independent Women's Forum and a resident scholar at AEI.