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An Interview with Christina Hoff Sommers
View related content: Race and Gender
Feminists sometimes refer to the instance of their awakening as being a “click moment,” but the term is applicable to the average person as well. Many of us had such an experience while reading Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women, learning that many of the statistics and slogans that radical activists have instilled into the common culture with were, at best, massive exaggerations, and, at worst, propagandistic lies. The author, Christina Hoff Sommers, followed up with the superb book The War against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men. Her oeuvre clearly illustrates that feminists are divided between radical “gender feminists,” who are anti-male and pro-socialist, and equity feminists, who embrace equality and individual rights. Sommers represents the latter. She also co-authored One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance (with Sally Satel). Currently, Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. A professor of philosophy at Clark University for two decades, she obtained her Ph.D. from Brandeis University and her bachelor’s from New York University.
Christina Hoff Sommers
Bernard Chapin: After the publication of Who Stole Feminism and The War Against Boys did you feel as if feminism was a topic that had been played out? Did you say everything that needed to be said?
Christina Hoff Sommers: My books certainly made a difference with journalists. I showed that leading feminist academics are reckless with facts and carried away by ideology. Reporters are now more careful about checking feminist claims. There was a time in the mid-nineties when feminists could make wild and baseless assertions such as “Violence against women increases 40 percent on Super Bowl Sunday,” or “Girls suffer a massive loss of self-esteem at age 12″ and reporters would take them seriously. That seems to have stopped. Unfortunately, the feminist scholars themselves have not changed. Students who take a course with hard-line professors are still subjected to streams of propaganda. The sad fact is that students who have spent a lot of time in women’s studies classes would probably benefit from deprogramming. So, to answer your question, there is still a lot more that needs to be said and done.
The feminist establishment in the universities claims to speak for all women. Anyone who disagrees with them is dubbed a “backlasher”–a traitor to her gender. I have been called anti-woman, and on one occasion even a non-woman. One angry critic called me a “female impersonator.” The result of all this hostility is that moderate, conservative and libertarian women stay far away from women’s studies–and from feminist groups in general.
Chapin: I’m sure your name continues to be excoriated in Womyn’s Studies classes all over the country which is an achievement in itself. Any recent stories of academic Sommers-baiting that you’d like to share with an inquisitive audience?
Gender feminism thrives on the myth that American women are the oppressed “second sex.” No matter how much evidence you adduce against this thesis . . . the gender feminist never changes her mind.
Sommers: I am a frequent lecturer on college campuses. But it is not women’s studies professors who invite me. It is students. With the help of conservative activist groups like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the Young America’s Foundation and the Clare Booth Luce Foundation, students bring me to campus to challenge feminist orthodoxy. One of the things I say in my lecture is that American women–as a group–are not oppressed. In fact, they are among the most favored, privileged and blessed group of human beings in the world. To most students, this rings true. But for those who have taken a lot of “feminist theory” or who are heavily involved with the campus “Take Back the Night”/Vagina Monologues culture, those are fighting words. They insist they are oppressed and resent the suggestion they are not. So there is still some hissing and booing–and, these days, angry text messaging among feminists in the audience.
Chapin: How necessary is the myth of oppression for feminists?
Sommers: Gender feminism thrives on the myth that American women are the oppressed “second sex.” No matter how much evidence you adduce against this thesis (e.g. women live longer than men; they are more likely to go to college; they have far more choices on how to live their lives) the gender feminist never changes her mind. The education scholar Diane Ravitch was amazed to find that feminists still claim that our colleges and universities are “failing at fairness” to females–even though women are approaching 60 percent of college enrollments. She asked a good question: “When will it be fair? When women are 60 percent, or 75 percent of college enrollments? Perhaps it will be fair when there are no men at all.”
Chapin: What do you make of a program like The Oprah Winfrey Show? What is the basis for its appeal? Also, how much bias do you think is inherent to the host’s views?
Sommers: There is no mystery. Women like the show because it covers topics most of us find interesting–children, fashion, beauty and relationships. Oh, and diets and self-improvement! Oprah Winfrey is very good at what she does. And, unlike many celebrities–she does not burden us with her politics.
Chapin: It seems a distinct possibility that we may well soon have a female, and feminist, president. What do you think Hillary Clinton’s chances of getting elected are? Also, if she won, how radical of a president would she be?
Sommers: She is a frontrunner right now. She may well be our next president. It is hard to say how radical she would be. There are at least two Hillarys to consider. There is the mainstream Hillary who attends meetings of the Senate prayer group. But there is also gender feminist Hillary who delivers angry diatribes about the pay gap and who thinks poorly of women who “stayed home to bake cookies.” I am still a little worried about her affinities with the self-described “vagina warrior,” Eve Ensler. Ensler is the author of the poisonously anti-male play The Vagina Monologues. In 2000, when she was considering running for the Senate, Hillary chose Ensler to serve on her “exploratory committee.”
Chapin: Do you miss teaching and daily interactions with students? Have you considered finding another position at a university? What kind of reaction would you anticipate from the faculty?
Sommers: I do miss teaching. For the kind of work I do, it is important to keep in touch with college-age young people to make sure your ideas are relevant and fresh. But I lecture on campuses around the country and meet a lot of students that way. Also, at my think tank in Washington D.C., the American Enterprise Institute, we have wonderful college interns, research assistants and lots of visiting groups of students.
I sometimes think of returning to academia. For example, I have considered starting a women’s studies department–one that tries to be fair and objective about gender issues. There is a vast amount of work to be done just correcting the errors and misconceptions generated by more than two decades of biased feminist research. But I am afraid that any college president who would hire me might risk sharing the fate of Larry Summers.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at AEI. Bernard Chapin is the author of Escape from Gangsta Island. Two additional questions Mr. Chapin asked Sommers were not included in the interview. They are included below.
Chapin: One Nation Under Therapy is an amazing book and one which deserves the accolades it has received. Is your next project going to be along these same lines? Also, can you tell us a bit about it?
Sommers: I am becoming involved in the struggle of Islamic women to secure their basic rights. The United States of America is not a patriarchy–but places like Yemen, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia certainly are. There are broadly two sorts of women’s rights movements in the Muslim world. One is led by observant religious women who are trying to find sources of liberation inside their own religion. The other, much smaller, is led by women who are non-religious and who want to bring the Enlightenment to their societies. I sympathize with both groups and I believe that American equity feminism has a lot to offer both.
But remember, the American feminist establishment is currently dominated by gender feminist radicals. They believe that America is, in its way, as oppressive as any Muslim country. So most of their effort is taken up with “liberating” American women (especially college women) from the ravages of patriarchy. That leaves them almost no time to help oppressed women in other countries.
Even if they want to help Islamic women–their antipathy to traditional religion makes them useless to religious Muslim women. Their animus towards men, feminine beauty, and romance will alienate vast numbers of liberated, Enlightenment feminists in the Muslim world. (Their rejection of the free market capitalism helps no one.) Conservative, moderate and libertarian American women are going to have to find an appropriate and sympathetic way to make common cause with Muslim women–but we will have to work around the feminist establishment to help them–not with it. Anyway, I am planning to write a long essay or a short book to sort this out.
Chapin: I still consult both of those books along with your articles on the subject quite regularly. Have times changed over the course of the last decade? Do you think that the radical feminist (or gender feminist) viewpoint is no longer as dominant among our elites and the media as it once was?
Sommers: As I said, journalists are no longer under the spell of orthodox feminists. In fact, no one seems to find what they have to say all that relevant or appealing. But hapless college students can’t escape them. Ardent, fire-breathing true believers are ubiquitous on the modern campus. They describe American society as a “patriarchy,” and they inveigh against capitalism. They see President George W. Bush as more of a threat than Osama Bin Laden. That worldview is not dominant in the media–nor almost anywhere else that you can name. The one exception is the feminist classroom.
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