BY NICHOLAS JOY
Christina Hoff Sommers is a feminist who believes the women’s movement has taken “a wrong turn,” and she is willing to court controversy to say so. On October 28, Hoff Sommers discussed “conservative feminism” in the Ames Courtroom. The talk was co-sponsored by the Federalist Society and the Abigail Adams Society.
Hoff Sommers’ books include Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women and The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men. She advocates “equity feminism,” which focuses on securing equal legal rights for women.
Hoff Sommers sees her views as being rooted in the tradition of classical liberalism.
“Equity feminism promotes harmony between the sexes. It is not new,” she said. “I’m not here to ask you to reject classic equity feminism.”
According to Hoff Sommers, the modern feminist movement has been appropriated by “gender war eccentrics” who want to “knock down doors that are already open.”
“If you looked at men and women together, it would be hard to say who is better off,” she said. “There are still unresolved equity issues, but the real 21st Century challenge is outside this country.”
This challenge, she said, is the liberation of women in the developing world, which she called “the human rights challenge of our time.”
“There is something wrong with feminism on campus,” she said. “We need to turn the focus to other parts of the world.”
Hoff Sommers categorized modern feminist theorists as believing in “what they call a sex-gender system,” in which “every institution in our society bears the imprint of patriarchy.” She took issue with this theory.
“I read that and just do not recognize the society we live in,” she said. “It is too dramatic and negative about our society.”
Hoff Sommers said that modern feminist theorists have bolstered their views with urban myths and “egregiously false information.” She said she had found that many commonly cited statistics, such as that violence against women increases 80 percent on Super Bowl Sunday, did not have any basis.
“Over and over again, you could count on theorists to overstate,” Hoff Sommers said. “The truth is so much more complicated. If you want to help women, help them by using the truth.”
According to Hoff Sommers, the feminist movement has also become increasingly hostile towards men, “implicating an entire gender.” It does so by focusing on the bad behavior associated with “aberrational masculinity” rather than what most men are like.
“We get the worst-case male standing for masculinity,” she said.
This attitude, Hoff Sommers said, is partly the reason why the increasing plight of American boys has largely been overlooked.
“American young men are underachieving, underperforming,” Hoff Sommers said. “The gap favoring girls is getting close to a chasm.”
She cited statistics to support the notion that American girls are succeeding while boys struggle, saying that leading veterinary schools are 80 percent women and that women have taken over the social sciences and biology.
To the extent that women remain underrepresented in areas such as the sciences, Hoff Sommers said that, while a better job could be done of encouraging young women to enter these fields, general preferences between the sexes could be at issue.
“I accept the fact that the sexes are different, different but equal,” she said. “What you want for women is dignity, equality but not sameness.”
She cited polling data that showed that, “under conditions of freedom,” 20 percent of women are “careerist,” 20 percent “just want to stay at home,” and 60 percent want both. In contrast, when men are polled, 80 percent are careerist, 20 percent want to balance careers and homemaking, and “a tiny percent want to stay at home.”
“Women who embody stereotypes should not be made to feel bad,” she said. “20 percent will defy the stereotype – that’s why we need equity feminism. But 80 percent will embody the stereotype.”
When Hoff Sommers first published her views of the modern feminist movement, she said that her “colleagues were outraged,” and she was subjected to a “colorful attack” by the feminist establishment.
“I am not a backlasher, a traitor, an anti-woman,” she said. “I am a philosopher.”
Despite her issues with the modern feminist movement, Hoff Sommers believes that organizations such as the National Organization for Women were integral to improving the lot of women in America and can still perform an important role.
“Those organizations were essential, but they’ve been here a long time,” she said.
Hoff Sommers hopes that the women’s movement will recast itself in the future.
“I don’t think we should reject contemporary feminism,” she said. “We should reform it.”