August 25, 2014 | Volume XXII, Issue 2

Sommers talks about what is wrong (and right) with feminism

Published: October 13th, 2008

Category: Feature, News

Christina Hoff Sommers
Christina Hoff Sommers discussed her book Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women on Oct. 8. (UF Law/Chen Wang)

One day, Christina Hoff Sommers’ father bought an issue of Playboy magazine just so he could read the articles. Really. Because one of the articles was written about her — professor, controversial writer, and self-proclaimed “equity feminist” — and her book Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women.

Sommers’ Oct. 8 presentation to the Levin College of Law focused on her first, and perhaps most controversial book, Who Stole Feminism, which rejects the traditional man-bashing, “Women are from Venus, and Men are from Hell” school of thought. The sum of her presentation may be encapsulated by a single principle: The good cause of feminism has been hijacked by overzealous extremists. Instead, Sommers pushes for a lighter, friendlier form of feminism — equity feminism.

Equity feminists, Sommers explained, “insist that men and women are equal but not identical,” an idea she pits against those she refers to as gender feminists and victim feminists, who Sommers claims dominate today’s organized movement. She explained that prior to publishing her book, she had been a “feminist activist in good standing.” When her book was published in 1994, it rocked the feminist movement to its foundations, and Sommers found herself “excommunicated from a religion [she] didn’t know existed.”

Sommers’ book rejects the idea that American women are oppressed and asserts that it is no longer reasonable to classify women as a subordinate class, and repudiates what she refers to as the “language of victimology.”

Sommers calls Eve Ensler’s play the Vagina Monologues the most significant and influential injection of “victim feminism” into modern American society. The Vagina Monologues emphasizes the vagina as a tool for female empowerment. Sommers found the play to be venomously anti-male, and expressed her opinion via an op-ed which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Feb.11, 2000. She received a response in the form of a letter Eve Ensler also submitted to the Wall Street Journal, firing back with “Ms. Sommers asserted that there was a definite, anti-male sub-text. In serving her vision and agenda, she listed specific examples to prove her point. What she conveniently left out was Bob, the man who has an entire monologue dedicated to him. Bob transformed one woman’s vagina and subsequently her feelings about herself.”

Sommers argues that the character Bob, discussed in the monologue Because He Liked to Look at It, is “boring” and “unintelligent” and is not even liked by the character who delivers the monologue, but is discussed only as the man who made her love her vagina because of his affinity toward staring at it for hours, thus leaving the Vagina Monologues bereft of a positive male character. Sommers maintains that “there are Neanderthals among us, but we can’t confuse them with the ethical majority.”

She credits much of the popularity of “victim feminism” to false, oft-reported “facts,” such as violence against women increasing 40 percent during the Super Bowl. Her findings, in conjunction with those of Washington Post reporter Ken Ringle, one of the first to debunk this “fact,” have even made their way to the popular myth-busting Web site, www.snopes.com, which dubbed the faux Super Bowl Sunday smackdown a demonstration of “how easily an idea congruous with what people want to believe can be implanted into the public consciousness and anointed as ‘fact’ even when it has been fabricated out of whole cloth.”

Sommers also discredited the much-repeated historical tidbit that the “rule of thumb” originated in English common law as a rule in which a man could not beat his wife with anything thicker than his thumb. Instead, she points to the wealth of research cited and performed by Henry Ansgar Kelly for his 1994 article, “Rule of Thumb and the Folklaw of the Husband’s Stick,” which blames the persistence of this rumor on people’s gullibility in matters of amusing word and phrase origins.

Rather than bemoaning women’s perceived plight within modern American society, Sommers insists on embracing biological gender differences. According to the National Science Foundation’s Web site, a 2004 survey of American college freshman conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, only 26.3 percent of female freshmen intended to major in science and engineering fields, compared to 40.8 percent of their male counterparts Sommers makes clear that she cheers on women on who challenge the stereotypes, but also supports women who choose careers based on biological preferences and aptitudes. She credits the shortage of women in scientific and mathematical fields of study and the abundance of women in nursing and teaching to simple biology – women tend to be more nurturing and men tend to be more analytical, so the discrepancy is the result of gender preferences and not discrimination.

Sommers concluded her presentation by offering her suggestions for how to be an effective feminist, including researching shocking statistics before believing them and perpetuating them, setting aside the ever-popular male-bashing, and realizing that mother nature does not play by the rules of political correctness.

If feminism is in fact a “church,” then perhaps Sommers has been excommunicated, but at least she is still humming along with the choir.

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