Fem-Cons Kick-Up Their Heels at
Confronting the Woman
Is it possible to be a feminist and a conservative? Yes says the Georgetown Women's Guild, the upstart neo-traditionalist women's group which is "sending shock waves through Georgetown's politically correct culture," according to The Hoya, the campus newspaper.
The Guild's affirmative answer has provoked fainting spells among Georgetown's feminist old guard. What part of "yes" don't they understand? In an open letter to The Hoya, Enlgish Profes-sor Stetz calls the Women's Guild "dangerous" to feminism: "While of course everyone has a right to their own opinions, what is truly dangerous about the views put forth by the Women's Guild are their misrepresentations and stereotypical assumptions about feminism. We believe that not only do we need more female bodies in power, but that the patriarchal system we live under must be transformed."
The Women's Guild became a bête noire for people like Professor Stetz when it published a pamphlet called The Guide: A Little Beige Book For Today's Miss G. A saucy survival guide to undergraduate life, The Guide, authored by Bryanna Hocking and Dawn Scheirer, advises freshmen women, among other things, to "Take Back the Date," and, in an article entitled "I Am Woman, Hear Me Purr," reminds them that "the tigress who knows when to roar also knows when to purr."
The Guide also recommends that freshmen women consider joining clubs like the Academic Council, Catholic Daughters of America, the Mock Trial and Law Team, and the GU Student Investment Fund. All this in contrast to the Georgetown's Women's Issues home page where, The Guide charges, "women don't have interests, they have 'issues.'" In one of the most controversial pieces of the pamphlet, "A Lie a Day Keeps the Truth Away," the editors warn freshmen women against the excesses of gender deconstruction: "Feminists refuse to acknowledge the reciprocity of the mating dance. Since F. Scott Fitzgerald chronicled the jazz age, women have been slimming down and dating uptotally rational, and totally reversible as your ten year reunion will prove on both scores. Why insist upon calling me, a woman, a victim?"
But what really riles campus feminists are statistics cited by The Guide on hot button feminist issues such as campus sexual assault and anorexia in young women. On the issue of campus sexual assault, The Guide quotes the 1995 Department of Justice Survey of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies, regarded by the Bureau as "the most comprehensive survey of college crime," which presents crime data on 581 four-year schools with enrollments of over 2500 students, accounting for 89% of college students nationwide. According to the CLEA survey, the data collected from campus security officials shows an average of seven violent crimes per campus: one forcible sex offense, two robberies, and four aggravated assaults.
In regard to anorexia, The Guide notes that the 150,000 death toll published in early edition of Naomi Wolfe's The Beauty Myth, is contradicted by the Centers for Disease Control which counted 101 anorexia related deaths in 1983, and 67 deaths in 1988. While agreeing that this disorder "is a serious condition," The Guide suggests that anorexia requires "serious psychiatric attention, not campus-wide frenzy."
All this enraged gender feminists who routinely claim that Georgetown and other American campuses are suffering through a pandemic of sexual violence which victimizes fully a quarter of all women. In addition to attacking the Women's Guild for exposing their admittedly inflated statistics, activists railed against the Guild's campaign for "individual responsibility, independent thinking, and initiative to reach our potential." At a meeting held two weeks after The Guide's October release, Hocking asked her assembled critics if they would rather that she had published false statistics on date rape, such as the one in four number circulated by the Women's Center. Without hesitation, her opponents applauded "yes!" One of them said, "Every woman I know has been the victim of child molestation or rape. It took me a year to realize I was raped." Another student held up a copy of The Guide and told the room that as a homosexual and residential advisor "This is violence against me."
Hocking and Scheirer could not have imagined that they would touch off one of the most furious controversies recently to hit the Georgetown campus when they formed the Guild last spring with other young women who were also frustrated by the narrow focus of the Women's Center and its refusal to support conservative discussion. They saw the Georgetown Women's Guild as a way "to raise a voice of common sense and reason."
To inaugurate the Guild's founding, Hocking and Scheirer invited women working and wonking in Washington to discuss conservative philosophy and activism. Among the groups represented at the Spring discussion was the Independent Women's Forum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, women's policy group. Impressed by the organization's success in taking on establishment feminists, and sympathizing with both its style and substance, Hocking and Scheirer approached the organization for advice in crafting their message. One result of that discussion was The Guide: A Little Beige Book For Today's Miss G, distributed the first week of October to Georgetown's freshmen women.
Much has been written about the closing of college students' mindsthe tendency to emote rather than reason, to replace the scientific method with the therapeutic. Opponents of the Women's Guild have been a case study. The Guild's suggestion to prefer empirical evidence over personal anecdote has been met with loud denunciations and aggressive personal attack. During the week following the appearance of The Guide, the Women's Center, citadel of the feminist establishment, provided a journal for students to express their feelings toward The Guide and its authors. When Scheirer and Hocking asked to see the entries, they were told that the book was open to Center regulars only. Meanwhile, Women's Studies Advisory Board member, Sharon Doetsch, circulated an e-mail to professors and students calling the authors of The Guide "racist" and "homophobic." Professor of English, Mark Tinkcum, told a class that The Guide represented a step back for women.
The Hoya, Georgetown's bi-weekly and ostensibly nonpartisan paper, has published attack pieces in nearly every issue since The Guide's publication. Criticism has ranged from the banal "The Guide made me ill" (Aimee Foreman, former president of the Women's Empowerment League) to the irate "[C]learly we are witnessing the moronification of the women's movement." (Eric Grey, junior). Following the first deluge of negative reviews, Hoya editors told Hocking and Scheirer that they would be given one opportunity to answer their critics, after which the paper would move on to more pressing campus concerns. But the editors apparently reversed their position on the newsworthiness of the controversy. After publishing Hocking and Scheirer's response, The Hoya continued its barrage of attacks. Writes Scheirer in the sole Guild-authored response allowed by the paper, "What our opponents are saying is that by telling the truth we are hurting women. That must mean, then, that the only way to help women is to tell them lies."
Letters supporting the two women and The Guide were turned down for publication. One letter was handed to Scheirer by a Hoya staffer, who asked "Do you want this? We're not going to publish it." The other, written by Cornell Review editor in chief Edward Newton, urges Georgetown's students to "take a second look, and judge The Guide for themselves." Says Hocking, "The response of The Hoya has completely destroyed any faith I have in the media. I always thought a newspaper was a way to show both points of view. I knew bias existed, but not to this extent."
Adopting a '90s version of the '60s notion that the personal is political, some of their critics have argued that Hocking and Scheirer are compromised by their presumed economic and racial status. In an op-ed for The Hoya, student Kasia Calzonetti writes, "Equality among the sexes has been achieved in their eyes: the eyes of white, heterosexual, college-privileged women. Scheirer and Hocking conveniently ignore issues of race, class, and sexual orientation. Maybe instead of hosting tea parties and playing house, these two women should spend more time living in the real world."
Hocking counters, "I come from a very, very middle class family in Eugene, Oregon, and I don't consider myself socially or economically advantaged. This isn't an issue of class. It's an issue of helping to break the political monopoly these radical feminists have on our campus. They have complete control over Women's Studies and the Women's Center. Any official move by the University on behalf of women is sponsored by them. It's like in the '60s when people were trying to fight 'the man.' Only now, we're trying to fight 'the woman'."
"The woman," as Hocking puts it, is not confined to the Women's Center. She has made her way into mainstream student organizations like the Georgetown University Student Association, the University's executive student council. Within days of the pamphlet's distribution, a member of the group wrote an advisory to residential advisors stating that GUSA had "concerns" over the controversial statistics in The Guide and endorsed alternative organizations, such as the Women's Center, where young women confused by the debate could get "real facts" about sexual assault on campus and anorexia, as opposed, presumably, to the false facts gathered by the FBI, Department of Justice, and Centers for Disease Control.
GUSA president John Cronan stands behind the GUSA letter, explaining to The Georgetown Voice, the alternative student paper, "We don't think it's our role to take a position on the Women's Guild. However, we do have a role in increasing awareness on issues, and we want to make information easily accessible." GUSA representative, Yea Afolabi, is less equivocal: "I think it is dangerous to disseminate this type of information on a college campus, especially at Georgetown where people aren't aware of all the crime that is happening."
While controversy continues to swirl around the debunking of advocacy statistics on date rape and anorexia, another faction of activists have taken offense at The Guide's unapologetic promotion of dating and femininity. In particular, members of GU Pride, a gay, lesbian, and bisexual student organization, have attended each of the Guild's three events: an organizational meeting, a teach-in, and a fundraiser to express their outrage at the Guild's heterosexual bias. Their opposition to The Guide took Hocking and Scheirer by surprise.
Says Scheirer, "At first I didn't understand where it was coming from. There's nothing in there that is anti-homosexual." But then she realized why lesbian students were attacking the Guild: "They see the Women's Center as their refuge and they were personally offended by our attack on it. One student told me that I have all of society and the entire world to stand behind my lifestyle choices, whereas they don't. They only have pockets of support, like the Women's Center, and I had no right to go after it."
But go after it she and Hocking have, and their teach-in entitled "Beyond Feminism," further enflamed their opposition. During the first week of November, the Guild hosted an evening with Alveda King, civil rights activist and niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Christina Hoff Sommers, Clark University professor of philosophy and author of Who Stole Feminism?; and Dr. Sally Satel, practicing psychiatrist and associate lecturer at Yale University, to discuss the themes of The Guide and the future of feminism.
The Guild asked both the Women's Center and the college chapter of the NAACP to lend their support. Both groups refused. Nancy Cantalupo, director of the Women's Center, told Scheirer that the Center would not "front" for the Guild. Jacques Philippe Piverger, president of the college chapter of the NAACP, explained to Scheirer that his group did not want to get mixed up in such a controversial affair.
While Scheirer was putting up announcements in the halls of the English department, a faculty member approached Scheirer and told her the announcements would be torn down the following day. As she recalls the moment, "Professor Schulman explained to me that free speech is considered by some individuals in the department to be a patriarchal tool of oppression, a way for the majority to remain in power and oppress the minority. They believe that freedom of expression is a classically liberal concept which was devised during the creation of the Constitution by our Founding Fathers."
He was right: the announcements were torn down.
But the Guild's opposition showed up at the teach-in en masse to exercise their free speech and dominate the discussion. One faction demanded that Ms. King embrace the struggle for same-sex marriage as an extension of the civil rights movement led by her uncle. Another found Christina Hoff Sommers' suggestion that women were doing better than boys in educational attainment disturbing to the extreme. Many prefaced their questions with such declarations as "What you said makes me angry," or "I'm going to try and calm down." The evening finally crystallized when one student who identified herself as currently lesbian and formerly anorexic told the audience, "You want to know who stole feminism? I did."
Which brings the question full circle: is it possible to be a conservative and a feminist? It depends upon whom you ask, the conservative or the feminist.
Nancy Cantalupo, for her part, maintains that the Women's Center offers a "wide range of resources." In a letter defending the Women's Center's mission, she points to such "women's models of academic mentoring" as Washington Democratic operative Irene Natividad and Nation magazine writer Katha Pollitt. Explains Cantalupo, "At its heart, the Women's Center is an office that seeks to serve the needs of all women at Georgetown."
Dawn Scheirer is doubtful. The spectacle of female opponents of the Guild kissing and fondling one another (presumably in protest) at the entrance to the Guild's November fundraiser casts the feminist establishment as less a place for all women than for some women. As she says, "They claim to be for diversity, but they only support diversity when it supports their agenda." Bryanna Hocking concurs, stating, "Feminists have been the least inclusive group on campus. Nobody thinks it's odd the way professors are publicly attacking us. No one gets morally outraged when conservatives are politically or socially harassed."
And the University? Where have administrators been hiding while feminist professors have led the charge against the Guild; while the University-sponsored Women's Center blithely brushes aside criticisms of bias while promoting statistics that are known to be in error and "mentors" from only one end of the political spectrum? Says Scheirer, "They've been AWOL, where they always are when there's a possibility of annoying the feminist establishment."
Amy M. Holmes, a 1994 graduate of Princeton University, works as a policy analyst for the Independent Women's Forum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization for women.
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