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 Female Anti-Feminism for Fame and Profit


by Jennifer Pozner

1. Claim you are a feminist.

Use Leftist lingo to gain rebellious credibility in a supposedly politically correct culture. Insist you care about women's equality and strength, but you resent the "victim mindset" espoused by 90's feminists. Become vocally indignant at their refusal to tolerate your "dissenting feminist voice." Use your role as "rebel feminist" to denounce every feminist concern other than women's economic advancement.

 

2. Denounce all other feminists.

Blast feminists as willfully distorting statistics and facts to garner support for their various causes. Denounce feminist scholarship as overly ideological and non-academic. Then substantiate your claims by using faulty research methods and superficial interviews. Rarely contact the authors, activists and psychologists you libel.

 

3. Take a lesson from Monopoly.

Go directly to the media. Do not pass up the college lecture circuit. Do not turn down close to $200K in Right Wing grants.

Wait for the money to come rolling in.

 

I wish the preceding section was merely satire. Unfortunately, the how-to guide above could very easily be a synopsis of the methodology employed by Christina Hoff Sommers in Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women. Sommers believes that the battle against sexism has been waged and duly won; therefore, since sexism is a thing of the past, feminists are fighting against imaginary problems. Sommers insists she wrote her 1994 book "because I am a feminist who does not like what feminism has become." She then offers up an across-the-board condemnation of almost every influential activist, scholar, agency and study of the second wave feminist movement.

To Sommers, "gender feminists" (the label she gives to activists and writers such as Gloria Steinem, Patricia Ireland and Susan Faludi, who believe that sexism is still a pervasive and detrimental force in this society) are proponents of a "divisive and resentful philosophy [which] adds to the woes of our society and hurts legitimate feminism." She believes that feminist academics have created doctrinairian women's studies programs which "shortchange women students... waste their time, give them bad intellectual habits... [and] isolate them socially and academically." According to Sommers, "overzealous" young women "bemuse and alarm the public with inflated statistics" when they attempt to prosecute as a rapist and gender bigot "a boy getting fresh in the backseat of a car." Feminists who target anorexia, bulimia and dangerous standards of feminine beauty practice "alarmist advocacy." Sommers dismisses studies which prove high rates of wife-battering, calls campaigns against sexual harassers "witch hunts," and attacks the American Association of University Women's Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America, which found that girls' self-esteem suffers as a result of encountering gender bias in the classroom.

Sommers, who teaches philosophy at Clark University, is one of many woman who has appropriated the feminist label to denounce campus feminism as intellectually and socially stifling to women. In her 1993 book The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus, Katie Roiphe ridicules "rape crisis feminists" as neurotic leaders of a cult of female victimization in which women "celebrate their vulnerability [and] accept, even embrace, the mantle of victim status." According to Roiphe, campus feminists are irrational, fading flowers who exaggerate statistics about violence against women in attempt to scare us back to the prudery of the '50's. In a 1993 Mother Jones article, Karen Lehrman blasted women's studies programs as offering only "classroom therapy" and "mere pit stops at the academic." Newsweek's Sarah Crichton claims that campus feminism is "not creating a society of Angry Young Women. These are Scared Little Girls." Though packaged in bizarrely pro-woman terminology about women's responsibility to take control of their sexuality and stop "wallowing in oppression," it is not hard to find the misogyny implicit in these critiques. In a Newsweek article entitled "Stop Whining," right-wing commentator and former Republican speech writer Mary Matalin proposed this solution to placate young feminist "crackpots": "Give these moody girls a prescription of Motrin and some water pills, quick!"

In an essay about rape activism in Who Stole Feminism?, Sommers retells Roiphe's main premise: that feminists are reinforcing the oppression of women by constantly speaking about misogynistic violence. Roiphe writes that feminists, "preoccupied" with date rape and campus harassment, "produce endless images of women as victims -- women offended by a professor's dirty joke, women pressured into sex by peers, women trying to say no but not managing to get it across." Killing the messengers seems to be Roiphe's semantic game of choice. Feminists do not produce images of female victimization, rather we expose atrocities done to women so as to make them unacceptable, with the end goal being the elimination of violence against women. A date-rape survivor was not "pressured into sex by a peer," she was forced into sex against her will. And how would Roiphe have a woman whose protests were willfully disregarded manage to more convincingly "get no across" to a rapist? By blaming campus feminists for glorifying the victimization they are fundamentally against, these critics shift the responsibility for the violation of women onto the women who are fighting abuse.

These critics' right to speak for feminists as feminists has rarely been challenged by the media. Quite the contrary: the New York Times praised Roiphe for her "courage" in speaking against the feminist party line, and a Boston Globe review of Who Stole Feminism? was titled "Rebel in the Sisterhood." Katie Roiphe insists The Morning After was written "out of the deep belief that some feminisms are better than others." Roiphe says she wants women to take control, and that she resents "rape crisis feminists" for teaching women to be prudes and therefore denying women's sexual agency. Yet how can someone who consistently mocks rape survivors who tell of their attacks, calling them "naive," "melodramatic," "excessive," and "paranoid," honestly claim to be concerned about women's sexual rights and pleasure?

And one must question the motives of a "feminist" such as Sommers, who has been quoted in Esquire as saying, "There are a lot of homely women in women's studies. Preaching these anti-male, anti-sex sermons is a way for them to compensate for various heartaches -- they're just mad at the beautiful girls." By that standard, Laura Flanders notes in EXTRA!, Rush "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society" Limbaugh is a feminist. Sommers would probably be flattered if told she resembled Limbaugh, who has repeatedly plugged Who Stole Feminism on his radio show as "a brave and courageous book." In response, Sommers told Limbaugh, the man who coined the term Femi-nazi, "I am proud you like the book."

Anti-feminist women who attack feminism under the guise of the liberal cause of women's advancement are far less easy to dismiss than right-wing critics such as Phyllis Schlafly or Rush Limbaugh. Yet Schlafly and Sommers are both listed in the speakers guide of the Young Americas Foundation, a group which routinely gives $10K grants to student groups to bring conservative lecturers to their campuses. Sommers is also a speaker for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, another right think tank, which dishes out the dollars to sponsor lecturers who "counter the Marxists, radical feminists, deconstructionists, and other 'politically correct' types on your campus." The media seize the rhetoric of self-proclaimed "feminist dissenters" such as Sommers and Rophie as proof that feminism is failing women ("See," we are supposed to think, "even the feminists now admit their movement is passé"). They are compensated highly for their complicity: Sommers received over $164,000 in grants from the conservative Olin, Bradley and Carthage foundations for Who Stole Feminism, in addition to a six-figure advance from her publisher, Simon and Schuster.

Some questions arise in response to Roiphe's smug assertion that "some feminisms are better than others." Which "brands" of feminism should be considered beneficial to women, and which should be discounted? Whose "feminism" should we trust: the feminism of young activists who lead self-defense workshops, staff battered women's shelters and rape hotlines, push for anti-discrimination legislation, and study and teach women's history, or that of ideologically Right "feminist dissenters" such as Sommers and Roiphe, who constantly mock young women as neo-Victorian wimps? The answer is simple -- using Leftist lingo does not make the package any less conservative. Sommers' and Roiphe's "feminisms" consist of one overriding premise: that activists for women's rights are intellectually and sexually naive, and should not be taken seriously when they speak in the classroom or of the bedroom. This is classic backlash fare, and should be dismissed as such. Feminism, in its most pure form, is an ideological movement for women's political, social, and economic equality. These goals -- along with complete sexual autonomy for women -- form the vision of contemporary campus feminists. Their agenda, not faux-feminists' distorted picture of their movement, is the version of feminism that is truly "better than others."

 

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