Who stole feminism?

by Heather Bell | 11/21/94 6:00am

A self-described "bane of radical feminists" attacked modern feminists in a passionate and aggressive speech to an audience that filled 28 Silsby Hall to capacity last night.

Christina Hoff Sommers, the author of "Who Stole Feminism?" and a philosophy professor at Clark University, focused on the anger of radical feminists and the distortion of truth that she said is prevalent in the modern feminist cause.

A group of mostly female students distributed at the doors a three-page informational handout, which pointed out a variety of inconsistencies in past statements made by Sommers in both her book and in public. In her speech, Sommers rejected the handouts as propaganda.

She opened with a story about her break from modern feminism and how she became somewhat of an outcast among "gender" feminists. Sommers recalled one of her articles that referred to a scene from "Gone With the Wind" in which Rhett carries Scarlett up the stairs. While she had written about the romance of the moment, modern feminists lambasted her for not portraying Rhett as a rapist, she said.

Sommers asked that women abandon gender feminism, which "places women in the role of victim and men in the role of monster," and return to the ideals of what she called classic -- or equity -- feminism.

Sommers decried such well-known feminists as Gloria Steinem and Carolyn Heilbrun as "engaged and enraged." She said gender feminists see themselves as "the second movement of American feminism" and described them as "chronically offended" paranoiacs and "injustice collectors."

"Classical feminism is about getting the facts about women straight," she said.

Sommers denounced gender feminism as causing a rift between men and women in America. She said modern feminism had gone astray and radical feminists combined "moral fervor and misinformation" to make their points.

She spent a large portion of the speech focusing on various statistics on women's issues that are accepted as facts but that she said are untrue. She used the death rate of females from anorexia-nervosa, the amount of domestic abuse occurring on Superbowl Sunday and the issue of gender-bias in schools as examples of misinformation propagated by gender feminists.

Feminist Naomi Wolf mentioned in one of her books that 150,000 women die every year from anorexia nervosa -- a number quoted consistently by feminists and others concerned with the issue. But Sommers said the number was misquoted from an old brochure and that it is actually closer to 100.

She ended by emphasizing that gender feminists do not represent the majority of the female population and urged women in the audience to keep their sense of humor and common sense and not to blame men for their problems.

In a brief question-and-answer session following the speech, Sommers responded to questions about the influence of professors' personal opinions in the classroom, the issue of anorexia and pay equity between men and women.

Sommers dismissed a male student's question about the pay gap between men and women, saying his information was "15 to 20 years out of date." She went on to say that there is virtually no salary difference between men and women of college age.

At the end of the formal presentation, about 25 people gathered at the podium to discuss with Sommers her speech.

Sommers was invited to speak by the Ernest Martin Hopkins Institute and the Dartmouth Speakers Union.