Sommers says feminists hurt women

by Maura Henninger | 5/20/97 5:00am

Conservative feminist Christina Hoff Sommers, the author of "Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women," last night delivered a speech that raised several controversial issues, stirring up a heated debate in a crowded 105 Dartmouth Hall.

Sommers's address, titled "How Feminism Hurts Women," questioned the basic premises of the contemporary feminist movement -- a movement she sees as ruined by political correctness, victim politic and male bashing.

"I wrote this book because I'm a feminist who thinks feminism has taken the wrong turn," she said.

Though she credited the women's movement with providing her with unequaled opportunities, she said that it has moved in the wrong direction because of contemporary feminists' misuse and misinterpretation of statistics and a rejection of biological evidence supporting the inherent differences between the genders.

Sommers prefaced her remarks with several anecdotes and a warning. She related several humorous stories about her politically liberal parents' reactions to hearing her on Rush Limbaugh's talk show and their having to buy Playboy magazine to read an article about their daughter.

But Sommers's tone turned serious when she warned that what she had to say would make some people unhappy, though it was not her intention to upset anyone by voicing her opinions.

Sommers identified with the equity feminism movement, which is defined by a dedication to the fair and equal treatment of both males and females, as well as gradual reform of feminist dogma.

"On most campuses, gender-based feminism is the fashion. Most women's studies departments believe that women live in gender hegemony and see subordination everywhere. Mild forms of male-bashing go on on most campuses." Sommers said.

Sommers said that most of gender-based feminism is based on statistics that have been misinterpreted to suit certain agendas.

"Feminists have mangled the truth, exaggerated problems, understated men's problems. A sincere mindset has led them to twist the truth. It is absurd how sloppy they have become," Sommers said.

She cited the example of the disparity between men and women's earnings. Many feminists, she said, will quote the statistic that women earn 71 cents to every dollar that men earn.

But this information does not account for certain controls, which Sommers identified as hours worked, years taken off by women to raise families, and occupation type.

Sommers said controlled statistics for a 23-35 year old woman, working full time without children, will reveal that a woman will earn 98 to 99 cents to a man's dollar, according to the Bureau of Labors.

This type of advocacy research, she said, is an epidemic of information abuse that is rampant in, but not confined to, feminism.

According to Sommers, "Even if we had good statistics, we just would not see that American women are worse off. In some cases, such as education and health, they are better off."

Sommers also feels contemporary feminists have strayed in rejecting the biological difference between men and women.

To illustrate her point, Sommers related an anecdote about a Hasbro Toys marketing scheme in which they tried to create a unisex toy playhouse. In a test group, the girls played with the dolls while the boys catapulted the toy carriages off the roof.

"The head of the case study concluded that, 'Wow. Boys and girls are actually inherently different.' Feminists reject this." Sommers said.

"Mother Nature is not a feminist. There are always going to be biological explanations, including brain differences and evolutionary psychology, that explain the differences between men and women," Sommers said.

Ending her speech by saying that the women's movement has been stolen and that those who seek truth are going to have to get it back, Sommers opened the floor for questions.

As Sommers had predicted, there were a number of students who wanted to challenge her arguments.

Unai Montes-Irueste '98 and Kytja Weir '98 challenged Sommers's theories in the question and answer period and Sommers engaged them in verbal rallies.

"Is this where we should be in relations between the sexes? Is this sort of criticism healthy?" asked Montes-Irueste.

Weir questioned what she saw as the generalizations made by Sommers about the bias of women's studies departments. She also responded to Sommers's claim that no one in the College's Women's Studies department would debate her by questioning whether this sort of criticism and debate was fruitful.

Another student charged Sommers with being a tool for the reactionary right.

To this, Sommers responded, "I feel that females on college campuses are very vulnerable and are being fed with bad information. Combine that with moral fervor and it's a dangerous situation."

Another student, Charlotte Zukowski '00, claimed that Sommers was treating her questioners derisively and answering their questions in a condescending tone. This led to similar comments from other students.

As the question and answer period came to a close, a number of students continued the debate with Sommers in a small group.

Sommers is a professor of philosophy at Clark University. A philosopher who works in the area of ethics and contemporary moral theory, Sommers earned her Ph.D. at Brandeis University.

She is the editor of a textbook in moral philosophy and has published many articles in publications such as The New England Journal of Medicine and The Boston Globe. She has appeared on numerous television programs to discuss such issues as the future of feminism and gender bias in the schools.