As a conservative feminist, I am often invited by members of the Federalist Society to speak at their law schools and take part in debates. Bridget Crawford, a moderator of the Feminist Law Professor blog, has kindly offered me the opportunity to post one of my lectures.
I will also take this occasion, once again, to correct a false allegation that was made about me. On September 2, 2008 an entry on this blog mentioned that I had once called women’s studies professors “homely.” I never said any such thing. Fifteen year ago, an Esquire magazine writer misquoted me, made it up or confused me with someone else. When Washington Post writer Meg Rosenfeld did a profile of me in 1994, she asked the writer about the quote. He said his notes had gone missing (Washington Post, 7/7/1994.) The fact is: they never existed. No matter how many letters I write correcting the fabrication, it seems never to go away. I don’t mind being criticized for things I truly say and believe, so I welcome reactions to the lecture pasted below.
I hope you find merit in the lecture. In general, it elicits a good reaction from feminist students and professors. This past November I had a productive and civil debate with a feminist law professor at Penn State. On the other hand, when I spoke at Hamilton College two weeks later, a young woman fled the room close to tears and called me the “most disgusting person”she had ever met in her life. I sincerely hope you react more like the Penn State professor than the Hamilton undergraduate. My general outlook on feminism is always evolving, so I will take any criticism or advice you offer to heart.
Christina Hoff Sommers
American Enterprise Institute
What’s Wrong and What’s Right with Contemporary Feminism?
Lecture by Christina Hoff Sommers*
For the past two decades I have devoted myself to studying the influence of feminism on American culture-:with a special focus on campus feminism. In the next 35-40 minutes I’ll give you the best information I have on this topic.But, of course, information is never the whole story; I have a point of view and you’ll hear about that as well.
This evening I will be arguing that contemporary feminism has taken a wrong turn. In my view, the noble cause of women’s emancipation is being damaged in at least three ways by the contemporary women’s movement.  First, today’s movement takes a very dim view of men; second, it wildly overstates the victim status of American women; and third, it is dogmatically attached to the view that men and women are essentially the same. In the time I have with you, I will try to explain and justify these criticisms, and conclude by offering what I think is a reasonable and humane alternative to current feminism. I will also extend an olive branch to the feminists I criticize. But first a few words about my background.
Before the early 1990s I was a feminist academic in good standing. I was invited to feminist conferences and asked to review papers for a feminist philosophy journal. My courses at Clark University were cross-listed with Women’s Studies. That all changed in 1994 when I published a book entitled Who Stole Feminism? The book was strongly feminist, but it rejected the idea that American women were oppressed. For the most part, feminism had succeeded, I said. By the nineties, I argued, American women were among the freest and most liberated in the world. It was no longer reasonable to say that as a group women were far worse off than men. Yes, there were still inequities, but to speak of American society as a”patriarchy”or to refer to American women as second class citizens was frankly absurd.
In the book, I showed how feminism was being hijacked by gender war eccentrics in the universities. And when I say eccentric I mean it. To give one quick example, one of my colleagues in feminist philosophy referred to her seminars as”ovulars.” She rejected the masculinist”seminar”because the root of that word is associated with, well, the very essence of male power. It is actually very funny when you think about it. But this woman was not kidding.
When Who Stole Feminism? was first published, some prominent feminists actually agreed with what I had to say: I even received some fan mail â€“- but not much. For the most part, the feminist establishment was outraged. I was quickly subjected to a colorful attack for my heresies. Many feminist leaders and writers remain convinced that the United States is an oppressive patriarchy. They did not appreciate my plea for moderation. Some called me a backlasher, a traitor to my gender, anti-woman. One angry critic referred to Margaret Thatcher and me as “those two female impersonators.”
Just as an aside, I should tell you that all of this notoriety has not been easy for my parents — who are veryliberal and dismayed to find their daughter reviled by people they admire — like the feminist leader Gloria Steinem–or, much worse, admired by people they regard as diabolical. (My father was driving along a country road in Vermont when he heard conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh praise something I had written. He almost smashed into a snow bank.) But of course, whatever their reservations, my parents remain loyal fans. When a columnist from Playboy magazine interviewed me, my father was eager to get hold of that issue. The problem was how do you buy a copy of Playboy when you are an old-fashioned gentleman, living in a small Vermont town where everyone knows you.
He solved the problem by quietly crossing the border into Keene, New Hampshire where no one knew him. He was still more than a little embarrassed: feeling the need to explain himself to the sales clerk he told her,”It’s OK, I’m only buying this because my daughter’s in it.”
Well, anyway — I am not a backlasher, a traitor, anti-woman or a female impersonator. What I am is a philosophy professor with a respect for logic, clear thinking, rules of evidence and â€“- I hope â€“- a strong sense of fairness. In fact, I think it’s my bias toward logic, reason, and fairness that has put me at odds with the feminist establishment.
I am not here to urge you to reject old-fashioned classical feminism of the sort that won women the vote, educational opportunity and many other freedoms. I am a passionate supporter of that style of feminism, which I call equity feminism. An equity feminist wants for women what she wants for everyone:-fair treatment, respect, and dignity. Equity feminism promotes harmony and good will between the sexes and it can lead to a much saner, happier and more ethical world.
[lecture continued here]