Equal Access Does Not Mean Equality

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Christina Hoff Sommers, who once said Women’s Studies departments were campus centers for “homely women,” is at it again — this time on the web for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research:

Here we come to the central paradox of egalitarian feminism: when women are liberated from the domestic sphere and no longer forced into the role of nurturers, when they are granted their full Lockean/Jeffersonian freedoms to pursue happiness in all the multitudinous ways a free society has to offer, many–perhaps most–still give priority to the domestic sphere.

IMHO (where h is for “homely”), Sommers has it completely wrong.  (Her  full article is available  here.)  Equal access to higher education, athletics, employment and ______ (fill in the blank) does not translate into liberation from the “domestic sphere.”  Arlie Hochschild  made that clear in her now-classic 1989 book,  The Second Shift.  We do not know what will happen when women are “no longer forced into the role of nurturers.”  We’re not there yet.  

Do some women have “their full Lockean/Jeffersonian freedoms to pursue happiness?”  Yes.  Some women, sometimes.  But we’re not even close to achieving those freedoms for all (or even most) women all (or even much) of the time.  

-Bridget Crawford

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0 Responses to Equal Access Does Not Mean Equality

  1. Christina Sommers says:

    Dear Bridget,
    You mention in you comment that in the past I have referred to women studies professors as “homely.” I never said any such thing. I don’t think that way. In my lectures and writings I have deplored critics of feminism who have used this kind of base name-calling tactic. Years ago, I did an interview with Esquire Magazine. The author either misquoted me, made it all up, or attributed someone else’s words to me. When the Washington Post did a profile of me soon after, the Post writer asked the author for his notes. He said he had thrown them away.
    Sincerely yours,
    Christina Hoff Sommers
    Resident Scholar
    American Enterprise Institute

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    Per this article:


    Sommers claims that she’s a feminist, and journalists have largely taken her at her word. She has been identified as such on television, and many of the reviews of Who Stole Feminism? ran under headlines such as “Rebel in the Sisterhood” (Boston Globe, 6/16/94) or “A Feminist on the Outs” (Time, 8/1/94).

    Yet Sommers was quoted in Esquire earlier this year (2/94), “There are alot 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.”

    Feel free to drop a link in the comments here to the Washington Post article that you say calls this in to question, or anything else that supports your contention that you were misquoted.

  3. Francine Lipman says:

    There is some really fascinating scholarship in the disability rights area which argues that equal access (e.g., as provided by law under the ADA) is not equivalent to equal benefits. I found the empirical and anecdotal evidence to be compelling and haunting that almost two decades after the ADA was enacted people with disabilities have not achieved equality in the workplace or in their quality of life. Professor Mark C. Weber has written a number of wonderfully instructive, well-researched and substantive thoughtful articles in this area http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=83733 I applied Professor Weber’s post-integrationist theory for a tax analysis in my article titled “Enabling Work for People with Disabilities: A Post-Integrationist Revision of Underutilized Tax Provisions http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=501203

  4. Christina Sommers says:

    Note from Christina Sommers:
    Here is the article from the Washington Post (July 7, 1994) in which the writer queried the Esquire writer about the quote. In this article, he says he “can’t find the notes.” I have not read it for years and remembered him saying he had discarded them. I sent a letter to FAIR — the source Ann Bartow cites using the the quote –protesting its accuracy. I assume (hope) that the editors of a group called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting would have attached my letter to the article.

    The Feminist Mistake? Christina Hoff Sommers Sees a Tyranny of the Sisterhood
    Article from: The Washington Post Article date: July 7, 1994 Author: Megan Rosenfeld More results for: rosenfeld Christina hoff sommers feminist

    These are confusing times for your ordinary gal feminist. The world is disconcertingly full of lesbian comedians, women running with wolves, feminist pornographers, anti-pornography law professors, Supreme Court justices with three names, radical Catholic feminists, penis amputators, women playing football, adult male babysitters, politically correct coeds, feminist performance artists, women who love men who hate women, and everyone going through menopause.

    Are you an ecofeminist? A gender feminist? A classical feminist? A do-me feminist? Who is your role model, the Goddess Within or Shannon Faulkner, the young woman who wants to get into the Citadel?

    There are many, many books out now to help you sort things out. The shelves are yapping loudly, the books arguing among themselves, quoting one another. Naomi Wolf changes course and likes men and sex! Gloria Steinem discovers bodybuilding! Feminism is being attacked, defended, advanced and reissued in paperback.

    Take this description of the 1992 National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Houston, by Christina Hoff Sommers, from one of those new books, the contentious “Who Stole Feminism?”

    “At past conferences … participants met in groups defined by their grievances and healing needs: Jewish women, Jewish lesbians, Asian-American women, African-American women, old women, disabled women, fat women, women whose sexuality is in transition. None of the groups proved stable. The fat group polarized into gay and straight factions, and the Jewish women discovered they were deeply divided. … This year concern extended to `marginalized’ allergy groups. Participants were sent advance notice not to bring perfumes, dry-cleaned clothing, hair spray or other irritants.”

    Seeking out coffee during a break, Sommers, a philosophy professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., was relieved to find that cream was still available. “The ecofeminist caucus had been pushing to eliminate all meat, fish, eggs and dairy products at National Women’s Studies Association events. As the break ended, Phyllis, the panelist from the Mohawk nation, came around with two little puppets, a dog and a teddy bear, to inform us: `Teddy and his friend say it’s time to go back inside.’ ”

    “She’s so unfair,” said Deborah Rosenfelt, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Maryland and the teacher of a program Sommers singles out for scorn. “That was a time when the NWSA was going through a difficult transition. It’s much better now.”

    Loose With the Facts

    There are other books, including these recent and future entries: “Fear of Fifty” by Erica Jong; “The Deep Divide: Why American Women Resist Equality” by Sherrye Henry; “Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister: Religions Dominated by Women” by Susan Starr Sered; and a slim volume published by Focus on the Family called “Mom, You’re Incredible!” by Linda Weber.

    Weber says: “I challenge you to make a list of women you know, one column for those who have become mothers, another for those who have discounted motherhood and focused their attention elsewhere. Which ones seem truly happier?”

    To which the correct answer should be: at 8 a.m. or 5 p.m.?

    And what column would she put Anne Taylor Fleming in? She’s written a book about how she hasn’t been able to have a baby because she waited until she was 36 to try, a delay she blames on feminism. She writes poetically about her unsuccessful efforts at test-tube conception, and unpersuasively about feminism’s toxic effect on her biological clock.

    She should listen to Mom Weber: “My one-quart saucepan holds just one quart no matter how much I pour into it. Something is being lost over the edge if I try to pour more in.”

    Much of the discussion is about men (who don’t seem to write many books about us) – what they do to us, don’t do for us, or how generally unsatisfactory they can be.

    “A woman is just a life support system for a vagina,” said one man quoted in “Maybe He’s Just a Jerk,” a book by Carol Rosen now available on the sale shelf for only $3. The book is nothing more than a compendium of complaints about male scumbags: batterers, con men, adulterers, philanderers, slobs, bullies, whiners and complainers. Men: They’re awful.

    It’s hard to imagine a male equivalent of this book. It would have to be called “Maybe She’s Just a Slut.”

    Warren Farrell, author of “Why Men Are the Way They Are” (now out in paperback), writes that after his observations of more than 100,000 men and women in workshops and therapy sessions over the years, the debate between the sexes boils down to this:

    “My powerlessness is greater than your powerlessness.”

    He also notes, among other things, that men die earlier than women. Sommers’s book, part of the newest crop, is causing the most indignation, being a rather scorching attack on the “resenter” feminists who she says have poisoned the atmosphere, used inaccurate and biased research, misled and depressed younger women, and created a new bureaucracy of politically correct tyrants. She says, as she did in Washington recently, that in many ways conditions for women have improved, and that the “movement” has gone deeply awry, subverted by earnest ideologues who see sexism in every corner.

    Unfortunately she also played a little fast and loose with some of her facts, saying for example that the Gender Equity in Education Act carries a price tag of $360 million in new money when the actual figure is around $5 million, or that two well-known local researchers – Myra and David Sadker of American University – have published no peer-reviewed research when in fact they have, and have received awards for it. She says the University of Maryland is spending $500,000 on a summer “curriculum transformation project,” when the real figure is about $100,000, according to university President William E. Kirwan. At least one person she quotes doesn’t remember talking to her.

    This last problem is something Sommers herself has some experience with. Writer Tad Friend quoted her in an article about “do-me feminism” in Esquire, which had the subtitle ” … a new generation of women thinkers, who are embracing sex (and men!) … But can they save the penis from the grassy field of American history?” Sommers’s quote: “There are a lot of homely women in women’s studies. Preaching these antimale, antisex sermons is a way for them to compensate for various heartaches – they’re just mad at the beautiful girls.”

    Ouch. Sommers says she never said it, doesn’t think it and has no idea where it came from. Friend says she did, although he can’t find his notes, which he gave to Esquire for fact-checking.

    But wait, you want to know what “do-me feminism” is, as articulated by Friend through interviews with such persons as Wolf, a “sex guru” named Susie Bright, “lesbian eroticist” Pat Califa and bell hooks, a professor at Oberlin College. Most of what they had to say can’t be reprinted in a family newspaper, but it has a lot to do with sex.

    “I mean, this is Esquire, the magazine for yuppie dweebs, who can only dream of a girlfriend like do-me fem Lisa Palac, editor of Future Sex (`Degrade me when I ask you to’),” wrote Katha Pollitt in the Nation in response. “But really, is it feminism’s job to save the penis? Can’t men do anything for themselves?”

    Pollitt, who generally wields the unusual combination of being both smart and funny, has a book coming out soon too. It’s called “Reasonable Creatures.”

    On one level what we have here is a lot of statistic hurling, which has become a major American sport, as in my numbers are better/worse than your numbers.

    Sommers plays one of her statistical trump cards early when she reports that a much-cited “fact” about anorexia – that 150,000 women die of it every year – is utterly bogus. In an unwitting chain of errors, researchers and writers extending even unto Ann Landers turned the figure of an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 sufferers of anorexia nervosa into deaths, and from there indicted American culture, especially men, for this atrocity. The National Center for Health Statistics reported 54 deaths from anorexia in 1991, Sommers writes.

    Another widely repeated and inaccurate claim is that “battery of pregnant women is the leading cause of birth defects in this country,” as National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland put it. According to Sommers, that one came from research done by the March of Dimes that showed that more women are screened for birth defects than for battery. This was misunderstood by a domestic violence expert, who put it into a paper that was not published but widely circulated in the field, and the chain began and a new “truth” established.

    “Why was everybody so credulous?” Sommers writes. “Battery responsible for more defects than all other causes combined? … Where were the fact-checkers, the editors, the skeptical journalists?”

    Wrapped in a mantle of self-righteousness, and too ready “to put men in a bad light,” she answers. She maintains that research is being slanted to prevent “phallocentric” bias, as a feminist pollster named Lois Hoeffler described it. Hoeffler worked on a Lou Harris survey that found that “four of 10” women were depressed, a number Sommers says was played up at the expense of a more positive finding “that most American women are enjoying life.”

    She effectively points out that the statistics about the number of women beaten in the United States vary widely, from 626,000 a year to 6 million, and that rape statistics are also confusing.

    But she reserves some of her most virulent contumely for two studies done under the aegis of the American Association of University Women. One showed that girls have lower self-esteem than boys, and the other (which was actually conducted by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women with two other sponsors) said that girls are shortchanged in school.

    Sommers basically says that both studies are a crock, and don’t square with what is actually happening: Girls get better grades and are going to college in larger numbers than boys. She cites other research that shows boys are more likely to cut classes, not do homework, have disciplinary problems, be suspended and get into trouble with police. More boys than girls are likely to drop out, to be robbed, attacked or threatened, to abuse alcohol or drugs, and to commit suicide.

    When it comes to most standardized tests, girls are doing better although they still lag slightly behind in math. And American boys, by one measure, are still behind Taiwanese and Korean girls. They do at least one thing that is quantifiable: more homework.

    But hold your stats. David Sadker, one of the researchers attacked by Sommers, says that of the 13 SAT achievement tests, boys outperform girls on 11. The Graduate Record Exam also shows women lagging. Saying that women outnumber men in college ignores the fact that 60 percent of those women are enrolled in two-year schools, he said, and that in Ivy League colleges men outnumber women. The higher you go in the educational food chain, he says, the fewer women you find.

    Anne Bryant, executive director of the AAUW, is as appalled as Sadker at Sommers’s claims. She says Sommers looked at only a few of the 92 questions on the survey. Bryant says Sommers ignored most of the work in the Wellesley study in order to focus on a few elements. “There were 1,331 different pieces of research reviewed in that survey, all the known data over 20 years on the subject of girls in school,” said Bryant. “You would not know that from her book.”

    The Sadkers refused to debate Sommers on an Oprah Winfrey show because earlier, on an NPR program, she had attacked them personally, David Sadker said. “She called us workshoppers,” he said, angrily.


    In the world of academe, calling someone a workshopper is sort of like calling him a 14th Street hooker, someone who peddles his wares for a price. For the Sadkers, who have labored in the sex equity vineyards since before they could even get two grants to rub together, it was a low blow.

    Reread the Label

    Whatever her flaws, and having a caustic tongue may or may not be one of them, Sommers has company, whether it is writers such as Katie Roiphe, who question the ramifications of “date-rape,” or ordinary people who tell pollsters they don’t call themselves feminists.

    Women don’t like to be labeled, or told what to think, even by other women, and more and more of them are saying that it is possible to be feminist and still question some of the assumptions of sisterhood.

    It is intellectually consistent, for example, to think that the Virginia Military Institute should admit qualified women, and also reject Take Your Daughter to Work Day as sexist and unfair. “Backlash” author Susan Faludi’s debunking of the study that showed women’s chances of getting married decline once they hit 30 is persuasive, but how come everyone knows so many terrific women who haven’t been matched up with a decent guy?

    Women have learned that a female boss doesn’t necessarily mean a better boss, and confound political experts by not voting for women on the basis of gender alone. ” … Women are just as likely as men to misuse power, to relish cruelty and to indulge the taste for cruelty in enforcing conformity,” wrote Christopher Lasch in the New Republic.

    So what do women want? For today, we’ll let Sommers have the last word.

    “The thing is, we’re not a tribe. We’re not a class. We do not have a shared vision. We want all sorts of things,” said Sommers, 43, who said she made sure she had tenure before she started lobbing grenades at the feminists she regards as angry (which breeds resentment) rather than indignant (which leads to creating change). “You can no more generalize about women than you can about men.”

    Copyright 1994 The Washington Post. This material is published under license from the Washington Post. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Washington Post. For permission to reuse this article, contact Copyright Clearance Center.

  5. Bridget Crawford says:

    Dear Professor Sommers:

    Thank you for reading my blog post. I would be very interested in your response to its substance.

    I am sorry if you were misquoted. I did not mean to imply that you had called women’s studies professors (and only the professors) “homely.” My understanding was that the “homely” comment extended beyond the faculty:

    “There are a lot of homely women in women’s studies . . . . Preaching these antimale, antisex sermons is a way for them to compensate for various heartaches:they’re just mad at the beautiful girls.”Anna Quindlen, And Now, Babe Feminism, in”Bad Girls”/”Good Girls”: Women, Sex, and Power in the Nineties 4 (Nan Bauer Maglin & Donna Marie Perry eds., 1996) (quoting Christina Hoff Sommers).


    Bridget Crawford

  6. Bridget Crawford says:

    So that there is no misunderstanding, let me say as clearly as I can: It is extremely frustrating to be misquoted and mis-attributed, and I apologize if I contributed to that.