Christina Hoff Sommers, This is How Women Betray Women

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Thursday, Georgetown University College Republicans, sponsored by the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute, will be hosting Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers for an event that has been named “What’s Right (and Badly Wrong) with Feminism?” Dr. Sommers, who has written for a number of publications and hosts a weekly video blog, is the author of the ironically titled Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. This theme of a woman betraying women is one that Dr. Sommers embodies in her everyday work.

Dr. Sommers

Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers

Dr. Sommers’ writing on feminism pivots on her concepts of “gender feminism” and “equity feminism,” denouncing the former for promoting an ostensible privilege to females, and affirming the latter, which harkens to a primitive, individualistic and first-wave concept of gender parity. Indeed, many of the feminist principles that Dr. Sommers deems acceptable seem not to have progressed since the Seneca Falls Convention, and her promotion of this outdated model fails to come as a surprise when one considers the author’s myopic and jarringly naïve outlooks on academia, workplace discrimination, and physical and sexual violence.

Dr. Sommers’ work attempts to mitigate the unequal opportunities afforded to women by attacking and downplaying trusted statistics. She claims that feminist scholars fabricate the information we receive on the challenges that real women face every day. Feminism is not how women betray women. Dismissing and ignoring the issues that affect their own — that is how women betray women.

In her castigation of modern feminism, Christina Hoff Sommers misses the mark repeatedly. She denounces the movement as being anti-men, indicts it for promoting some fabled notion of female supremacy, and purports that her antiquated model of what feminism should look like is better for all women. What Dr. Sommers seems to forget is the racial, ethnic, and LGBTQ insensitivity that characterized first-wave feminism, alienating women who held identities that did not fit the dominant paradigm.

First-wave feminism was a movement that forgot women of color, forgot women who were not middle or upper class, and was not ready to receive women who did not identify as strictly heterosexual. This was the movement that began in 1848. This is the movement to which Dr. Sommers likens her own model of feminism, which apparently could not bear an update, lest it become too “radical.” Refusing to address the needs of minority women, forcing us to mold our own stories into the dominant narrative, and arguing that we don’t need to progress from a 19th century model that is tailored to the middle-class and the white— that is how women betray women.

Dr. Sommers, a pioneer in sweeping women’s own lived experiences under the rug, published a piece in the Washington Post that means to tell us that sexual assault is not as prevalent as we are told. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study that found that an approximate 1.3 million women were survivors of rape and an additional 12.6 million individuals were survivors of sexual violence. Dr. Sommers, who claims she is not anti-feminist, used her piece not to address the seriousness of sexual violence, but to assail the statistic and purvey her claim that it’s not as bad as it seems.

ChristinaHoffSommers

In her Washington Post article, Dr. Sommers appears incapable of seeing past a black-and-white picture of rape. She blatantly disregards legislation defining sexual violence, dismissing cases of intoxicated sex and sex that is coerced as not fitting her bill. For example, she writes off respondents’ descriptions of situations in which “someone pressured them by ‘telling [them] lies’” as “ambiguous” rather than as cases of sexual violence. Dr. Sommers also points to affirmative answers to the question, “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever had vaginal sex with you?” as contributing to a supposedly false statistic.

She notes a discrepancy between this statistic and reported rapes, accepting the faulty premise that if a rape was not reported to the police, it clearly didn’t happen. Her definition of rape fits with her 1848 definition of feminism. Dr. Sommers is personally unable to look past her own archaic structures, and this in and of itself is disheartening, but when she uses them to define other women’s experiences and discredit what women go through, her own skewed perception of reality becomes dangerous.

In her outright dismissal of sexual violence, Dr. Sommers has painted a clear picture: Addressing the individual and systemic plights of other women is not her priority. Dr. Sommers has an agenda, like she claims all feminists do; but Dr. Sommers’ agenda is to silence women’s stories and to erase our fight from society’s consciousness. Setting the stage for a society in which survivors of sexual violence are even less likely to receive the understanding and the resources that they need — that is how women betray women.

I do not wish to use this piece to question the rationale of Georgetown University College Republicans in bringing Christina Hoff Sommers to campus, and I do not contest their right and freedom to do so. I uphold that any campus needs to hear a plurality of voices, and it is the liberty as well as the responsibility of student groups to bring in speakers who will reflect their own missions and points of view. However, I do urge students to think critically about the message that will be portrayed this Thursday. I propose that students who do not support the silencing of women and who are survivors of sexual violence stand against Dr. Sommers’ message. I will not dignify Dr. Sommers’ agenda by supporting her disservice to women. I will instead stand in solidarity with the women whose stories will not be told in that room.

michaela lewsi

Michaela Lewis (COL ’18) is a member of H*yas for Choice.

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SAC, Vaginas, and Free Speech at Georgetown

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This year, I was a producer in Georgetown’s production of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” We had just over 60 actresses, performed in six shows, and ended up donating a few thousand dollars to My Sister’s Place, a local domestic violence shelter. Overall, it was a large, successful operation that went relatively smoothly — that is, until members of the cast attempted to design and purchase T-shirts for themselves to commemorate their experience.

Let me start by showing the design. Here it is, in all its glory:

VM shirt design

This is what happened: I designed the shirts, drawing from designs that the V-Day Foundation sells as part of its One Billion Rising campaign. According to Custom Ink’s requirements, the shirts had to have the words “Georgetown University” on them. Additionally, the shirts were being entirely funded by club members — SAC money was not being used to purchase them. After I submitted the design to SAC, I received an email saying the design had been “narrowly approved.” Wary but optimistic, I accepted the decision.

Unfortunately, the following day, I received an email saying a member of the commission had moved to rescind SAC’s authorization because they believed the matter needed further consideration. I was urged to attend the SAC meeting the following week to present the shirts if I wanted them to be approved.

Thus began the saga.

I want to say explicitly that I am not attempting to vilify SAC. They eventually did the right thing — they passed the design 7-4. The reason I waited a few weeks to discuss the incident was to avoid any uproar over something that SAC (eventually) did right. However, that does not mean the situation was not concerning. It demonstrated the persistence of deeply held, frankly misogynistic beliefs regarding women and their sexuality. The ordeal that was required to pass the T-shirt design needs to be discussed because the attitudes some SAC commissioners displayed are also the underpinnings of anti-women, anti-choice, and anti-sexual health legislation and movements at Georgetown and across the U.S.

There were two major arguments some of the SAC commissioners made that warrant special attention. The first was that if members of Take Back the Night wore the T-shirts around campus, small children might see them and parents might find them inappropriate. Let me reiterate that, as you can see, this is not an anatomical depiction of a vagina. It is an abstract representation of a concept of femininity — the very concept the Monologues tries to espouse. Heaven forbid a 6-year-old girl would look at the shirt and see something vaguely reminiscent of what she, herself, possesses. Further, there are metaphorical phallic images everywhere we look — all one has to do is peek out the window of some New South dorm to catch a glimpse of the Washington Monument. There is a double standard, and, as is so frequently the case, the double standard works against women.

GU cast members of "The Vagina Monologues"

GU cast members of “The Vagina Monologues”

The design is simply not pornographic. To say that the design is inappropriate requires a two-step thought process. First, it assumes that the vagina is automatically sexual, an idea that borders on objectification. Second, it indicates that a woman’s vagina is dirty and shameful. It is this kind of thinking that fosters the slut/virgin dichotomy, catcalling a woman as she walks down a street, and — perhaps most seriously — the stigma surrounding a woman who chooses to speak about her sexual assault or to have an abortion. These cultural norms hurt women, and by deliberating for over two weeks about the shirts, SAC perpetuated the existence of these norms.

Additionally, several SAC commissioners likened the image to a T-shirt design they had refused to approve earlier in the year that prominently displayed a beer stein, which they felt promoted underage drinking. Because, clearly, possessing a vagina is a similarly illegal activity.

It makes the university look good to have an active women’s center. It makes Georgetown look good to have a chapter of Take Back the Night and to put on “The Vagina Monologues.” It is something tour guides can point out as they bring prospective groups through campus. However, by threatening to reject the design, SAC, acting in its role as an advisory commission to the university, said that these are important issues to discuss in a very small, enclosed theater for a few nights a year. Carrying on the dialogue for more than a few hours every February by wearing shirts that symbolize the essence of the show would clearly be too much discussion, SAC implied. It’s a free speech issue, and H*yas for Choice has always contended that the university pays lip service to free speech, but frequently fails in their implementation of it. Unfortunately, this debacle with SAC epitomizes that constant struggle.

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Emily Stephens (SFS ’17) is the secretary of H*yas for Choice.