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’ 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 Sommers deems acceptable seem not to have progressed since the Seneca Falls Convention, and her promotion of this outdated model fails to come as a surprise when one considers the author’s myopic and jarringly naïve outlooks on academia, workplace discrimination, and physical and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.
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 Lewis (COL ’18) is a member of H*yas for Choice.