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Christina Hoff Sommers asserts feminism has been 'hijacked': disingenuous, or dangerously out of touch?

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Christina Hoff Sommers claimed in a recent interview that the feminism of today has been hijacked, speaking in particular about the #MeToo movement, the Weinstein effect, and the women’s marches.

“I became a feminist in high school, way back in the last millennium. But the feminism I grew up with doesn’t have that much in common with what passes for feminism today. It wasn’t about denigrating men or fixating on victimhood. It was about being free, being a self-determining being. So sometimes I ask myself, well maybe I should just label what I am now as a humanitarian or an equalist. Am I’m tempted, but I still think the world needs a strong, reality-based women’s movement.

"I’m aware that, in the minds of many, feminism connotes male-blaming and a paranoid worldview. I am mortified by all the fuss about trigger warnings and telling people to check their privilege and words like mansplaining. I think feminism has been hijacked by extremists. And I’m just not ready to cede it to the trigger-warner of the safe spacers.”

For a self-labeled ‘factual feminist’, Hoff Sommers certainly does not seem concerned with backing her arguments up with either facts, specifics, nor statistics. Her arguments crumble away under the mere suggestion of scrutiny.

For instance, she states that feminism is “in its current form, very male averse”, and uses confidence as a substitute for real analysis or explanation. All feminism has ever asked of men is for them to recognise the privilege handed to them by the value of their sex, over women in the same position, and for them to work alongside women to rectify a social imbalance. Can Hoff Sommers back up her claims that feminism is actually poised against men? No.

She goes on to denigrate the newest generation of feminist women, stating that the focus on women’s bodies in marches, and the use of so-called ‘gross-out’ feminism, is “all quite absurd. This is not how men came to power. These are antics that reinforce some of the worst stereotypes about women… These oppression theories, and eccentric ideas that focus on the idea that we’re oppressed by being women and our bodies – this comes out of gender studies. So I don’t think this was a spontaneous movement among young women”.

Hoff Sommers’ contempt for gender studies is such that she often falls back on it in her ‘straw man’ fantasies. And it’s quite smart!

Pretending the millennial generation has been brainwashed into a certain mode of thinking is a fantastic way of delegitimising anything young women have to say. Never mind if it plays into historical typecasts that depreciate a gender’s ability to think critically.

She also demonstrates a thorough misunderstanding, whether intentional or not, of the purpose of ‘gross-out’ feminism. Its goal is to normalise, at first through shock, women’s bodies, bodies which are traditionally viewed as demarcations of femininity. Its battle if for women to be taken as humans, not the ‘fairer sex’, building on far older beliefs held by feminists; Mary Wollstonecraft was not the last woman to call out the construction of doll-like femininity for its diminutiveness.  

As for that comparison that “this is not how men came into power”, is it even worth addressing the utter uselessness of that statement? Exactly when were men in this position?

Perhaps one of the more shocking statements of Hoff Sommers’ interview was regarding intersectionality: “Students are immersed in what I see as a kind of conspiracy theory… So I don’t think this is a legitimate uprising. People think, oh well, if you oppose intersectionality that’s like opposing gay rights or civil rights or women’s rights. No, those were authentic liberation movements. Intersectionality is not”. Again, with the denial of young feminists’ agenda.

Again also, with thoroughly ignoring all evidence that points to the contrary of her assertions. For instance, the fact that Latina and black women will earn far less than their white female counterparts, or that women with disabilities are two and a half times more likely to be sexually assaulted than able-bodied women.

Intersectional theory is feminist theory that acknowledges women experience discrimination differently: a matrix of oppressing categories that include race, sexuality, economic background, etc. interlock with sexism to mutually reinforce these oppressions. What Hoff Sommers is doing in denying intersectionality as legitimate, is further reinforcing the view that feminism only serves middle-class, white cisgender women. And in that, she stands in the way of feminism showing a unified front.

Likewise, she claims the wage gap between men and women doesn’t exist, or rather “it’s misleading… It doesn’t take into account different occupations, positions, hour worked per week… when they are considered the wage gap narrows. And in some studies, it vanishes”. She fully misses the point that the very variables she speaks of are all affected by internalised and institutional sexism, and so cannot be ‘checked for’, for that would be defeating the very purpose of such a statistic.  

When asked if women are in danger of being harassed in the workplace, as #MeToo suggests, Hoff Sommers replies, “there’s no evidence of that”. Speaking about what she deems the “most reputable study… the most trusted source of data in social science”, she claims that only 3.6% of American women have been sexually harassed in the last 12 months while they were working.

This is just one study with a very limited timeframe and one which Hoff Sommers has decided to quote because it supports her narrative of young, brainwashed, feminist hysteria. This is also far from the general consensus of many studies. But really, why does it matter?

When such statistics are brought up the focus isn’t meant to be on the number itself. The problem these studies are drawing attention to is that a large section of the female population will be victimised at least once, if not repeatedly, in their lifetime, and that cannot be permitted to continue. Why does Hoff Sommers avoid talking about that? Her focus seems to be on disproving statistics and others’ beliefs, rather than engaging in a conversation about what is to be done.

It’s difficult to evaluate Hoff Sommers’ motivations behind her argument. Is she serving merely as a right-wing mouthpiece, given her involvement with the American Enterprise Institute, is she self-involved to the point that she asserting herself against mainstream feminist narrative is how she ensure others pay attention to her? Or are her intentions good, but views outdated and out of touch?

“I’m hopeful that this surge of interest and activism will moderate and become more just and fair and nuanced. But I haven’t seen signs of that yet”, she affirms. No matter her intentions, Christina Hoff Sommers is still obstructing the unification of feminism ideologies and empowering anti-feminists with her oft-baseless rhetoric.

Hoff Sommers avoids genuinely engaging in feminist discourse, never going beyond easy rhetoric, but preferring instead to debate the smallest points rather than opening up to evolved debates about the broader ideas. That can only be the mark of someone disingenuous about their politics.

Of course, it’s necessary for progressive change to challenge and disagree with other strands of one’s own political family, but if doing so smear campaigning and placing yourself as the only sane and factual one, this is only conducive to the fracturing of unity and the quietening of a voice for change.

 

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