How the Academy Is Failing Feminism

Christina Hoff Sommers, also known as YouTube’s “Factual Feminist,” spoke last Wednesday at UNC Chapel Hill. Her talk, titled “The Failures of Feminism,” was sponsored by the UNC College Republicans. The former philosophy professor and author of Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women lamented how, in her view, the academy is radicalizing feminism and robbing women of their intellectual freedom.

Sommers, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, still considers herself a feminist, but believes in what she calls “equity feminism,” which “stands for the moral, legal, [and] social equality of the sexes.” In other words, men and women should be treated equally because of their shared humanity and dignity; one sex is not superior to the other.

Those values, said Sommers, guided the original feminists in the 20th century and are rooted in the humanistic traditions of the Enlightenment. However, the current feminism taught in most universities is a radical distortion of equity feminism known as “intersectional” feminism.

This new brand of feminism focuses on the intersection of race, class, and gender. Its overarching message is informed by the philosophy of Karl Marx and Michel Foucault: certain groups (here, women) are systematically oppressed by a more powerful group (here, white men).

Intersectional feminism, according to Sommers, does not educate college women about their human dignity. Instead, its narrow focus on systematic oppression encourages them to feel victimized and resentful toward men. (Since she does not conform to intersectional feminism, Sommers now refers to herself as a “dissident” feminist.)

It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Sommers became aware of the dubious turn feminism had taken. Around that time, she was asked to teach a feminist theory class at Clark University. After reading the assigned textbooks, she said she realized they were one-sided and propagandistic.

In her view, those textbooks broke a “sacred commandment” of the academy: “thou shalt present both sides of the story.” Sommers argues that today things have gotten worse. Only a “fanatical” form of feminism is being taught, and anyone who disagrees is demonized. Instead of encouraging students to think for themselves, the university is telling them what to think.

It is evident that universities are heavily promoting intersectional feminism. The National Women’s Studies Association, for example, says it is committed to intersectional scholarship and fighting “systems of privilege or structures that oppress.” And a textbook published by the University of North Carolina Press, The Intersectional Approach: Transforming the Academy Through Race, Class, and Gender, states explicitly that intersectionalism “dominates the undergraduate curricula of the majority of women’s studies units.”

In North Carolina, Chapel Hill women’s and gender studies (WGS) students recently attended a conference that promoted “intersectional approaches” in order to oppose “interlocking systems of oppression.” UNC Asheville’s WGS department wants students to learn to “recognize individual and institutional power dynamics, [and] how they create privilege and oppression.” And UNC Greensboro’s WGS department will host an event on April 22 “dedicated to…engaging in meaningful conversation around systemic oppressions.”

Nationally, this focus on how women are “systematically oppressed” may be causing students to react with hostility toward opposing views. Two years ago Sommers was invited to speak at Oberlin College. Students posted fliers warning of a “dangerous person” coming to campus. The fliers were so hostile that the administration provided Sommers with a security escort. Thirty women fled to a “safe space” during her talk.

At other universities, such as Georgetown and California State University, Los Angeles, Sommers received similar responses of outrage and furor. Such close-mindedness is not limited to students, however; Sommers said that when she presented a paper at an American Philosophical Association meeting, audience members stomped their feet and hissed at her.

Intersectional feminism’s oppression mania may be influencing other aspects of higher education. Today, for example, universities urge women to enter fields in which they allegedly are “underrepresented,” such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

But according to the American Physical Society, women make up about 60 percent of biology majors and roughly 50 percent of chemistry majors. Sixty percent of neuroscience majors are female. Moreover, from 2012 to 2016, women made up between 45 to 50 percent of medical school graduates. Clearly, women are not so oppressed that they can’t enter difficult fields of scientific study; in some cases they represent the majority of the majors.

And although men greatly outnumber women in physics and engineering, it seems unlikely that “societal oppression” and “cultural bias” are to blame. Perhaps women tend to be interested in different areas of study. But to even suggest this as a possibility provokes accusations of being “anti-woman” or even “non-woman,” as Sommers says she is sometimes labeled.

In an interview after her talk, Sommers said that more universities should try to emulate Robert P. George’s James Madison Program at Princeton University. The Program encourages scholars from various backgrounds to present ideas in an open and respectful atmosphere. Sommers said that such initiatives give other universities incentives to promote greater intellectual freedom.

It appears that modern feminism desperately needs that kind of intellectual freedom. It is now dominated by academics who aggressively promote theories of oppression, giving short shrift to other concepts, such as equity feminism, which Sommers says is now “a relic of the past.” Until this climate changes, those who question intersectional feminism will either be silenced or forced to look elsewhere for a more open intellectual environment.

  • Stanw909

    Christina Hoff Summers is a hero .

  • Sounds like it was a great talk. Wish I had seen it!

  • matt10023

    Hoff-Summers probably speaks for far more to the views of women in general than the victim-centric intersectional studies.

    Equality is a two way street – something ignored on today’s campuses.

  • George Leef

    Most enlightening. “Intersectional feminism” is yet another instance of so-called progressives inventing a problem that calls for a solution by experts (namely themselves) using power.

  • KillerMarmot

    An accurate and well-written summary of Sommer’s views.

    The politicization of the humanities, where the goal is now to advance a political agenda rather than educate students in the liberal tradition, is a massive disservice to a generation.

  • Mark Neil

    “Clearly, women are not so oppressed that they can’t enter difficult fields of scientific study; in some cases they represent the majority of the majors.”

    leaves one to question… when will enough be enough? Will equality only ever be reached when women dominate every single field of study? because that isn’t equality… yet that seems to be the only acceptable measure.

    • FreedomFirst

      Never. That is the nature of Utopian movements. The End of Men is the goal here.

  • FreedomFirst

    Hoff Sommers is great at destroying gender-feminist fantasies but she is no friend to men. She never calls for equity in sexed disposability for females. For real equity one needs to listen to GirlWritesWhat or Janice Fiamengo.

    • a6z

      Equity in sexed disposability?

      • FreedomFirst

        Yes. Female disposability takes different forms than male disposability but the principle is the same. For instance we could ignore women’s health as soon as they have given birth to the requisite 2.2 rug rats just as we often do men’s health after they have won the war.

        • a6z

          Note the fundamental asymmetry. Giving birth is individual. Winning a war is collective. That would lead men to be Republicans and women Democrats.

          • FreedomFirst

            War by womb is a huge part of our collective history. When women give birth they contribute to the collective just as do men who kill for the collective. That said, the asymmetry is hard to handle…particularly when gynocentrism rears it’s ugly head.

          • FreedomFirst

            Giving birth is often a form of war by womb. War and birth both have personal and collective consequences…which is why ‘my body my choice’ is so stupid.

          • egg0

            Your views are idiosyncratic. Certainly I do not share them.

          • FreedomFirst

            Or course not, but whether you share them or not has no bearing on their validity or lack thereof.

          • egg0

            Nor has whether you declare them.

          • FreedomFirst

            Of course not. They stand or fall on their merits something that you don’t seem to be able to understand or to check.

          • egg0

            Now you’re just trash-talking because you lost the argument. Blocked.

          • FreedomFirst

            eggo is about all you is.

    • Claire60

      I fail to see the failing you cite Sommers with. What exactly would ” equity in sexed disposability for females” look like? And given the definition you provided, how is it related to not being a friend to men?

      • FreedomFirst

        Paul Elam can help your with Sommers’ failings.

        As far as equity in sexed disposability, it would look like feminine forms of sacrifice for men that would even the early mortality score for men…and move society forward just as men do for women when men sacrifice for women. I once heard one old woman say to another for instance, “I was so focused on taking care of my husband that I didn’t take care of me’ Had her husband been a veteran or any other form of chivalrous male that kind of female sacrifice is perfectly appropriate and would balance the scales in an equitable but unequal manner.

    • Claire60

      Plus, she most certainly IS a friend to men. Have you not read “The War on Boys”?

      • FreedomFirst

        She seems a friend of men (and boys) at first glance but listen carefully to Paul Elam’s vids on her and you’ll come away with how dangerous she really is.

  • MJ Long

    I’d love to see this talk. Hopefully is was recorded and will be uploaded in the future.
    While I seriously doubt there will ever been total equality, I hope we can strive to get as close as possible.

  • Momwhocares

    She spoke last night at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, coincidentally following three days of campus protests instigated by the Black Liberation Collective demanding intersectional solutions to “institutional racism” following some ugly racist notes left on campus. Here’s the link to her talk last night:

    • Vasile Andrei

      notes that they themselves have created…
      classic self victimization tactics

  • Dad

    Right on the money!

  • Scott

    Elitist feminists – or Hillarycrats – sold out to neoliberalism to acquire political funding from wealthy Wall St. donors. There goal now is power purely for the sake of power and amassing wealth. Nothing unusual here; just another example of yesterday’s victims being today’s tyrants. At least we no longer have to listen to their self righteous crap about being the gentler sex.

  • Claire60

    “But according to the American Physical Society” — I’m reading this thinking what kind of marginal organization is this??? It’s the American PHYSICS Society!!! Geesh! Who’s proofreading over there at the Martin Center?