At a time when the majority of American college students are female—currently 57 percent of all students—higher education’s conversation surrounding women’s rights is largely dominated by modern feminist ideology. Roughly 63 percent of female students identify as feminists, and while no similar statistic is available for female faculty or staff members, most likely an even higher percentage of them identify as such.
On the surface, feminist ideals seem to have the good of all women in mind: After all, who would characterize him or herself as opposed to women’s “freedom” and “equality”?
But a closer look at campus culture reveals that, in order to be considered “pro-woman,” one must accept a narrowly defined set of values—values that many women find unrelatable, if not repulsive. This includes the glorification of abortion, the rejection of masculinity, and the exaltation of sexual liberation.
In the hookup culture that has developed with the advance of feminist values, promiscuity is not only rampant but is intellectually defended by scholars and socially condoned by university-sponsored events. As a result, the average college woman steps out of the safety of her home and childhood school and social communities onto the college campus where sexual anarchy is the rule.
One example of how colleges promote hedonism is the annual “Sex Week” sponsored by colleges and universities across the country. Organizers of the week’s events claim that it is meant to teach students about how to have fun and safe sex. Porn stars and sex workers are frequent guest speakers throughout the year.
This Valentine’s Day, for instance, UCLA’s LGBT center hosted a workshop entitled “Sexy, Safe, and Consensual” where a sex worker, holding a whip, spoke about “bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, [and] masochism.”
This celebration of sexual license invades students’ classrooms and reading assignments as well. The graphic novel Fun Home, which depicts explicit lesbian sexuality, frequently appears on college’s recommended summer reading lists and on course syllabi. But students who objected to reading the book on moral grounds were mocked and dismissed by those inside and outside academia.
Perhaps the most powerful pressure to conform, however, comes from one’s peers. While many college women are able to withstand negative influences, having developed a strong sense of self through family, religion, or just having an extra measure of innate common sense, there is intense social pressure to engage in casual meaningless sex and to “live in the moment.” To students on today’s college campuses, sex is not something to be taken seriously, but just another way to have fun.
In this environment that idolizes the self-centered pursuit of pleasure and the instant gratification of one’s desires, it is no wonder that students feel little need to regulate their behavior. And today’s mainstream feminism contributes in large part to that environment but adds a politicized twist to the conversation surrounding “women’s rights” that pits men and women against each other.
Prominent feminist Hanna Rosin, for example, argues that “feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hook-up culture” because it eliminates women’s need for men. According to Rosin, women are the ones perpetuating hook-up culture because it allows them to keep “their own ends in mind.” In her book, The End of Men and The Rise of Women, Rosin says:
Today’s college girl likens a serious suitor to an accidental pregnancy in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it thwart a promising future.
But today’s feminism also has a side that is not even about women; the objective is to use feminism to draw women into the larger leftist political project. A quick glance at programs sponsored by college women’s centers reveals how feminists recruit college women for all types of political purposes. Take, for example, a program sponsored by the women’s centers at both Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: The Moxie Project. As a Moxie Scholar, a student earns a summer stipend while volunteering as an activist in local organizations such as the North Carolina Justice Center, Lillian’s List, and NARAL Pro-Choice. These organizations advocate policies such as on-demand abortion, lobby for liberal politicians, and help advance other explicitly liberal policies. One of the partners with the Moxie Project said:
The future really dependents on attracting progressive young women… so it is absolutely essential that we build a pipeline with young women who care about participating in their democracy.
The efforts of the Moxie Project appear to be successful. One of the program’s students reflected on how her participation in feminist activism opened the door to other social justice issues:
Feminism is kind of like the gateway drug to social justice; you realize, like, everything else is wrong with the world after you realize there’s [sic] systematic inequalities about something as simple as gender…I really want to put what I preach into practice.
And many other college women are inflamed with the same sense of moral purpose—seeing the goals of feminism as the means to defend “basic human rights.”
Although the women’s movement originally sought to change a great number of social and political realities, among its more fundamental goals was to expose and fight against inequality between the two sexes. As a result, many barriers that blocked women from entering universities and professional life were rightly abolished.
But, many of the movement’s goals have become perverse. As Christina Hoff Sommers notes in her book, The War Against Boys, the movement’s quest for “equality of opportunity” morphed into the demand for “equality of participation.” The latter is the notion that if women do not participate just as much as men in most fields it must be because some sort of oppressive patriarchal power keeps them away. To object that women generally have different interests than men—and therefore do not proportionately enter the same fields—is considered sexist.
In fact, modern feminism is increasingly growing unhinged and irrational. At times, feminists even refuse to acknowledge basic biological reality. When former Evergreen State College Biology Professor Heather E. Heying spoke about the biological differences between men and women at an event at Portland State University, a group of protestors—mostly female—got up shouting and sabotaged the sound system as they exited in protest.
The self-evident perception that men and women, in general, have unique tendencies and strengths that, when combined, yield results that neither of the sexes could have achieved independently, contradicts the current feminist narrative that announces that the “Future is Female.”
Indeed, according to this most recent iteration of feminism, men are seen as a contradictory force that must be overcome, or at least held at bay, and not as a cooperative partner whose unique qualities complement one’s own and contribute to the good of society. This deep distrust of men makes women feel the need to assert themselves over men at any cost—whether it means holding men in contempt, outcompeting them professionally, scorning traditional marriage, or engaging in just as many or more casual hookups as men do.
On college campuses, some women seek to prove their strength and independence by becoming as calloused about uncommitted sex as the most promiscuous man. In her book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, Lisa Wade interviewed college women who viewed hooking up as a way to “reject oppressive sexism.” One student said:
I figured the best way for a girl to reject oppressive sexism would be to act in exact opposition of what our sexist society expects of a decent woman; to get exactly what she wants from men, whenever she wants it. In essence, objectify them back.
Feminism today has positioned men in the cultural cross-hairs. Wade, a feminist academic at Occidental College, goes so far as to say that it is “masculinity itself that has become the problem.” Another feminist writer, Jennifer Wright, argues that women are afraid that “men will murder them” if they do not give into their sexual advances.
Such demonization of men has led college administrators to police male behavior in Draconian fashion. They can be forced to comply with “affirmative consent” codes (in which they must explicitly ask for permission each step in the seduction) or can be denied due process rights when accused of sexual misconduct.
Meanwhile, women are encouraged to view themselves as perpetual victims and are discouraged from taking common-sense precautions and learning how to defend themselves when necessary. It seems that at the same time feminists are promoting licentiousness, they are finding ways to absolve women from their own poor choices.
Contrary to the mainstream feminist narrative, such cavalier attitudes toward men and sex have not actually benefited the majority of women. According to a study entitled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, women have become increasingly unhappy since the 1970s.
Furthermore, research conducted by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture indicates that sex has different psychological effects on women, who generally associate it with romance more than men do—suggesting that uncommitted sexual encounters will have uniquely adverse effects on them.
And while many college-educated women clearly value professional success, a study by the Pew Research Center suggests that they do not want it to come at the expense of raising a family. According to research from the American Economic Association, for college-educated women, “the biggest premium to life satisfaction is associated with having a family.”
Yet, declining birth rates among millennial women indicate that many are missing out on that very central component to life satisfaction. According to a recent New York Times article, America’s fertility is in “precipitous decline”—with an unsettling gap between the family size women wish to have and what they actually will have.
If mainstream feminism were a movement that truly fought for the well-being and freedom of women, then it is confounding that the social and cultural “wins” it has achieved over the last several decades has not resulted in greater overall female satisfaction and happiness. Perhaps that is why a growing number of women are tired of the radical feminist lobby’s claim to be speaking for all women. (In fact, only 23 percent of all American women self-identify as feminists.)
And there are signs of hope: a growing number of organizations have emerged in an effort to provide students with a healthier understanding of both femininity and masculinity. One example is the Network of Enlightened Women (NeW). The organization began when founder Karin Agness Lips asked the women’s center at the University of Virginia for support in a conservative women’s group she wanted to start. Her petition was rejected. As a result of her experience, Lips became aware of how isolated and unsupported conservative women were on campus. Now, there are NeW chapters on more than 40 college campuses across the country.The broader feminist movement will likely continue to dominate college campuses in the foreseeable future.
Another example is the Love and Fidelity Network (LFN). Its mission is to promote marriage, family, and sexual integrity on campus and to provide students with the necessary resources to do so. This past Valentine’s Day, LFN ran a pro-dating campaign on 20 college campuses with the tagline “Take a Chance: People Are Worth It”—encouraging students to go on “real dates,” not one-night stands.
The Anscombe Society is one of several student organizations that LFN assists. Founded at Princeton University, students involved with the Anscombe Society meet to discuss current issues related to marriage, family, professional life, and women’s rights. Anscombe Societies have been founded on college campuses across the country—including at UCLA, Stanford University, and Harvard University.
Organizations such as NeW or LFN bolster the resolve of college women to reject the temptation to go along with what everyone else is doing. In particular, the intellectual support that these organizations provide in the form of reading materials and speaker events is especially helpful because it shows students that there is a sound and logical basis for decency and traditional morality.
Even though the winds of change are in the air, the broader feminist movement will likely continue to dominate college campuses in the foreseeable future—with the majority of young women blindly clinging to its destructive narrative. After all, the movement depends on maintaining support from young women: among feminists themselves, women between the ages of 18-34 relate the most to the feminist movement’s current goals. In the attempt to counter this movement, it is important to understand that, more than anything, today’s college women want to fight for a noble cause—they are just largely misguided as to what that cause should be.
But feminism’s monopoly on molding college women’s opinions may be coming to an end—partly due to feminists’ own excesses. When a public figure such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says that “a special place in hell” exists for women who do not fall in line with certain political agendas, one cannot help but wonder how long college women will remain enchanted with feminism’s empty promises. If there is a “war on women,” then it is largely a war that feminists are waging against other women and the culture at large.
Women—and men—deserve better.