Who Stole Feminism?
Cover of the first edition
|Author||Christina Hoff Sommers|
|Published||June 3, 1994 (Simon & Schuster)|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women is a 1994 book by Christina Hoff Sommers, a writer who was at that time a philosophy professor at Clark University. It received wide attention for its attack on American feminism, and it was given highly polarized reviews divided between conservative and liberal commentators.
Sommers's book popularized the idea that there is a split within American feminism between what she called "equity feminism" and "gender feminism". Sommers contends that equity feminists seek equal legal rights for women and men, while gender feminists seek to counteract historical inequalities based on gender. Some feminist scholars responded that there was no such split in feminism, and that Sommers was promoting the social viewpoint of victim blaming. Some reviewers praised the book highly for putting feminism on the defense, while others claimed that Sommers' research, facts, and assumptions were flawed.
In general, Sommers declared, "American feminism is currently dominated by a group of women who seek to persuade the public that American women are not the free creatures we think we are". She asserts that such feminists have "alienated and silenced women and men alike." She writes, "These consciousness-raisers are driving out the scholars on many campuses."
Using the term "gender feminists" to describe those she sees as arguing based on false assumptions and ideology rather than belief in true equality, Sommers states that those activists "have proved very adroit in getting financial support from governmental and private sources" and "hold the keys to many bureaucratic fiefdoms". She also writes, "It is now virtually impossible to be appointed to high administrative office in any university system without having passed muster with the gender feminist".
Early reviews and responses
Who Stole Feminism? was first reviewed in Kirkus Reviews in April 1994, two months prior to publication. The staff at Kirkus said that Sommers' book highlighted instances of "shoddy" research in feminist studies but failed to tell the reader about similar poor quality research in other fields. Sommers was said to be confused about categories of feminism, to have invented a sort of "gender feminism" to fit her purpose of promoting her brand of liberal feminism, and that "ironically, she weaves a theory of conspiracy equal in force to those she seeks to debunk." Kirkus said that Sommers presumed to speak for the majority of feminists "without providing persuasive evidence that most women are liberal feminists." Sommers was praised for her valid challenges to feminist ideology, but her assumptions were described as flawed.
A book review published in June 1994 by Nina Auerbach in The New York Times Book Review was widely seen. Auerbach, a scholar of Victorian literature, was highly critical of Sommers, finding fault with her facts and logic; Auerbach said that the John M. Olin Foundation which paid for the book's publication should have found "a less muddled writer" for the task. Sommers responded to the criticism by saying that the Times should not have assigned Auerbach to the review, since as an organizer of a feminist event portrayed negatively in the book, she was sure to be prejudiced against the ideas in the book. Conservatives such as Jim Sleeper, Howard Kurtz and Rush Limbaugh defended Sommers; Limbaugh said that the Times was attempting to "kill this book".
Editor Deirdre English writing in The Washington Post Book World was appreciative of the investigative aspect of Sommers' work but she questioned the polarized depiction of feminism. Calling Sommers a "well-published conservative [who] is itching for a fight", she said the book would likely provoke debate "as well as some retractions". English said of the book that "the root question is whether women want equality with men as they are, in the world men have shaped, or if women seek change in that world".
Linda Hirshman was critical of facts found in the book; writing in the Los Angeles Times, Hirshman said that Sommers made mistakes in regard to her passages about the historic practice of a husband beating his wife to maintain discipline; Hirshman said that Sommers pointedly left out a case wherein the husband was not convicted. Laura Flanders reviewed the book negatively in Extra!, published by progressive media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). Flanders said that Sommers made the same mistakes she accused feminists of making, such that Sommers' book contained "unsubstantiated charges", cites to "advocacy research", and statistical errors likely based on a misreading of the source material.
The book was positively reviewed by Cathy Young who was an executive colleague of Sommers in the Women's Freedom Network. It was also highly praised in the National Review by Sommers' close friend Mary Lefkowitz. Camille Paglia called the book a "landmark study... which uses ingenious detective work to unmask the shocking fraud and propaganda of establishment feminism and the servility of American media and academe to Machiavellian feminist manipulation." Melanie Kirkpatrick, writing in The Wall Street Journal, gave the book high marks, saying that "Sommers simply lines up her facts and shoots one bullseye after another."
John Martin Ellis, a scholar of German literature, writing against what he called "race-gender-class critics" (especially lesbians) gaining power in academia, praised Sommers' book as highlighting the "intellectual deterioration" that he argues has occurred within American humanities courses. He suggested that Sommers' book, along with others voicing similar views, was met with "bitter hostility" from campus feminists, and that when Rebecca Sinkler, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, gave the book to Auerbach to review, the result was a "predictable trashing." Feminist columnist Katha Pollitt, however, thought Auerbach's review was too polite, that it failed to give Sommers' book "the pasting it deserved".
Sommers' claims regarding the legal permissiveness of wife beating, in particular, have been criticized as inaccurate. In arguing that British law since the 1700s and American law since before the Revolution prohibits wife beating, Sommers quotes English legal historian William Blackstone as saying that the "husband was prohibited from using any violence to his wife..." Critiquing the first edition of the book, Hirshman and Flanders separately argue that Sommers left out the other half of Blackstone's sentence that says in Latin "other than that which lawfully and reasonably belongs to the husband for the due government and correction of his wife". Flanders said that Blackstone's "complete text says the exact opposite of Sommers' partial quotation". Sommers wrote a rebuttal column a week after Hirshman's Los Angeles Times piece stating that Blackstone's quotation had been misinterpreted, and had only been citing an outdated law since superseded.
In the first edition of Who Stole Feminism?, Sommers wrote about how a figure of 40% increase of domestic violence incidents had been reportedly associated with the annual Super Bowl game. Sommers found that the figure was not based on any study. Sociologist Rhonda Hammer of University of California, Los Angeles, writes that Sommers, despite her debunking of the 40% figure, went too far in claiming that "no study shows that Super Bowl Sunday is in any way different from other days in the amount of domestic violence". Hammer said that Sommers ignored a variety of studies that showed increased domestic violence during the Super Bowl. Writing on the same Super Bowl issue, criminologist Samuel Walker Kiewit was impressed by Sommers' debunking of the 40% statistic but he said she ignored the underlying seriousness of the domestic violence problem.
Later reviews and analysis
Writing a decade after the publication of Sommers' book, Professor Anne-Marie Kinahan of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada places the book in the context of a wider antifeminist backlash was framed by Sommers and two contemporary publications: The New Victorians by René Denfeld and The Morning After by Katie Roiphe. Kinahan views these three books as signalling a collective "fear of the perceived radicalism of feminism on university campuses", which is blamed by the three authors on the rise of queer theory and the growing power of lesbians and blacks in academia. Kinahan says that Sommers constructs in her book "a second type of feminism" called gender feminism which is supposedly a threat to traditional value systems; this demonstrates to Kinahan that Sommers is promoting a white, heterosexual and middle class value system, and that her book is advocating the continuation of "traditional hierarchies of morality, religion, and the nuclear family", as well as the stasis of traditional hierarchy in universities. Kinahan accuses Sommers of failing to consider the importance of the development of critical thinking in university students. Kinahan points out the contradiction in Sommers book which asserts that students are resistant to radical feminism, yet feminist indoctrination of students poses a great danger.
Political scientist Ronnee Schreiber of San Diego State University expressed how the conservative and antifeminist Independent Women's Forum continues to use the book to portray feminists as scheming falsifiers of statistical data.
Professors Dale Bauer and Katherine Rhoades writing about campus antifeminism in 2014 explained how Sommers book was mistaken in its assumptions about the way students approach challenging ideas presented to them in university. Sommers devoted a chapter to a negative depiction of a "feminist classroom" where the values of the teacher overwhelmed the students. Sommers advocated a classroom objectively free of values. Bauer and Rhoades contradict Sommers, describing how university students "always bring their own assumptions and values to class" and that they expect an active and lively exchange of ideas with the teacher and the other students. Bauer and Rhoades thought that the book's "most serious conceptual flaw" was the failure by Sommers to account for why women in society "have not always been treated fairly". Bauer and Rhoades said that they agreed with the assessment that Sommers wrote her book primarily to sell many copies, but that it would be a mistake to underestimate the threat that her book represented in its attempt to redefine feminism.
- Ehrenreich, Barbara (August 1, 1994). "A Feminist on the Outs". Time 144: 61.
- Flanders, Laura (September 1, 1994). "The 'Stolen Feminism' Hoax: Anti-Feminist Attack Based on Error-Filled Anecdotes". Extra! (New York City: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting).
- "Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, by Christina Hoff Sommers". Kirkus Reviews (David LeBreton). April 15, 1994. Review posted online May 20, 2010.
- Auerbach, Nina (June 12, 1994). "Sisterhood Is Fractious". New York Times Book Review.
- Pollitt, Katha (March 28, 2002). "Adventures in Book Reviewing". The Nation. Print version published April 15, 2002.
- English, Deirdre (July 17, 1994). "Their Own Worst Enemies". The Washington Post Book World 24 (29). pp. 1, 11.
- Hirshman, Linda (July 31, 1994). "Scholars in the Service of Politics: Those who would deny men's abuse of women twist statistics and skip the research". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 30, 2014.
- Paglia 1995. p. xvi.
- Melanie Kirkpatrick (1994-07-01). Wall Street Journal. Missing or empty
- Ellis 1997. pp. 86-87, 218, 254-255.
- Lauritsen 1998. p. 62.
- Sommers, Who Stole Feminism, 1994, pp. 204–205.
- Sommers, Christina (August 13, 1994). "Hirshman's Statistics". Los Angeles Times.
- Hammer 2002. pp. 100–1.
- Kiewit, Samuel Walker (1998). The Rights Revolution : Rights and Community in Modern America: Rights and Community in Modern America. Oxford University Press. p. 24. ISBN 9780195344714.
- Kinahan, Anne-Marie (2004). "Women Who Run from the Wolves: Feminist Critique As Post-Feminism". In Althea Prince, Susan Silva-Wayne, Christian Vernon. Feminisms and Womanisms: A Women's Studies Reader. Canadian Scholars' Press. pp. 120–9. ISBN 9780889614116.
- Schreiber, Ronnee (2012). Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics, with a New Epilogue. Oxford University Press. pp. 67–8. ISBN 9780199917020.
- Bauer, Dale; Rhoades, Katherine (2014). "The Meanings and Metaphors of Student Resistance". In Veve Clark, Shirley Nelson Garner, Margaret Higonnet, Ketu Katrak. Anti-feminism in the Academy. Routledge. pp. 95–114. ISBN 9781317959076.
- Ellis, John M. (1997). Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities. New York: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06920-0.
- Hammer, Rhonda (2002). Antifeminism and Family Terrorism: A Critical Feminist Perspective. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7425-1049-4.
- Lauritsen, John (1998). A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love. Provincetown: Pagan Press. ISBN 0-943742-11-0.
- Paglia, Camille (1995). Vamps and Tramps: New Essays. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-024828-5.