Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Christina Hoff Sommers

I've just come across the existence of Christina Hoff Sommers.  I have to say that if you believed woman had found the equality they sought to find 150 years ago and should now quiet down about the trivial inequalities, this is the 'thinker' for you.

Christina Hoff Sommers claims to be a philosopher.  A quick review of her publication history, however, suggests this is not the case.  The closest she's come to publishing something that resembles philosophy is Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, an introductory volume to ethics that doesn't mention Aristotle, Paramendes, Kant, Hegel, Derrida or Levinas. Even Certeau is left out, which is surprising considering that 'everyday life' is in the title of the book.  Despite, or maybe because of these exclusions, this book is a best seller on the college textbook circuit in America. A fact that might explain why American students have no clue about the history of ethics.

Christina Hoff Sommers is not a philosopher.  She is a critic who has figured out a way to make a buck off criticising feminism.  Her other titles include:

Who Stole Feminism?: How Women have Betrayed Women
The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men

Do these titles scare you?  She says they shouldn't.  For her, it's time to criticise feminism. According to Hoff Sommers, popular feminism came to a halt in the 80s because it became too idealogical (i.e. too intellectual) and angry.  For her, feminism has and is based upon 10% of women who blame men for the evils in the world.  Feminism is thus invested in blaming men for all cultural and political violence.

I fully support criticising feminism and agree that feminist philosophy, as is true of all philosophy, is somewhat removed from the real life of real women.  In fact, I have become rather used to being the one in the room whom other feminists argue with.  I preach about female responsibility and that makes everyone tired, uncomfortable and angry.

HOWEVER, Hoff Sommers is doing something completely different.  She's bought into the idea that legal equality means real equality.  We all know this is not the case.  Legally, women in the US are treated the same as men. That's true, however, only when they 'act like men'.  Women who do any of the pesky things that make them women: have babies, menstruate, go through menopause, etc, are not treated the same.  When women are women, the equality breaks down.

For instance, in some companies, women who are on maternity leave no longer enjoy 401K matching by their employer.  Thus, they are paid for the 6 weeks of leave, but their future is no longer supported.  This has been to the courts.  I recently heard an American feminist thinker suggest that re-classifying pregnancy as a long-term illness would solve the problem.  I think that speaks for itself.

Hoff Sommers also does a lot of work on rape. She combs through statistics and points out how they don't match up, proving, in her mind, that rape is overvalued as an event. For her, the discourse on rape has created a non-existent crisis.  You can find one of her articles here: and an interview here:

I agree we should look more carefully at rape stats and not produce fear in women when there is none.  However, most of the world doesn't live in a quiet, middle-class, suburban, American neighbourhood that protects women from rape.  To assume that feminism is here only to talk about middle-class, American women is to forget, as Hoff Sommers does, that the rest of the world exists.  Feminism might have made enough gains in America to offer middle-class women the luxury of self-criticism, but without doubt, there are women alive and scared that feminism has not, nor will it ever, touch. So while it's great to be self-critical, we must do so in light of our global, not our local, achievements.

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