Who's Afraid of Feminism?

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Author: Susan Dwyer
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Date: 2005
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,916 words

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[(review date spring 1996) In the following review of Who Stole Feminism?, Dwyer examines the philosophical basis of Sommers's attack on gender feminism and her treatment of feminist philosophy. Dwyer comments that, while Sommers has accurately exposed misinformation, the book as a whole is "heavy on polemic and light on argument."]

... moral philosophers should be paying far more attention to the social consequences of their views than they are.--Christina Sommers, "Philosophers against the Family"1

Philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers's target in Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women is "gender feminism." Her aim is to convince us that gender feminists are anti-intellectual opportunists who deliberately spread lies about the incidence of date rape (chap. 10), domestic battery (Preface, chap. 9) and about the general state of male-female relations in America (chaps. 1, 9 and 11), thereby generating fear and resentment of men (chap. 2), all so that they may secure vast amounts of government funding and high-paying jobs in the academy (chaps. 4, 5 and 6). Because gender feminists are condescending to and contemptuous of the "average woman," they lack a grass-roots constituency (p. 22). Nonetheless, they are powerful enough to be feared. Gender feminists have managed to dupe the U.S. Congress (chap. 8), and an otherwise sceptical press literally eats out of their hands (p. 15). Gender feminism is also a leading cause of the weakening of the American university (p. 52), and has "made the American campus a less happy place" (p. 112).

Who Stole Feminism? ranges over a considerable number of topics, and many of Sommers's claims demand public response. Where she has accurately exposed misinformation--for example, that the oft-repeated statistic of 150,000 (female) deaths due to anorexia nervosa per year over-estimates the actual number of such deaths by a factor of a thousand--retractions should be issued. Similarly, where she has inaccurately represented a view--for example, she interprets the work of feminist theorist Sandra Bartky as misogynist--clarifications should be made. I shall restrict my commentary to two aspects of Sommers's book which are likely to be of most interest to a philosophical audience: the philosophical basis of her attack on gender feminism and her treatment of feminist philosophy.

Gender Feminism

It might be useful to begin by saying what gender feminism is. Surprisingly, this turns out to be less straightforward than the book's focus would lead us to expect. Sommers approaches the task of characterizing gender feminism in at least three different ways, and difficulties attend each one. In some places we are offered relatively clear descriptions, for example:

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. The leaders and theorists of the women's movement believe that our society is best described as a patriarchy, a "male hegemony," a "sex/gender system" in which the dominant gender works to keep women cowering and submissive. The feminists who hold this divisive view of our social and political...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100061422