Christina Hoff Sommers explains here the difference between “equity feminists” and “gender feminists”. The equity feminists are those who campaigned for equal rights for women before the law and in education and work. Gender feminists are women with a permanent grievance who see all women as in thrall to the evil Patriarchy. The book is subtitled “How Women Have Betrayed Women” and it explains how gender feminism has alienated most women and left them eager to deny the “feminist” label.
Gender feminists dismiss the very real gains that women have made in legal rights, and in equality at work and in education as illusory, to them women are still subordinate to an oppressive patriarchal society. Ms Sommers writes:
The loss of faith in classically liberal solutions, coupled with the conviction that women remain beseiged and subject to a relentless and vicious male backlash, has turned the movement inward. We hear very little today about how women can join with men on equal terms to contribute to a universal human culture. Instead, feminist ideology has taken a divisive, gynocentric turn, and the emphasis now is on women as a political class, whose interests are at odds with the interests of men. Women must be loyal to women, united in principled hostility to the males who seek to hold fast to their patriarchal privileges and powers.
Reading this passage, I recognised the philosophy of the I Blame the Patriarchy group, who are one and all firmly convinced that there is a great masculine conspiracy to subordinate women.
Much of the book is about gender feminists attempting to alter school and college curricula to make them less oppressive to women. She can be very funny describing their excesses, as in this passage where she describes how a group of gender feminists were hoist with their own petard:
When McIntosh, Minnich, and their followers demanded that the oppressive European, white, male culture being taught in the schools be radically transformed, they had not imagined that anyone could look upon THEM as oppressors. Most members of the women of colour caucus boycotted the 19992 Austin National Women's Studies Conference I attended for its failure to recognise and respect THEIR political identity. The slighted group sent the conferees an African-American women's quilt made from dashiki fabrics, as both a reprimand and a 'healing gesture'. The assembled white feminists sat before it in resentful but guilty silence. In the game of moral one-upmanship that gender feminists are so good at they had been outquilted, as it were, by a more marginalized constituency.
Much of the book is about gender feminists' activity on university campuses, and although it is interesting in its way I found myself getting slightly bored by it, as I am not very interested in university life, but the book became interesting again when it began to discuss the way statistics are distorted by gender feminists to support theories that turn out to be unsound to say the least.
Domestic violence, for instance, is a serious subject, and gender feminists do not do anything to help this serious problem by making wildly inaccurate claims about the numbers of women who are battered. Inaccurate claims are also made about wife-beating in past times, when it was not in fact as widely tolerated as gender feminists believe. According to Ms Sommers, there were laws against wife-beating in America since before the Revolution, and by 1870 it was illegal in almost every state, but even before then wife-beaters were arrested and punished for assault and battery. She quotes a scholarly article by Elizabeth Peck:
It has often been claimed that wife-beating in nineteenth-century America was legal.... Actually, though, several states passed statutes legally prohibiting wife-beating: and at least one statute even predates the American Revolution. The Massachusetts Bay Colony prohibited wife-beating as early as 1655. The edict states “No man shall strike his wife nor any woman her husband on penalty of such fine not exceeding ten pounds for one offense, or such corporal punishment as the County shall determine.”
The chapter on “Rape Research” likewise shows how figures on the number of women raped have been wildly exaggerated, to figures as high as one in four, with no evidence to support this claim. Ms Sommers points out that the women who get most attention and money directed towards rape prevention are university women, whereas in fact the aid could be more usefully directed towards impoverished areas where rape is much more frequent. The women who get most protection from rape are the women who are least at risk.
The final chapter of the book “The Gender Wardens” was the most interesting to me, because this most directly relates to my experiences on the I Blame the Patriarchy site. There are a lot of women who, apparently, believe that fantasies should be controlled, and women should be educated NOT to have fantasies about being dominated, ravished, etc. Rhett Butler in “Gone With the Wind” comes in for much disapproval.
Ms Sommers writes of the gender feminists:
They condescend to, patronise and pity the benighted females who, because they have been “socialised” in the sex/gender system, cannot help wanting the wrong things in life. Their disdain for the hapless victims of patriarchy is rarely acknowledged. When feminists talk of a new society and of how people must be changed, they invariably have in mind men who exploit and abuse women. But it is not difficult to see that they regard most women as men's dupes.
One of the things that apparently upsets gender feminists a lot is romantic fiction, and particularly the scene in Gone With the Wind where Rhett ravishes Scarlett. A survey found that most GWTW fans found the scene exciting. One respondent put it:
Scarlett's story is that of a woman who has lousy sex from two incompetent husbands (a “boy” and an “old man” as Rhett reminds her) who knew nothing about women. At last she finds out what good sex feels like, even if (or probably because) her first experience takes place in mutual inebriation and a spirit of vengeful anger.
The idea of “mutually pleasurable rough sex” is not high on the gender feminist list of entertainments. All the same, if the New Feminist philosophers were honest about taking women seriously, they would be paying attention to what, in most women's minds, is a fundamental distinction: Scarlett was ravished, not raped. The next morning finds her relishing the memory. Ms Friedman's insistence that Scarlett was raped was just another example of how gender feminists, estranged from the women they claim to represent, tend to view male/female relations as violent or humiliating to women.
Apparently gender feminists would like to see a new kind of romantic fiction featuring gentle, sensitive men and love affairs of perfect equality, but they have not had much success promoting this idea. Romance fans by the million continue to read their politically incorrect romances.
Ms Sommers goes on to say:
Defending women who enjoy the idea of ravishment is not the same as holding a brief for any specific kind of fantasy or sexual preference. Fantasies of female domination are also popular. women are clearly capable of treating men as "sex objects" with an enthusiasm equal to, and in some cases exceeding, that of men for treating women as such. Male strip-shows seem to be as popular as Tupperware parties.
The belief that women should have only PC fantasies that conform to the gender feminist point of view is one that I encountered on the I Blame the Patriarchy website, so I am grateful to this book, which helped me to have a better understanding of what these very angry women are all about. They really do believe in crushing all freedom of thought.
This is a mostly highly interesting, informative, and frequently amusing book.