Conservative feminist Christina Hoff Sommers speaks at Rutgers
On Tuesday, more than 100 students gathered in Trayes Hall in the Douglass Student Center to listen to a speech by American author, philosopher and critic of contemporary feminism, Christina Hoff Sommers.
Sommers, the author of “Who Stole Feminism?” and “The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men,” was invited by the Rutgers chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL).
“Our members have always really wanted to hear Christina Hoff Sommers speak,” said Andrea Vacchiano, the club's president. “I figured she would be perfect because she’s a libertarian. I actually interned at Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute last year after my freshman year, so they were generous enough to co-sponsor most of the cost.”
The School of Arts and Sciences junior said planning for the event commenced in October or November and that she was thrilled with the outcome.
“I was really excited that there weren’t any obnoxious protests. There were clearly people who disagreed with Christina, but I really respected that they came here and they were just standing in the question and answer line and they asked their questions respectfully, so I really appreciate that everyone conducted themselves civilly today,” she said.
Sommers began her presentation by discussing radical feminism and telling a story about the time she visited the American Philosophical Association to give a paper reacting to contemporary feminist Alison Jaggar. She said she expected to argue, but then go out for drinks with her colleagues afterward. Instead, she was “excommunicated from a religion she didn’t know existed.”
Sommers said most women's studies textbooks do not represent libertarian feminists, conservative feminists or moderate liberal feminists.
She wrote her book, “Who Stole Feminism?” as a way of defending the democratic liberal tradition, which she said is enough to liberate women and anyone else that is oppressed.
She also hosts a weekly video series called "The Factual Feminist," where she attempts to clarify common feminist myths. She said that there is no true diversity in women’s studies, which causes a lack of quality control and rampant bias in the field.
Although she received a lot of praise from several prominent feminists, she said she also received a lot of backlash from people who believed the United States is an oppressive patriarchy, and did not appreciate her plea for moderation.
Sommers gave several examples of the protectionist feminist assault on freedom, which was her main point of the night. She said that feminism has moved in the direction of safe spaces, trigger warnings and censorship, instead of liberation and freedom, which was the original motivation for the movement.
In her speech, she cited Laura Kipnis, a Northwestern feminist scholar who wrote a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education that criticized safe spaces and trigger warnings. She was brought up on Title IX charges by several students, where she was investigated for 75 days by a committee hired by the University. Eventually, Kipnis was found innocent, but Sommers said she should not have been investigated in the first place.
Kipnis went to speak at Wesley College, and although it was controversial, the talk went well. Days later, six professors at the college sent out an email saying Kipnis was a threat to free speech, claiming that because she caused distress to students, these students felt invalidated and bullied, and it was an infringement on their liberty because they had no choice to react, she said.
The professors suggested those who invite speakers to campus should consider if the invited speaker will distress students and therefore stifle productive debate by bullying disempowered groups, Sommers said.
She then went on to mention an article in The New York Times, which detailed a designated safe space at Brown University that was set up when a controversial speaker was at the campus.
Sommers criticized the room, and said it was equipped with Play-Doh, teddy bears, cookies, calming music, bubbles and other relaxing materials.
“What would our feminist foremothers think of this?” Sommers said. “Who fought for women to have a right to get a serious education, who believed women were tough and they didn’t buy into these myths of female vulnerability and fragility?”
She said she sees Brown University’s actions as a betrayal to feminism, calling it “fainting couch feminism.”
Sommers later commented on microaggressions, which she said are not supported by science. Merriam-Webster defines a microaggression as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).”
She said that warning others against microaggressions is not an effective way to prevent them. Instead, people should become friends with each other and then have an open discussion about why a comment may be inappropriate.
She also criticized the range of what is considered a microaggression, as she said it can range from anything from calling a group of women “you guys,” to an instance on a college campus where, on International Women’s Day, someone crossed out flyers and wrote “International Nag’s Day.”
She cited University at California, Santa Cruz — where an app was created for individuals to report microaggressions.
She said, “Here’s (an example) of a microaggression at Santa Cruz: ‘I told a male-identified friend that I am taking a class called Women’s Lives, and then he jokingly said ‘So are you going to learn how to make me sandwich?’”
Sommers ended her presentation by taking questions from the audience. Some of the questions ranged from statistics used to defend radical feminism to cultural appropriation.
Sommers said, in regard to cultural appropriation, that no revolution should be centered around scolding people.
“It should be fun, it should be attractive. This is so unattractive, this callout culture. It’s puritanical,” she said.
One student asked, given the current environment, if there is a war on heterosexual white, cisgender men. Sommers said there kind of was.
“I think that heterosexual male sexuality is being apologized in a way that we once did, and probably still do, to gay people … What you find is now a kind of aura of suspicion around males. The average male is not a predator," she said. "There’s also normative masculinity, it’s exactly the opposite — you show your manliness by protecting the weaker people, and to me, that is most of the men I’ve known. And you find this anger towards men and a disregard of what they’ve done and always wanting to believe the worst and what I think is that we’re all in this together."
The guest speaker said she wants a new wave of feminism that calls for fairness of both genders, and telling the truth about both genders, not exaggerating claims and not saying how terrible men are.
Celeste Lindsay, a School of Arts and Sciences junior said she attended the event because she considers herself a feminist and was curious to hear an opinion from the other side.
Lindsay said that based on the majority of Sommers’s arguments, she does not consider her a feminist.
“What she has to say is very much an example of white feminism. It doesn’t seem to me that she’s really had many other perspectives of feminism from women of color, queer women, disabled women,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like she’s actually had the time to sit down and have conversations and get their perspectives so that she can form a better opinion about feminism in general.”