WOMEN VERSUS WOMEN:
“The personal is the political!” Third Wave1 feminist mantra.
By the mid-Seventies, my attitude toward the Women’s Movement, women’s liberation, or, if you will, feminism, was to take a more serious turn. The message of the feminist canon—de Beauvoir, Greer, Millet, et al—had begun to sink into the interstices of the culture. What the populist muckraker Martin L.Gross has recently called the “New Establishment,” (The End of Sanity, 1997) that of liberal media, liberal clergy, and liberal academy--aided and abetted by liberal bureaucrats, liberally interpreting Title VII of LBJ’s civil rights legislation—was already radically changing the way women and men related to each other.
One first saw it in the language. Now familiar male-bashing terms such as the patriarchy, sexism, sexist, misogynist, and the vulgarly cute male chauvinist pig, had acquired popular usage. And as we moved through the Seventies, it became increasingly clear that male pronouns were on the endangered list. The language police, then as now, neither slumbered nor did they sleep. Postmen or mailmen (eventually to be renamed “letter carriers”) making their appointed rounds were made to appear timorous in comparison. One incident in particular rather quaintly sticks out in my mind. In l978 the female leadership of the American Society of Parliamentarians went on record vigorously opposing the substitution of the words “chair” and “chairperson” in place of “chairman” or “madam chairman,” when addressing male and female committee heads during formal parliamentary procedures.2 History has shown how behind the times those dear ladies turned out to be. They might as well have been talking into the teeth of a thirty-knot gale for all the attention they received. If heard at all, they were ignored! It is worth noting that other than the last convention of the VFV, the only venue currently left standing where the new usage has yet to intrude is the Congress of the United States. On the Hill, the chairmen still reign supreme!
With the Los Angles Times leading the way, media stylebooks across the land quickly jumped on board as politically correct usage, gathering the momentum of a linguistic Gresham’s Law, began driving out traditional locutions. Orwell’s fear, so wisely spelled out in his “Politics and the English Language,” that the corruption of language leads to the corruption of the polity,3 had seemingly come to pass, not in a totalitarian state, mind you, but in our democracy. There was one word, however--not a male pronoun--that in particular suffered a severe battering and is now almost an anachronism when used in once formerly mundane sentences. That word is sex! Male sex and female sex, as in biology, have been swept from the board in favor of gender, aka, one’s sexual orientation. Of which there are apparently five: male, female, gay, lesbian, and transgendered! All our consciences have been raised sufficiently high by now to know that such things are determined by society or the culture, but most definitely not the gene pool. And what makes it especially convenient is that we are at liberty to pick and choose between the five options, even moving horizontally if so inclined!
One Saturday afternoon back in April, l994, I discovered just how much our cultural geologic plates had shifted. Members of the first and only jury I have served on sat down to prepare to vote on the plaintiff’s case involving a contested will. After seven days of toing and froing by attorneys, interspersed with some not uninteresting testimony, the twelve of us—divided equally between the sexes—were ready to wind things up and go home. I had mixed feelings, however, regarding my vote! The plaintiff surely was a scoundrel, but the defendants appeared to be even worse in their greedy manipulation of the pre-deceased deceased. My problem was that the attorneys for the lesser scoundrel simply had not been able to counter the evidence put forth by that of the greater. So I reluctantly bowed my head and raised my hand for the defendants, wishing all the while I could have come down against both sides. Upon looking up I was amazed to find our panel split down the middle.
While the split was worrisome--auguring long hours of negotiation to arrive at consensus--it was the nature of the division that spoke volumes about the case, the attorneys, the way it had been tried, and, not least of all, the sex differences on that jury—in other words, human nature! But what remained with me long after departing the jury room was the way the peculiar split in our vote had initially been heralded. The youngest and least vocal of my male colleagues, a rather short, thirtyish grocery store manager, shouted out the obvious: “We’re divided,” he cried, “by gender!”
Fortunately, several of the men succeeded in convincing the ladies--save for the black forewoman—to move our way and a winning majority of eleven to one decided the matter. We deliberated in all perhaps an hour and a half before turning in our verdict and going home. But all the while, in the back of my mind, was that “gender” remark! It revealed, as few things have, how deep the totems of feminism had reached into American society. If this rather nondescript grocer had routinely lodged in his working vocabulary the word gender as a substitute for the word sex, then I knew the feminists were in occupation of the cultural high ground.
* * * * * *
The National Organization for Women, M.S. Magazine (I was a charter subscriber), the counter-intuitive good looks of Gloria Steinhem, the obvious bad looks and bad manners of Bella Abzug, the Equal Rights Amendment, which I belatedly opposed--indeed it felt strange to find myself in the camp of that grand dame Phyllis Shafly who years earlier I had consigned to the rightwing remainder bin—the battle over Roe v. Wade that managed to fly beneath my personal radar screen. (I cared not one way or another about abortion in those days. By my lights, a low sperm count had rendered the issue personally moot.) All of these things and more were beginning to be filed away in my worry bag.
By now I no longer hesitated to call myself a conservative. One of the reasons, I told myself, that I had fled the party and political persuasion of my father was the mounting concern I felt about a feminist agenda, whose standard, as everyone clearly could see, was firmly planted on the Left Bank of American politics. At first I did not foresee the extent feminism would endanger the family. I would pick up on that later. I originally saw it more of a threat to the day-to-day discourse between the sexes, a trespasser against common sense and the public good humor so important in furthering civility between any two persons, regardless of their genitalia. The problem was that you could already smell the rancor in the air because so many rancorous women had stepped forward.
In l980, still in possession of a measure of good humor and perhaps a bent for dopiness, I offered a continuing education course at North Harris County College entitled: “The Women’s Movement: A Man’s Point of View!” Posters were planted around campus with cartoon figures of cave men beating cave women over the head, all designed to entice likely students to buy into the idea. As I recall some eleven women, most of who were in their thirties, forties, and fifties, actually plunked down good money to hear me take the more shrill feminist voices to task. We met some six times and it basically boiled down to lively question and answer sessions during which I took some punches as well as delivered a few of my own. The moment that left the class stymied was when I popped the old question as to how many of their number had dreamed of being raped. Most raised a reluctant hand. The most aggressive female member of the faculty, who, without doubt, would have identified herself as a feminist, attended regularly, as did the president of the college, irascible W.W. Thorne. It turned into a kind of quasi-academic “happening”.
I tell this story because it was the last time I have felt comfortable trying anything even remotely similar. The following year was equally memorable for my encounter with Nikki Van Hightower, then a fabled Houston feminist and county (or was it city) treasurer who came on campus to defend the ERA. I rose to question her regarding the redundancy of the ERA in light of the existing Fourteenth Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws’” clause? I can’t recall her answer but only that she snapped it back at me with a contemptuous snarl. At that moment the mask of civility fell aside to be replaced with the face of feminist rage.
I learned two important things that day; for one, the audience tended to side with Hightower, and, secondly, I felt a bit uncomfortable taking her on. The reason for the former can be attributed, I think, to the presence in our uniquely American DNA of more than a tincture of radical egalitarianism, or, simply put, “underdogism”. Here was a woman being challenged in public by a man with a low voice, ergo one should side with the seeming underdog. As to my second observation, that, I think, falls under the heading of Western chivalry. As the Jesuit scholar Walter Ong put it in his book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (l981) when a man does battle with a woman, he jeopardizes his identity as a man. Men in the West are schooled, at least traditionally, to protect women not assault them.4 And it doesn’t take a degree in psychology to intuit that a woman-beater or baiter, for that matter, is by definition a man deficient in manly virtues.
By the early eighties, I had become a community college administrator tied to the wheel of endless meetings groaning with endless tedium but life was enlivened by my occasional conflicts with faculty members, two of whom were women. I shan’t disclose confidences or specifics, but I will make one or two general observations that are pertinent to this paper’s topic. Both of these women betrayed their feminist principles, one of the most important of which is the commandment that they be treated exactly like their male colleagues. And being a good egalitarian, I bowed to their wishes, only to have my head handed to me on a platter for rudeness, crudeness, and insensitivity. As I recall I simply had passed critical judgments upon them as I would have done, and did do regularly, of my male colleagues. As Aesop must have said, live and learn! Men and women are different! period, end of sentence. Parts of the remainder of this paper bear on this humble but powerful truth.
Finally, before moving to the body of my text, I feel compelled to reveal an especially personal moment, even more so than the rambling, discursive journal entries recounted above. I do so in part because after reading Carolyn Graglia’s rather intimate portrait of the relationship between herself and her law professor husband (Domestic Tranquility, l998), I’m prepared to say that if such a gentle lady can get away with disclosures of this nature, well then, so should I. Another reason is that this paragraph in my life bears on the matter of differences between the sexes which when breached, can prove rather unsettling, and, in some circumstances, even disastrous.
You might recall that I began this paper with an attempt at wit suggesting that the new feminism harbored in its bosom promises of sexual delights freely given by the newly liberated sex. But when I personally tested the water, I found it a bit chilly. If you haven’t noticed there’s more than a little Puritanism in many feminists, a kind of tight-lipped, don’t-tread-on-menis that constitutes the face they project to the world. But once you break through that cold façade…! Or at least that was how my mind was trending some years back.
I did indeed have a love affair with such a person, a beautiful young woman. I stormed the ice palace and discovered the warmer side of her nature, and, from the beginning, contemplated marriage. But at the conclusion of our first serious moment of lovemaking, she abruptly instructed me—and that is the appropriate phrase—that in the morning, she, not I, would determine when we would resume our embrace.
Those words and the rather mechanical and didactic way they were uttered, as if recited from a feminist catechism, hit me like that well known Mack Truck. The lights were out in the room but my eyes were wide open! I felt like I was having a chill! I tried to rationalize it away by reminding myself that she was under the spell of a feminist psychologist. I considered, if for only a moment, that perchance it was a mere throwaway line said half in jest. But to no avail! I was seized with one thought only: to get the hell out of there! I was almost in a panic. I waited until she was asleep before easing out of the bedroom, out the front door, and out of her life. I briefly thought of the emotional energy I had expended in tending the relationship. But I hesitated not a second in cutting it all adrift. She had transgressed a fundamental man’s prerogative and in doing so had left me undone and in a strange kind of way, frightened and bewildered. Feminism, I would argue, turns out the lights not only on the authentic loving nature of sexual relations between men and women, but on the whole idea of human love.
In scouring the Internet to unearth items pertinent to this project, I was drawn to the spiraling number of web sties devoted to homosexuality and the demi-monde of the transsexual. Can anyone doubt that the incidence of both these phenomena are, at least in part, the result of a culture that encourages a devaluing of masculinity. I also came across a short piece by a Jack O’Sullivan appearing in the Independent, which, best I can tell, is a British on-line political opinion forum. O’Sullivan was deploring a letter-to-the-editor from a guy he found guilty of pandering to a feminist columnist. O’Sullivan writes, “David’s [the letter writer] plea…ultimately deep[ens] men’s humiliation. It painfully expos[es] a huge hole in male thinking—we’re depending on women to provide us with a sense of our own well-being. We’re swinging in the wind, hoping that the likes of Suzanne Moore [the feminist] will save us. And if she doesn’t, we seem to have no other resource beyond self-pity. It’s a doomed strategy.”
O’Sullivan finishes by blasting what he calls the “Passive Man” and the job that lies ahead in transforming him into a “gender war” street fighter. “We will have to reclaim power,” he concludes, “over our personal lives that we handed to women a long time ago. A tough, but revolutionary task.” I’m not clear what O’Sullivan has in mind when he talks of men turning power over to women, that’s open to conjecture. But his observation regarding the passivity of Western man is undeniable. The victory march of Third Wave feminism “through the institutions” during the past thirty or more years bears witness to a debris field strewn with legends of unnerved, unsexed, and flaccid men. The residue of the Anita Hill affair with its frenzy of sexual harassment allegations is to be marked down as simply one of the more glaring examples of what I mean.
Granted, the argument has been made that part of the problem lies with the natural inferiority of men. And as has been cited by countless research data, both in the physical and social sciences, there is scant reason to doubt the validity of such a claim. Indeed, the biological imbalance in favor of the female is often mentioned as good and sufficient reason to cut so much slack for men in the first place. Warren Farrell’s book, The Myth of Male Power (l993), although written in something of a whine, documents at great length, not only the genetic handicaps heaped on men’s plates, but how society has stacked the deck against them as well. For these and other reasons, some of which I have mentioned above, men are disadvantaged and disarmed in such a contest. In despair, I occasionally find enticing the prospect of a sex-defined, Hobbesian war, mano-womano! Sort of, “if they want to fight, then let’em put up their dukes!” reaction. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to this!
In one sense, David has a point though. Women, I would argue, do have a role to play, if not necessarily in directly defending their men folk against feminist harpies, at least supporting their husbands and safeguarding the family, while rejecting the more outlandish claims made by feminism in the name of societal change. The truth, of course, is that some women have been manning the antifeminist barricades from day one, which in and of itself should raise important questions as to the truth of feminists’ claims. In other words, if feminism so advantages women why are so many of them, even as we speak, either negative or ambivalent in passing judgment on it? Some consciences apparently are securely battened down for the duration!
When the definitive history of this whole business is written, the role of Phyllis Schafly in almost single-handedly derailing the Equal Rights Amendment will rate a separate chapter. And of course, Schafly through her Eagle Forum and syndicated column, continues to battle feminism to this day. Most have forgotten, however, such traditional antifeminist manuals as Marabel Morgan’s Total Woman (l973) and Helen B. Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood (l965), both of which sold widely during the roiling early years of feminist prominence. Written in Readers Digest-lite prose and unquestionably viewed by today’s modern woman--schooled as she inevitably is in the feminist slogans imposed by the public school curriculum--as mawkishly reverential to the male spouse, they bear rereading, if for no other reason than their invocation of the concept of the “helpmate,” that practice of spousal partnering whose existence is one predictor of a healthy marriage.5
Because of time and space restraints this essay has drastically been cut back. Originally I envisioned reporting at some length on books written from the perspective of women from the realm of politics who find much fault with how feminism has influenced the political arena. I also had planned to cover those independent-minded libertarians, who while often proclaiming themselves feminists, frequently take exception to the totalitarian instincts of their radical feminist sisters. And I had planned to finish up with an analysis of at least three traditional female voices. Instead I have had to settle for looking at female critics of the women’s studies program and those who have taken to task the way feminism has influence the politically correct aspects of student life on college campuses. I end up in these pages examining how three women critics have sized up the phenomenon of Christian feminism.
The theme that unites all of these women whose writings I will be reporting on is opposition to “radical” or “gender” feminism, which proclaims, sometimes in concurrent and contradictory ways, that there is no commanding difference between men and women except that unjustly constructed by men. At the same time, they frequently hold that women, in a variety of important ways, are innately superior to men. Women, it is said, speak, with subjectively and intuitively “different voices” that have a higher claim on truth than those of their male counterparts. I begin, however, looking at the writing of women who often find themselves on the frontline in this cultural tug-of-war.
* * * * * *
The hothouses of “gender” feminism are located on college campuses and it should not surprise that the heavy artillery of their female opponents is frequently sighted in there as well. I’m referring to the most combative yet easiest to hit target on the antiradical firing range, namely the thousands of women’s studies programs and their cloned course offerings that dot college catalogues throughout the United States and abroad.
Women’s studies and the panoply of other ways women have influenced higher education have grown exponentially since the l960s. Piggybacking on the civil rights revolution, the anti-war and student radical movements, as well as the openings provided by government-created women’s commissions and sympathetic bureaucracies, opportunities for women on campus soon commenced a steady climb. Then there was the sheer number of women appearing on the doorstep, both in college and the labor market in general, of whom many were soon to be awarded Ph.Ds, particularly in the social sciences. And with affirmative action poised to go into effect, these women with doctorate in hand were quick to find employment as college teachers. For such reasons then have the perceived interests and concerns of women in higher education been moved to the forefront.6
It was not, however, until the publication in l994 of a book written by two female professors that the national spotlight began to be focused on women’s studies per se. Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge’s Professing Feminism became the Ur text for opponents of radical feminism. Robert Bork, for example, in his best-selling conservative jeremiad on American culture, Slouching to Gomorrah (l997), quoted it chapter and verse as evidence of the injurious influence feminism was having on higher education.
Open their book to almost any page and the reader is met with appalling examples of professorial political activism, proselytization of students, denial of ideological balance, “touchy-feely” teaching strategies, male bashing, embarrassingly easy course requirements, censorship and “language patrols” (ferreting out alleged sexist language), a superabundance of postmodern jargon, and a delegitimizing of classic scholarship and traditional science--including the use of both logic and the scientific method--all because of their presumed white European male pedigree. Political correctness seems to have planted its taproot in this farrago of insults to the fundamental understanding of what a liberal arts education is supposed to be all about.
The authors claim that women’s studies is a stalking horse for feminist activism pure and simple and makes little pretense to be otherwise. Men who wander into class by the way are at best tolerated and at worst denied entrance.7 Patai, a Guggenheim fellow who teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and who holds a joint appointment in Brazilian literature, along with Koertge, an announced lesbian, who teaches at the University of Indiana and whose main fields are history and the philosophy of science, claim there does exist a valid role for WS as long as it sticks to researching “all aspects of women’s lives and the affects of gender….”8
The two women approve the original aims of feminism, e.g., ending discrimination against women and striving to obtain an equal opportunity society, but they clearly don’t see any reason for turning the classroom into a laboratory for feminist activism. Their diagnosis of what went wrong is that during its inception in the Sixties, WS, along with black studies, were either derided or ignored. Mainstream faculty members essentially consigned the two to that circle of hell in which colleges of education had been perambulating for years. WS in short had become a campus pariah. At that point WS found itself being driven into the hands of community activists who increasingly gained a pernicious influence over the programs nationwide. This nexus, they argue, was tightened when the outside activists proved to be the main customers for the turgidly pretentious postmodern tomes soon to be churned out by the WS Sisterhood.
As why nothing to date is being done to clear up this train wreck, the authors blame timid liberal faculty members, both men and women, who realize the price that frequently is paid by those who take on the feminist juggernaut. Ridiculed are the “current generation of ‘wanna-be-sensitive’ university men who uncritically acquiesce in the most ludicrous of feminist demands.” Also placed in the dock is an administration seen as cowering before affirmative action quotas and “seeking plausible deniability” while averting their eyes from the whole squalid business.9
In a later article written for the Women’s Freedom Network, a right to middle-of-the-road consortium of women academics and free-lance intellectuals—most of whom would describe themselves as feminist--Patai discloses how deeply hostile feminist radicals have become in the last few years to the whole idea of heterosexuality. In her words, a “heterophobia” has possessed many of the precincts of radical feminism, with man haters like Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, and Mary Daly, leading the parade. What emerges from this extraordinary essay is the picture of a totalitarian radical feminism that is not satisfied with limiting sexual contact to that exclusively between women, but insists on a campaign to wipe out even the possibility of heterosexuality. Patai quotes the abstract of an article by a rad fem that condemns the increasingly successful strides made in reversing male impotence. “In this view,” writes Patai, “nobody needs an erect penis,” or “in other words, the only good man is an impotent man.”
She concludes her article with a scathing arraignment of both heterosexual feminists and right-thinking lesbians for remaining on the sidelines in this debate. And, interestingly, her indictment singles out male WASPs whose alleged timidity is deemed retrograde in comparison with black, Hispanic, or even Jewish men, all of whom, Patai claims, would not for a minute tolerate the level of humiliation routinely dumped on their white, gentile counterparts.10
The fact that even women pay a price for opposing radical feminists should raise more than a few eyebrows. One of the best-kept secrets in this vein is an incident that took place a few years back whereupon a leading maven of WS experienced a rude awakening. I’m talking of an account of how the venerable Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, erstwhile director of the Emory University WS program, ran afoul of one of her more radical students and a decidedly more radical coven of WS faculty. The details are murky but involve the student calling into question the radical bona fides of Fox-Genovese, and, when the professor retaliated, she found herself being forced to vacate her chairmanship as well as defend against a lawsuit that eventually was settled out of court. This no doubt explains explain her recent ambivalence regarding WS. 11
Another casualty of campus radical feminism is Ellen R. Klein, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of North Florida. Klein began her academic career as a devout feminist determined to turn gold into lead by teaching her philosophy courses from a feminist perspective. After considerable study of the canon devoted to teaching philosophy “feministicly,” (her style) she came to conclude that it was all the bunk. Much of her book, Feminism under Fire (l996), chronicles a labored effort to give credence to a feminist epistemology (study of the nature and limits of knowledge). While, in parts, rather technical, the book basically amounts to Klein applying philosophically correct (read using logic) syllogisms in asking whether there can be such a thing as “feminist” philosophy in the first place. Time and again, to her dismay, she catches her feminist mentors arguing in circles and contradicting themselves.
The biggest flaw in their position, Klein determines, is their flight from reason:
Without commitments to objectivity and reason, [writes Klein] one is well
within her rights to view evidence of sexist practices as evi-
dence only for feminists, to view women’s rational claims for
justice and power as, dare I say, hysterical.
In the final analysis, feminist epistemology is neither feminist nor epistemic. Theoretically, it cannot help to develop a viable theory of knowledge; prac-
tically, it cannot help to empower women.12
What probably sealed her apostasy is disclosed in a chapter devoted to Klein’s personal ordeal as a philosophy instructor. She portrays herself as a tough, no nonsense taskmaster (to prove it she includes a copy of one of her course syllabi), who is all about demanding high standards of her students and encouraging them to think critically. However, she claims this backfired on one occasion when six of her students marched on the dean’s office to complain about her offensively “brusque” behavior. She blames their actions on the training and indoctrination they picked up in their women’s studies classes where, she says, they were taught to get in touch with their feelings. The male dean, by the way, found substance in their complaint and it later appeared on her annual evaluation.13
She finally concludes that her year of trying to teach philosophy feministicly was flawed not only because it was impossible from a philosophic point of view but that it was ruinous for her students. “The greatest regret I have from my one semester of consciousness-raising,” she wrote, “was not that the students were unhappy, but that I gave up the chance to teach [them] how to think critically. As far as I’m concerned, this and only this is the duty of the philosopher and the true test of educational excellence.” 14
While mesdames Patai, Koertge, and Klein are heavy hitters, the cleanup batsman is without a quibble Christina Hoff Sommers. For a time, an associate professor of philosophy at Clark University outside of Boston,15 Sommers has recently become a fellow of the moderately conservative American Enterprise Institute. An attractive woman in her early forties and the only one of the four critics mentioned so far who is married, she has carved out what amounts to a second career ranging up and down the land condemning radical feminism in general and WS in particular.
Her book Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women (l994) would have the reader believe that WS is engaged in a conspiracy to use the college campus as a boot camp for future radical feminists. Financed by liberal foundations, Sommers alleges that the National Women’s Studies Association is pretty much a privately-owned subsidiary of the National Organization of Women and other women’s political action groups. The radical and even off-the-wall nature of the NWSA, Sommers avers, is manifested most noticeably at their annual conventions where witchcraft booths, menstrual extraction videos, and group hugs are all the rage. More to the point, “the rage” is what is directed at men--the designated perpetrators--in an unending telling of “grievance” stories avidly passed on at these national gatherings. Sommers goes so far as to say that stories such as these provide the glue that keeps these women connected.16
Not only, it seems, have rad fems totally dominated the province of WS but they have a powerful grip on the departments of history, English (especially classes in freshman composition), Spanish and French, as well as schools of law and divinity. So located, they busy themselves, often with government funding, building a new, less “androcentric” curriculum. 17 In fact, according to Sommers, “curriculum transformation projects” have been going on for years sponsored by state and federal agencies such as the National Endowment for the Humanities. From such sources were derived the controversial National History Standards of a few years back which, to paraphrase Orwell, was impregnated with smelly left-wing orthodoxy’s. This was the project the U.S. Senate assailed in a unanimous resolution of condemnation.
But the rad fems’ major clout, she claims, is exercised most visibly in offices of administration such as deans of students, dormitory administration, harassment offices, those of multicultural affairs, and counseling. On gaining entrée to these positions, she argues, they acquire clout and exercise it in the name of all women, thus acquiring a fig leaf of moral justification.18
Sommers contends their raison d’ etre amounts to seeking the fulfillment of a utopian dream that would reconstruct the world from the darkness of “phallocentricism” to one that emphasizes the “womancentered”. She concludes that when future historians reach back to discover what brought down American higher education at the tail end of the 20th century, “what weakened [it], and politicized [it], rendered [it] illiberal, anti-intellectual and humorless, they will find…the failure of intelligent, powerful, and well-intentioned officials to distinguish between the reasonable and just cause of equity feminism [those who agree with Sommers] and its unreasonable, unjust, ideological sister—gender feminism.”19 Perhaps a bit melodramatic, you say! Not if you have been on the receiving end of feminist rage!
Sommers makes a contribution to my project in ticking off some twelve or so “progressive” women in the humanities who agree with her analysis of radical feminism. The best known of whom would be novelists like the South Africans Doris Lessing and Iris Murdoch, and Americans Joan Didion and Cythnia Ozick. As far as who is best positioned to take up the cudgels against this madness? certainly not those “intellectual men” so reviled by her colleagues above—Sommers dismisses them with a rhetorical back of the hand. As to conservative scholars, male or female, Sommers notes that their rarity essentially determines their irrelevancy. She does, however, throw kudos to the National Association of Scholars, basically a neo-conservative group of college professors, who have toiled in the vineyards since the late Eighties seeking to remedy problems like those Sommers highlights in her book.
The answer she ends up being left with is to add to the number of a growing list of moderate women feminists who constitute what amounts to a remnant of truth-tellers tasked with redeeming the liberal arts from the contagion she has labored to describe. The problem, as she sees it, is that the enemy possesses too many assets. “They hold the keys,” she writes, “to many bureaucratic fiefdoms, research centers, womens’ studies programs, tenure committees, and para-academic organizations. It is now virtually impossible to be appointed to high administrative office in any university system without having passed muster with the gender feminists.” 20
Sommers laments that her kind of moderate feminists have let down their guard. Their problem is that they are not temperamentally suited for activism. “They tend,” she writes, “to be reflective and individualistic. They do not network. They do not rally. They do not recruit. They do not threaten their opponents with loss of jobs or patronage. They are not especially litigious. In short, they have so far been no match politically for the gender warriors.”21 These hard-hitting words sadly could be said with even greater certitude about most moderate-to-conservative male academicians.
* * * * * *
This segment of my paper would not be complete without including the extraordinary contributions made to the exposure, trashing, and defying of radical feminism in general and women’s studies in particularly, made by Camille Paglia. A 52-year-old professor of art history at the Philadelphia School of Art, Paglia burst on the national scene in the early Nineties following the publication of her 700-page Sexual Personae (l990), which, despite feminist opposition, has become widely read and influential in the area of cultural criticism. Her former professor at Yale and the doyen of American literary critics, Harold Bloom, endorsed it with a dusk jacket blurb proclaiming it a “sensation”. And that “There is no book comparable in scope, stance, design or insight.”
Monica Potkay, a feminist medievalist at William and Mary, describes it as a work with one simple thesis, “that a single and continuous culture unifies all of western history from ancient Egypt through the present. And that culture is paganism, defined as ‘pictorialism plus the will-to-power’”.22 I mention this to make the point that Paglia is no parvenu intellectual. Whether she is a legitimate heavy weight I am in no position to tell. What I can say is that she holds a black belt in self promotion with an ego that rivals that of the celebrity she closest resembles, namely Rush Limbaugh.
Over the last ten year she has turned out a host of book reviews, opinion pieces, and critical essays, many of which have been compiled in such books as Vamps and Tramps (l994) and Sex, Art, and American Culture (l992). She proudly proclaims herself to be a bisexual, hedonistic, pornography-loving feminist, who has proudly risen from her working class, Catholic, Italian roots. In the last few years she has made a small fortune touring university campuses, the belly of the beast so to speak, taking on all comers as she roundly blasts those feminists she considers phony and effete. Her favorite target is Naomi Wolfe (The Beauty Myth, ) and the more recent recantation (Fighting with Fire, ). In a now enshrined l99l speech delivered at M.I.T., Paglia blasted Wolfe’s charge that eating disorders are the result of a media culture that requires women to meet unreasonable standards of beauty designed to please men:
…it [WS] politics is also naïve, a politics which blames all human problems on white male imperialists who have victimized women and people of color. This view of history is coming from people who know nothing about history. Because when you think of the word “imperialist,” if you automatically just think “America,” then you don’t know anything. Because someone who studies the history of ancient Egypt knows that imperialism was practically invented in Egypt and in the ancient Near East. If you want to talk about imperialism, let’s talk about Japan or Persia or all kinds of things. It’s not just a white male monopoly.24
If radical feminism pretty much has a hammerlock on the administrative and classroom environs on today’s campus, it perhaps should not be all that surprising that its reach has extended as well over into the day-to-day life of the student. We now look at two young women who have turned in their radical feminist pledge pins in favor of the writing of two whistle-blowing books on feminism’s corruption of college life
* * * * * * * *
1 Led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the so-called “first wave” occurred in the early l800s, and championed spousal rights for women; the “second wave” focused on women’s suffrage, culminating in passage of the l9th Amendment in l920. The so-called Third Wave is said to have begun with the publication of Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique.
2 A personal memory.
3 George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” The George Orwell Reader, pp. 355-366.
4 Walter Ong, Fighting for Life, pp. 78-79.
5 Karl Stern, The Flight From Woman, pp. 25-26.
6 Victoria Schuck, “Sexism and Scholarship: A Brief Overview of Women, Academia, and the Disciplines”, pp. 563-585. Social Science Quarterly, Dec. l974.
7 Heterodoxy, newsletter for David Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Poplar Culture, led its September, l999, edition with the story that Mary Daly, famed lesbian ex-nun and professor of Womens Studies at Boston College, was recently forced to resign when a male student who enrolled in her Feminist Ethics II class prepared to sue the college when Daly refused him entrance simply because he was a man. She apparently had been getting away with this outrage for years with the discreet compliance of BC’s administration
8 Daphne Patai & Noretta Koertge, Professing Feminism, p. 207.
9 Ibid., 208-209
10 Patai, “Heterophobia: The Feminists Turn Against Men,” Rita Simon, ed. From Data to Public Policy, pp. 153-166.
11 From a Fox-Genovese speech delivered at a history panel at the l999 convention of the National Association of Scholars at their eight national conference in Chicago April l6-18.
12 Ellen R. Klein, Feminism Under Fire, pp. 67-68
13 Ibid., p. 220
15 It is noteworthy that of the academic disciplines within the humanities philosophy is on the map as the most immune to contamination from political correctness. In fact it’s almost in the same category as the natural sciences in this regard. So it is somewhat counter-intuitive that the leading female critics of PC are themselves philosophers
16 Christina Hoff Sommers, Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women, pp. 28-29.
17 “Male or man centered,” The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary.
18 Sommers, pp. 32-33.
19 Ibid., 52-53.
20 Ibid., 273-274.
22 Monica B. Potkay, “The New Dark Ages of Camille Paglia,” p. l. On-line l993.
23 Camille Paglia, “The M.I.T. Lecture: Crisis in the American Universities,” p. 265. Sex, Art, and American Culture.
24 Ibid., p. 266.