A mixed crowd gathers at the Social Lodge for an evening full of open discussion about feminism and a presentation led by Christina Hoff Sommers.
By Alicia Wikner
On October 2, Christina Hoff Sommers arrived on campus to hold a lecture sponsored by the Sewanee Young Americans for Freedom. Hoff Sommers is a former professor of philosophy at Clark University, and is currently a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She has had her academic articles featured in the Washington Post and the Huffington Post among others, with her lecture “Women are from Venus and Men are from Hell (and other Dubious Feminist Teachings)” centered around ideas presented in her books Who Stole Feminism? , The War Against Boys and One Nation Under Therapy.
With all seats filled and people lined up along the walls, the Social Lodge was packed with people, many of whom were sporting the black “FEMINIST” shirts that the Women’s Center had distributed to attendees wishing to stand in quiet opposition to Sommer’s values. After a brief introduction by YAF president Kelly Heilman (C’20), Hoff Sommers took to the podium.
She began by addressing the death of the Playboy Magazine creator Hugh Hefner: “He and I have a past. When my book Who Stole Feminism? [was published] Playboy Magazine did an article on it…” She continued in a story of how her father had to travel to a different city to purchase the magazine for the article, but still felt embarrassed about it. “My dad said: I’m only buying it because my daughter’s in it!” Laughter ensued and Sommer segwayed into the core of her lecture: equity feminism and men.
As a feminist and academic, Hoff Sommers was “in good standing with [her] colleagues” until the mid 90s, when she published her book The War on Boys, in which she rejected the idea that the United States is an inherently patriarchal society, claiming that “overall the major battles [for women] have been fought and won.”
She weighed in on the topic of toxic masculinity (that Geek Feminism Wiki classifies as ‘ the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive’), explaining that “what happened is that they’re failing to make a distinction [between] protest masculinity and healthy masculinity. A small percentage of males are pathologically violent… most are not. So I think we have to be careful about demonizing men and ignoring the needs of boys.”
Hoff Sommers labels her feminism as equity feminism, which emphasizes legal equality [of the sexes] and is “based on principles developed out of the European enlightenment.” Considered a conservative approach to feminism, it clashes with what Hoff Sommers refers to as “gender feminism” which she describes in her book Who Stole Feminism? as the ideology 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”. She proclaimed that her worry lies rooted in the “radicalism” of gender feminism, stressing that: “What I don’t like is the radicalism that I see, like Antifa.”
She also describes her encounters at other colleges. “I went to a lot of conferences [in the 90s and 20s], and people didn’t agree with me, but there were no meltdown. There was debate. Something changed around 2015… I was invited to Oberlin College, and there were trigger warnings all over and they had organized a safe room where students could flee if I happened to say something that invalidated their experience.” In the same story, she mentioned that a group of students and their dog had left the room, assuring listeners while smiling apologetically that she “felt very bad about triggering that dog.”
Later on, Hoff Sommers expressed that she was very impressed by Sewanee, stating, “the people who disagreed with me did come, they were polite, and they didn’t protest.” She continued by adding that she “thinks that [the University is] way ahead of many other colleges,” ending with the statement that she “found it delightful.”
Speaking for YAF, Andrew Ritter (C’20) said the organization was “proud to host a renowned and dignified woman like Christina Hoff Sommers.” He explained that YAF “felt the event went very well” and “that we had a room filled with people of numerous ideologies (…) sitting quietly and allowing her to speak shows that Sewanee is above the rest.”
When Jasmine Huang (C’21) asked for a response to the counter “factual feminism” panel afterwards, Hoff Sommers stated, “I wouldn’t have minded being invited to it, because it would be a great occasion to learn from one another. I read that the reason they didn’t invite me was that they said that I had my say and now it was time for their voice.” She lamented that “on this campus it appears to be very little place made for moderate equity feminism, so it’s not really a balance that your entire women’s studies department is from a totally different school, and I come here as a dissonant, for a few hours.”
Sewanee Young Democratic Socialists president Louie Messina (C’18) clarified after the lecture, “I was quite disappointed that Dr. Hoff Sommers decided not to attend our response panel. I was under the impression that she would, but I was very happy with the way that everyone was so respectful of her time and listened to what she had to say.”
When contacted for a comment, Sydney Peterson (C’18) said: “I respectfully declined to invite her to be a panelist because Dr. Hoff Sommers had time to present her case in her hour and a half long lecture, but instead sent her an open invitation to listen to our argument, hear our presentation of facts, and participate in Q&A.”
For those seeking to know more about Equity Feminism and Sommer’s works, she hosts the Youtube show “Factual Feminist” on the American Enterprise Institute YT channel and has published a variety of books on topics related to feminist theory.