Wanted: A Few Good Girls
After the lecture at Dowling College, Christina Hoff Sommers joins three faculty members, three students and a journalist at a local Italian restaurant for the requisite postlecture chit-chat. Conversation is stilted, but Hoff Sommers does her job. She asks the students about their majors, encourages them to visit Andrew Sullivan's website, andrewsullivan.com, to get "the best" political analysis of the issues of the day and tries to get them thinking conspiratorially about why there are so few conservative speakers at colleges.
One Dowling College student, 20-year-old Josh Katz, volunteers that he has the solution to the feminists and the "war against boys" problem. "All we would have to do is take all the boy babies away when they're born to live on desert islands and be raised by themselves, away from the influence of feminists and women, and then they would be protected. And when they are grown we can bring them back. And they'll be pure."
He is sincere.
Hoff Sommers gives a pained half-smile. This is what she has to work with.
And indeed, the number of bright, articulate conservative students may be smaller than the number of bright, articulate progressive students, simply because there are more left-leaning students generally. According to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which has been surveying incoming freshmen every fall since 1966, last year 29.9 percent of students said they were "liberal" or "far left"--the highest since 1975. Fifty percent described themselves as "middle of the road." Conservatives, undaunted by these numbers, have a strategic plan: (1) They forgo a battle for the hearts and minds of the masses in favor of courting a vocal and visible minority, and (2) they spend a lot of money nurturing and training their handpicked rising stars. It's all about perception. For example, if "objective" reporters are covering a campus abortion-rights demonstration of 500 students, they will seek out a comment from the campus antiabortion organization of fifteen. But there has to be a campus antiabortion presence.
When it comes to the issues the Luce Policy Institute tackles, it's the usual list--with a twist. "Free enterprise" for Lucers means the freedom to enter the marketplace but accept less pay. "Women choose to spend time with family rather than on career," Luce institute program director Lisa De Pasquale explains. "They may not choose to work sixty hours a week at a law firm to make partner." That's not discrimination, or women paying a mommy tax for their mommy tracks, as feminists claim; it's simply a choice. The group also riffs on themes developed by Hoff Sommers, Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Christine Stolba, who claim that Labor Department statistics showing that women earn 75 cents for every dollar men earn is absurd. This is comparing apples and oranges, they contend. Women choose lesser-paying jobs, like those in the service industries (probably because they like helping other people more than men), and they choose to take time off or work part-time so they can be with their kids, so they're simply choosing a smaller paycheck. Discrimination, having been tidily converted to "choice," becomes a nonissue. (The Lucites don't acknowledge this as a false "choice" between a rock and a hard spot.)
Meanwhile, public enemy No. 1 for the Luce Policy Institute is women's studies. After all, if there is no discrimination, what are all those feminist professors yammering about? "The majority of women's studies classes and other classes that teach a reconceptualized subject matter are unscholarly, intolerant of dissent and full of gimmicks," insists Easton. "In other words, they are a waste of time."
The institute urges action (note: from alums, not students): "Sensible alumni of our thousands of colleges and universities should demand a minimum amount of intellectual integrity and ideological diversity at their alma maters." The Luce assault on women's studies dovetails nicely with the broader assault on multiculturalism, gay and lesbian studies, and affirmative action on campuses. Slyly cribbing slogans from the left, they've co-opted the term "diversity" to mean a push for more conservative professors on campus, and they changed "Take Back the Night," a rape-awareness program, into "Take Back the Campus," an ad campaign initiated by sister organization Independent Women's Forum (IWF) to debunk the top ten "most outrageous feminist myths." (These range from the aforementioned "women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns" to the "myth" that "women have been shortchanged in medical research.")
According to Lee Cokorinos, research director at the Institute for Democracy Studies and author of the report "Antifeminist Organizations: Institutionalizing the Backlash," getting young women to embrace this old rhetoric is a strategic move. "The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, like the IWF, is about feminizing antifeminism," he says. Cokorinos sees this as part of a larger game plan: "Right-wing, neoconservative and libertarian groups are increasingly grooming young, articulate female spokespersons--whom Susan Faludi calls the "pod feminists"--to influence media coverage of gender issues and thereby help shape public opinion." This meshes nicely with the trend to move beyond the kneejerk, emotional antifeminism of the religious right. Nurturing young minds on campus means training those well versed in academy-speak, hopefully giving their future research and work a veneer of scientific respectability.