It’s hard to tell whether Christina Hoff Sommers, stumping for the Young America’s Foundation and its kid sister, the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, is the darling of the far right or whether she is doing penance for some great sin committed against her conservative brethren.
As gale-strength winds whip and rattle the windowpanes of a small lecture hall, she is hunkered down behind a podium talking to a half-dozen professors and a smattering of students–fifteen by my count–in the nether reaches of Long Island at a college no one has ever heard of.
She talks about her latest book–The War Against Boys–and she talks about her old book–Who Stole Feminism?–and she explains to these Dowling College students that she is a feminist, or anyway was a feminist until she realized that feminists today have gone too far. “We’ve had a decade of antimale propaganda like the world has never known,” she insists. It troubles her. “We are pathologizing maleness,” she says.
Hoff Sommers carefully explains to the students that much of the fault for this unfortunate phenomenon lies with women’s studies departments. There, “statistically challenged” feminists engage in bad scholarship to advance their liberal agenda. As her preliminary analysis of women’s studies textbooks has shown, these professors are peddling a skewed and incendiary message: “Women are from Venus, men are from Hell.”
Her lecture is a dance of some delicacy. She deftly twists and turns her narrative to weave in the big conservative Talking Points: the need for school vouchers, school uniforms, school discipline, schools with sex-segregated classrooms; the need for male role models (“to help a young man become, this is a slightly Victorian term, but, a ‘gentleman'”) and thus the essentiality of the two-parent, role-model-providing family; the need for a return to the three Rs; a quick deification of standardized tests; and finally, as she winds down, a call to celebrate the obvious triumph of nature over nurture. We must revel in the many “hard-wired” differences between boys and girls, like their differing intellects. Her concluding gem? She smiles: “As the French say, ‘Vive la différence!‘”
Notably absent from her list–perhaps too much of a turnoff for this crowd?–is any mention of abortion or women’s return to the home.
Instead, hers is a carefully scripted yet lighthearted romp through the issues of the day, colloquialized with a liberal sprinkling of anecdotes. Did you hear the one about the school that, thanks to the feminists, wanted to ban freeze tag as too aggressive? What about the one where feminist researchers tried to make boys play with dolls? How about that boy who was raised as a girl? She goes for Reader’s Digest quotable quotes: “We’re so unaccepting of boys and their simple high spirits. If Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer were alive today they would be put on Ritalin.” And finally, formulaically, she invokes that neighborly, over-the-fence standard “common sense” to pit us against those wacky liberal intellectuals. Just the other day, she tells us, she was complaining about all the malarkey those women’s studies professors generate. (This marks the fifth time in the hourlong lecture that an anonymous friend is invoked to offer pithy advice.) “And you know, that friend of mine said to me, ‘Don’t worry about this. Americans don’t listen to intellectuals; they have common sense.'”