Wednesday, April 24

Girl Talk

As someone who has spent more than one third of my life at university, it hardly comes as a revelation to me that many campus women's groups are engaging in intellectually bankrupt behavior. In fact, it has occurred to me on more than one occasion that the basic goal of most of these groups is fundamentally hypocritical. Their mission, which they execute with unbounded zeal, is to open the eyes of the freshwomyn who arrive on campus each Fall and show them that they have been browbeaten and shamed into “traditional gender roles" enforced by a strict patriarchy. They accomplish this, of course, by browbeating and shaming the same young women into adopting non-traditional gender roles, which are then strictly enforced by a strict campus matriarchy.

Fortunately for naive college students of both sexes, the astute ladies over at the Independent Women's Forum, who are much too intelligent and sensible to be browbeaten by anyone, have come out with a devastating critique of the most popular Women's Studies textbooks used in introductory courses at universities across the country. Some of the things that they found were:

1. The major Women's Studies textbooks misrepresent or distort statistics about unequal pay for the sexes in the labor force.

2. The authors of the textbooks patronizingly attribute the choices of any women to work at home, to work in traditionally female professions, or to have traditional families or marriages as the product of slavish gender conformity rather than personal preference.

3. They habitually pass off discredited junk science as medical fact. Examples of this include perpetuating the debunked myth that silicone implants seriously compromise the health of women and the incorrect assertion that medical studies routinely exclude women as test subjects. The reality in the latter situation is that the National Institute for Health used women in more than 90% of its clinical trials as far back as 1979 and, currently, women represent 60% of all subjects in its trials.

4. They exhibit a pervasive skepticism of all scientific studies because the results of scientific experiments are themselves the product of "the dominant male culture." They go so far as to label the "masculine" pursuit of scientific knowledge, which has resulted in the discovery of sources of power like nuclear energy, as incredibly dangerous and warn that "the present 'masculinity of science' may very well kill us." Of course, anectodotal evidence, especially gathered by or from fellow activists, is considered much more reliable.

5. They present highly controversial assertions regarding domestic abuse as received wisdom. For example, although leading social scientists such as Richard J. Gelles and Murray A. Strauss have demonstrated that women are just as likely to initiate violence as men (though, not surprisingly, women are more likely to suffer injury as a result of these encounters), such studies are entirely ignored in favor of unsubstantiated claims that "when both partners engage in violence, men tend to be the primary perpetrators." The Independent Women's Forum, however, cites a recent study published in the journal Criminology and Public Policy in 2001, which found that women were just as likely--and, in some cases, more likely--to initiate violence. The conclusion of this study was that, as a result of these statistics, both men and women should be treated as potential instigators of violence in the home. Such a rational conclusion is in direct contrast to the "feminist-oriented intervention programs" favored by the Women's Studies textbooks, which trivialize women's violence against men as "a phenomenon that has been exaggerated in the media."

6. The textbooks repeat the party line that women are the victims of systematic institutional repression throughout the education system. One textbook, for example, states that "as compared to boys, girls receive less attention and praise from teachers; request less help; and are less dominant in class. . . . Even at the college level, teachers pay more attention to male students than to female students." This information, which relies primarily on research produced by politicized organizations such as the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), is presented as an undisputed reflection of reality. Nowhere does one find any acknowledgment that these studies have been exposed as superficial, methodologically-flawed and biased by, among others, Judith Kleinfeld and Christina Hoff Sommers in her book Who Stole Feminism?, which the deflated the hyperbolic claims of the AAUW report. As the Independent Women's Forum notes, the reality is that: "One hundred years ago, women were barred from entering most universities; today, they receive the majority of bachelor's and master's degrees, and within a decade are projected to receive the majority of Ph.Ds." So much for institutional bias.

7. The authors of the textbooks suggest that all resistance to their agenda is evidence of "the extent to which new knowledge from women's studies and the different racial and ethnic programs [that attack the Western Canon] challenges existing ways of thought." It couldn't possibly be that John Milton and Jane Austen's works are simply better than "I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala," a work much touted by the textbooks' authors but which has been shown to be factually fraudulent (not to mention embarrassingly juvenile in its writing style).

8. Anything smacking of something that might have seemed normal to someone raised in the 1950s is dismissed out of hand as racist, sexist, heterosexist and abusively patriarchal. Listen to the way that the authors of the textbook Women's Realities, Women's Choices talk about marriage: "[O]ur experiences, whether or not we were involved in stable, 'happy' marriages, led us to take a uniformly critical stance on this institution, to regard it as an instrument of social oppression." One has to feel sorry for someone who feels so guilty about feeling happy. Apologies, I meant "happy." Whatever that means.

9. Not surprisingly, the authors of these textbooks are uncritical cheerleaders for increased government intervention in the everyday lives of citizens--as long as it favors their positions. They argue, for example, that "there has been inadequate effort to provide for the children of working mothers." In the face of such certainty it seems uncharitable to raise the objection that maybe it is not the government's responsibility to look after the nation's children who already have parents. There is also no mention of the fact that surveys consistently reveal that a strong majority of Americans find institutionalized daycare to be the least desirable form of childcare.

10. Language comes under special scrutiny from the authors of the texbooks. Although one is prepared for such assertions as "the practice of using the word 'man' to refer generically to all people makes women invisible" (Lane, I didn't know that you possessed such power!), it is hard to maintain a straight face while reading the accusation that the words "input," "plugs into," "thrust," and "penetrate" are phallic linguistic interlopers.

11. Politically successful women are viewed with suspicion. This is especially true if they refuse to be martyrs for the radical feminist cause and, god forbid, succeed in a "man's world." It is beyond the narrow minds of the textbooks' authors to imagine how a successful woman (or, gasp!, a successful woman of color or lesbian) like Margaret Thatcher, Condi Rice, Linda Chavez, or Lynn or Mary Cheney, can steadfastly refuse to share their view of a conservative conspiracy against the female sex. The texts are also uninterested in exploring what these women might have to say in response. Good thing too; they might depict "the present abusive gender system as natural and desirable" and contradict the authors' portrayal of the world as "oppos[ing] women's freedom and . . . denigrat[ing] our selfhood."

12. Any dissenting position, particularly one associated with conservatives or even moderate centrists is automatically discounted as a hostile and biased one. The authors of the textbook Thinking About Women explain why: "Although appeals to family values at times stem from genuine concern about troubled families, they also represent a conservative view that regards many new family forms as symbolic of all that has gone wrong with the traditional values in the society." Um ... do you mean committed gay couples in monogamous relationships or 19-year-old high school dropouts with three children by different fathers? Nuance is not a strength of these books. Indeed, one of their major flaws is that these textbooks depict the world in highly charged, with-us-or-against-us, terms, which leave no room for debate or reasonable dissent. There is nothing like fighting alleged indoctrination with counter-indoctrination!

13. Capitalist? In favor of any armed conflict? Traitor!

14. First Lady (now Senator) Hilary Clinton is trumpeted as a feminist champion who was "publicly ridiculed and hailed as out of line for trying to share power with her husband." The Independent Women's Forum's take on this situation is a little more accurate and insightful: "The lesson the textbook author draws from [Hilary's] experience is that 'some women can move into politics, but it is still a man's world--where women are not expected to exercise equal power.' Another lesson that could be drawn is that much of the criticism of Hilary Clinton's role as First Lady was not that women shouldn't exercise power, but that they should first be elected to exercise it, particularly when it comes to complicated and divisive policy issues such as a national health care system."

I will leave the last word to the authors of the Independent Women's Forum's study, who sum up the general tenor of the Women's Studies textbooks as follows:

"By limiting the scope of intellectual inquiry, by misrepresenting or ignoring their critics, and by ignoring facts in favor of myth, Women's Studies textbooks encourage students to embrace aggrievement, not knowledge. As its textbooks demonstrate, the field of Women's Studies has turned "rooms of their own" into narrow intellectual prisons presided over by matriarchs of mediocrity who mistake ideology for learning and scholarship."

For more information on the Independent Women's Forum, including links to all their publications and information on how to start a campus chapter, please click here.