Growing up in Northern California in the 70’s and 80’s, the idea of women’s liberation (i.e. feminism) seemed uncomplicated and uncontroversial. California has always been a hotbed of progressive idealism. Feminism fit into that ideological matrix as well as my own quasi-bohemian upbringing so well, it seemed as natural as the air I breathed.
No one discussed it at any length, but I have vague recollections of the news and controversies surrounding what was then a burgeoning women’s liberation movement. It seemed pretty natural to me that as opportunity expanded in the marketplace, women would want life choices that didn’t involve homemaking. I was aware that women were disenfranchised from the vote, but given that the 19th amendment was passed in 1919, modern women seemed perfectly well equipped to do whatever they damn well pleased. They had property and voting rights, they had reproductive freedom, and they had a free market. “Live your life and be happy” was my outlook towards my female peers regardless of whether they chose the mantle of feminism.
From my perspective, the work of feminism (i.e. equity feminism) in Western society seemed largely complete. Women were achieving in the workplace. Women could marry or not, have children or not, go to college or not, own property or not, be entrepreneurs or simply go to work.
Despite the gains of first generation feminists, the current generation of “gender feminists” insist that womanhood is besieged by manhood itself. By the reckoning of today’s feminists, women are subjects of an all-encompassing sex/gender power structure dominated by men known as patriarchy; a power structure exclusively dedicated to the eternal subjugation of womanhood. Despite the fact that many refer to contemporary Third Wave feminists as the torchbearers of this doctrine, Ms. Sommers argues that radical Second Wave feminists instigated a permanent war on patriarchy and sought to indoctrinate the idea that all women are victims of systemic oppression. The ideologues who promulgate this view have ensconced themselves in positions of power throughout academia. Having won the allegiance of politicians and journalists, they are breeding new generations of propagandized, feminized zealots who see patriarchal oppression in every corner of life. As a result of their ever accumulating power, they have used this leverage to cow, intimidate, and browbeat non-believers into submission.
How did we get here? How were the near-universally shared Enlightenment principles of equality of opportunity and individual freedom upon which equity feminism was built cast aside as antiquated relics? How did the cultish, infantile, anti-intellectual, irrational indoctrination campaign of the present become the default setting for feminism?
These are the questions Christina Hoff Sommers sets out to answer in Who Stole Feminism?
Though it was published in 1994, Christina Hoff Sommers’ Who Stole Feminism? burns with urgency and relevance. It detonates every single one of the pathologies and propaganda campaigns behind the cult of grievances that define the current “movement” with laser guided precision.
Every one of the “injustices” about which the current generation of narcissistic whiners rail is deconstructed. Every one of disinformation campaigns is debunked. The purveyors of this mind pollution are named and their doctrines of self-victimization are held to the cold light of logic, reason and evidence. Every phenomenon that is occurring with ever increasing frequency can be traced to the now prevalent ideology of gender feminism being forcibly inserted into college curricula everywhere. Demands for trigger warnings and “safe spaces”, increasingly aggressive language policing, sexual assault hysteria, and expressions of full on misandry are all features an ideology that’s been planting its roots for years.
For those who find themselves puzzled and annoyed by contemporary feminism, this book is both essential reading and chillingly prescient. It absolutely nails everything happening throughout the country and the Western world. Given that Ms. Sommers began researching this book in 1989, it’s eminently clear that the seeds of the current madness were planted long ago.
She begins by making a crucial distinction between equity feminism and gender feminism. The former was predicated on principles of the Enlightenment and classical liberalism. Equity feminists agitated for equality of opportunity; the opportunity to compete on the same plane as men without special treatment. The philosophical progenitors of this brand of feminism include Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lucretia Mott.
Gender feminists preach an entirely different doctrine. Emanating from the nihilistic black holes of post-structuralism and postmodernism created by the likes of Derrida, Marcuse, Marx and Foucault, gender feminism rejects objective reality and operates from an unfalsifiable premise: the patriarchy exists and everything terrible that happens to women can be explained by its crushing omnipresence. Since gender feminists accept the existence of patriarchy as an irrefutable truth, it is more accurately described as a religious article of faith.
Ms. Sommers calls them gender feminists, but I think she’s being a little too easygoing. Victim feminists or grievance feminists seems more appropriate.
The gender feminist movement is best described as an authoritarian religious cult. It is predicated on the accumulation of power; specifically the acquisition of control of the apparatus of education. Ms. Sommers reveals the myriad ways that gender feminists have curried favor with politicians in order to dominate bureaucratic fiefdoms throughout academia. As a result of this accumulated influence, these ideologues are promoting an ever escalating, illiberal crusade of censorship and speech policing. While simultaneously fueling a public propaganda campaign spanning every topic from self-esteem to sexual assault, misleading claims and outright falsehoods have lodged themselves into the minds of activists as incontrovertible articles of faith.
Given the overwhelming prevalence of feminist ideology and ideologues in contemporary online discourse, media, and pop culture, the focus gender feminists have placed on gaining control of the apparatus of academia simply cannot be underestimated.
Ms. Sommers dedicates several chapters to the vast influence of gender feminism on academia and the chilling pursuit of “transformationalism”; a reconstruction of education and language itself from a gynocentric point of view. Not content with the dominion of the humanities, the gender feminist complaints of patriarchal oppression have entered the natural sciences. Ranging from the alleged “phallocentric” readings of history to the supposed necessity of a feminist perspective in science and biology, these propositions are put forward with a zeal to rival any religious cult. The perverse result of this irrational jihad on the actual pursuit of knowledge is an academic culture that is reactionary and hostile to honest intellectual discourse.
The pervasive influence of this ideology has paved the way for a deluge of disinformation and propaganda which portrays life for American women as something akin to living in totalitarian society. Evil male capitalists quietly destroy female self-esteem through advertising then send them to campus rape gulags only to underpay them upon entering the workforce. Whether it’s dubious studies on the alleged crisis of campus sexual assault or the now seemingly unquestioned gender wage gap or the claims that young girls and women are subjects of gender bias in schools, the narrative of oppression against women continues unabated. These propaganda campaigns have proven themselves reliable talking points for self-aggrandizing politicians and media hacks alike.
As bewildering and maddening as these phenomena are, the two abominations highlighted in the book which have aroused my personal ire are the conflation of speech with violence and the insufferable trend towards gender political correctness. This cultish pursuit of ideological rectitude has fueled an assault on pop culture that encompasses comedy, political satire, video games, books, movies, and comics. If it isn’t Anita Sarkeesian’s idiotic cult of victimization lobbing insipid claims of being marginalized by a monolithic community of neckbeards, it’s the seemingly never ending drumbeat of feminist gripes complaining of sexism, misogyny, objectification or rape in pop culture. Feminists are now the entitled killjoys and puritanical scolds standing on the sidelines demanding compliance and conformity from skilled professionals. If they had an ounce of courage or integrity, they’d make their own works and allow them to succeed or fail on their own merits without resorting to propaganda campaigns, social media hate mobs or state authority.
Though Ms. Sommers probably intended the title of the book as a rhetorical question, I think there is a deeper question behind the title that’s worth attempting to answer. That question is something along the lines of “What is the ultimate agenda behind gender feminism?” I believe this question can be answered.
Ms. Sommers hints at it at several points throughout the book, but doesn’t come straight out and say it. Gender feminism is a wholly owned subsidiary of the progressive Left. The ideologues of the feminist movement are promoting an agenda of repression which plays right into the hands of the State. It’s an agenda which thrives on groupthink, obedience and clinging to authority.
As this book brilliantly illustrates, gender feminism has nothing whatsoever to do with gender equality. Gender feminism deserves fervent opposition, vigorous criticism and most of all, unabashed ridicule.