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OP-ED: Christina Hoff Sommers’ twisted brand of feminism

Mimi Li, Staff Reporter

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The self-described ‘Factual Feminist’ Christina Hoff Sommers lectured at Cal State LA last Tuesday, hosted by the conservative student organization Young Americans for Freedom. As time passed, I thought, for a so-called ‘Factual Feminist,’ she sure spends a lot of time making jokes about trigger warnings and childishly insulting intersectional feminism, rather than presenting facts. In fact, I was rather amused by her circular reasoning. She frequently argued that intersectional feminists lack logic and reason… by reiterating that they lack logic and reason.

Additionally, the event was hostile to the few students who had challenged Sommers’ views during the Q & A session. Audience members, consisting of mostly YAF members, some even coming from as far as San Diego, loudly mocked the students and laughed alongside Sommers. Sommers herself had mocked the students as well, at times choosing to pick on them instead of giving serious responses.

So what is intersectional feminism and why is Sommers, a self-identified feminist, against it? Intersectional feminism, or third wave feminism, is the type of feminism that is championed in the current feminist movement. It is distinguishable from the first and second wave for its emphasis on not only gender, but race, class, and other identities that one may have. All women do not share the same struggles. A wealthy white female celebrity may center her fight to have equal pay in Hollywood, but a low-income immigrant woman’s priority within the movement may be simply to advocate for a living wage for domestic workers.

Sommers attacks intersectional feminism, specifically for its inclusion on identity politics, and instead advocates for what she calls ‘equity feminism.’ She defines equity feminism as a concept that “stands for the moral, social, legal equality of the sexes, and the freedom of men and women to employ their equal status to pursue happiness as they choose.” When explained further, the feminism she argues for denounces the existence of patriarchy, which is a system in which men hold more power in society and women are disadvantaged as a result. Women in the U.S. are not oppressed, she argues, pointing to the worse oppression that women in third world countries face.

The brand of feminism that Sommers advocates for is similar to the goals of the first wave feminist movement, which advocated for equal rights under the law. Though intersectional feminists today are still fighting for equal rights, they are also identifying patterns of oppression in regards to their intersecting identities and applying it to their advocacy. In contrast, Sommers’ proposal is simplistic – Women should gain legal rights equal to men, and then everyone will live happily ever after.

However, as history shows us, it is not only laws that change the lives of women, but social change must occur and attitudes towards women must progress as well. For example, yes, women are now permitted into the fields of science and technology, but their success will be impeded if their male colleagues and employers do not take her seriously or sexually harass her. Take the famous example of Rosalind Franklin, a female chemist and x-ray crystallographer who made vast contributions to our current understanding of DNA, RNA, viruses, and much more. She was a woman who, despite the gender discrimination of her time, made important scientific discoveries. However, her male colleagues, Francis Crick and James Watson, were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 using information from her discoveries, while she was never even nominated. Only years after she had passed away did she receive recognition.

While Sommers agrees that sexism and racism exist in our society, it is not the norm, therefore women are not oppressed. Sommers states that intersectional feminists should not focus on oppression, and should focus on liberation instead. I believe this is where Sommers goes against her argument. If she argues for women’s liberation, then what do women need to be liberated from? In order to be liberated, women would have to look at what is holding them back. Therein lies the need to examine patriarchal oppression.

Lastly, I argue that Sommers not only has a different brand of feminism, but that she is not a feminist at all. Her views clash with almost everything that both past and present feminist movements are fighting for, such as for equal pay and against rape culture.

Sommers insists that there is no wage gap along the binary gender lines. Her argument is a common one – Women are paid less because they chose to go into lower paying fields or take up jobs that are family friendly, while men take on higher paying jobs that are sometimes dangerous. However, this assertion has been proven false – Women are paid less than their male counterparts even in the same position in the same field.

According to the National Women’s Law Center’s 2015 study on the wage gap, women are paid 80 cents to every dollar that their male counterparts made. When factoring in the earnings of women of color, the percentages are much lower. For every dollar that their white male counterpart made, Asian women made 85 cents, Black women made 63 cents, Native American women made 58 cents, and Latina women made 54 cents.

Sommers also holds views of rape that are contrary to what the modern feminist movement is fighting for. She says that many women lie about getting raped, that it is merely sex that they regret having or drunk sex. She argues that rape is not an epidemic on college campuses. However, sexual assault is indeed an epidemic, as more and more female students are coming forward against their assailants. But since her core belief is that women are falsely alleging rape, then of course it will never be an epidemic to her.

I interviewed Nghia Nguyen, one of two students who challenged Sommers to a short-lived debate due to time scarcity. Nguyen is a transgender activist and intersectional feminist who disagrees with Sommers. Her response sums up my argument.

“Her claim to be fighting for equality is patently false when you look at what she advocates,” says Nguyen, in the interview. “You cannot claim to be fighting for equal rights while denying women equal pay. You cannot claim to be fighting for equal rights while denying the right of women to be free from sexual assault and rape. Sommers is hostile to the real feminist movement that is actually fighting for equality.”

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