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FEMINISM

H O W
W O M E N H A V E
B E T R A Y E D
W O M E N
C H R IST INA H O FF SU MMER S
U .S. $23.00
C a n . $29. 50
Phi l osophy pr of essor Chri st i na
Sommers has exposed a disturbing
development: how a group of zealots,
claiming to speak for all women, are
promoting a dangerous new agenda
that threatens our most cherished ide-
als and sets women against men in
all spheres of life. In case after case,
Sommers shows how these extrem-
ists have propped up their arguments
with highly questionable but well-fund-
ed research, presenti ng inflamma-
t o r y and o f t e n i n a c c u r a t e
i nf or mat i on and stifling any sem-
bl ance of free and open scrut i ny.
T rumpeted as orthodoxy, the resulting
"findings" on everything from rape to
domestic abuse to economic bias to
the supposed cr i si s in gi r l s' sel f-
esteem perpetuate a view of women
as victims of the "patriarchy."
M oreover, these arguments and
the supposed facts on which they are
based have had enormous influence
beyond the academy, where they have
shaken the foundations of our educa-
tional, scientific, and legal institutions
and have fostered resentment and
alienation in our private lives. D espite
i ts cur r ent domi nance, Sommers
maintains, such a breed of feminism
is at odds with the real aspirations
and values of most A merican women
and undermi nes the cause of true
equality.
Who Stole Feminism? is a call to
arms that will enrage or inspire, but
cannot be ignored.
CH R IST IN A H O FF SO M M E R S is an associ-
ate professor of philosophy at C lark
U niversity who specializes in contem-
porary moral theory. T he editor of two
ethics textbooks, she has published
numerous professional papers. She
has also written articles for The New
Republic, The Wall Street Journal, the
Chicago Tribune, and The New
England Journal of Medicine, among
other publications. She lives in the
Boston area.
Jacket design by Jackie Seow
A uthor photograph by Joyce R avid
Printed in the U .S.A . C opyright 1994 Simon & Schuster
From
W H O ST O L E FE M IN ISM ?
A merican feminism is currently dominated by a group of
women who seek to persuade the public that A merican
women are not the free creatures we think we are. T he
leaders and theori sts of the women' s movement believe
that our society is best described as a patriarchy, a "male
hegemony," a "sex/ gender system" in which the dominant
gender works to keep women cowering and submissive. T he
feminists who hold this divisive view of our social and politi-
cal reality believe that we are in a gender war, and they are
eager to disseminate stories of atrocity that are designed
to alert women to their plight. T he "gender feminists" (as I
shall be calling them) believe that all our institutions, from
the state to the family to the grade school s, perpetuate
male dominance. B elieving that women are virtually under
si ege, gender feminists naturally seek recrui ts to wage
their side of the gender war. T hey seek support. T hey seek
vindication. T hey seek ammunition.
I have been moved to write this book because I am a
feminist who does not like what feminism has become. T he
new gender feminism is badly in need of scruti ny. O nly
forthright appraisals can diminish its inordinate and divisive
influence. If others will join in a frank and honest critique,
before long a more representative and less doctrinaire femi-
nism will again pick up the reins. B ut that is not likely to
happen without a fight.
Who
Stole
Feminism?
How
Women
Have
Betrayed
Women
Christina Hoff Sommer s
Si mo n & S c h u s t e r
New York London Toronto
Sydney Tokyo Singapore
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Rockefeller Center
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New York, New York 10020
Copyright 1994 by Christina Sommers
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any
form whatsoever.
SIMON & SCHUSTER and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Designed by Levavi & Levavi
Manufactured in the United States of America
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Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Sommers, Christina Hoff.
Who stole feminism? : how women have betrayed women / Christina Hoff Sommers.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. FeminismPhilosophy. 2. FeminismUnited StatesHistory. I. Title.
HQ1154.S613 1994
305. 42' 0973dc20 94-4734
CIP
ISBN: 0671-79424-8
The charts that appear on pages 246 and 247 are reprinted by permission of The Com-
monwealth Fund, a New York-based national philanthropic organization.
Acknowledgments
Of t he many friends who hel ped me I single out t hose who read and
criticized t he manuscr i pt at vari ous stages: Mart i n Boer, Robert Costrell,
Barbara Ellis, J ohn Ellis, Ronni Gor don, Don Klein, Erika Kors, Evelyn
Rich, Gail Savitz, David Stillman, Abigail Ther nst r om, and St ephan
Ther nst r om.
I am grateful to Dawn Baker, an under gr aduat e at Boston University,
Peter Wel sh, a political science graduat e st udent at Boston College, and
Alex Stillman, an under gr aduat e at J ohns Hopki ns. They checked facts
and l ooked for pr i mar y sources, whi ch wer e mor e often t han not difficult
to trace. Special t hanks also to Hilary Ol sen for her many hour s of proof-
reading, editing, and ret ypi ng.
I am obliged to Lynn Chu and Glen Hart l ey for havi ng ur ged me t o
under t ake this book. My edi t or, Rebecca Saletan, has been s uper b
t hr oughout t he t wo years I t ook in wri t i ng it. Deni se Roy and Jay
Schweitzer ably shepher ded t he book t hr ough t he editorial and pr oduc-
tion processes.
8 A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S
Louise Hoff, my sister, traveled wi t h me to many feminist conferences,
i nt o t he very dens of t he l i onesses, provi di ng much needed moral sup-
port . Our mot her , Dol ores Hoff, has s hown us bot h t hat bei ng a feminist
has not hi ng to do wi t h resent i ng men.
It is easy enough to get grant s for feminist research ai med at showi ng
how wome n are bei ng shor t changed and "silenced" by t he male establish-
ment . It is not so easy to receive grant s for a st udy t hat criticizes t he
feminist est abl i shment for its errors and excesses. The Lynde and Harry
Bradley Foundat i on, t he Cart hage Foundat i on, and t he J ohn M. Ol i n
Foundat i on bel i eved t hat what I had to say was i mpor t ant , and I t hank
t hem for t hei r graci ous and gener ous s uppor t for this project. I coul d not
have wr i t t en this book wi t hout t hei r aid and cooperat i on, nor wi t hout
t he s uppor t of Cl ark University, whi ch al l owed me a two-year leave and
awar ded me a Mel l on Facul t y Devel opment Grant and a Higgins Research
Grant .
Numer ous ot her s t oo numer ous to identify her es uppor t ed me
moral l y and intellectually. They know well who t hey are and know as
well how t hankful I am. I apol ogi ze for not acknowl edgi ng t hem by name.
A great deal of what is val uabl e and right about Who Stole Feminism? is
due t o t he wi s dom, encour agement , and unfailing assistance of my hus-
band, Fred Sommer s. My vi ews on feminism are controversial, and when
t hose who do not t ake well to criticism react by mal i gni ng me rat her t han
my ar gument , Fred hel ps me stay cal m and clear.
I a m grateful to my st epson, Taml er Sommer s, whose t went y-t hree-
year-ol d perspect i ve saved me mor e t han once from what he assured me
wer e mi sgui ded efforts at humor .
Thi s book is dedi cat ed to Fred, to Taml er, and to my ni ne-year-ol d
son, Davi d Sommer s, who is, I suspect , del i ght ed to see t he last of its
wri t i ng.
Contents
Preface 11
1. Women Under Siege 19
2. Indignation, Resentment, and Collective Guilt 41
3. Transforming the Academy 50
4. New Epistemologies 74
5. The Feminist Classroom 87
6. A Bureaucracy of One's Own 118
7. The Self-Esteem Study 137
8. The Wellesley Report: A Gender at Risk 157
9. Noble Lies 188
10. Rape Research 209
11. The Backlash Myth 227
12. The Gender Wardens 255
Notes 276
Index 307
Preface
In Revolution from Within, Gloria St ei nem i nforms her readers t hat "i n
this count ry al one . . . about 150, 000 females di e of anorexi a each year . "
1
That is mor e t han t hree t i mes t he annual numbe r of fatalities from car
acci dent s for t he total popul at i on. St ei nem refers readers to anot her fem-
inist best-seller, Naomi Wol f s The Beauty Myth. And in Ms. Wol f s book
one again finds t he statistic, al ong wi t h t he aut hor ' s out rage. "How, " she
asks, "woul d Ameri ca react to t he mass sel f-i mmol at i on by hunger of its
favorite s ons ?"
2
Al t hough "not hi ng justifies compar i son wi t h t he Hol o-
caust, " she cannot refrain from maki ng one anyway. " When confront ed
wi t h a vast number of emaci at ed bodi es st arved not by nat ur e but by
men, one mus t not i ce a certain r esembl ance. "
3
Wher e di d Ms. Wol f get her figures? Her source is Fasting Girls: The
Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease* by J oan Br umber g, a
historian and former di rect or of women' s st udi es at Cornel l University.
Brumberg, t oo, is fully aware of t he political significance of t he st art l i ng
statistic. She poi nt s out t hat t he wome n who st udy eat i ng pr obl ems "seek
12 P R E F A C E
to demonst r at e t hat t hese di sorders are an inevitable consequence of a
mi sogyni st i c society t hat demeans w o me n . . . by objectifying their
bodi es . "
5
Professor Br umber g, in t ur n, at t ri but es t he figure to t he Ameri -
can Anorexi a and Bulimia Association.
I called t he Amer i can Anorexi a and Bulimia Association and spoke to
Dr. Di ane Mickley, its presi dent . "We were mi squot ed, " she said. In a
1985 newsl et t er t he associ at i on had referred to 150, 000 to 200, 000 suf-
ferers (not fatalities) of anorexi a nervosa.
Wha t is t he correct mor bi di t y rate? Most expert s are rel uct ant to give
exact figures. One clinician t ol d me t hat of 1,400 pat i ent s she had treated
in t en years, four had di edal l t hr ough sui ci de. The Nat i onal Cent er for
Heal t h Statistics r epor t ed 101 deat hs from anorexi a nervosa in 1983 and
67 deat hs i n 1988.
6
Thomas Dunn of t he Division of Vital Statistics at t he
Nat i onal Cent er for Heal t h Statistics report s that in 1991 t here were 54
deat hs from anorexi a nervosa and no deat hs from bul i mi a. The deat hs of
t hese young wome n are a t ragedy, certainly, but in a count ry of one
hundr e d mi l l i on adul t females, such number s are hardl y evidence of a
"hol ocaust . "
Yet now t he false figure, suppor t i ng t he view that our "sexist society"
demeans wome n by objectifying t hei r bodi es, is wi del y accept ed as true.
Ann Landers r epeat ed it i n her syndi cat ed col umn in April 1992: "Every
year, 150, 000 Amer i can wome n di e from compl i cat i ons associated wi t h
anorexi a and bul i mi a. "
7
I sent Naomi Wol f a letter poi nt i ng out t hat Dr. Mickley had said she
was mi st aken. Wol f sent me wor d on February 3 , 1993 , t hat she i nt ends
to revise her figures on anorexi a in a later edi t i on of The Beauty Myth.
8
Wi l l she act ual l y st at e t hat t he correct figure is less t han one hundr ed per
year? And will she correct t he i mpl i cat i ons she dr ew from t he false report?
For exampl e, will she revise her thesis t hat masses of young women are
bei ng "st arved not by nat ur e but by men" and her declaration that
" women mus t claim anorexi a as political damage done to us by a social
or der t hat consi der s our dest r uct i on i ns i gni f i cant . . . as Jews identify t he
deat h c a mp s " ?
9
Wi l l Ms. St ei nem advi se her readers of t he egregious statistical error?
Wi l l Ms. Landers? Wi l l it even mat t er? By now, t he 150, 000 figure has
made it i nt o college t ext books. A recent women' s st udi es text, aptly titled
The Knowledge Explosion, cont ai ns t he er r oneous figure in its preface.
1 0
The anorexi a "crisis" is onl y one sampl e of t he ki nd of provocative but
i naccurat e i nformat i on bei ng pur veyed by women about "women' s issues"
t hese days. On November 4, 1992, Debor ah Louis, presi dent of the Na-
t i onal Wome n' s St udi es Association, sent a message to t he Women' s Stud-
P R E F A C E 13
ies Electronic Bulletin Board: "Accordi ng to [the] last March of Di mes
report , domest i c vi ol ence (vs. pr egnant women) is now responsi bl e for
mor e bi rt h defects t han all ot her causes combi ned. Personally [this]
strikes me as t he most di sgust i ng pi ece of dat a I've seen in a l ong whi l e . "
1 1
This was, i ndeed, unset t l i ng news. But it seemed i mpl ausi bl e. I asked my
nei ghbor, a pedi at ri c neurol ogi st at Boston' s Chi l dren' s Hospi t al , about
t he report . He told me t hat al t hough severe bat t ery may occasionally cause
miscarriage, he had never hear d of bat t ery as a significant cause of bi r t h
defects. Yet on February 2 3 , 1993 , Patricia Irel and, pr esi dent of t he Na-
tional Organi zat i on of Wome n, made a similar claim dur i ng a PBS i nt er-
view wi t h Charl i e Rose: "Battery of pr egnant women is t he numbe r one
cause of bi rt h defects in this count ry. "
I called t he March of Di mes to get a copy of t he report . Maur een Corry,
di rect or of t he March' s Educat i on and Heal t h Pr omot i on Program, deni ed
any knowl edge of it. "We have never seen this research before, " she
said.
I di d a search and found t hat s t udy or no st udyj our nal i st s ar ound
t he count r y wer e citing it.
Domest i c vi ol ence is t he l eadi ng cause of bi r t h defects, mor e t han
all ot her medi cal causes combi ned, accordi ng to a March of Di mes
st udy. (Boston Globe, Sept ember 2, 1991)
Especially gr ot esque is t he brut al i t y reserved for pr egnant women:
t he March of Di mes has concl uded t hat t he bat t eri ng of wome n
dur i ng pr egnancy causes mor e bi r t h defects t han all t he diseases put
t oget her for whi ch chi l dren are usual l y i mmuni zed. (Time magazi ne,
Januar y 18, 1993)
The March of Di mes has concl uded t hat t he bat t eri ng of wome n
dur i ng pr egnancy causes mor e bi r t h defects t han all t he diseases put
t oget her for whi ch chi l dren are usual l y i mmuni zed. (Dallas Morning
News, February 7, 1993)
The March of Di mes says bat t eri ng dur i ng pr egnancy causes mor e
bi rt h defects t han all diseases for whi ch chi l dren are i mmuni zed.
(Arizona Republic, March 2 1 , 1993)
The March of Di mes est i mat es t hat domest i c vi ol ence is t he largest
single cause of bi r t h defects. (Chicago Tribune, April 18, 1993)
I called t he March of Di mes again. Andrea Ziltzer of their medi a rel at i ons
depar t ment told me t hat t he r umor was spi nni ng out of cont rol . Gover-
14 P R E F A C E
nor s' offices, state heal t h depar t ment s, and Washi ngt on politicians had
flooded t he office wi t h phone calls. Even t he office of Senator Edward
Kennedy had r equest ed a copy of t he "report . " The March of Di mes had
asked Time for a ret ract i on. For some reason, Time was stalling.
Wh e n I finally r eached Jeanne McDowel l , who had wri t t en t he Time
article, t he first t hi ng she sai d was "That was an error. " She s ounded
genui nel y sorry and embar r assed. She expl ai ned t hat she is always careful
about checki ng sources, but this t i me, for some reason, she had not. Time
was s uppos ed t o have pr i nt ed a ret ract i on in t he letters col umn, but
because of a mi xup, it had failed to do so. Time has since called t he March
of Di mes' medi a rel at i ons depar t ment to apologize. An official retraction
finally appear ed in t he magazi ne on December 6, 1993 , under t he head-
i ng "Inaccurat e I nf or mat i on. "
1 2
I asked Ms. McDowel l about her source. She had relied on information
given her by t he San Franci sco Fami l y Violence Prevent i on Fund, whi ch
in t ur n had obt ai ned it from Sarah Buel, a founder of t he domest i c
vi ol ence advocacy proj ect at Harvard Law School who now heads a do-
mest i c abuse proj ect in Massachuset t s.
1 3
Ms. Buel had obt ai ned it from
Carol i ne Whi t ehead, a mat er nal nur se and child care specialist in Raleigh,
Nor t h Carol i na. I called Ms. Whi t ehead.
"It bl ows my mi nd. It is not true," she said. The whol e mi xup began,
she expl ai ned, whe n she i nt r oduced Sarah Buel as a speaker at a 1989
conference for nur ses and social wor ker s. In present i ng her, Ms. Whi t e-
head ment i oned t hat accor di ng to some March of Di mes research she had
seen, mor e wome n are screened for bi rt h defects t han are ever screened
for domest i c bat t ery. "In ot her wor ds , what I said was, ' We screen for
bat t ery far less t han we screen for bi rt h defects.' " Ms. Whi t ehead had
said not hi ng at all about bat t ery causing bi rt h defects. "Sarah mi sunder -
st ood me, " she said. Buel went on to put t he erroneous i nformat i on into
an unpubl i s hed manuscr i pt , whi ch was t hen circulated among family
vi ol ence professi onal s. They saw no reason to doubt its aut hori t y and
r epeat ed t he cl ai m to ot her s .
1 4
I called Sarah Buel and t ol d her t hat it seemed she had mi sheard Ms.
Whi t ehead. She was surpri sed. "Oh, I mus t have mi sunder st ood her. I'll
have to give her a call. She is my source. " She t hanked me for havi ng
i nformed her of t he error, poi nt i ng out t hat she had been about to repeat
it yet again in a ne w article she was wri t i ng.
Wh y was ever ybody so credul ous? Battery responsi bl e for mor e bi rt h
defects t han all ot her causes combi ned? More t han genetic di sorders such
as spi na bifida, Down s yndr ome, Tay-Sachs, sickle-cell anemi a? More
t han congeni t al hear t di sorders? More t han alcohol, crack, or AI DS
P R E F A C E 15
mor e t han all these t hi ngs combined? Wher e wer e t he fact-checkers, t he
editors, t he skeptical j ournal i st s?
Unfortunately, t he anorexi a statistic and t he Mar ch of Di mes "st udy"
are typical of t he quality of i nformat i on we are get t i ng on many women' s
issues from feminist researchers, women' s advocat es, and j ournal i st s.
More often t han not , a closer l ook at t he suppor t i ng evi dencet he st ud-
ies and statistics on eating di sorders, domest i c bat t ery, rape, sexual ha-
rassment , bias against girls in school , wage differentials, or t he demi se of
the nucl ear fami l ywi l l raise grave quest i ons about credibility, not t o
speak of objectivity.
Whe n t hey engage in exaggeration, oversimplification, and obfusca-
tion, t he feminist researchers may be no different from such ot her advo-
cacy gr oups as t he Nat i onal Rifle Association or t he t obacco i ndust ry. But
when t he NRA does a "st udy t hat shows . . . ," or t he t obacco i ndust r y
finds "data t hat suggest . . . ," j ournal i st s are on t hei r guar d. They check
sources and seek di ssent i ng opi ni ons.
In Januar y 1993 newspaper s and television net wor ks r epor t ed an
al armi ng finding: i nci dence of domest i c bat t ery t ended to rise by 40
percent on Super Bowl Sunday. NBC, whi ch was br oadcast i ng t he game
that year, made special pl eas to men to stay calm. Femi ni st s called for
emergency pr epar at i ons in ant i ci pat i on of t he expect ed i ncrease in vi o-
lence on Januar y 3 1 . They also used t he occasi on to dri ve home t he
message t hat mal eness and vi ol ence against wome n are s ynonymous .
Nancy Isaac, a Harvard School of Publ i c Heal t h research associate wh o
specializes in domest i c violence, told t he Boston Globe: "It' s a day for me n
to revel in their mal eness and unfort unat el y, for a lot of men t hat i ncl udes
bei ng violent t owar d women if t hey want to b e . "
1 5
Journal i st s across t he count r y accept ed t he 40 per cent figure at face
value and dul y r epor t ed t he bl eak t i di ngs. The sole except i on was Ken
Ringle, a report er at t he Washington Post, who deci ded to check on t he
sources. As we shall see later in this book, he qui ckl y found t hat t he st ory
had no basis in fact .
1 6
It t ur ns out t hat Super Bowl Sunday is in no way
different from ot her days in t he amount of domest i c vi ol ence. Though
Ringle exposed t he r umor , it had done its wor k: mi l l i ons of Ameri can
women who hear d about it are compl et el y unawar e t hat it is not t rue.
What t hey do "know" is t hat Ameri can mal es, especially t he sport s fans
among t hem, are a danger ous and violent species.
To t he quest i on "Why is everyone so credul ous?" we mus t add anot her :
"Why are certain feminists so eager to put men in a bad light?" I shall try
to answer bot h t hese quest i ons and to s how how t he i mpl i cat i ons affect
us all.
16 P R E F A C E
Amer i can femi ni sm is current l y domi nat ed by a gr oup of women who
seek t o per s uade t he publ i c t hat Ameri can women are not t he free creatures
we t hi nk we are. The l eaders and t heori st s of t he women' s movement be-
lieve t hat our society is best descri bed as a pat ri archy, a "male hegemony, "
a "sex/ gender syst em" i n whi ch t he domi nant gender wor ks to keep
wome n cower i ng and submi ssi ve. The feminists who hol d this divisive
vi ew of our social a nd political reality believe we are in a gender war, and
t hey are eager to di ssemi nat e stories of atrocity t hat are desi gned to alert
wome n to t hei r pl i ght . The "gender feminists" (as I shall call t hem) believe
t hat all our i nst i t ut i ons, from t he state to t he family to t he grade schools,
per pet uat e mal e domi nance. Believing t hat women are virtually under
siege, gender feminists nat ural l y seek recrui t s to their side of t he gender
war. They seek suppor t . They seek vi ndi cat i on. They seek ammuni t i on.
Not everyone, i ncl udi ng many wome n who consi der themselves femi-
ni st s, is convi nced t hat cont empor ar y Ameri can women live in an oppres-
sive "mal e hegemony. " To conf ound t he skeptics and per suade t he
undeci ded, t he gender feminists are const ant l y on t he l ookout for proof,
for t he s moki ng gun, t he telling fact t hat will drive home to t he publ i c
how pr of oundl y t he syst em is rigged against women. To rally women to
t hei r cause, it is not enough to r emi nd us t hat many brut al and selfish
men ha r m wome n. They mus t per suade us t hat t he syst em itself sanct i ons
mal e brut al i t y. They mus t convi nce us t hat t he oppressi on of women,
sust ai ned from gener at i on t o generat i on, is a st ruct ural feature of our
society.
Wel l - f unded, prest i gi ous organi zat i ons as well as i ndi vi dual s are en-
gaged i n t hi s ent erpri se. In 1992, for exampl e, t he Ameri can Association
of Uni versi t y Wo me n and t he Wellesley College Cent er for Research on
Wo me n announced findings t hat our school s systematically favor boys
and are cont r i but i ng t o a dr amat i c dr op in girls' self-esteem. In anot her
st udy, t he Commonweal t h Fund, relying on pol l s t aken by Louis Harris
and Associates, spr ead t he news t hat 3 7 per cent of Ameri can women are
psychol ogi cal l y abused by t hei r hus bands or par t ner s every year and that
"40 per cent of wome n . . . experi ence severe depressi on in a given
we e k. "
1 7
As we shall see, t hese al armi ng report s have little mor e basis in
fact t han di d t he Super Bowl hoax.
I recent l y t ol d a friend t hat I was comi ng across a lot of mistakes and
mi sl eadi ng dat a i n feminist st udi es. "It' s a mess, " I said. "Are you sure
you want t o wri t e about it?" she asked. "The far right will use what you
P R E F A C E 17
find to at t ack all women. It will har m t he wome n who are wor ki ng in
such pr obl em areas as bat t ery and wage di scri mi nat i on. Wh y do anyt hi ng
to endanger our fragile gains?" My friend' s quest i ons wer e soberi ng, and
I want to under scor e at t he out set t hat I do not mean to confuse t he
women who wor k i n t he t renches to hel p t he victims of t rue abuse and
di scri mi nat i on wi t h t he gender feminists whos e falsehoods and exagger-
ations are muddyi ng t he wat ers of Ameri can feminism. These feminist
i deol ogues are hel pi ng no one; on t he cont rary, their divisive and resent -
ful phi l osophy adds t o t he woes of our society and hur t s legitimate fem-
inism. Not onl y are wome n who suffer real abuse not hel ped by unt r ut hs ,
they are in fact har med by i naccuraci es and exaggerat i ons.
For exampl e, as Ms. Whi t ehead not ed, mor e women are screened for
bi rt h defects t han for bat t ery. She was t ouchi ng on a terribly i mpor t ant
probl em. Battery is still not t aken seriously enough as a medi cal pr obl em.
Most hospi t al s have pr ocedur es to avoi d di schargi ng pat i ent s at hi gh ri sk
of suffering a rel apse of t he condi t i on for whi ch t hey are bei ng treated.
Yet few hospi t al s have pr ocedur es t hat woul d put wome n likely to suffer
further abuse in t ouch wi t h t he professional services t hat coul d hel p t hem
avoid it, a real and shocki ng pr obl em. That bat t ery is t he chief cause of
bi rt h defects is per haps mor e shocki ng, but it is unt r ue. The Mar ch of
Di mes has devel oped an excellent hospi t al "Prot ocol of Care for t he Bat-
tered Woma n. " Woul dn' t it have been mor e effective to publ i ci ze t he
pr obl em t hat Ms. Whi t ehead had actually t al ked about and pr omot ed t he
March of Di mes' sol ut i on? True, t he alleged findings had great val ue as
gender feminist pr opaganda. But, bei ng i ncorrect , t hey coul d lead to
not hi ng const ruct i ve in t he way of alleviating t he act ual suffering of
women.
Ameri can wome n owe an incalculable debt to t he classically liberal
feminists who came before us and fought l ong and har d, and ul t i mat el y
wi t h spect acul ar success, to gain for wome n t he rights t hat t he men of
this count r y had t aken for grant ed for over t wo hundr e d years. Exposi ng
t he hypocri sy of t he gender feminists will not j eopar di ze t hose achi eve-
ment s. Battered wome n don' t need unt r ut hs to make t hei r case before a
fair-minded publ i c t hat hat es and despi ses bullies; t here is enough tragic
t rut h to go ar ound.
Wi t h t hat in mi nd, I shall evaluate her e t he views of such feminists as
Gloria St ei nem, Patricia Irel and, Susan Fal udi , Marilyn Fr ench, Naomi
Wolf, and Cat hari ne MacKi nnon and t he findings t hat i nform t hem. I
18 P R E F A C E
shall t ake a l ook at t he feminist i nst i t ut i ons t hat now cont rol large areas
of i nformat i on about women. I shall t ake not e of overly t rust i ng j ournal -
ists a nd t he ma ny pol i t i ci ans who are eager to show t hat t hey "get it."
Above all, I shal l exami ne t he phi l osophy, t he beliefs, and t he passi ons
of t he feminist t heori st s a nd r esear cher st he ones who do t he "st udi es
t hat s how . . . " and wh o pr ovi de t he movement its intellectual l eadershi p.
These art i cul at e, energet i c, and det er mi ned women are training a genera-
t i on of young activists. All i ndi cat i ons are t hat t he new crop of young
feminist i deol ogues comi ng out of our nat i on' s colleges are even angrier,
mor e resentful, a nd mor e indifferent t o t he t r ut h t han their ment or s.
The large maj ori t y of women, i ncl udi ng t he majority of college women,
are di st anci ng t hemsel ves from this anger and resentfulness. Unfortu-
nat el y, t hey associ at e t hese at t i t udes wi t h feminism, and so they concl ude
t hat t hey are not really feminists. Accordi ng to a 1992 Time/CNN poll,
al t hough 57 per cent of t he wome n r espondi ng said t hey believed t here
was a need for a st r ong women' s movement , 63 per cent said they do not
consi der t hemsel ves f emi ni st s.
1 8
Anot her pol l conduct ed by R. H. Brush-
ki n r epor t ed t hat onl y 16 per cent of college wome n "definitely" con-
si dered t hemsel ves t o be femi ni st s.
1 9
In effect, t he gender feminists lack a grass root s const i t uency. They
bl ame a medi a "backl ash" for t he defection of t he majority of women. But
what happened is clear enough: t he gender feminists have stolen "femin-
i sm" from a mai nst r eam t hat had never acknowl edged their l eadershi p.
The wome n cur r ent l y ma nni ngwoma nni ngt he feminist r ampar t s
do not t ake wel l t o criticism. How coul d they? As t hey see it, t hey are
deal i ng wi t h a massi ve epi demi c of mal e atrocity and a const i t uency of
beni ght ed wome n wh o have yet to compr ehend t he seri ousness of their
pr edi cament . Hence, mal e critics mus t be "sexist" and "reactionary, " and
female critics "t rai t ors, " "col l aborat ors, " or "backl ashers. " Thi s ki nd of
react i on has had a powerful i nhi bi t i ng effect. It has alienated and silenced
wome n and me n alike.
I have been moved to wri t e this book because I am a feminist who
does not like what femi ni sm has become. The new gender feminism is
badl y i n need of scrut i ny. Onl y forthright apprai sal s can di mi ni sh its
i nor di nat e and divisive influence. If ot hers j oi n in a frank and honest
cri t i que, before l ong a mor e represent at i ve and less doct ri nai re feminism
will agai n pi ck up t he rei ns. But t hat is not likely to happen wi t hout a
fight.
Chapter 1
Women Under Siege
c 4
The New Feminism emphasizes the importance of the
"women's point of view," the Old Feminism believes in the
primary importance of the human being.
WI NI F RE D HOLTBY, 1 9 2 6
1
A surpri si ng numbe r of clever and powerful feminists share t he
conviction t hat Ameri can wome n still live in a pat ri archy wher e me n
collectively keep wome n down. It is cust omar y for t hese feminists to
assembl e to exchange stories and to talk about t he "anger i ssues" t hat vex
t hem.
One such conf er ence"Out of t he Academy and Int o t he Wor l d wi t h
Carolyn Hei l br un"t ook pl ace at t he Gr aduat e Cent er of City Uni versi t y
of New York in Oct ober 1992. The mor ni ng sessions were devot ed t o
honor i ng t he feminist schol ar and myst ery wri t er Carol yn Hei l br un on
the occasion of her vol unt ary ret i rement from Col umbi a University after
thirty-two years of t enure. I had j ust t hen been readi ng Marilyn French' s
The War Against Women, whi ch Ms. Hei l br un t out s on t he cover as a book
that "lays out women' s state in this wor l da nd it is a state of si ege. "
2
Intelligent women who sincerely believe t hat Ameri can wome n are in
a gender war i nt ri gue me, so a day wi t h Ms. Hei l br un and her admi r er s
pr omi sed to be rewardi ng. I arri ved early, but so di d an overflow cr owd
of mor e t han five hundr ed women. I was l ucky to get a seat.
20 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Though she had l ong hel d a prest i gi ous chair in Col umbi a' s English
depar t ment , Hei l br un made it clear t hat she felt bel eaguered t here. But
she had survi ved. "In life, as in fiction," she told t he New York Times,
" women who speak out usual l y end up puni s hed or dead. I' m l ucky t o
escape wi t h my pensi on and a year of l eave. "
3
Thi rt y-t wo years ago, t here
wer e no t enur ed female professors in Col umbi a' s English depar t ment .
Now eight of its t hi rt y-t wo t enur ed professors are women, and a majority
of its j uni or professors are women. Accordi ng t o t he Times, such facts do
not i mpr ess Hei l br un. "Femal e doesn' t mean feminist," she snapped.
4
As if t o under scor e t hat Col umbi a was i nt ent on slighting her, Professor
Hei l br un accused t he mal e and female member s of t he Col umbi a English
depar t ment of deliberately schedul i ng t hei r own feminist conference on
t he same day as t he conference honor i ng her. The Chronicle of Higher
Education later r epor t ed t hat Ms. Hei l br un was mi st aken: t he rival confer-
ence, " Wome n at t he Tur n of t he Cent ury: 1890- 1910, " had been
pl anned many mont hs before this one.
5
Hei l brun' s t heme of "siege" set t he t one for t he rest of t he conference.
As t he Chronicle put it, "If s omeone as pr omi nent as Ms. Hei l brun coul d
feel so ' isolated and power l es s ' . . . wher e di d t hat leave ot her femi ni st s?"
6
One admi r er of Ms. Hei l br un, Professor Paul i ne Bart of t he University of
Illinois, s poke of Hei l br un and herself as victims of mass persecut i on:
"Carol yn [Hei l brun] and peopl e like us will survive, from t he out si de if
need be. One of my mal e st udent s, a Chi l ean refugee, and his wife j ust
had a baby. They na me d hi m Paolo, after me, because his father fought
back and was t or t ur ed under Pi nochet , and he sees me carrying on in
t hat t r adi t i on. "
7
Thr oughout t he day, speakers recited tales of out rage and war ned of
i mpendi ng mal e backl ash. Sarah Ruddi ck, a New School for Social Re-
search feminist known for "valorizing" wome n as t he gentle nur t ur er s of
our speci es, pai d t ri but e to Hei l brun' s "politicized anger": "Our anger, as
Carol yn put s it so well, arouses t he pat ri archy to di sgust . " The historian
Blanche Wi esen Cook ( who had j ust released a book in whi ch she claimed
t hat El eanor Roosevelt was really a lesbian) spoke of t he vital stake women
had i n t he i mpendi ng 1992 presi dent i al election: "It is a cross-road t hat
will lead to a Four t h Reich or a real oppor t uni t y. "
Jane Marcus, of t he City University of New York, called t he afternoon
"Anger Session" to order, i nt r oduci ng herself as "an expert on anger" and
t hanki ng Hei l br un for t eachi ng her "to use my rage in my wri t i ng. " She
i nt r oduced t he ot her panel i st s as angry in one way or anot her: Alice
Jar di ne of Har var d University' s Fr ench depar t ment was "angry and strug-
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 21
gling." Brenda Silver of Dar t mout h had been "st ruggl i ng and angry si nce
1972. " Cat hari ne St i mpson, former pr ovost at Rutgers and recent l y se-
lected to head t he di st i ngui shed MacArt hur Fellows Program, was i nt r o-
duced as "an enraged and engaged i nt el l ect ual . "
8
Gloria St ei nem t ook t he mi cr ophone and expl ai ned why she was en-
raged: "I have become even mor e angry . . . t he alternative is depr essi on. "
To deal wi t h pat ri archal school s, she r ecommended an " under gr ound
system of educat i on, " a bart eri ng syst em in whi ch a mi dwi fe coul d ex-
change her services "in r et ur n for Latin Ameri can hi st ory. " St ei nem be-
lieves t hi ngs are so bad for cont empor ar y Ameri can wome n t hat we mi ght
have to consi der setting up cent ers for t rai ni ng political organi zers.
For someone like me, who does not believe t hat Ameri can wome n are
in a state of siege (and so lacks t he basis for t he ki nd of anger t hat dri ves
out depressi on), t he conference was depressi ng. It was clear t hat t hese
well-favored women sincerely felt aggrieved. It was equal l y clear to me
that t he bitter spirits t hey were di spensi ng to t he Ameri can publ i c wer e
unwhol esome and divisive.
For whom do these "engaged and enraged" wome n at t he conference
speak? Wh o is their const i t uency? It mi ght be said t hat as academi cs and
intellectuals t hey speak for no one but t hemsel ves. But t hat woul d be t o
mi st ake their mi ssi on. They see t hemsel ves as t he second wave of t he
feminist movement , as t he mor al vanguar d fighting a war to save women.
But do Ameri can women need to be saved by anyone?
The women at t he Hei l br un conference are t he New Femi ni st s: art i cu-
late, pr one to self-dramatization, and chroni cal l y offended. Many of t he
women on t he "Anger" panel wer e t enur ed professors at prest i gi ous uni -
versities. All had fine and expensi ve educat i ons. Yet, listening to t hem
one woul d never guess t hat t hey live in a count r y whos e wome n are
legally as free as t he men and whose i nst i t ut i ons of hi gher l earni ng now
have mor e female t han mal e st udent s.
It was inevitable t hat such si ngl e-mi nded and energet i c wome n woul d
find their way i nt o l eadershi p posi t i ons. It is unf or t unat e for Amer i can
feminism t hat t hei r ideology and at t i t ude are di vert i ng t he women' s
movement from its t rue pur poses.
The pr esumpt i on t hat men are collectively engaged in keepi ng wome n
down invites feminist bondi ng in a resentful communi t y. Wh e n a Heil-
br un or a St ei nem advises us t hat men are not about to rel i nqui sh t hei r
hegemony, t he implicit mor al is t hat wome n mus t form self-protective
enclaves. In such enclaves women can speak out safely and hel p one
anot her to recover from t he i ndi gni t i es t hey suffer under pat ri archy. In
22 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
such enclaves t hey can t hi nk of how to change or provi de alternatives to
t he "andr ocent r i c" i nst i t ut i ons t hat have always prevailed in educat i on
and t he wor kpl ace. The message is t hat women must be "gynocent ri c, "
t hat t hey mus t j oi n wi t h and be loyal onl y to women.
The t radi t i onal , classically liberal, humani st i c feminism that was initi-
at ed mor e t han 150 years ago was very different. It had a specific agenda,
demandi ng for wome n t he same rights before t he law t hat men enjoyed.
The suffrage had to be won, and t he laws regardi ng propert y, marriage,
di vorce, and chi l d cust ody had to be made equi t abl e. More recently,
abor t i on ri ght s had to be prot ect ed. The ol d mai nst r eam feminism con-
cent rat ed on legal reforms. In seeki ng specific and achievable ends, it di d
not pr omot e a gynocent ri c st ance; self-segregation of women had no part
in an agenda t hat sought equal i t y and equal access for women.
Most Ameri can wome n subscri be phi l osophi cal l y to that ol der "First
Wave" ki nd of femi ni sm whos e mai n goal is equity, especially in politics
and educat i on. A First Wave, "mai nst ream, " or "equity" feminist want s
for wome n what she want s for everyone: fair t reat ment , wi t hout discrim-
i nat i on. "We ask no bet t er laws t han t hose you have made for yourselves.
We need no ot her pr ot ect i on t han t hat whi ch your present laws secure to
you, " said El i zabet h Cady St ant on, per haps t he ablest exponent of equi t y
femi ni sm, addr essi ng t he New York State Legislature in 1854.
9
The equi t y
agenda may not yet be fully achi eved, but by any reasonabl e measure,
equi t y femi ni sm has t ur ned out to be a great Ameri can success story.
Hei l br un, St ei nem, and ot her cur r ent feminist not abl es ri de this First
Wave for its popul ar i t y and its mor al aut hori t y, but most of t hem adher e
to a new, mor e radi cal , "Second Wave" doct ri ne: t hat women, even mod-
ern Ameri can women, are in thrall to "a syst em of mal e domi nance"
variously referred t o as "het eropat ri archy" or t he sex/ gender system. Ac-
cordi ng to one feminist theorist, t he sex/ gender syst em is "t hat compl ex
process wher eby bi -sexual infants are t ransformed i nt o mal e and female
gender personal i t i es, t he one dest i ned to command, t he ot her to obey. "
1 0
Sex/ gender femi ni sm ("gender femi ni sm" for short ) is t he prevailing ide-
ology among cont empor ar y feminist phi l osopher s and leaders. But it lacks
a grass root s const i t uency.
The New Femi ni st s claim cont i nui t y wi t h t he likes of t he ei ght eent h-
cent ur y feminist Mary Wol l st onecraft or later feminists like t he Gri mk
sisters, Elizabeth Cady St ant on, Susan B. Ant hony, and Harriet Taylor.
But t hose gi ant s of t he women' s movement gr ounded their feminist de-
ma nds on Enl i ght enment pri nci pl es of i ndi vi dual j ust i ce. By contrast, t he
New Femi ni st s have little faith in t he Enl i ght enment pri nci pl es t hat influ-
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 23
enced t he founders of America' s political or der and t hat i nspi red t he great
classical feminists to wage their fight for women' s rights.
The idea t hat wome n are in a gender war ori gi nat ed in t he mi dsi xt i es,
when t he ant i war and ant i gover nment mood revivified and redi rect ed t he
women' s movement away from its Enl i ght enment liberal phi l osophy t o a
mor e radical, ant i est abl i shment phi l osophy. The decisive bat t l es of t he
sexual revol ut i on had been won, and st udent s her e and on t he Cont i nent
were readi ng Herbert Marcuse, Karl Marx, Franz Fanon, and Jean- Paul
Sartre and l earni ng how to cri t i que t hei r cul t ure and i nst i t ut i ons in heady
new ways. They began to see t he university, t he military, and t he govern-
ment as merel y different part s of a defective st at us quo.
Betty Fri edan and Ger mai ne Greer woul d cont i nue to offer wome n a
liberal version of consci ousness raising whose ai m was to awaken t hem
to new possibilities of i ndi vi dual self-fulfillment. But by t he mi dsevent i es,
faith in liberal sol ut i ons to social pr obl ems had waned, and t he ol d style
of consci ousness raising t hat encour aged wome n to seek avenues of self-
fulfillment rapi dl y gave way to one t hat initiated wome n i nt o an appr eci -
ation of their subor di nat e si t uat i on in t he pat ri archy and t he j oys and
comforts of gr oup solidarity.
Havi ng "t r anscended" t he liberalism of Fri edan and t he fierce i ndi vi d-
ual i sm of Greer, feminists began to wor k seriously on get t i ng wome n to
become aware of t he political di mensi on of t hei r lives. Kate Millett' s
Sexual Politics was critical in movi ng femi ni sm in this new di rect i on. It
t aught women t hat politics was essentially sexual and t hat even t he so-
called democraci es wer e mal e hegemoni es: "However mut ed its pr esent
appearance may be, sexual domi ni on obt ai ns nevert hel ess as per haps t he
most pervasive ideology of our cul t ure and pr ovi des its most f undament al
concept of powe r . "
1 1
The New Femi ni st s began to di rect t hei r energies t owar d get t i ng
women to j oi n in t he c ommon struggle against pat ri archy, to vi ew society
t hr ough t he sex/ gender pri sm. Wh e n a woman' s feminist consci ousness
is t hus "raised, " she l earns to identify her per sonal self wi t h her gender.
She sees her relations to men in political t er ms ("the per sonal is t he
political"). This "insight" i nt o t he nat ur e of male/female rel at i ons makes
the gender feminist i mpat i ent wi t h pi ecemeal liberal reformist sol ut i ons
and leads her to strive for a mor e radical t ransformat i on of our society
t han earlier feminists had envi si oned.
It is now commonpl ace for feminist phi l osopher s to reject t he En-
l i ght enment ideals of t he old feminism. Accordi ng to t he University of
Col orado feminist t heori st Alison Jaggar, "Radical and socialist feminists
24 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
have s hown t hat t he ol d ideals of freedom, equality and democr acy are
i nsuffi ci ent . "
1 2
Iris Young, of t he University of Pi t t sburgh, echoes t he
cont empor ar y feminist di si l l usi onment wi t h t he classically liberal femin-
i sm of yesteryear, cl ai mi ng t hat "after t wo cent uri es of faith . . . t he ideal
of equal i t y and fraternity" no l onger pr evai l s:
1 3
Most feminists of t he ni net eent h and t went i et h cent ury, i ncl udi ng
feminists of t he early second wave, have been humani st feminists.
In recent years, a different account of women' s oppressi on has
gai ned i nfl uence, however, part l y growi ng from a critique of human-
ist feminism. Gynocent r i c femi ni sm defines women' s oppressi on as
t he deval uat i on and repressi on of women' s experi ence by a mascu-
linist cul t ure t hat exalts vi ol ence and i ndi vi dual i sm.
1 4
The Uni versi t y of Wi sconsi n phi l osopher Andrea Nye acknowl edges
t hat t he liberal agenda had been successful in gai ni ng women legal free-
doms , but she insists t hat this means very little, because "t he liberated
enfranchi sed woma n mi ght compl ai n t hat democrat i c society has onl y
r et ur ned her to a mor e pr of ound s ubor di nat i on. "
1 5
The loss of faith in classically liberal sol ut i ons, coupl ed wi t h t he con-
vi ct i on t hat wome n r emai n besi eged and subject to a relentless and vi-
ci ous mal e backl ash, has t ur ned t he movement i nward. We hear very
little t oday about how wome n can j oi n wi t h men on equal t erms to
cont r i but e to a uni versal huma n cul t ure. Inst ead, feminist ideology has
t aken a divisive, gynocent ri c t ur n, and t he emphasi s now is on women as
a political class whos e i nt erest s are at odds wi t h t he interests of men.
Wo me n mus t be loyal to women, uni t ed in pri nci pl ed hostility to the
mal es who seek t o hol d fast to t hei r pat ri archal privileges and power s.
Thi s clash of "ol d" and "new" femi ni sm is itself not hi ng new. Here is
t he British feminist and novelist Wi ni fred Hol t by wri t i ng in 1926: "The
New Femi ni sm emphasi zes t he i mpor t ance of t he ' women' s poi nt of view, '
t he Ol d Femi ni sm believes i n t he pr i mar y i mpor t ance of t he huma n
bei ng. . . . Personal l y I am . . . an Ol d Femi ni st . "
1 6
The old feminism has
had many exponent s, from El i zabet h Cady St ant on and Susan B. Ant hony
i n t he mi ddl e of t he ni net eent h cent ury to Betty Fri edan and Germai ne
Greer in our own day. It demanded t hat wome n be al l owed to live as
freely as men. To mos t Ameri cans, t hat was a fair demand. The old
femi ni sm was nei t her defeatist nor gender-di vi si ve, and it is even now t he
phi l osophy of t he feminist "mai nst r eam. "
The New Femi ni st s, many of t hem privileged, all of t hem legally pr o-
t ect ed and free, are pr eoccupi ed wi t h their own sense of hur t and their
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 25
own feelings of embat t l ement and "siege." Wh e n t hey speak of t hei r
personal pl i ght t hey use wor ds appr opr i at e to t he tragic pl i ght of many
Ameri can wome n of a bygone day and of mi l l i ons of cont empor ar y, t rul y
oppressed wome n in ot her count ri es. But t hei r resentful rhet ori c di s-
credits t he Ameri can women' s movement t oday and seriously di st ort s its
priorities.
Indeed, one of t he mai n hal l marks of t he New Femi ni sm is its degree
of sel f-preoccupat i on. Femi ni st s like Elizabeth St ant on and Susan B. An-
t hony wer e keenl y aware of t hemsel ves as privileged, mi ddl e-cl ass, pr o-
tected women. They under s t ood how i nappr opr i at e it woul d be to equat e
their struggles wi t h t hose of less fort unat e women, and it never occur r ed
to t hem to air t hei r per sonal grievances before t he publ i c.
Dur i ng t he Cl arence Thomas - Ani t a Hill heari ngs, Cat hari ne Mac-
Ki nnon, t he influential feminist t heori st and professor of l aw at t he Uni -
versity of Mi chi gan, seized t he oppor t uni t y for a "nat i onal t each-i n" on
feminist perspect i ves. Calling t he Senate' s t r eat ment of Ms. Hill "a publ i c
hangi ng, " she was qui ck t o pr omot e it as an exampl e of how wome n
suffer when ot her wome n are mi st reat ed. She was similarly affected by
Patricia Bowman' s ordeal i n t he trial of Wi l l i am Kennedy Smi t h:
Wat chi ng t he second publ i c hangi ng of a woma n who accused a
powerful ma n of sexual violation reflects t he way in whi ch sexual
assault in t he Uni t ed States t oday resembl es l ynchi ng in t i mes not
l ong past . One is l ynched and r aped as a member of a socially
subor di nat ed gr oup. Each is an act of t ort ure, a vi ol ent sexual hu-
miliation ritual i n whi ch vi ct i ms are often killed. Wh e n it happens ,
t he target popul at i on cringes, wi t hdr aws, identifies and disidentifies
in t er r or .
1 7
That t he ordeal s of Ms. Hill and Ms. Bowman were compar abl e to
l ynchi ngs is debat abl e. Al t hough t he di re effect t hey had on Ms. Mac-
Ki nnon and ot her New Femi ni st s may not be debat abl e, t he alleged r am-
ified effect on all women, t he so-called "target popul at i on, " is. In fact,
t here is no evi dence t hat mos t women, i ncl udi ng t hose who believed t hat
t he t r ut h lay mor e wi t h Ms. Hill or Ms. Bowman, felt t errori zed or "tar-
geted"; or t hat t hey "cri nged" or t hought of t hemsel ves as member s of a
"socially subor di nat ed gr oup. "
Alice Jar di ne ("angry and st ruggl i ng" at t he Hei l br un conference) t ol d
t he Harvard Crimson how she react ed to t he r epor t t hat a crazed mi sogyn-
26 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
ist mal e had j ust shot and killed fourteen women st udent s at t he Univer-
sity of Mont real : "What I saw in t he i nci dent in Mont real was t he acting
out of what I experi ence discursively every day of my life and part i cul arl y
at this i ns t i t ut i on. "
1 8
Ms. Jar di ne 's claim sets a st andar d of sisterly empa-
t hy t hat not many can hope to mat ch, but her exquisite sensibility is
par adi gmat i c for t he New Femi ni st .
Popul ar books advert i si ng motifs of humi l i at i on, subordi nat i on, and
mal e backl ash bol st er t he doct r i ne of a bifurcated society in whi ch women
are t r apped in t he sex/ gender syst em. The feminists who wri t e these
books speak of t he sex/ gender syst em as a "l ens" t hat reveals t he worl d in
a new way, giving t hem a ne w perspect i ve on society and maki ng t hem
aut hori t i es on what facts t o "see, " to stress, and to depl ore.
Virginia Hel d, a phi l osophy professor at t he City University of New
York, r epor t ed on t he feminist convi ct i on t hat feminist phi l osopher s are
t he initiators of an intellectual revol ut i on compar abl e to t hose of "Coper-
ni cus, Darwi n, and Fr e ud. "
1 9
Indeed, as Hel d poi nt s out , "some feminists
t hi nk t he latest revol ut i on will be even mor e pr of ound. " Accordi ng to
Hel d, t he sex/ gender syst em is t he cont rol l i ng insight of this feminist
revol ut i on. Ms. Hel d tells us of t he i mpact t hat t he discovery of t he sex/
gender syst em has had on feminist t heory: "Now t hat t he sex/ gender
syst em has become visible t o us, we can see it ever ywher e. "
2 0
Indeed, most feminist phi l osopher s are "sex/ gender feminists, " and
most do "see it everywhere. " Hel d descri bes t he "intellectually gri ppi ng"
effect of t he ne w perspect i ve. I confess I somet i mes envy Hel d and her
sister gender feminists for t he exci t ement t hey experi ence from seeing t he
wor l d t hr ough t he l ens of sexual politics. On t he ot her hand, I believe
t hat how t hese feminist t heori st s regard Ameri can society is mor e a mat t er
of t emper ament t han a mat t er of i nsi ght i nt o social reality. The belief t hat
Ameri can wome n are living in thrall to men seems to sui t some women
mor e t han ot hers. I have found t hat it does not suit me.
Anyone readi ng cont empor ar y feminist literature will find a genre of
wri t i ng concer ned wi t h per sonal out rage. Professor Kat hryn Allen Ra-
buzzi of Syracuse Uni versi t y opens her book Motherself by recount i ng this
i nci dent :
As I was wal ki ng down a sleazy section of Second Avenue in New
York City a few years ago, a voice suddenl y i nt r uded on my con-
sci ousness: "Hey Mama, spar e change?" The wor ds out raged me. . . .
Al t hough I had by t hen been a mot her for many years, never till that
mome nt had I seen myself as "Mama" in such an i mper sonal , exter-
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 27
nal cont ext . In t he man' s speaki ng I behel d myself anew. " 1" di sap-
peared, as t hough t ur ned i nsi de out , and "Mama" t ook my pl ace.
2 1
Ms. Rabuzzi i nforms us t hat t he panhandl er ' s t erm caused in her a
"shocki ng di sl ocat i on of self." Similarly, University of Illinois feminist
theorist Sandra Lee Bartky recount s:
It is a fine spr i ng day, and wi t h an ut t er lack of self-consciousness,
I am bounci ng down t he street. Sudde nl y. . . catcalls and whi st l es
fill t he air. These noi ses are clearly sexual in i nt ent and t hey are
meant for me; t hey come from across t he street. I freeze. As Sartre
woul d say, I have been petrified by t he gaze of t he Ot her . My face
flushes and my mot i ons become stiff and self-conscious. The body
whi ch onl y a mome nt before I i nhabi t ed wi t h such ease now floods
my consci ousness. I have been made i nt o an object. . . . Blissfully
unawar e, breast s bounci ng, eyes on t he bi rds in t he trees, I coul d
have passed by wi t hout havi ng been t ur ned to st one. But I mus t be
made to know t hat I a m a "ni ce pi ece of ass": I mus t be made to see
myself as t hey see me. Ther e is an el ement of compul si on in . . . this
bei ng- made- t o- be- awar e of one' s own flesh: like bei ng made to
apologize, it is humi l i at i ng. . . . Wha t I descri be seems less t he spon-
t aneous expressi on of a heal t hy erot i ci sm t han a ritual of subj uga-
t i on.
2 2
Marilyn French, t he aut hor of The War Against Women, finds herself
vul nerabl e in mus eums :
Artists appr opr i at e t he female body as t hei r subject, t hei r possessi on
. . . assaul t i ng female reality and aut onomy. . . . Visiting galleries
and mus e ums (especially t he Pompi dou Cent er in Paris) I feel as-
saul t ed by t went i et h- cent ur y abst ract scul pt ur e t hat resembl es ex-
aggerated female body part s, mai nl y br east s.
2 3
Janet Radcliffe Ri chards has poi nt ed to s ome significant similarities
bet ween moder n femi ni sm and r el i gi on.
2 4
1 t hi nk she is right, but t here is
an i nt erest i ng difference in t he publ i c t est i mony of t he adher ent s. The
devout t end to confess t hei r sins. By cont rast , t he feminist i deol ogue
testifies relentlessly to how she has been si nned against. Moreover, she
sees revelations of monst r osi t y in t he most familiar and seemi ngl y i nnoc-
uous phenomena. Her experi ence of t he wor l d may be compar ed t o t hat
28
W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
of t he Dut ch nat ural i st Ant oni n Van Leeuwenhoek when he l ooked for
t he first t i me at a dr op of wat er t hr ough t he mi croscope he had i nvent ed
and saw t here a t eemi ng pr edat or y j ungl e.
Thi s, for exampl e, is what Professor Susan McClary, a musi col ogi st at
t he University of Mi nnesot a, tells us to listen for in Beethoven' s Ni nt h
Symphony: "The poi nt of recapi t ul at i on in t he first movement of t he
Ni nt h is one of t he mos t horrifying moment s in musi c, as t he carefully
pr epar ed cadence is frustrated, dammi ng u p energy whi ch finally ex-
pl odes i n t he t hrot t l i ng, mur der ous rage of a rapist i ncapabl e of attaining
r el ease. "
2 5
McCl ary also di rect s us to be alert t o t hemes of mal e mast ur-
bat i on in t he musi c of Ri chard St rauss and Gust av Mahler.
The "gender war " requi res a const ant flow of hor r or stories showi ng
wome n t hat mal e perfi dy and female humi l i at i on are everywhere. The
gender feminists who expose t hese evils for us often argue t hat what
appear s i nnocent to t he unt r ai ned per cept i on is in fact degradi ng to
women. They hi ghl i ght t he pai n this causes to t hose feminists who are
sufficiently awar e of what is really goi ng on.
Addr essi ng t he Scri pps College gr aduat i ng class of 1992, Naomi Wol f
told of an i nci dent from her own commencement exercises when she was
gr aduat ed from Yale eight years before. Di ck Cavett, t he speaker, had
made t he experi ence a "gr aduat i on from hel l . "
2 6
Cavett, himself a Yale
al umnus , had opened hi s addr ess wi t h an anecdot e about his under gr ad-
uat e days: " Whe n I was an under gr aduat e . . . t he women went to Vassar.
At Vassar t hey had nude phot ogr aphs t aken of t he women in gym class
to check t hei r post ur e. One year t he phot os wer e stolen, and t ur ned up
for sale in New Haven' s red light district. . . . The phot os found no buy-
ers. " Accor di ng to Ms. Wolf, t he mome nt was devastating. "There we
were, silent i n our bl ack gowns, our tassels, our br and- new shoes. We
dar ed not br eak t he silence. . . . That aft ernoon, several hundr ed men
wer e confi rmed in t he power of a powerful i nst i t ut i on. But many of t he
wome n felt t he s hame of t he powerl ess: t he choki ng silence, t he compl i c-
ity, t he hel pl essness. "
2 7
Never mi nd t hat Ms. Wol f was addressi ng some
of t he most pri vi l eged young wome n in t he count ry. The r emai nder of
her speech was devot ed to giving t hem suggest i ons for t he "survival ki t "
t hey woul d need in t he host i l e mal e wor l d t hey wer e about to ent er.
Is it possi bl e t hat t he Yale wome n wer e so st ri cken by Cavett' s tasteless
j oke? Di d t he Scri pps wome n really need a survival kit? If t hese privileged
young wome n are really so fragile, what coul d Wol f s survival ki t do for
t hem anyway? (It seems t hat Cavet t di scombobul at ed Wol f even mor e
t han she realized. In a letter t o t he Times, Cavett poi nt ed out t hat t hough
Wol f had called hi m "t he speaker " at her commencement , he spoke not
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 29
at commencement but on Class Day, "a separat e, mor e l i ght heart ed
event . "
2 8
)
Wolf herself was showi ng t he Scri pps gr aduat i ng class how she sur-
vives, but t hough her met hods wer e different, her general appr oach was
old-fashioned i ndeed. Earlier in this cent ury, many househol ds still had
smelling salts on hand in t he event t hat "del i cat e" wome n react ed to
displays of mal e vulgarity by fainting. Today, wome n of delicacy have a
new way to demonst r at e their exquisitely fragile sensibilities: by expl ai n-
ing to anyone who will listen how t hey have been bl i ght ed and vi ol at ed
by some male' s offensive coarseness. If not hi ng of a telling nat ur e has
recently happened to us, we can tell about how we felt on heari ng what
happened to ot hers. We faint, "discursively" and publ i cl y, at our humi l i -
ations at t he hands of men.
The Hyatt Regency in Aust i n, Texas, is a pl easant hot el , but not all of
the five hundr ed part i ci pant s of t he 1992 Nat i onal Women' s St udi es
Association Conference wer e happy wi t h it. One woman, a professor of
women' s st udi es from a wel l - known sout her n college, compl ai ned to me
about t he weddi ngs bei ng hel d t here t hr oughout t he weekend. " Why have
they put us in a set t i ng wher e that sort of t hi ng is goi ng on?"
The conference part i ci pant s r epr esent ed a cross sect i on of t he New
Femi ni st l eadershi p in all areas of t he women' s movement . Some head
ur ban women' s cent ers. Ot her s wor k in t he offices of i mpor t ant pol i t i -
cians. Many of t he wome n who at t ended t he conference are in t he acad-
emy in one capacity or anot her , ei t her as t eachers or as admi ni st r at or s.
Being aggrieved was a conference motif. The keynot e speaker, Annet t e
Kol odny, a feminist literary schol ar and former dean of t he humani t i es
faculty at t he University of Arizona, opened t he pr oceedi ngs wi t h a brief
history of t he "narratives of pai n" wi t hi n t he NWSA. She r epor t ed t hat
ten years ago, t he organi zat i on "al most came apart over out cri es by our
lesbian sisters t hat we had failed adequat el y to listen to t hei r many
voices. " Five years ago, sisters in t he Jewi sh caucus had wept at t hei r own
"sense of invisibility." Thr ee years later t he Disability caucus t hr eat ened
to quit, and t he following year t he wome n of color wal ked out . A per ni -
cious bigotry, Kol odny confessed, persi st ed in t he NWSA. " Our litanies
of out rage . . . overcame our fragile consensus of shar ed commi t ment and
t he cent er woul d no l onger hol d. "
2 9
At past conferences, oppr essed wome n had accused ot her wome n of
oppressi ng t hem. Part i ci pant s met in gr oups defined by t hei r gri evances
and heal i ng needs: Jewi sh women, Jewi sh l esbi ans, Asi an-Ameri can
30 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
women, African-American women, ol d women, di sabl ed women, fat
women, wome n whos e sexuality is in t ransi t i on. None of t he gr oups
pr oved stable. The fat gr oup pol ari zed i nt o gay and straight factions, and
t he Jewi sh wome n di scovered t hey wer e deepl y di vi ded: some accept ed
bei ng Jewi sh; ot her s wer e seeki ng to recover from i t .
3 0
This year, concer n
ext ended to "margi nal i zed" allergy gr oups. Participants were sent advance
not i ce not to br i ng perfumes, dry-cl eaned cl ot hi ng, hai rspray, or ot her
irritants to t he conference out of concer n for allergic sisters. Hyper con-
cern is now t he nor m: at t he first Nat i onal Lesbian Convent i on in Atlanta,
flash cameras wer e out l a we don gr ounds t hat t hey mi ght br i ng on epi-
leptic fits.
El eanor Smeal, t he former pr esi dent of NOW, was schedul ed to be t he
first speaker on t he NWSA " empower ment panel , " but her pl ane had
been del ayed in Memphi s. To pass t he t i me, we were i nt r oduced to an
array of panel i st s who wer e t out ed as bei ng experi enced in conflict reso-
l ut i on. One woma n was i nt r oduced as a member of t he Mohawk nat i on
who "facilitates ant i bi as t rai ni ng. " Anot her, an erstwhile dancer, was de-
scri bed as a bl ack lesbian activist who was "doi ng an amazi ng, mi r acul ous
j ob on campuses bui l di ng coal i t i ons. " A t hi rd, who had t rai ni ng as a
holistic heal t h pract i t i oner, headed wor ks hops t hat "creatively opt i mi ze
huma n capaci t y. "
The moder at or t ol d us t hat "t hese wome n have agreed to come to us
as a t eam and wor k t oget her to hel p us figure out how we mi ght begi n to
deal mu c h mor e effectively. . . wi t h issues of i ncl usi on, empower ment ,
diversity. " To keep our spi ri t s hi gh, we wer e t aught t he wor ds t o a r ound,
whi ch we dutifully sang:
We have come this far by st rengt h,
Leani ng on each ot her.
Tr ust i ng in each ot her' s wor ds.
We never failed each ot her yet.
Singing, oh, oh, oh. Can' t t ur n ar ound.
We have come this far by st rengt h.
After several mi nut es of si ngi ng and still no Smeal, panelist Angela (t he
former dancer ) t ook t he mi ke to tell about "ouch experi ences. " An "ouch"
is whe n you experi ence raci sm, sexi sm, classism, homophobi a, abl ei sm,
agei sm, or l ooki sm. One of Angela' s biggest ouches came after her lesbian
s uppor t gr oup spl i nt ered i nt o t wo factions, bl ack and whi t e. Tensi on t hen
devel oped in her bl ack gr oup bet ween t hose whose lovers were bl ack and
t hose whose lovers wer e whi t e. "Those of us in t he gr oup who had whi t e
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 31
lovers were i mmedi at el y targeted. . . . It t ur ned i nt o a horri bl e mess. . . .
1 ended up leaving t hat gr oup for self-protection. "
A weary El eanor Smeal finally arri ved and was pressed i nt o i mmedi at e
service. She confided t hat she was feeling di scouraged about t he feminist
movement . "We need totally new concept s. . . . In many ways it' s not
worki ng. . . . It is so depressi ng. We are leaving . . . t he next generat i on
[in a] mess. " Smeal' s liveliest mome nt came whe n she at t acked "liberal
males on t he campus, " saying, "t hey have kept us apart . They have mar -
ginalized our pr ogr ams. We need fighting madness. "
Despite t he call to ar ms, Smeal' s talk was a downer , and t he moder at or
acted qui ckl y to raise our spirits: "What we want to do now is to dwel l
for a mi nut e on success. . . . Thi nk about t he fact t hat we have been so
successful in t ransformi ng t he cur r i cul um. " It was soon t i me for anot her
song.
We are sisters in a circle.
We are sisters in a struggle.
Sisters one and all.
We are colors of t he r ai nbow,
Sisters one and all.
As it happened, I di d have a real sister (in t he unexci t i ng biological
sense) wi t h me at t he conference. Louise and I wer e frankly relieved to
have the singing i nt er r upt ed by a coffee break. Cr eam was available, but
per haps not for long. The ecofeminist caucus had been pus hi ng to elimi-
nate all meat , fish, eggs, and dai ry pr oduct s at NWSA event s. As t he br eak
ended, Phyllis, t he panel i st from t he Mohawk nat i on, came ar ound wi t h
t wo little puppet s , a dog and a t eddy bear, to i nform us, "Teddy and hi s
friend say it' s t i me to go back i nsi de. " Louise, who is a psychol ogi st , was
begi nni ng to find t he conference professionally i nt ri gui ng.
Phyllis, who told us t hat in addi t i on to her Mohawk ancest ry she is
French and Irish wi t h traces of Al gonqui n, asked us to "t ake a mome nt
to give ourselves a big hug. Let me r emi nd us t hat t he per son we' re
huggi ng is t he most i mpor t ant per son we have in our life." She cont i nued:
Let's do it again! Each and every one of you is my relative . . . we
are i nt erconnect ed. We are i nt er dependent . And we have respect .
Those are pri nci pl es. So, what woul d I need from you in a l ovi ng
rel at i onshi p, t he r emi nder t hat I have got t en away from my pri nci -
ples here; and to hel p me get back to my pri nci pl es. Even if I have
to say "ouch" and hug my puppe t s or what ever I have to do.
32 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
To concl ude t he empower ment panel session, a "feminist facilitator" led
us in a "part i ci pat ory experi ence. " She told us to t ur n to our nei ghbor
and tell her what we liked most about t he NWSA.
After t he mor ni ng session, Louise and I visited t he exhi bi t i on hall.
There, dozens of boot hs offered women' s st udi es books and par apher na-
lia. Wi t chcraft and goddess wor shi p suppl i es were in aisle one. Adjoining
aisles featured ha ndma de j ewel ry, l eat her crafts, ponchos, and ot her peas-
ant apparel . One boot h offered vi deos on do-it-yourself menst rual extrac-
t i ons and home abor t i ons for t hose who want to avoid "patriarchal
medi ci ne. " Though weak on schol arshi p, t he conference was st rong on
wor ks hops and film screeni ngs. We were idly t hi nki ng of l ooki ng in on
one of t wo movi es: Sex and the Sandinistas and We're Talking Vulva.
A feminist phi l osopher , Paula Rot henberg, spot t ed me and ap-
pr oached. She knew I was a skept i c. "I am very uncomfort abl e havi ng
you here. I saw you t aki ng not es. We are in t he mi ddl e of wor ki ng
t hr ough our pr obl ems. I feel as if you have come i nt o t he mi ddl e of my
dysfunct i onal family, and you are seeing us at t he worst possi bl e mo-
ment . "
But Professor Rot henberg' s "dysfunctional family" has had many such
moment s . Ouchi ngs and mass t herapy are mor e t he nor m t han t he excep-
tion. The year before, at a meet i ng of women' s st udi es pr ogr am di rect ors,
everyone j oi ned hands to form a "heal i ng circle." They also assumed t he
post ur e of trees experi enci ng r oot edness and tranquility. Victim t est i mon-
ials and heal i ng rituals cr owd out t he readi ng of academi c paper s at
NWSA conferences. I t ol d Ms. Rot henber g t hat this was supposed t o be
an open conference and t hat I had every right to at t end. But I di d feel a
bit sorry for her. As a phi l osopher she was t rai ned to t hi nk analytically.
Now she finds herself in a "dysfunct i onal family" whose faddish t herapi es
even she mus t find fatuous. Still, she has her consol at i ons. She is di rect or
of t he "New Jersey Project: Int egrat i ng t he Schol arshi p on Gender, " a
st at e-funded educat i onal reform movement to make t he New Jersey cur-
riculum mor e "women- cent er ed. " Later t hat day, she woul d be boast i ng
to fellow wor ks hopper s about how sympat het i c t he New Jersey chancel l or
of educat i on, Edwar d Gol dberg, was to her goals.
Ms. Rot henber g and t he ot her Aust i n conferees r un t he largest gr owt h
area in t he academy. Though t hei r conferences may be unt i dy, t hey are
politically ast ut e on t hei r campuses. They have st rong influence in key
areas, in Engl i sh depar t ment s (especially freshman wri t i ng courses),
Fr ench and Spani sh depar t ment s, hi st ory depar t ment s, law school s, and
divinity school s. They are di sproport i onat el y represent ed in dean of st u-
dent s' offices, in dor mi t or y admi ni st rat i on, in har assment offices, in of-
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 33
fices of mul t i cul t ural affairs, and in vari ous counsel i ng cent ers. They are
quietly engaged in hundr eds of wel l -funded proj ect s t o t ransform a cur-
ri cul um t hat t hey regard as unaccept abl y "andr ocent r i c. " These con-
sciousness-raisers are dri vi ng out t he schol ars on many campuses. Thei r
moral aut hori t y comes from a wi despr ead belief t hat t hey r epr esent
"women. " In fact, their gynocent ri c versi on of femi ni sm falls far shor t of
bei ng represent at i ve.
The conference received a war m letter from Gover nor Ann Ri chards
wel comi ng us to t he great state of Texas. The gover nor called t he assem-
bl ed feminists "t he vanguar d of t he latest i ncarnat i on of t he women' s
movement " and prai sed t hem for t hei r crucial l eadershi p role. The NWSA
audi ence br oke i nt o t hunder ous appl ause as t he letter was read al oud. It
is, however, unl i kel y t hat Gover nor Ri chards was aware of t he witchcraft
boot hs, t he menst r ual ext ract i on vi deos, t he t eddy bear puppet s , or t he
par anoi d exposs of "phal l ocent ri c di scour se"l et al one t he i mpl acabl e
hostility to all exact t hi nki ng as "mal e. "
Many foundat i ons and gover nment agencies are i nvol ved in maki ng it
financially possi bl e for a lot of resentful and angry wome n to spr ead t hei r
divisive phi l osophy and influence. If I had my way, t hose who make t he
decisions to s uppor t t hem wi t h gener ous grant s woul d be r equi r ed t o
view t he tapes of t he meet i ngs t hey fund, and t hen asked to hug t hem-
selves unt i l t hey "ouch. "
To under st and how t he women' s movement has changed, we mus t
l ook back to its begi nni ngs. On Jul y 14, 1848, t he following not i ce
appeared in t he Seneca County Courier: "A convent i on to di scuss t he
social, civil, and religious condi t i on and ri ght s of wome n will be hel d in
t he Wesl eyan Chapel , at Seneca Falls, N.Y., on Wednes day and Thur sday,
the 19t h and 20t h of Jul y current ; commenci ng at 10 o' clock A. M. "
3 1
The
unsi gned announcement had been drafted by four wome n meet i ng in t he
home of Richard Hunt , a weal t hy reformer who had offered t o hel p t hem
organize t he convent i on. Two of t he women, Lucretia Mot t and El i zabet h
Cady St ant on, wer e to become famous. The tea table on whi ch t hey wr ot e
t he announcement is now on exhi bi t at t he Smi t hsoni an as a relic of t he
moment when Ameri can wome n began t he political st ruggl e to wi n such
el ement ary rights as t he ri ght to di vorce wi t hout losing pr oper t y and
chi l dren and t he ri ght t o be educat ed, cul mi nat i ng in t he ri ght to vot e
and t he at t ai nment of full legal equality.
The press i mmedi at el y called t hem "sour ol d mai ds, " "chi l dl ess
women, " and "di vorced wi ves" and i mpl i ed t hat t hey woul d be ineffec-
34 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
tual. These criticisms woul d always be made of feminists. In fact, t he
organi zers of t he Seneca Falls convent i on were exceptionally well-favored,
wel l -adj ust ed, moral l y advanced wo me n a n d they were maki ng social
and political history. As for bei ng old mai ds, t hat t oo was i naccurat e.
St ant on, t he movement ' s pri nci pal organi zer and scribe, woul d have eight
chi l dren. Nor was t here anyt hi ng sour about t hem. Referring to t he
wome n who part i ci pat ed in t he Seneca Falls convent i on, Elizabeth Cady
St ant on and Susan B. Ant hony later wr ot e t hat "t hey had not in their own
experi ence endur ed t he coarser forms of t yranny resulting from unj ust
laws, or association wi t h i mmor al and unscr upul ous men, but they had
soul s large enough to feel t he wr ongs of ot hers wi t hout bei ng scarified in
t hei r own f l esh. "
3 2
The smal l not i ce br ought mor e t han t hree hundr ed women to Seneca
Falls. The organi zers wer e not qui t e certain how to go about put t i ng
t oget her a convent i on, so t hey "resigned t hemsel ves to a faithful perusal
of vari ous mascul i ne pr oduc t i ons . "
3 3
They reviewed t he pr ocedur es of
t emper ance and abolitionist convent i ons to see how t hey had been man-
aged, and wi t h t he hel p of several sympat het i c and experi enced men, t hey
went ahead wi t h t hei r hi st ory-maki ng pr ogr am.
The convent i on vot ed to adopt a "Declaration of Sent i ment s" wri t t en
by El i zabet h Cady St ant on, who adapt ed t he wor ds of Jefferson' s "Decla-
rat i on of I ndependence" but specified t hat t he liberties demanded were
for wome n as well as men. It opened t hus:
Whe n, in t he course of huma n event s, it becomes necessary for one
por t i on of t he family of man to assume among t he peopl e of t he
eart h a posi t i on different from t hat whi ch t hey have hi t hert o occu-
pi ed, but one to whi ch t he l aws of nat ur e and of nat ure' s God entitle
t hem, a decent respect to t he opi ni ons of manki nd requi res t hat they
shoul d decl are t he causes t hat i mpel t hem to such a cour se.
3 4
And she went on t o speak of t he t r ut h we all hol d to be self-evident, that
"all me n and wome n are creat ed equal . "
The organi zers pr esent ed a list of grievances, detailing injuries that
wome n suffer at t he hands of men. Among t hem:
He has never per mi t t ed her to exercise her inalienable right to t he
elective franchise. . . . He has compel l ed her to submi t to laws, in
t he format i on of whi ch she had no voice . . . t hereby leaving her
wi t hout r epr esent at i on in t he halls of legislation. . . . He has made
her, if mar r i ed, in t he eye of t he law, civilly dead. . . . In t he cove-
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 35
nant of marri age, she is compel l ed to pr omi se obedi ence t o her
husband, he becomi ng, to all i nt ent s and pur poses, her mas t er
the law giving hi m power to depri ve her of her liberty, and to
admi ni st er chast i sement .
3 5
Seneca Falls focused on specific injustices of t he ki nd t hat social pol i cy
coul d repai r by maki ng t he laws equi t abl e. In t hi nki ng about t hat first
women' s conference, it is helpful to r emember t he state of t he average
Ameri can woman in t he mi d- ni ne t e e nt h cent ury. Consi der t he st ory of
Hester Vaughan. In 1869, at t he age of t went y, she had been desert ed by
her husband. She found wor k in a weal t hy Phi l adel phi a home wher e t he
man of t he house seduced her and, when she became pr egnant , fired her.
In a state of terrible i ndi gence, she gave bi r t h al one in an unheat ed r ent ed
r oom, collapsing mi nut es afterward. By t he t i me she was di scovered, t he
baby had di ed. She was charged wi t h mur der . No lawyer r epr esent ed her
at her trial, and she was not per mi t t ed to testify. An all-male j ur y found
her guilty, and t he j udge sent enced her to deat h.
Elizabeth Cady St ant on and Susan B. Ant hony l earned of her pl i ght
and organi zed a campai gn to hel p her. One prot est meet i ng dr ew nearl y
a t housand women. Here is how t he hi st ori an Elisabeth Griffith descri bes
it: "They demanded a par don for Vaughan, an end to t he doubl e st andar d
of morality, t he ri ght of wome n to serve as j ur or s, and t he admi ssi on of
women to law school s. . . . Accordi ng to St ant on, Vaughan' s trial by a
j ur y of men . . . illustrated t he i ndi gni t y and injustice of women' s legal
s t at us . "
3 6
Vaughan was par doned. More crucially, her champi ons and t hei r suc-
cessors went on to wi n for Ameri can wome n in general full equal i t y before
t he law, i ncl udi ng t he ri ght to vot e, t he ri ght t o hol d pr oper t y even i n
marriage, t he ri ght to di vorce, and t he ri ght to equal educat i on.
The ai ms of t he Seneca Falls activists wer e clearly st at ed, finite, and
practicable. They woul d eventually be realized because t hey wer e
gr ounded in pr i nci pl esr ecogni zed const i t ut i onal pr i nci pl es t hat wer e
squarely in t he t radi t i on of equi t y, fairness, and i ndi vi dual liberty. St an-
ton' s reliance on t he Decl arat i on of I ndependence was not a pl oy; it was
a direct expressi on of her own sincere creed, and it was t he creed of t he
assembl ed men and women. Indeed, it is wor t h r emember i ng t hat Seneca
Falls was organi zed by bot h men and wome n and t hat me n actively
part i ci pat ed in it and wer e wel comed.
3 7
Mi sandr i sm (hostility to men, t he
count erpart to mi sogyny) was not a not abl e feature of t he women' s move-
ment unt i l our own times.
A 1992 meet i ng of t he Ameri can Association of University Wo me n
36 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
hel d at Mills College in Oakl and, California, shows how far moder n
femi ni sm has c o me o r gone .
3 8
Mills had been muc h in t he news t wo
years before, whe n its boar d announced its decision to go t he way of
colleges like Vassar and Benni ngt on in admi t t i ng mal e st udent s. Televised
film footage s howed sobbi ng, hysterical young women prot est i ng. So
di st r aught wer e t hey at t he pr ospect of allowing men i nt o Mills t hat t he
t rust ees r evoked t he deci si on. Wh e n t he reversal was announced, t he
cameras rol l ed again, t hi s t i me showi ng st udent s sobbi ng wi t h j oy and
relief. Mills on t he Wes t Coast , like Smi t h on t he East Coast, remai ns
exclusively female.
As at most gender feminist gat heri ngs, t he Mills College meet i ng had
al most no men. One man, however, di d figure pr omi nent l y in a panel
di scussi on called "The Perils and Pleasures of Femi ni st Teachi ng. " Ra-
phael Atlas, professor of musi c at Smi t h College, had come to talk about
what it is like to be a mal e feminist at a women' s college. His fellow
panel i st s wer e Candi ce Taylor Hogan, assistant professor of hi st ory at
Wheat on College in Massachuset t s, and Faye Crosby, a psychol ogy pr o-
fessor, also from Smi t h. Professor Hogan spoke first, readi ng a paper in
whi ch she descri bed her t r auma when Wheat on College went coed. "I
was aghast , saddened, appal l ed, and angered. . . . The transition was bru-
tal, painful, and demoral i zi ng. " Before it coul d be made clear what her
r emar ks had to do wi t h t he conference' s t heme, "Balancing t he Educa-
tional Equat i on, " Raphael Atlas spoke.
Raphael (as all t he part i ci pant s called hi m) was earnest and nont hr eat -
eni ng. He, t oo, read hi s paper because, he expl ai ned, its cont ent s were
t oo emot i onal for a mor e i nformal delivery. He told us t hat bei ng a mal e
feminist at Smi t h College filled hi s life wi t h "great anxi et y. " The course
he gave last spr i ng on wome n composer s made hi m feel like "an i mpos-
ter. " He asked, "Is it honest to identify my proj ect as feminist? . . . Am I
j ust one of t hose social and cul t ural forces trying to police women' s
voices?"
As we ponder ed t hese quest i ons, Raphael told us about t he many
colleagues and st udent s who believe t hat t he few mal es at Smi t h "poi -
soned" t he at mospher e. He said in angui shed t ones, "What do these
women' s voices say t o me? I am alien. I do not bel ong. 1 believe them." I
felt a bi t less sorry for Raphael whe n he finished his confession by telling
us t hat he finds it all "exciting. "
It was Professor Crosby' s t ur n. "In feminist pedagogy, " she expl ai ned,
"you do not j ust t heori ze, but t ake act i on. " For homewor k, she had
i nst ruct ed her i nt r oduct or y psychol ogy st udent s at Smi t h to buy t hree
condoms , maki ng eye cont act wi t h t he vendor . She t hought t he assign-
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 37
ment had been successful unt i l several st udent s poi nt ed out t hat it was
"heterosexist. " It margi nal i zed lesbians. They t ol d her about dent al dams
condoml i ke devices useful for safe lesbian oral sex.
Professor Crosby t ol d us t hat dur i ng Parent s' Weekend, she had i nvi t ed
her st udent s and t hei r par ent s to a smal l interactive l ect ure. Condoms
were again a t heme. The class pl ayed a " condom relay race, " i n whi ch
parent s and st udent s raced each ot her t o see whi ch gr oup of five coul d
put five condoms on an unpeel ed banana wi t hout br eaki ng t he banana.
Said Professor Crosby, referring to t he condom, "They had to own it and
enjoy it."
Once again Ms. Crosby t hought all had gone well. She had been careful
to make ment i on of t he dent al dams. But angry st udent s poi nt ed out to
her that t hough she had shown t he par ent s t he dent al dams, she hadn' t
used t hem in t he relay races. They' d compl ai ned, she said, t hat "it was as
if you said, oh, well, her e are t he dent al dams bor i ng, insignificant
lesbian sex . . . now let' s get t o t he really great and fun het erosexual sex. "
Professor Crosby ended by telling us about her guilt over havi ng been
"exclusionary. " "I felt terrible!" Like Raphael , she was clearly exhi l arat ed
by how terrible she felt.
The wor ks hop had been a bit unconvent i onal , but unt i l t hat poi nt all
had been decor ous. Decor um was i rreparabl y shat t ered by "Rita" from t he
City College of San Franci sco, who spoke l oudl y and angrily from t he
rear of t he r oom. Addressi ng Raphael, she said, "First of all, why di d you
read your paper? As a poet and s omeone who cares about l anguage, I
found it ext remel y dul l to have t o sit t hough all of t hat . " But t hen Rita
went on to say she was so upset t hat she t oo preferred to read her
st at ement : "Raphael said he was a mal e feminist: t hat is an oxymor on. My
deep belief is t hat me n cannot be feminists. They have no pl ace i n
women- cent er ed spheres. Raphael is a wo mb envi er and a feminist wan-
nabea poseur in our mi dst . Let hi m t ake hi s voice i nt o an al l -mal e
forum. "
Terry, a day care pr ovi der from Oakl and, was very moved by Rita' s
declaration. "I agree wi t h Rita. I di d not come t o a wor ks hop t o hear
that," she said, referring t o t he mal e voice.
Ms. Crosby, who was also t he moder at or , l ooked a bi t ner vous. It
seemed clear t hat she shoul d come t o t he defense of her bel eaguered
Smi t h colleague. But she was pat ent l y i nt ri gued by what she descri bed as
an "affectively charged exchange. " "Rita, your at t ack on Raphael was
extremely r ude, " she said. "You are breaking, nor ms by at t acki ng our
speaker like that. And t hat is wr ong. But," she cont i nued, "as a feminist,
I believe in br eaki ng nor ms . "
38 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Then Raphael spoke up, al t hough he l ooked at t he floor as he spoke.
"It is a di l emma. Little par t s of me agree wi t h Rita," he said. "Men do not
bel ong at Smi t h. So why a m I there? In addi t i on to nitty-gritty issues of
j ob mar ket and my modes t research pr oj ect sI still ask: do I bel ong
there? It saddens me, demoral i zes me, and depresses me. Yet I feel anger
t owar d you, Rita. I feel you have t yped me. I wonder if it is possi bl e for
us to have a di al ogue? On t he flight home I will be t hi nki ng about what I
mi ght have sai d. "
Ms. Cr osby was now in her el ement : "One aspect of t he pat ri archy is
t hat we have to keep to schedul es. But before breaki ng up, let us go
ar ound t he r oom and see if anyone want s to share their feelings." She
moved about , Phil Donahue- s t yl e, soliciting comment s. Her first taker
was a woma n who said, "My heart is poundi ng wi t h Rita and Terry. . . . I
was upset to see a ma n on t he panel . I t hought t here woul d be only
women; I was not expect i ng this sort ofdifference. "
My sister Louise spoke up. "I like differences bet ween peopl e. I try to
hei ght en differences bet ween peopl e. I like i ndi vi dual s. " Ms. Crosby
moved al ong hastily to anot her speaker. "My name is Ant hea; I am t he
daught er of Beatrice, who is t he daught er of her mot her , who was a vegan
and a suffragette. Let' s clap for everybody. " Most peopl e di d clap. Then
Raphael called out , "Rita and I i nhabi t different spheres. I am a whi t e
mal e, age 3 0 - 3 4 . That is difficult for me. "
A gray-hai red woma n in t he back, an AAUW member and an old-
school feminist, vent ur ed meekl y: "I am in favor of educat i ng our young
peopl e, girls and boys, to accept one anot her as equal s. " But before
anyone coul d pounce on t hat part i cul ar heresy, it was t i me to go.
The wor ks hopper s filed out to at t end t he next event. Raphael di sap-
pear ed compl et el y. At t he next wor ks hop all t he panel i st s were women,
whi ch Rita' s faction woul d undoubt edl y find mor e comfortable. As my
sister and I wer e leaving t he semi nar r oom, we passed a j ubi l ant Professor
Crosby speaki ng to a Smi t h College st udent and her visiting parent s. The
par ent s had at t ended t he wor ks hop and were l ooki ng a little bemused. "I
consi der t hat sessi on a great success, " said Crosby, "because it was t he
most like a Smi t h College class t han any of t he ot her events so far!"
Gender feminists do not relish criticism, and t here are no forums wher e
ol d and ne w feminists meet for a free exchange of compet i ng ideas. I di d
l earn of one such encount er t hat occur r ed spont aneousl y in t he spri ng of
1991 at a conference called "Gl asnost in Two Cul t ures: Soviet Russian/
Nor t h Amer i can Wome n' s Wr i t i ng, " sponsor ed by feminist schol ars at t he
New York Inst i t ut e for t he Humani t i es at New York University. The
W O M E N U N D E R S I E G E 39
epi sode was r ecount ed by t he Russi an-Ameri can wri t er Davi d Gurevi ch,
who at t ended t he conference as a t r ansl at or .
3 9
A small gr oup of t al ent ed and out spoken Russian wome n poet s and
novelists had been i nvi t ed to at t end t he conference, whi ch began, i naus-
piciously, wi t h t he Amer i can aut hor Grace Paley t aki ng t he visitors on a
t our of t he Lower East Side for a cl ose-up l ook at Ameri ca' s sl ums, com-
plete wi t h panhandl er s and j unki es. The visitors, who had since chi l d-
hood seen Soviet pr opaganda films hi ghl i ght i ng Ameri can mi sery, wer e
not dul y appreci at i ve.
At t he meet i ng itself, t he ideological gulf bet ween t he Russian and
Ameri can feminists became mor e obvi ous. The literary critic Natalya Ad-
zhi khi na champi oned t he idea of t hr owi ng out t he canon, an idea t hat
was well received all ar ound unt i l it slowly dawned on t he gender femi-
nists t hat Ms. Adzhi khi na was referring to t he official Communi s t Part y
canon. She and most of t he ot her Russian wri t ers want ed to return to t he
canon of mast er wor ks t hat Ameri can feminists consi der "mascul i ni st . "
Whe n t he ot her Russian wri t ers spoke, t hey t oo ut t er ed bl asphemi es,
such as "There is onl y good and bad l i t er at ur enot mal e and female." It
became shocki ngl y clear t hat t he Russians wer e seeki ng t o l i berat e art
from politics, i ncl udi ng sexual politics. Professor Linda Kauffman of t he
University of Maryl and was al ar med and offended: "I don' t want to s ound
like I am from Cal i f or ni awhi ch actually I a mb u t this is, like, heavy-
dut y deni al . " Ms. Kauffman went on to deliver an i mpr ompt u s er mon on
t he evils of t he FBI, Jesse Hel ms, and censorshi p at t he NEA. She poi nt ed
out t hat t he "MacNei l / Lehrer News Hour " was funded by AT&T and
spoke of a women' s gul ag.
4 0
As she cont i nued in this familiar vein, several
of t he Russian wome n slowly made t hei r way to t he l adi es' r oom, t he onl y
place wher e t hey wer e free to smoke.
Whe n it was again t he Russian women' s t ur n to speak, t he bl asphemi es
pour ed forth once mor e. Olesya Nikolayeva, t he Moscow poet , t ol d t he
Ameri can feminists how socialism had deni ed wome n t hei r femininity,
how it br oke t he t radi t i on of mor al and spi ri t ual wome n in Russian
literature, and how it br oke t he Chri st i an t radi t i on wi t hout whi ch Russian
literature after Pushki n was unt hi nkabl e. She insisted t hat t he at t ack on
religion had been fatal to l i t erat ure, si nce religion had always been such a
sust ai ni ng force for wri t ers. She concl uded by citing di st urbi ng statistics
about j uveni l e cri me in Moscow and encour agi ng all t he wome n in t he
audi ence to pay mor e at t ent i on t o t hei r t radi t i onal role as "keepers of t he
heart h. "
Cat hari ne St i mpson, a di rect or at t he MacArt hur Foundat i on and
40 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
one of t he foundi ng mot her s of t he New Femi ni sm, coul d no l onger
cont ai n herself. She war ned of a "new totalitarianism" and said t hat wor k-
i ng mot her s coul d not be bl amed for r unaways and del i nquency: t he state
shoul d find a sol ut i on. Domna St ant on, a Michigan women' s st udi es
professor who had organi zed t he conference, war ned of t he perils of
"whi t e mal e moral i t y. "
A young novelist, Valerya Narbi kova, t ook t he mi cr ophone and spoke
about her wri t ers' gr oup, t he New Amazons. The Ameri can feminists were
begi nni ng to hope t hey coul d finally make cont act when Ms. Narbi kova
announced, "It is j ust a name. We have not hi ng to do wi t h feminism. "
"Not hi ng at all?" t he disbelieving critic Hort ense Spiller asked. Gure-
vich descri bes t he scene: "Wi ne glass in hand, Valerya was pur e artiste.
' Nope . ' . . . Ladylike pr et enses wer e dr opped. The women were tearing
t he mi ke from each ot her' s hand. . . . St ant on was soon left al oneher
faction, i ncl udi ng St i mpson, had fled qui et l yand she was actually
wr i ngi ng her hands . " Tat yana Tolstaya, a wri t er whose shor t stories had
been recent l y accl ai med by Ameri can critics, t hunder ed: "You . . . keep
comi ng to Russia and we keep telling you these things! Why do you never
listen t o us? Wh y do you t hi nk you know mor e about our life t han we
do?"
Undoubt edl y, t he gender feminists left t he conference pi t yi ng t he be-
ni ght ed Russian wri t ers for bei ng so ret rograde in t hei r at t i t udes to gen-
der. To me, t hose Russian wome n are t he hope of f emi ni sma new
avant -garde. I wi sh t hey woul d all emi grat e to t he Uni t ed States. They
know firsthand about t he terrible consequences of gr oup loyalty based on
gr oupt hi nk; t hey are ut t erl y i mmune to ideological bl andi shment s.
Since r eadi ng Gurevi ch' s account of t he New York University encoun-
ter, I have been at t endi ng feminist meet i ngs in a mor e hopeful frame of
mi nd. Wh e n s ome gender feminist is in t he mi ddl e of yet anot her mi nd-
numbi ng expos of t he evils of mal e cul t ure, I find myself l ooki ng about
for s ome i nnocent or i nt repi d soul who l ooks as if she mi ght speak up
and say what I, as an observer, mus t often refrain from saying. It hasn' t
happened yet, but now I know it is not out of t he quest i on.
Chapter 2
Indignation, Resentment,
and Collective Guilt
Ev e r y day t he publ i c is wi t ness to feminist out rage at how badl y
women are treated: in t he wor kpl ace, in t he court s, on dat es, i n marri ages,
in t he school sby me n most l y, but somet i mes by ot her women. Much
of what is r epor t ed is t rue, and some of it is very di st urbi ng.
Of course, t he abuse or slighting of wome n mus t be made known and
shoul d arouse i ndi gnat i on. Plato himself recogni zed t he rol e of r i ght eous
i ndi gnat i on as a mai nspr i ng of mor al act i on. In hi s met aphor , i ndi gnat i on
is t he good st eed hel pi ng t he chari ot eer t o stay on t he pat h of vi rt ue by
cont rol l i ng t he vicious, waywar d st eed st rai ni ng t o go its own br ut i sh
way. It is t he "spirited el ement " in t he soul t hat suppl i es t he wi se per son
wi t h t he emot i onal energy, t he hor sepower , to cur b t he appet i t es so t hat
he or she may act vi rt uousl y.
But most of t hose who publ i cl y bemoan t he pl i ght of wome n i n Amer -
ica are moved by mor e dubi ous passi ons and i nt erest s. Thei rs is a femi-
ni sm of r esent ment t hat rationalizes and fosters a whol esal e r ancor i n
women t hat has little to do wi t h mor al i ndi gnat i on. Resent ment may
42 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
begi n in and i ncl ude i ndi gnat i on, but it is by far t he mor e abi di ng pas-
si on. Resent ment is "har bor ed" or "nur t ur ed"; it "takes root " in a subject
(t he vi ct i m) and r emai ns di rect ed at anot her (the cul pri t ). It can be vicar-
i ous you need not have har med me personal l y, but if I identify wi t h
s omeone you have har med, I may resent you. Such r esent ment is very
c ommon and may easily be as st rong and i nt ense as r esent ment occa-
si oned by di rect injury. In a way it is st ronger, for by enlarging t he class
of vi ct i ms to i ncl ude ot her s, it magnifies t he villainy as well.
Havi ng demar cat ed a vi ct i mi zed "us " wi t h whom I now feel solidarity,
I can poi nt t o one vi ct i m and say, "In wr ongi ng her, he has bet rayed his
cont empt for us all, " or "Anyone who har ms a woman har ms us all," or
si mpl y "What he di d to her, he di d t o all of us. " The next st ep is to regard
t he i ndi vi dual who wr onged "us" as himself represent at i ve of a gr oup,
giving our ani mus a larger target. This I may do qui t e "reasonabl y" by
adopt i ng a posi t i on from whi ch peopl e like t he per pet r at or (male, rich,
etc.) are r egar ded as "t he ki nd of peopl e" who exploit peopl e like "us. "
My social reality has now been di chot omi zed i nt o t wo gr oups politically
at odds , one of wh o m domi nat es and exploits t he ot her.
Susan Fal udi , aut hor of Backlash and one of t he mor e popul ar resent ers
of our t i me, r emi nds us of t he feminist t rui sm t hat feminist anger comes
whe n wome n const r ue t hei r i ndi vi dual experi ences in a political frame-
wor k: " Whe n you' r e not able to see your experi ence as political, you' re
not able to be angr y about i t . "
1
Sandra Bartky, who is an expert on
somet hi ng she calls t he "phenomenol ogy of feminist consci ousness, " put s
it succinctly: "Femi ni st consci ousness is consci ousness of victimization . . .
to come t o see oneself as a vi ct i m" (her emphasi s) .
2
Once I get i nt o t he habi t of regardi ng wome n as a subj ugat ed gender,
I' m pr i med t o be al ar med, angry, and resentful of men as oppressors of
women. I a m also pr epar ed t o believe t he wor st about t hem and t he har m
t hey cause to women. I may even be ready to fabricate atrocities. El eanor
Smeal s poke in Aust i n of t he need to get women fighting mad. Nei t her
she nor any of t he ot her feminist l eaders and t hi nkers who pr omot e t he
sexual pol i t i cs of r esent ment and anger seem to be aware of how inju-
riously divisive t hei r versi on of femi ni sm i s or if t hey are, t hey seem not
to care.
Consi der how Patricia Irel and, t he pr esi dent of NOW, speaks of her
seven years as a flight at t endant for Pan Am: "I t hought of myself as a
professional. But what I really di d was go down t he aisle and take peopl e' s
garbage and t hank t hem for it. That ' s what women have been doi ng.
We' ve been t aki ng t hei r garbage and t hanki ng t hem for it. We' ve got to
s t op. "
3
Ms. Irel and is telling us how easy it is (in a society t hat rout i nel y
I N D I G N A T I O N , R E S E N T M E N T . 43
humi l i at es women) for women to deceive t hemsel ves i nt o t hi nki ng t hey
are doi ng somet hi ng dignified when t hey are "really" doi ng somet hi ng
demeani ng. She speaks of "their garbage, " meani ng "men' s, " t hough pr ob-
ably half t he passengers wer e women. She asks us to not e t he s hame of
taking their garbage and havi ng to t hank "t hem" for it. Woul d she be i n
favor of havi ng t he airlines phase out wome n flight at t endant s, repl aci ng
t hem wi t h men? But Irel and knows what she is doi ng. By so const r ui ng
male/female relations, she is doi ng what any political l eader does in t i me
of war: get pot ent i al allies angry and unified behi nd t he effort t o defeat
t he enemy.
Resent ment is not a whol esome passi on. Unl i ke i ndi gnat i on, it is not
an ethical passi on. But because it often ori gi nat es in mor al out rage at real
injustice (from wife bat t eri ng t o j ob di scri mi nat i on), r esent ment can be
made to s ound like a commendabl e passi on for social j ust i ce. The i dea
that men are generally cul pabl e has t he st at us of a first pr i nci pl e a mong
some est abl i shment feminists.
Accordi ng to Marilyn French, "The ent i re syst em of female oppr essi on
rests on ordi nary men, who mai nt ai n it wi t h a fervor and dedi cat i on to
dut y t hat any secret pol i ce force mi ght envy. Wha t ot her syst em can
depend on al most half t he popul at i on t o enforce a pol i cy daily, publ i cl y
and privately, wi t h ut t er rel i abi l i t y?"
4
It is a syst em t hat uses t hreat as
well as force to exploit and humi l i at e women.
As l ong as some men use physi cal force to subj ugat e females, all
men need not . The knowl edge t hat some men do suffices to t hreat en
all women. Beyond that, it is not necessary to beat u p a woma n to
beat her down. A man can si mpl y refuse t o hi re wome n in wel l -pai d
j obs, extract as muc h or mor e wor k from wome n t han men but pay
t hem less, or treat wome n disrespectfully at wor k or at home. He
can fail to suppor t a child he has engender ed, demand t he woma n
he lives wi t h wai t on hi m like a servant. He can beat or kill t he
woman he claims to love; he can r ape women, whet her mat e, ac-
quai nt ance, or stranger; he can r ape or sexually mol est his daugh-
ters, nieces, st epchi l dren, or t he chi l dren of a woma n he cl ai ms to
love. The vast majority of men in the world do one or more of the above
[her emphasi s] .
5
In French' s view, mal e atrocity and cri mi nal abuse are pandemi c. We
must , however, insist t hat t he bur den of proof for so br oad a claim be on
her. Even if we accept t he pr emi se t hat men and wome n are at odds , t he
factual quest i on of guilt cannot be beggedat least not in this count r y.
44 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ? '
Moreover, we cannot hel p not i ci ng t hat French' s cont empt for men is
accompani ed by a st r ong bi as in favor of women: "Whi l e men st rut and
fret t hei r hour upon t he stage, s hout in bars and sport s arenas, t hump
t hei r chest s or s how t hei r profiles i n t he legislatures, and expl ode i ncred-
ible weapons i n an endl ess cont est for st at us, an obsessive quest for
symbol i c ' pr oof of t hei r superi ori t y, women quietly keep t he wor l d
goi ng. "
6
Resent er feminists are convi nced t hat men generally take every oppor -
t uni t y t o expl oi t wome n and t hat t hey often del i ght in humi l i at i ng t hem
physi cal l y and ment al l y. "Gi ven t he preval ence of rape and given t he
soci o-cul t ural s uppor t s for sexual aggression and violence against women
in this society, per haps we shoul d be aski ng men who don' t rape, why
not ! In ot her wor ds , we shoul d be aski ng what factors pr event men from
abusi ng wome n in r ape- suppor t i ve soci et i es. "
7
That is t he vi ew of Diana
Scully, aut hor of Understanding Sexual Violence.
Recently several mal e st udent s at Vassar were falsely accused of dat e
rape. After t hei r i nnocence was est abl i shed, t he assistant dean of st udent s,
Cat her i ne Comi ns , sai d of t hei r ordeal : "They have a lot of pai n, but it is
not a pai n t hat I woul d necessarily have spared t hem. I t hi nk it ideally
initiates a pr ocess of self-exploration. ' How do I see women?' 'If I di d not
violate her, coul d I have?' ' Do I have t he pot ent i al to do to her what t hey
say I di d?' These are good ques t i ons . "
8
Dean Comi ns clearly feels justified
in t r umpi ng t he c ommon l aw pri nci pl e "pr esumed i nnocent unt i l pr oven
guilty" by a ne w feminist pri nci pl e, "guilty even if pr oven i nnocent . "
I ndeed, she believes t hat t he st udent s are not really i nnocent after all.
How so? Because, bei ng mal e and bei ng br ought up in t he pat ri archal
cul t ure, t hey could easily have done what t hey were falsely accused of
havi ng done, even t hough t hey di dn' t actually do it. Wher e men are
concer ned, Comi ns qui t e sincerely believes in collective guilt. Moreover,
she feels she can rely on her audi ence t o be in general agr eement wi t h
her on t hi s.
The idea of collective guilt may s ound like t he theological doct ri ne of
original si n, but in Chri st i ani t y, at least, it appl i es equally to all huma n
bei ngs. Racists and gender feminists are mor e "di scri mi nat i ng. "
In t he spr i ng of 1993 , ni ne wome n st udent s, who were t aki ng a course
called "Cont empor ar y Issues in Femi ni st Art" at t he University of Mary-
l and, di st r i but ed post er s and fliers all over t he campus wi t h t he names of
dozens of mal e st udent s under t he headi ng "Notice: These Men Are Po-
tential Rapi st s. " The wome n kne w not hi ng what ever about t he bearers of
t he names; t hey had si mpl y chosen t hem at r andom from t he university
I N D I G N A T I O N , R E S E N T M E N T . 45
directory t o use in t hei r class project. The i nst ruct or, Josephi ne Wi t her s,
woul d not comment to t he pr ess.
9
The New Femi ni st s are a powerful source of mischief because t hei r
leaders are not good at seei ng t hi ngs as t hey are. Resenter feminists like
Fal udi , French, Hei l br un and MacKi nnon speak of backl ash, siege, and
an undecl ar ed war agai nst women. But t he condi t i on t hey descri be is
myt hi cwi t h no foundat i on in t he facts of cont empor ar y Ameri can life.
Real-life men have no war offices, no si t uat i on r ooms, no battle pl ans
against women. Ther e is no radical mi l i t ant wi ng of a mascul i ni st move-
ment . To t he ext ent one can speak at all of a gender war, it is t he New
Femi ni st s t hemsel ves who are wagi ng it.
Gender feminists are fond of telling men who don' t realize t he dept h
of women' s anger and r esent ment t hat "t hey j ust don' t get it." Femi ni st
leaders i mmedi at el y rallied to t he si de of Lorena Bobbitt, t he Virginia
woman accused of havi ng severed her sl eepi ng husband' s peni s but who
in t ur n accused hi m of havi ng r aped her. The Virginia chapt er of NOW
set up a s uppor t line for Ms. Bobbitt headed by Virginia' s NOW coordi -
nat or, Deni se Lee.
1 0
In Vanity Fair, Kim Mast ers r epor t ed on "Lorena
suppor t er s who have t ransformed t he V-for-Victory sign i nt o a symbol of
solidarity by maki ng scissorlike mot i ons wi t h t hei r fingers."
11
Kim Gandy,
executive vice pr esi dent of NOW, t al ked of t he many wome n "who have
gone t hr ough this and pr obabl y wi sh t hey had a chance to get t hei r own
r evenge. "
1 2
The j ournal i st Dani el Wat t enber g rightly saw in all this t he pr e s ump-
tion of J ohn Wayne Bobbitt' s guilt l ong before t he case had gone to trial.
"It is assumed t hat he rout i nel y beat his wife over a per i od of years. It is
assumed t hat he r aped her t he ni ght she cast rat ed hi m. " It hardl y mat t er s
t hat Mr. Bobbitt has since been found not guilty by t he court s. Com-
ment i ng on t he cast rat i on on "20/ 20, " Patricia Irel and said, "The dept h of
anger t hat was pl umbed by this and t he r esponse of s uppor t t hat comes
for Lorena Bobbitt comes from t he dept h of anger, of feeling t here has not
been adequat e resources and recourse and redress of t he terrible vi ol ence
t hat wome n face." But, st i cki ng to what facts we have, all we can say is
t hat Lorena was enraged t o t he poi nt of vi ol ence. The per sonal t ragedy of
this unha ppy coupl e has been appr opr i at ed as a symbol of ri ght eous
feminist revenge. The i n-j oke among Lorena' s feminist admi r er s is t hat
Lorena has si nce been greet i ng J ohn by saying, "Now do you get it?"
Whe n collective guilt is assi gned (to mal es, to Ger mans, to Mosl ems,
46 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
etc. ), chi l dren are usual l y i ncl uded. Expl ai ni ng why Mi nnesot a has
adopt ed strict sexual har assment policies for chi l dren as young as five,
Sue Sattel, t he "sex equi t y specialist" for t he Mi nnesot a Depar t ment of
Educat i on, poi nt s out t hat "serial killers tell interviewers t hey st art ed
sexually harassi ng at age 10, and got away wi t h i t . "
1 3
Nan Stein, a proj ect di rect or at t he Wellesley College Cent er for Re-
search on Wo me n who specializes in sexual har assment by j uveni l es, is
angr y wi t h Mont ana school officials and t eachers for i gnori ng t he "gen-
der ed t er r or i sm" in t hei r school yards.
Fri day "Fl i p-Up Day" is a weekl y occurrence at many el ement ary
school s in Mont ana. Every Friday, boys chase girls ar ound t he
school pl aygr ounds; t hose girls who have wor n skirts are fair game
t he i r ski rt s will be flipped up, not once, but as many times as
possi bl e by as many boys as can get t hem. School admi ni st rat ors
. . . have seen no reason t o i nt ervene or to puni s h t he perpet rat ors.
Thei r silence has al l owed this gender ed t errori sm on t he pl aygr ound
t o cont i nue.
1 4
Boys who tease girls by flipping u p t hei r skirts shoul d be dealt wi t h
decisively and per haps severely. But onl y wome n who vi ew t he wor l d
t hr ough "sex/ gender" l enses woul d see in chi l dren' s school yard rudeness
t he maki ng of serial killers and gender terrorists.
Shoul d t he r udeness even be r egar ded in sexual terms? The gender
moni t or s believe it s houl d be and t hat girls shoul d be made aware of its
t rue nat ur e. One of t he goals of t he sex equi t y expert s is to teach little
girls to be resentful of boys' pr anks by poi nt i ng out t hat what t hey are
doi ng is sexual har assment and against t he law. Bernice Sandler, a gender
rel at i ons specialist at Washi ngt on' s Cent er for Wome n Policy Studies,
offers har assment wor ks hops to el ement ary school chi l dren. At one wor k-
s hop, a little girl t ol d about a cl assmat e who had pus hed her down and
tickled her. Ms. Sandl er ma de sur e to put t he boy' s act in perspect i ve:
"Now, you have to ask, what is this boy doi ng, t hrowi ng girls to t he
gr ound? Thi s happens to be a sexual offense in New York, and in most
s t at es . "
1 5
The pr es umpt i on of sexual guilt cont i nues as chi l dren gr ow up. In
mor e and mor e publ i c school s and colleges, we find a dynami c gr oup of
feminist r ef or mer shar assment officers, women' s st udi es professors, res-
i dent hall staff, assort ed deans and assistant deans, and sex equi t y expert s
wh o regard mal e sexuality wi t h al arm and seek ways to cont rol it. The
Rut gers Uni versi t y ant hr opol ogi st Lionel Tiger has descri bed t he cont em-
I N D I G N A T I O N , R E S E N T M E N T 47
porary sexual envi r onment wi t h its hysteria over har assment and dat e
rape as a reversal of t he one descri bed in The Scarlet Letter: "It' s t he mal e
who now bears t he st i gma of alleged sexual vi ol at i on. "
1 6
If t hey do, not many not i ce it. The gender feminist i deol ogy affects
women far mor e deepl y. Many are "convert ed" to a vi ew of t he society
they i nhabi t as a pat ri archal syst em of oppressi on. For most , this happens
in college. Laurie Mart i nka, a women' s st udi es gr aduat e from Vassar,
talked to me about her per sonal t ransformat i on. "You' re never t he same
again. Somet i mes I even bemoan t he fact t hat so mu c h has changed. I a m
tired of always r i ppi ng t hi ngs apart because t hey excl ude t he perspect i ve
of women. . . . You become so aware of t hi ngs. And it is har d. My mot her
cannot accept it. It is har d for her because I have changed so compl et el y. "
Anne Package, a st udent at t he University of Pennsyl vani a, t ol d me t hat
st udent s talk among t hemsel ves about this keen new awareness: " We call
it ' bei ng on t he verge' or ' bot t omi ng out . ' You are down on everyt hi ng.
Not hi ng is funny anymor e. It hi t s you like a t on of bri cks. You hi t r ock
bot t om and ask: how can I live my life?" Wh e n I suggest ed t o her t hat
many woul d count her and her classmates among t he wor l d' s mor e for-
t unat e young women, she bristled. "We still suffer psychol ogi cal oppr es-
sion. If you feel like t he whol e wor l d is on t op of you, t hen it is. "
I was i nt ri gued, t hough, by her expressi on "bei ng on t he verge. " On
t he verge of what ? Though t he expressi on suggests a t ransi t ory experi -
ence, bei ng on t he verge is const r ued as t he per manent condi t i on of
women who feel t hey have achi eved a realistic awareness of t hei r pl i ght
in mal e- domi nat ed society. Such wome n somet i mes organi ze i nt o smal l
but powerful gr oups wi t hi n i nst i t ut i ons t hey regard as mascul i ni st bas-
tions and wher e t hey make t hei r pr esence felt in no uncer t ai n t erms.
The Boston Globe is New Engl and' s largest and most prest i gi ous news-
paper. In 1991, some t wo dozen wome n edi t ors, manager s, and col um-
nists (i ncl udi ng Ellen Goodman) formed a gr oup called " Wome n on t he
Verge" to count er what seni or educat i on edi t or Muri el Cohen called t he
"macho ne ws r oom. "
1 7
The "vergies," as t hey have come t o be known,
have some t radi t i onal equi t y feminist concer ns about salaries and pr o-
mot i ons; but t hey have also t aken up ar ms agai nst such t hi ngs as t he use
of sport s met aphor s in news stories and t he t radi t i onal l uncht i me basket -
ball game, whi ch symbol i zes to t hem t he once-powerful and excl usi onary
ol d-boy net wor k ( t hough t hat compl ai nt is unf ounded because wome n
are wel come to play, and some do) . Defendi ng t he basket bal l games,
editor Ben Bradlee, Jr. , says: "All it is really is a bunc h of peopl e who
want to get exercise and pl ay a game. In t he cur r ent conspi racy t hat ' s
abroad, it' s me and t he ot her edi t ors per haps cut t i ng secret deals and
48 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
giving t he boys t he best s t or i es . "
1 8
Ms. Cohen expressed concer n to edi t or
Jack Driscoll over t he "hor mones t hat are r unni ng ar ound he r e . "
1 9
Vergies
are also i rri t at ed by "t he st rut t i ng zone" a corri dor wher e some of t he
manageri al mal es like to pace before deci di ng on the day' s lead stories.
The Wo me n on t he Verge at t he Globe art feared but not loved. Since
t hei r advent , t he news paper has known no i nt ernal peace.
Davi d Nyhan, a seni or edi t or and syndi cat ed col umni st , has been on
t he paper for mor e t han t went y years and is par t of what is known as its
liberal "Irish mafia. " He is an old-style newspaper man who wears his
sleeves rolled u p a nd has a boomi ng voice and a penchant for bawdy
humor . It was j us t a mat t er of t i me before he got i nt o t roubl e wi t h t he
Wo me n on t he Verge. On April 20, 1993 , he was on hi s way to play in
t he i nfamous noont i me basket bal l mat ch when he spot t ed a fellow re-
por t er , Brian McGrory, and i nvi t ed hi m to j oi n t he game. Brian was on
assi gnment and had a bad knee t hat day, so he declined. Nyhan persisted,
but whe n it was clear t hat McGr or y was not goi ng to play, Nyhan j eered
hi m as "pussy- whi pped. "
Betsy Lehman, a vergie, over hear d t he r emar k in passi ng and made it
clear t hat she was very offended. Nyhan, who hadn' t realized anyone was
listening, i mmedi at el y apol ogi zed. Sensi ng he was in t roubl e, he pl aced a
me mo on hi s door rest at i ng hi s remorse. He went ar ound t he newsr oom
and agai n apol ogi zed to any woma n he coul d find. But he was about to
be ma de an exampl e of, and not hi ng coul d st op it. Already several
Wo me n on t he Verge had i nt er pr et ed hi s st at ement as an insult to a
woma n edi t or who, t hey assumed, had given Brian McGrory his assign-
ment . McGr or y deni es it was a woman.
The Globe management had j ust spent t housands of dollars on sensitiv-
ity wor ks hops . Seni or edi t or Mat t St orm dr ew t he moral : "Comi ng off of
t hat exper i ence [t he wor ks hops ] , I for one am all t he mor e saddened by
t oday' s exper i ence. "
2 0
St ori n war ned t he staff t hat "remarks t hat are ra-
cially and sexual l y offensive to co-workers will not be tolerated here.
Those who ut t er s uch r emar ks will be subject to disciplinary pr ocedur es. "
The publ i sher fined Nyhan $1, 250 and suggest ed he donat e that s um to
a chari t y of Ms. Lehman' s choi ce.
The vergies had ma de t hei r poi nt , but t he men of t he Globe (and some
wome n r epor t er s who sympat hi zed wi t h t hem) had been al ert ed to t he
cl i mat e of r esent ment t hey lived in. They began to react. A pri ce list was
ci rcul at ed: "babe" cost $3 50, "bi t ch" went for $900, "pussy- whi pped, "
$1, 250. Someone st art ed a Davi d Nyhan relief fund. (The fine was even-
tually r esci nded. ) Even s ome of t he vergies wer e uncomfort abl e. Ellen
Goodma n sai d t hat she di sappr oved of t he fine: "You do not want to get
I N D I G N A T I O N , R E S E N T M E N T . 49
to t he poi nt wher e everybody feels every sent ence is bei ng moni t or ed. "
But t hat is j ust t he poi nt t he Globe had got t en t o.
2 1
The Globe i nci dent is embl emat i c of t he "achi evement s" of t he New
Feminists el sewhere. They have achi eved visibility and influence, but t hey
have not succeeded in wi nni ng t he heart s of Ameri can women. Most
Ameri can feminists, unwi l l i ng to be identified as par t of a cause t hey find
alien, have r enounced t he label and have left t he field to t he resent ers.
The harmful consequences of giving unchal l enged rei n to t he i deol ogues
are nowher e mor e evi dent t han in t he universities.
Chapter 3
Transforming the
Academy
I am grateful... to the students of my women's studies
ovular at Washington University in the spring semester of
1982}
This little acknowl edgment , in t he preface of a book by t he feminist
phi l osopher Joyce Trebi l cot , is one of t he mor e amusi ng exampl es of t he
feminist effort t o pur ge l anguage of sexist bias. Trebilcot consi ders "sem-
i nar" offensively "mascul i ni st , " so she has repl aced it by "ovular, " whi ch
she regards as its feminist equi val ent . Linguistic reform is one charac-
teristic activity of feminist academi cs, and biological coinages are very
mu c h i n favor. Femi ni st literary critics and feminist t heol ogi ans (who call
t hemsel ves t heal ogi ans) may refer to their style of i nt erpret i ng texts as
"gynocri t i ci sm" or "clitoral her meneut i cs, " rejecting mor e traditional ap-
pr oaches as i nadmi ssi bl y "phal l ocent ri c. "
Does it mat t er t hat academi c feminists speak of repl aci ng semi nars
wi t h "ovul ars, " hi st ory wi t h "herst ory, " and theology wi t h "thealogy"?
Shoul d it concer n us t hat most t eachers of women' s st udi es t hi nk of
knowl edge as a "pat ri archal const ruct i on"? It shoul d, because t went y
years ago t he nat i on' s academi es offered fewer t han t went y courses in
women' s st udi es; t oday such courses number in t he t ens of t housands.
Such r api d gr owt h, whi ch even now shows little signs of abat i ng, is un-
pr ecedent ed in t he annal s of hi gher educat i on. The feminist coloniza-
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 51
tion of t he Ameri can academy war r ant s st udy. Wha t is dri vi ng it? Is it a
good thing?
Women' s st udi es, t hough officially an academi c di sci pl i ne, is con-
sciously an ar m of t he women' s movement , dedi cat ed to a Utopian ideal
of social t ransformat i on. In t he wor ds of t he pr eambl e to t he Nat i onal
Women' s Studies Association const i t ut i on, "Women' s St udi es owes its
existence to t he movement for t he l i berat i on of women; t he feminist
movement exists because wome n are oppressed. . . . Wome n' s St udi es,
t hen, is equi ppi ng wome n . . . to t ransform t he wor l d to one t hat will be
free of all oppr essi on. "
2
The goal may be salutary, but equi ppi ng st udent s to "t ransform t he
worl d" is not qui t e t he same as equi ppi ng t hem wi t h t he knowl edge t hey
need for getting on in t he worl d. Much of what st udent s l earn in women' s
st udi es classes is not di sci pl i ned schol arshi p but feminist ideology. They
learn t hat t he t radi t i onal cur r i cul um is largely a mal e const r uct i on and
not to be t rust ed. They l earn t hat in or der to rid society of sexi sm and
racism one mus t first realign t he goals of educat i on, pur gi ng t he curri cu-
l um of its whi t e mal e bias and "reconcept ual i zi ng" its subject mat t er.
The majority of wome n in t he academy are not feminist activists. They
are mai nst r eam equi t y feminists: t hey embr ace no special feminist doc-
trines; t hey merel y want for women what t hey want for ever yonea "fair
field and no favors." Equi t y feminists, regardi ng t hemsel ves as engaged
on equal t erms in cont r i but i ng to a uni versal cul t ure of humani t y, do not
represent t hemsel ves as speaki ng for Wome n. They make no dubi ous
claims to unmas k a social reality t hat most wome n fail to percei ve. Thei r
moderat e, unpr et ent i ous post ur e has put t hem in t he s hadow of t he less
humbl e and mor e vocal gender feminists.
The gender feminists are convi nced t hey are in t he vanguar d of a
concept ual revol ut i on of hi st ori c pr opor t i ons, and t hei r perspect i ve, pr ed-
icated on t he "di scovery" of t he sex/ gender syst em, is a begui l i ng one.
Carolyn Hei l brun exults in t he convi ct i on t hat t he New Femi ni st t hought
is comparabl e to t he intellectual revol ut i ons pr oduced by Coper ni cus,
Darwin, and Fr eud.
3
Gerda Lerner, professor of hi st ory at t he University
of Wi sconsi n and aut hor of t he influential book The Creation of Patriarchy,
war ns t hat at t empt s to descri be what is now goi ng on in women' s schol -
arshi p "woul d be like trying to descri be t he Renai ssancet en years after
it began. "
4
Sociologist Jessie Bernard compar es t he feminist schol ars to
t he philosophes of t he Fr ench Enl i ght enment , charact eri zi ng t he expl osi on
of research in women' s schol arshi p as "t he st or mi ng of t he Bastille" or
"the shot hear d r ound t he wor l d. " "Academi a will never be t he same
again, " she cl ai ms.
5
Alison Jaggar, di rect or of women' s st udi es at t he
52 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Uni versi t y of Col or ado, says, "We' r e devel opi ng a whol e reconst ruct i on
of t he wor l d from t he perspect i ve of women, wi t h t he keywor d bei ng
' womencent er edness. ' "
6
The gender feminists are exuber ant l y confident t hat t hey are qualified
to over haul t he Ameri can educat i onal syst em. Unl i ke ot her, mor e modest
reformers, t hese wome n are convi nced t hat their insights i nt o social real-
ity uni quel y equi p t hem t o under s t and t he educat i onal needs of Ameri can
women. Thei r revol ut i on is t hus not confi ned to "feminist t heory. " On
t he cont rary, it is essentially practical, pedagogi cal , and bureaucrat i c.
Not all gender feminist academi cs t each women' s st udi es. Many are in
admi ni st r at i on. Some di rect har assment cent ers. Ot her s have cont rol l i ng
posi t i ons in such par a- academi c organi zat i ons as t he Association of Amer-
ican Colleges (AAC) or t he Ameri can Association of University Wome n
(AAUW). Some head women' s cent ers t hat do research on women. Still
ot her s head "cur r i cul um t ransformat i on proj ect s. "
"The goal of feminist t eachi ng, " says University of Massachuset t s femi-
ni st phi l osopher Ann Fer guson, "is not onl y to raise consci ousness about
. . . mal e domi nat i on syst em but also to create women and men who are
agent s of social change. "
7
That mot i vat i on, powerfully enhanced by t he
gender feminists' faith t hat t hey are pri vy to revol ut i onary insights i nt o
t he nat ur e of knowl edge and society, i nspi res t hem wi t h a mi ssi onary
fervor unmat ched by any ot her gr oup in t he cont empor ar y academy. Not
onl y do t hey pur s ue t hei r mi ssi on in t hei r cl assrooms, t hey are also
i nvol ved in "t ransformi ng t he academy" to r ender it mor e women- cen-
t ered. Gender feminists are at wor k i n hundr eds of t ransformat i on pr oj -
ects for changi ng uni versi t y curri cul a t hat t hey regard as i nadmi ssi bl y
"mascul i ni st . " The bias of t he t radi t i onal "whi t e mal e cur r i cul um" must
be el i mi nat ed, and ne w pr ogr ams t hat i ncl ude women mus t replace t hose
in whi ch wome n are "absent , " "silent, " "invisible. " The whol e "knowl edge
base" mus t be t ransformed.
Gender feminists have been influential i n t he academy far beyond their
numbe r s part l y because t hei r hi gh zeal and si ngl e-mi ndedness br ook no
opposi t i on; or rat her, because t hey treat opposi t i on to t hei r exotic st and-
poi nt as opposi t i on t o t he cause of women. University trustees, admi ni s-
t rat ors, f oundat i on officers, and gover nment officials t end generally to be
sympat het i c to women' s causes. Apart from an unwi l l i ngness to be con-
si dered insensitive and ret rograde, t hey are aware t hat women have been
di scri mi nat ed agai nst and may still need special prot ect i ons. So t hey want
to do what is right. But whe n future hi st ori ans go back t o find out what
happened t o Amer i can uni versi t i es at t he end of t he t went i et h cent ury
t hat so weakened t hem, politicized t hem, and r ender ed t hem illiberal,
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 53
anti-intellectual, and humor l ess pl aces, t hey will find t hat among t he
pri nci pal causes of t he decl i ne was t he failure of intelligent, powerful , and
wel l -i nt ent i oned officials to di st i ngui sh bet ween t he reasonabl e and j ust
cause of equity feminism and its unr easonabl e, unj ust , ideological sister
gender feminism.
At t he 1992 Nat i onal Women' s St udi es Conference in Aust i n, Texas,
that I descri bed in chapt er 1, t he moder at or ur ged us to "dwel l for a
moment on success. . . . Thi nk about t he fact t hat we have been so suc-
cessful in t ransformi ng t he cur r i cul um. " My sister Louise, who at t ended
t he conference wi t h me, has t wo sons in college and a daught er st art i ng
j uni or hi gh, and this r emar k al armed her. Havi ng spent several hour s
wi t h t he Aust i n conferees, she had doubt s about t hei r compet ence a nd
reasonabl eness. "What exactly di d she mean?" she asked me. She di d wel l
to ask; for she had st umbl ed on an area of feminist activism t hat has gone
virtually unnot i ced by t he publ i c. Wha t began as a reasonabl e at t empt to
redress t he neglect of wome n in t he cur r i cul um has qui et l y become a
pot ent force affecting t he Ameri can cl assroom at every level, from t he
pri mary grades to graduat e school .
A nat i onwi de feminist campai gn to change t he cur r i cul um of t he Amer -
ican academy is receiving s uppor t from t he hi ghest strata of educat i on
and government . The For d Foundat i on recent l y hel ped l aunch a Nat i onal
Cl eari nghouse for Cur r i cul um Transformat i on Resources at Towson State
University in Maryl and, to give t he growi ng numbe r of t ransformat i on
consul t ant s in our nat i on' s school s qui ck access to resources. The Tows on
center provi des consul t ant s and proj ect di rect ors wi t h readi ngs on femi-
nist pedagogy, sampl es of women- cent er ed syllabi, lists of womencen-
tered t ext books, and suggest i ons for women- cent er ed audi ovi sual
materials. It provi des aspi ri ng t ransformat i oni st s wi t h manual s on how to
start t hei r own proj ect s, as well as a list of resources to hel p t hem to
"count er r esi st ance. "
8
The t ransformat i on proj ect s receive gener ous fund-
ing from major foundat i ons and from federal agenci es such as t he Wo m-
en' s Educat i on Equi t y Act Program and t he Fund for t he I mpr ovement of
Post secondary Educat i on (FIPSE), as well as from t he state gover nment s
of New Jersey, Tennessee, Mont ana, Pennsyl vani a, Maryl and, and Califor-
nia.
In a recent book chroni cl i ng t he t r i umphs of "t he t ransformat i on move-
ment , " Caryn McTi ghe Musil report s on t he success of t he " hundr eds of
curri cul um t ransformat i on proj ect s ar ound t he count r y si nce 1980. "
9
In
fact, t he t ransformat i oni st s have been at it for l onger t han that, but t hey
54 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
are onl y now comi ng i nt o t hei r own. On April 16, 1993 , mor e t han eight
hundr e d t eachers, college professors, school admi ni st rat ors, and state
officials gat her ed at t he Hi l t on Hot el in Parsi ppany, New Jersey, for a
t hree-day "nat i onal " conference on cur r i cul um t ransformat i on. The offi-
cial pr ogr am gives t he overview: "A celebration of t went y years of curri c-
ul um t ransformat i on, t hi s conference will bri ng t oget her t eachers,
schol ars, activists, and cul t ural l eaders to share insights, knowl edge, and
strategies t o assess our accompl i shment s and to i magi ne t oget her a curri c-
ul um for t he 21st cent ur y. "
The conference was sponsor ed by a variety of state and federal agencies
such as t he Nat i onal Endowment for t he Humani t i es, t he Pennsylvania
Humani t i es Counci l , and t he New Jersey Commi t t ee for t he Humani t i es.
The keynot er, New Jersey chancel l or of educat i on Edwar d Gol dberg,
poi nt ed out wi t h great pr i de t hat New Jersey had invested "mi l l i ons" in
t he cur r i cul um t ransformat i on proj ect . "The rest of America cannot be far
behi nd. "
Most of t he ei ght hundr e d t ransformat i oni st s at t he Parsi ppany Hi l t on
had t hei r expenses pai d by t hei r empl oyer smai nl y state gover nment s,
publ i c school s, and publ i c colleges and universities. Yet very few peopl e
know what t ransformat i oni st s do, why t hey do it, or why it mi ght
mat t er.
Ms. magazi ne used to r un a feature called "The Click Experi ence, " in
whi ch a woma n woul d wri t e in to tell about t he moment when a light
went on in her head and she had her first bl azi ng realization of how
wome n had been cheat ed and silenced. The "click" is a quant um leap in
feminist awar enes s "t he s udden comi ng to critical consci ousness about
one' s oppr essi on. " Gender feminist academi cs have their own part i cul ar
versi on of t he click experi ence: it happens at t he moment one "sees" t hat
t he ent i re college cur r i cul um has, wi t h very few except i ons, been wr ought
and wr i t t en by men, about men, and for men. Hi st ory is "his story, " men
telling about men. Social science research, usual l y conduct ed by men and
about men, hol ds up me n as t he nor m; women are t he Ot her. The great
t hought s we st udy, t he great art we revere, t he literature we learn to love
are largely mal e achi evement s. Men wr ot e t he books, and they concoct ed
t he t heori es: knowl edge is a mal e creation. In a single "click," a woman
realizes t hat t he cul t ure and sci ence men have created are not onl y wr ong
but self-serving and danger ous for women. The experi ence often has a
depressi ng and al i enat i ng effect on a woman; t he cul t ure she had revered
is suddenl y not hers, and she may feel like a child of indifferent parent s
who di scovers at a late age t hat she has been adopt ed.
Sooner or later, most women, gender feminist or not , have somet hi ng
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 55
like a click experi ence. Men, except for t he mor e myopi c and hi debound
among t hem, have it t oo. Just about everyt hi ng bears t he i mpr ess of
pat ri archy: hi gh cul t ure is largely a mal e achi evement . As wome n have
at t ai ned pari t y in economi c st at us and access to hi gher l earni ng a nd
cul t ure, t he disparities, injustices, and excl usi ons of t he past have been
br ought home to t hem as never before.
The evi dence t hat wome n have been excl uded, and t hei r abilities as
t hi nkers and wri t ers demeaned, is everywhere. But once a woma n appr e-
ciates t he ext ent t o whi ch cul t ure and civilization have been mal e- domi -
nat ed, t wo roads lie before her. She can l earn what can be l earned about
women' s past achi evement s, and l earn as well t he reasons t hat t hei r con-
t ri but i ons to t he larger ent erpri se wer e not greater; and she can t hen avail
herself of t he freedom she now has t o accept t he chal l enge to j oi n wi t h
men on equal t erms in t he maki ng of a new and ri cher cul t ure. Or she
can react to t he cul t ural and scientific heri t age as "andr ocent r i c" and move
consciously to reconst ruct t he "knowl edge base. " It is at this j unct ur e t hat
equi t y and gender feminist academi cs begi n t o go t hei r separat e ways.
The former stay wi t hi n t he bounds of t radi t i onal schol arshi p and j oi n i n
its ent erpri se. The latter seek to t ransform schol arshi p to make it " women-
cent ered. "
Gral di ne Rut hchi l d, a professor of Engl i sh at Al bi on College, typifies
t he gender feminist react i on to t he keen awareness t hat so muc h of cul t ur e
has been made by men. Her click s ounded whe n she came across t hese
r emar ks by Louise Berni kow: "Whi ch wri t ers have survi ved t hei r t i me
and whi ch have not depends upon who not i ced t hem and chose t o r ecor d
t he not i ce. . . . Such power , in Engl and and Ameri ca, has always bel onged
to whi t e me n . "
1 0
Professor Rut hchi l d wri t es, "After r eadi ng Louise Berni-
kow . . . I was never again t he same per son, for her wor ds abr upt l y crys-
tallized r andom ideas I had had i nt o a gem of r evel at i on. "
1 1
The hi st ori an Gerda Lerner' s revelation i l l umi nat es what for her is an
ongoi ng atrocity. She asserts t hat men have been t eachi ng wome n t hat
sound t hi nki ng mus t excl ude feeling. "Thus t hey [ women] have l earned
to mi st rust t hei r own experi ence and deval ue it. Wha t wi s dom can t here
be in menses? Wha t sour ce of knowl edge in t he milk-filled br eas t ?"
1 2
The
cognitive abuse of wome n fills Lerner wi t h anger: "We have l ong known
t hat rape has been a way of t errori zi ng us and keepi ng us in subj ect i on.
Now we also know t hat we have part i ci pat ed, al t hough unwi t t i ngl y, in
t he rape of our mi nds . "
1 3
The gender feminist "re-vision" has been descri bed in mor e sober t er ms
in a br ochur e di st ri but ed by t he prest i gi ous Ameri can Association of
Colleges:
56 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
In t he last t wo decades, educat or s have begun t o recogni ze t hat t he
experi ences and perspect i ves of wome n are al most totally absent
from t he t radi t i onal cur r i cul um. Surveys in t he 1970s revealed, for
exampl e, t hat hi st ory t ext books devot ed less t han 1 per cent of t hei r
coverage to women; t hat t he mos t wi del y used t ext book in art hi s-
t ory di d not i ncl ude a single woma n artist; and t hat l i t erat ure
courses cont ai ned, on average, onl y 8 per cent women aut hor s. Such
discoveries have led many peopl e to quest i on t he validity of t he
versi on of h u ma n experi ence offered by t he liberal ar t s .
1 4
It is possi bl e t o come t o s uch an awareness wi t hout deci di ng t hat t he
rat i onal r esponse is to over haul t he ent i re canon of West er n experi ence.
Many schol ars have begun t o t ake pai ns to give women t he recogni t i on
t hat was often deni ed t hem in past account s. Wome n schol ars of ant hr o-
pol ogy, psychol ogy, and sociology have di scovered t hat muc h previ ous
research, whi ch t ended t o concent r at e on men, generalized t o concl usi ons
t hat di d not necessarily appl y t o women. For t he past t en or fifteen years
social scientists have been wor ki ng t o correct this neglect. Femi ni st liter-
ary schol ars have di scovered and rescued many gifted women wri t ers
from undeser ved obl i vi on. Text book publ i sher s now take pai ns to see
t hat wome n are dul y r epr esent ed and t hat t hey are not demeani ngl y
st ereot yped. Such achi evement s stay well wi t hi n t he bounds of t he ki nd
of equi t abl e adj ust ment t hat a mai nst r eam feminism has rightly de-
manded. But t he gender feminists are not cont ent wi t h t hem. They want
t ransformat i on; a mer e correct i on of t he record won' t do.
Ther e are, mos t peopl e are aware, t wo meani ngs t o t he wor d history.
On t he one hand, hi st ory refers to a series of event s t hat actually hap-
pened. On t he ot her hand, t here is History, an account of what happened.
The gender feminists claim t hat Hi st ory (wri t t en by men and focusing
al most exclusively on men) has systematically di st ort ed history.
It is undeni abl e t hat schol ars often failed t o recogni ze t he role and
i mpor t ance of many gifted and historically i mpor t ant women. These ne-
glected wome n deserve t hei r pl ace in History, and hi st ori ans have a
professi onal obl i gat i on to give it to t hem. Nevert hel ess, t he pauci t y of
wome n in Hi st ory is, in t he mai n, due not to t he bias of mal e hi st ori ans
but r at her t o t hei r concent r at i on on politics, war, and concept ual change.
Such Hi st ory inevitably reflects t he fact t hat wome n have not been al-
l owed to make hi st ory in t he way t hat me n a n d relatively few men at
t hat have been al l owed to make it. It is a pervasive fact of hi st ory t hat
men have rarely per mi t t ed wome n t o part i ci pat e in mi l i t ary and political
affairs and t hat t hey have kept t hem away from l earni ng and t he hi gh
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 57
arts. Any Hi st ory t hat is faithful to t he facts mus t acknowl edge t hat i n t he
past women were si mpl y not per mi t t ed t he degree of freedom commen-
surat e wi t h t hei r talents. As Virginia Wool f poi nt ed out , even t he mos t
gifted sister of Shakespeare woul d, tragically, never have been given t he
opport uni t i es to make use of her geni us. Lament abl e as this may be, t here
is si mpl y no honest way of wri t i ng wome n back i nt o t he hi st ori cal narra-
tive in a way t hat depi ct s t hem as mover s and shaker s of equal i mpor t ance
to men.
To be sure, giving wome n onl y 1 per cent of t he narrat i ve is t oo little,
but 3 0 per cent woul d be t oo much, and giving wome n half t he space in
a convent i onal Hi st ory woul d bl at ant l y falsify t he narrat i ve. Nor can hi s-
torians do muc h about t he " common peopl e" wh o m God made so nu-
mer ous. The vast majority of peopl e, i ncl udi ng most me n and al most all
women, have had a di sproport i onat el y smal l share i n t he hi st or y- maki ng
decisions about war, politics, and cul t ure t hat hi st ori ans count as mome n-
t ous. But what is any hi st ori an of integrity s uppos ed t o do about that?
It is a st andar d feminist objection to t radi t i onal Hi st ory t hat it focuses
t oo muc h on mal e- domi nat ed activities such as politics, war, and, mor e
recently, science. A mor e bal anced Hi st ory woul d focus on areas of life
t hat woul d give wome n greater visibility and i mpor t ance. In effect, t he
compl ai nt is t hat wome n figure i mpor t ant l y in social hi st ory but t hat
political hi st ory has been given pr i de of pl ace. Thi s was a reasonabl e
grievance t went y years ago, and t he t r end in hi gh school and college
history books since t hen has been t owar d social hi st ory. Even a st rongl y
feminist r epor t on t he cur r i cul um by t he Wel l esl ey College Cent er for
Research on Wo me n poi nt s this out : "An informal survey of t went y U. S.
history t ext books compi l ed each year from 1984 t o 1989 found a gr adual
but st eady shift away from an over whel mi ng emphasi s on law, war s, and
cont rol over territory and publ i c policy, t owar d an emphasi s on peopl e' s
daily lives in many ki nds of ci r cums t ances . "
1 5
In fact, bot h political and social hi st ory are i mpor t ant . By itself, social
history, t oo, is insufficient. Even an exhaust i ve survey of daily life cannot
subst i t ut e for t he t radi t i onal ki nd of political hi st ory. St udent s need a
reliable account of t he event s, phi l osophi es, and cul t ural devel opment s
t hat have made a difference i n t he fates of nat i ons and peopl es, r ender i ng
some mor e successful and pr osper ous t han ot hers. Sooner or later t he
responsi bl e t eacher of hi st ory mus t get down to t he hi st ory of pol i t i cs,
war, and social change.
But t he gender feminists have far mor e ambi t i ous goals t han t he re-
dressing of historical neglect and bias. If hi st ory cannot be changed,
History can be. Better yet, why not insist t hat all we ever have of hi st ory
58 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
is t he Hi st ory we wri t e, and that depends on who wri t es it? Heretofore,
men have wr i t t en Hi st ory, giving us a mascul i ni st account of t he past;
now wome n are free to change t hat versi on of History to make it mor e
women- cent er ed.
It is now c ommon pract i ce in hi gh school t ext books to revise Hi st ory
in ways t hat at t ri but e to wome n a political and cul t ural i mpor t ance t hey
si mpl y di d not have. Overt revi si oni sm is rare. More often, hi st ory is
di st ort ed and t he i mpor t ance of wome n is falsely inflated wi t hout directly
t amper i ng wi t h t he facts. Hi gh school hi st ory texts now lavish at t ent i on
on mi nor female figures. Si xt een-year-ol d Sybil Ludi ngt on, who alerted
colonial sol di ers in a failed at t empt to cut off t he escape of a British
rai di ng part y, gets mor e space in America: Its People and Its Values t han
Paul Revere. In t he same t ext book, Maria Mitchell, a ni net eent h- cent ur y
ast r onomer who di scovered a comet , gets far mor e at t ent i on t han Albert
Ei nst ei n. In anot her popul ar hi gh school text, t here are t hree pi ct ures of
Civil Wa r nur ses but none of General Sher man or General Gr ant .
1 6
One of t he ways huma n agent s t ransform t he course of hi st ory is by
maki ng war. The pr eemi nence of me n in war seems i nescapabl e. But t he
feminist phi l osopher and t ransformat i oni st Elizabeth Mi nni ch mai nt ai ns
t hat wome n have pl ayed i mpor t ant roles in deci si ons about war and in
war itself.
Wo me n have been par t of and actively opposed to war t hr oughout
t he ages and across cul t ures. Wo me n have fought; women have tried
to st op t he fighting; wome n have been on t he front lines as sup-
pl i ers, as nur ses, as spi es; and have wor ked behi nd t he lines as
cooks, secretaries, seamst resses, dri vers, expert s in l anguage; to keep
t he count r y goi ng. . . . Wi t hout women . . . no war coul d ever have
been f ought .
1 7
Mi nni ch does not give exampl es, but wher e hi st ori ans have overl ooked
or ai r br ushed wome n out of significant roles t hey pl ayed in war, she is
right to de ma nd a t r uer and mor e compl et e pi ct ure. However, she also
i mpl i es t hat a fuller pi ct ur e woul d reveal t hat women' s role in warfare has
been pi vot al . In fact it woul d not ; no amount of suppl ement at i on can
change t he fact t hat women' s roles in war have been relatively mi nor and
t hei r occasi onal prot est s agai nst war have generally been unavailing. Nor
woul d it be ri ght to deprecat e t he i mpor t ance of war as a factor in histor-
ical change; it r emai ns t rue t hat war conduct ed al most exclusively by
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 59
me nha s been t he agent of cataclysmic historical upheaval s, and any
adequat e Hi st ory mus t reflect t hat fact, even if it means "leaving wome n
out . "
The idea t hat men have awar ded t hemsel ves a domi nance i n hi st ory
t hat t hey di d not actually possess is becomi ng i ncreasi ngl y popul ar . I
recently gave a publ i c l ect ure on femi ni sm and educat i on before an au-
di ence t hat i ncl uded several t ransformat i oni st s. In t he l ect ure I defended
traditional ideals of striving for objectivity and historical veracity. An
annoyed man in t he audi ence asked, "But how do we know t hat Mrs.
Washi ngt on di d not give her hus band all his ideas?" I repl i ed t hat we had
no evi dence for that. "Yes," said my i nt erl ocut or, now very excited, "t hat
is j ust t he poi nt . There is no evidence! Ther e cannot be evi dence. Because
t hose wri t i ng hi st ory woul d have suppr essed it: t he fact t hat t here is no
history proves not hi ng. It's lost to us forever."
I answered t hat we have got to rely on t he evi dence we have unt i l we
have good reason to change our mi nds. I poi nt ed out t hat it is mos t
i mpl ausi bl e t hat Mart ha Washi ngt on knew muc h about mi l i t ary cam-
pai gns or statecraft. It's also possi bl e (and j us t as unl i kel y) t hat one of
Washi ngt on' s great -aunt s was t he brai ns behi nd hi s military pr owess. We
j ust can' t do hi st ory t hat way.
I coul d see t hat some member s of t he audi ence wer e al t oget her uni m-
pressed wi t h my rej oi nder and my "obt use" i nsi st ence on a convent i onal
historical reasonabl eness, and I knew why: t ransformat i oni st s want "Her-
story. " They are i mpat i ent wi t h an appr oach to Hi st ory t hat i mpedes t he
ki nd of revisionism so many gender feminists are demandi ng as par t of a
"t ransformed knowl edge base. "
The gender feminist "reconcept ual i zat i on" of Hi st ory is movi ng ri ght
along at t he uni versi t y level. But t he curri cul ar changes are even mor e
dramat i c in t he secondary and el ement ary school s. Because local and st at e
gover nment s are closely i nvol ved in publ i c school curri cul a, and because
t hey are very sensitive and responsi ve to gender feminist pr essur es, t hese
changes are bei ng i mposed by fiat on t housands of publ i c school s.
Wri t ers of cont empor ar y hi st ory and social sci ence texts, especially for
t he pr i mar y and secondary grades, make special efforts to pr ovi de "role
model s" for girls. Precollege texts usual l y have an abundance of pi ct ur es;
these now typically s how wome n wor ki ng in factories or l ooki ng t hr ough
mi croscopes. A "stereotypical" pi ct ur e of a woma n wi t h a baby is a
frowned-upon rarity. Inst ead, a ki nd of reverse st ereot ypi ng has become
an informal requisite. Once Charl es Li ndbergh was a great role model for
Ameri can boys; t oday, a t ext book will make a poi nt of i nformi ng st udent s
about Lindberg' s Wor l d War II isolationism. In t he same text, Anne
60 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Mor r ow Li ndbergh' s very consi derabl e achi evement s will be prai sed, but
t here will be no ment i on of her dal l i ance wi t h fasci sm.
1 8
The mi spl aced efforts to avoi d slighting women lead qui ckl y to exten-
sive "re-vi si oni ngs" of hi st ory, art, and t he sciences. The Cent er for t he
St udy of Social and Political Change at Smi t h College di d a critical st udy
of t hree of t he mos t wi del y used new hi gh school Ameri can hi st ory
t ext books. Because of st at e mandat es for gender equality, t he aut hor s of
t he new t ext books had t o go out of t hei r way to give wome n pr omi nence.
The Smi t h researchers wer e not happy wi t h t he results:
Ther e is one maj or pr obl em . . . in wri t i ng nonsexi st hi st ory text-
books. Most of Ameri ca' s hi st ory is mal e- domi nat ed, in par t because
in mos t states wome n wer e not al l owed to vot e in federal elections
or hol d office unt i l t he t went i et h cent ury. Thi s may be regrettable,
but it is still a fact. What , t hen, is a nonsexi st wri t er of t he Ameri can
hi st ory t ext book to do? The answer is filler f emi ni sm.
1 9
Filler femi ni sm pads hi st ory wi t h its own "facts" desi gned to drive
home t he l essons feminists wi sh to i mpart . The following passage from
one of t he mos t wi del y used hi gh school Ameri can hi st ory texts, American
Voices, is a good exampl e of t he sort of "feel good" feminist spi n t hat has
become t he nor m in our nat i on' s t ext books.
A typical [Indi an! family t hus consi st ed of an ol d woman, her
daught er s wi t h t hei r hus bands and chi l dren, and her unmar r i ed
gr anddaught er s and gr andsons. . . . Politically, women' s roles and
st at us vari ed from cul t ure t o cul t ure. Wo me n wer e mor e likely t o
assume l eadershi p rol es among t he agri cul t ural peopl es t han among
nomadi c hunt er s. In addi t i on, in many cases in whi ch women di d
not become village chiefs, t hey still exercised subst ant i al political
power . For exampl e, in Iroquoi s villages, when selected men sat in
a circle t o di scuss and make deci si ons, t he seni or women of t he
village st ood behi nd t hem, l obbyi ng and i nst ruct i ng t he men. In
addi t i on, t he el der wome n named t he mal e village chiefs to t hei r
pos i t i ons .
2 0
Though s ome of t he i nformat i on about t he Iroquoi s is vaguely correct,
t he par agr aph is bl at ant l y desi gned to give hi gh school st udent s t he
i mpr essi on t hat mos t Native Ameri can societies t ended to be politically
mat ri archal . Since t hat is not t rue, t he t ext book "covers" itself by t he
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 61
formal disclaimer t hat "in many cases . . . t he wome n di d not become
village chiefs." (In how many cases? A smal l mi nori t y? A large majority?)
This is pat roni zi ng to bot h Indi ans and women, and t here is no basis for
it. There are mor e t han 3 50 recogni zed I ndi an t r i bes one can no mor e
generalize about t hem t han one can about "humani t y. " Her e is what
Gilbert Sewall of t he Ameri can Text book Counci l says about this passage:
"Femal e-headed househol ds? Bad old hi st ory may cede to bad ne w hi s-
tory. The present i st spi n on I ndi an society found in t he American Voices
passage is less versed in evi dence t han al i gned to cont empor ar y feminist
politics and per spect i ves. "
2 1
Social st udi es texts are full of such "filler feminism"; i ndeed, in s ome
cases, feminist pressures det er mi ne what is excl uded even mor e t han t hey
det er mi ne what is to be i ncl uded. In an extensive survey of t he ne w
t ext books wri t t en under feminist gui del i nes, New York Uni versi t y psy-
chologist Paul Vitz coul d find no posi t i ve port rayal of r omance, marri age,
or mot her hood.
2 2
By far t he most not i ceabl e ideological posi t i on in t he readers is a
feminist one. . . . To begi n wi t h, certain t hemes j ust do not occur i n
these stories and articles. Hardl y a st ory celebrates mot her hood or
marri age as a positive goal or as a rich and meani ngful way of living.
. . . Though great l i t erat ure, from Tristan and Isolde t o Shakespeare
t o Jane Aust en to Louisa May Alcott, is filled wi t h r omance and t he
desire to marry, one finds very little of t hat in t hese t ext s .
2 3
That Ameri can st udent s are shor t on cul t ural literacy is wel l known.
What is not known is t hat t he t ransformat i oni st s are exacerbat i ng t he
situation. A 1989 st udy ent i t l ed "What Do Our 17 Year Ol ds Know?" by
Di ane Ravitch and Chest er Fi nn det er mi ned t hat mor e hi gh school st u-
dent s recogni zed t he name of Harri et Tubma n ( 83 per cent ) t han Wi ns t on
Churchi l l ( 78 per cent ) or Joseph Stalin ( 53 per cent ) ; i n fact, mor e kne w
about Ms. Tubman t han knew t hat Abr aham Lincoln i ssued t he Emanci -
pat i on Procl amat i on ( 68 per cent ) or t hat t he Const i t ut i on di vi des power s
bet ween t he states and t he federal gover nment ( 43 per cent ) . Seventy-
seven per cent recogni zed t hat wome n wor ked in factories dur i ng Wor l d
War II, but fewer coul d identify t he Great Depressi on ( 75 per cent ) or find
France on a ma p (65 per cent ) or knew t hat t he Renai ssance was charac-
terized by cul t ural and t echnol ogi cal advances ( 3 9 per cent ) .
2 4
In t he fall
of 1992, Dr. Fr ank Lutz, a fellow at t he Har var d Uni versi t y Inst i t ut e of
Politics, surveyed Ivy League st udent s to find out how mu c h hi st ory and
civics t hey kne w.
2 5
Hi s survey of 3 , 119 of our nat i on' s bri ght est and best -
62 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
educat ed st udent s reveal ed t hat t hree out of four di d not know that
Thomas Jefferson had aut hor ed t he openi ng wor ds of t he Declaration of
I ndependence. Most (t hree out of four) were unabl e to name four Su-
pr eme Cour t j ust i ces, nor coul d t hey name t he U.S. senat ors from their
home states. Mor e t han a t hi rd coul d not name t he pr i me mi ni st er of
Great Britain. Such consequences are typical and predi ct abl e when t each-
ers are di st ract ed from t he mat eri al t hey shoul d be t eachi ng by t he effort
t o be ideologically correct.
The pr obl em of "filler femi ni sm" will get worse. Transformat i oni st s are
well organi zed, and t hei r influence is growi ng apace. Because of transfor-
mat i oni st pr essur es, t he l aw in some states now actually mandat es "gen-
der-fair" hi st ory. The California State Depar t ment of Educat i on has issued
gui del i nes called "St andar ds for Eval uat i on of Inst ruct i onal Materials wi t h
Respect to Social Cont ent . " Accordi ng to Educat i on Code section
60040( a) and 60044( a) , "Whenever an i nst ruct i onal material present s
devel opment s i n hi st ory or cur r ent event s, or achi evement s in art, science,
or any ot her field, t he cont r i but i ons of women and men shoul d be r ep-
resent ed i n appr oxi mat el y equal numbe r . "
2 6
In effect, this law demands
t hat t he hi st ori an be mor e at t ent i ve to t he demands of "equal represent a-
t i on" t han to t he historical facts. Needl ess to say, histories and social
st udi es pr esent ed i n this "fair" but factually skewed manner const i t ut e an
unwor t hy and di shonest appr oach to l earni ng.
In t he hi st ory of t he hi gh art s t he absence of women is depl orabl e but
largely i rreparabl e. Few wome n i n t he past wer e al l owed to train and
wor k in t he maj or art s. Because of this, men have wr ought most of t he
wor ks t hat are commonl y recogni zed as mast erpi eces. But here, espe-
cially, t he t empt at i on t o redress past wr ongs t hr ough "reconcept ual i za-
t i on" has pr oved irresistible.
The t ransformat i oni st s claim t hat wor ks of art made by women have
been passed over because t he st andar ds have always been tilted to favor
men. Peggy Mci nt osh, a di rect or at t he Wellesley College Cent er for
Research on Wo me n and a l eader in t he movement to t ransform t he
cur r i cul um, calls for measur es to redress t he historical wr ong t hat wom-
en' s art has suffered at t he hands of mal e critics:
The st udy of musi c, art and archi t ect ure is t ransformed if one goes
beyond t hose wor ks t hat wer e made for publ i c use, display, or
per f or mance and wer e s uppor t ed by t he aristocratic or i nst i t ut i onal
pat r ons. One begi ns t o st udy qui l t s, breadloaf shapes, cl ot hi ng, pot s,
or songs and dances t hat peopl e who had no musi cal literacy or
t rai ni ng t ook for gr ant ed.
2 7
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 63
Jani s Bell, an art hi st ori an at Kenyon College, asks t he quest i on r epeat ed
in t housands of women' s st udi es courses: "But is t he t radi t i onal rect angl e
of a canvas any less limiting to t he desi gn t han t he rect angl e of t he
qui l t ?"
2 8
Professor Bell calls for reconcept ual i zi ng "our courses to create a
place for women t hat is no l onger per i pher al but r at her t he cent er of
our i nqui ry i nt o t he hi st ory of t he visual a r t s . "
2 9
Professor Bell and Dr. Mci nt osh ask us to "go beyond" t he great publ i c
wor ks of art, such as cat hedral s, to l ook at what wome n have done. And
a quilt can have great aest het i c val ue. But t he loveliest qui l t is pl ai nl y
inferior to t he canvases of Titian and Rembr andt in subt l et y, compl exi t y,
and power , and we shoul d be able to acknowl edge t he negl ect of women' s
art wi t hout cl ai mi ng ot herwi se. It is in fact t rue t hat t he st udy of women' s
cont ri but i ons to art has been negl ect ed and t hat t hi s negl ect mus t b e
and is bei ngaddr essed and repai red. On t he ot her hand, revisionist
proposal s to rewrite t he historical record or to change t he st andar ds of
artistic excellence to put women' s art on a par wi t h t he hi ghest classic
achi evement s mus t be rejected as unwor t hy of a femi ni sm t hat reveres
great art and respect s t rut h.
Feminists who resent t he "mal e cul t ure" t end to l oad t hei r courses wi t h
remedi al materials emphasi zi ng women. Ther e is, to be sur e, muc h i nt er-
esting new schol arshi p on women, and it may be t empt i ng for feminists
to devot e a di spr opor t i onat e amount of class t i me to it. But t eachers have
an obligation to ensur e t hat t hei r st udent s acqui re some basic "cul t ural
literacy." Those who depl oy t he new schol arshi p in an at t empt t o make
up for t he shor t comi ngs of t he "mal e-cent ered cur r i cul um" al most inevi-
tably shor t change their st udent s.
In t he s ummer of 1992, I at t ended a wor ks hop given by El i zabet h
Mi nni ch when she and I were bot h speakers at t he annual meet i ngs of
t he Phi Kappa Phi Society in Charl ot t e, Nor t h Carolina. She out l i ned
most of t he ar gument s abovei ncl udi ng t he cri t i ques of t he not i on of
mast erpi ece in art and t he "hegemony" of Greco-Euro-Ameri can st an-
dards. Duri ng t he di scussi on I asked Dr. Mi nni ch if she really believed
there were quilts t hat rivaled or sur passed t he ceiling of t he Sistine
Chapel . She admi t t ed t hat such a j udgme nt di d i ndeed shock our sensi -
bilities but poi nt edl y asked me in t ur n, "Isn' t t hat what t he hi st ory of art
is all about s hocked sensibilities?" St andar ds and tastes are always in
flux, she said. Wha t one society or gr oup j udges to be great anot her finds
banal or offensive.
The audi ence appear ed startled by my open di sagreement wi t h Dr.
64 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Mi nni ch. Thei r react i on, I a m ashamed to say, made me restrain myself
from aski ng her t he quest i ons I badl y want ed to ask: Why shoul d we
wome n be pl ayi ng an undi gni fi ed game of one- upmans hi p t hat we are
bound to lose? Wha t mot i vat es t he revisionist efforts to rewrite History
or to revise t he st andar ds of "great ness" in a manner calculated to give to
wome n victories and t r i umphs t hey never had t he oppor t uni t i es to win?
We now have t hose oppor t uni t i es. Wh y can' t we move on to t he future
and st op wast i ng energy on resent i ng (and "rewriting") t he past?
Many of us who call oursel ves feminists are very muc h aware of t he
past i ndi gni t i es and depri vat i ons t hat have limited women in t he arts.
Al t hough we depl or e t he past , we appreci at e t hat t he si t uat i on has
changed: t oday, artistically gifted wome n do have their level playing field.
So we reject t he call t o change t he st andar ds of great ness, and we are
expl ori ng t he mor e const ruct i ve alternatives now open to us, wher e we
j udge our best pr ospect s to lie.
Unfort unat el y, no one is consul t i ng mai nst r eam feminists about t he
val ue or wi s dom of pr oposal s to change st andar ds in or der to "valorize"
wome n in t he Hi st ory of art or any ot her br anch of History. If t he t rans-
format i oni st s cont i nue to have t hei r unchecked way in t he academy, large
number s of Amer i can st udent s will l earn to view t he great mast erpi eces in
a doct ri nal l y correct wa yt o t hei r pr of ound loss. Moreover, t he women' s
movement loses by bei ng associated wi t h t he part i san and resentful ant i -
i nt el l ect ual i sm t hat is i nspi ri ng a gynocent ri c revi si oni sm in art criticism.
In l i t erat ure, as in t he art s, gender feminists have made a sweepi ng
at t ack on allegedly mal e concept i ons of excellence. As Elaine Marks of
t he University of Wi sconsi n Fr ench depar t ment put s it, "We are contest-
ing t he canon and t he very concept of canons and mast er pi eces. "
3 0
Pro-
fessor Mar ks r emi nds us once again t hat many gifted women in t he past
have not recei ved due recogni t i on. Good feminist schol arshi p addresses
t hi s pr obl em and in many cases resurrect s r eput at i ons t hat woul d ot her-
wi se r emai n overl ooked. But gender feminists are not cont ent to st op
t here. As t ransformat i oni st activist Charl ot t e Bunch declares, "You can' t
j us t add wome n and s t i r . "
3 1
Accordi ng to Bunch, we mus t at t ack t he
pr obl em at t he root s "by t ransformi ng a mal e cul t ure" and by "recon-
st ruct i ng t he wor l d from t he st andpoi nt of women. " We must , in ot her
wor ds, reject t he mascul i ni st standards t hat have pl aced Eur opean mal es
like Mi chel angel o and Shakespeare in t he hi ghest r anks and relegated
t hei r sisters t o oblivion.
The gender feminists chal l enge t he very idea of "great art, " "great
l i t erat ure, " and (as we shall present l y see) "great sci ence. " Talk of "great-
ness" and "mast erpi eces" i mpl i es a r anki ng of artists and wor ks, a "hier-
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 65
archial" appr oach consi dered to be unaccept abl e because it implicitly
denigrates t hose who are given lesser st at us. The very idea of "geni us" is
regarded wi t h suspi ci on as elitist and "mascul i ni st . " Peggy Mci nt osh is
among t he pr oponent s of t hi s belief: "The st udy of l i t erat ure usual l y
involves a very few geni uses. . . . To be or di nar y is a sin, in t he wor l d of
most literature teachers. . . . Onl y t hose wor ks whi ch di st ance t hemsel ves
from an audi ence, by set t i ng t hemsel ves u p in a genre separat e from t he
reader and requi ri ng no answer from t he reader, are consi der ed t o be
' literary.' "
3 2
Mci nt osh does not expl ai n why a wor k by a geni us like Leo
Tolstoy shoul d be mor e "di st anci ng" t han a wor k by a t went i et h- cent ur y
feminist novelist like Margaret At wood or Alice Wal ker .
The t ransformat i oni st proj ect has al ready st rongl y i nfl uenced Amer i can
universities, and t he scornful at t i t ude it fosters t owar d t radi t i onal literary
classics is becomi ng increasingly fashionable. The organi zers of a literary
conference on diversity and mul t i cul t ural i sm in Boston in J une 1991
asked t he t wo h u n d r e d - p l u s part i ci pat i ng professors t o list t he five Amer -
ican aut hor s t hey believed most necessary to a qual i t y educat i on. Mar k
Twai n got thirty-six votes; Toni Morri son, thirty-four; Maya Angel ou,
twenty-six; Alice Wal ker , t went y-four; J ohn St ei nbeck, t went y- one; Mal-
col m X, eighteen; Ri chard Wr i ght , t hi rt een; J ames Bal dwi n, t hi rt een;
Langston Hughes, t hi rt een; Wi l l i am Faul kner, eleven; Nat hani el Haw-
t horne, ten; Ernest Hemi ngway, ten; Henr y David Thor eau, ni ne; Wi l l a
Cather, eight; F. Scott Fitzgerald, seven; Dee Brown, seven; W. E. B. Du-
Bois, seven; Emily Di cki nson, six; Amy Tan, six; Har per Lee, five; and
Wal t Whi t man, five.
33
Thomas Palmer, t he Boston Globe r epor t er who
covered t he conference, st opped count i ng after Whi t man. In any case,
Her man Melville, wh o m most literary critics used to regard as t he great est
Ameri can wri t er, di d not make t he list. Nor di d Henr y James. The confer-
ees cheered t he results of t he poll. "This list makes me feel so muc h mor e
connect ed, " one part i ci pant told t he Globe. I, on t he ot her hand, was
depressed by t he results.
In their cri t i que of t he i mperi al mal e cul t ure, t he t ransformat i oni st
feminists do not confine t hemsel ves t o i mpugni ng t he hi st ory, art, a nd
literature of t he past. They also regard logic and rationality as "phal l ocen-
tric." Elizabeth Mi nni ch traces t he cul t ural t radi t i on t o a "few pri vi l eged
males . . . who are usual l y called ' The Greeks. ' "
3 4
In c ommon wi t h many
ot her transformationists, Mi nni ch believes t hat t he concept i ons of rat i o-
nality and intelligence are whi t e, mal e creat i ons: "At pr e s e nt . . . not onl y
are st udent s t aught ' phal l ocent ri c' and ' col oni al ' not i ons of r eason as the
forms of rational expressi on, but t he full possi bl e range of expressi on of
huma n intelligence also t ends t o be forced i nt o a severely s hr unken no-
66 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
tion of i nt el l i gence. "
3 5
Not e t he reference to a "colonial" rationality wi t h
its i mpl i cat i on of del i berat e subj ugat i on. It is now common practice to
use scare quot es to i ndi cat e t he feminist suspi ci on of a "reality" pecul i ar
to mal e ways of knowi ng. For exampl e, t he feminist phi l osopher Joyce
Trebi l cot speaks of "t he appar at uses of ' t rut h, ' ' knowl edge, ' ' science, ' "
t hat men use to "project t hei r personal i t i es as real i t y. "
3 6
The at t ack on t radi t i onal cul t ure has t hus escalated to an attack on t he
rat i onal st andar ds and met hods t hat have been t he hal l mark of scientific
progress. The New Jersey Project for reformi ng t he publ i c schools circu-
lates a document ent i t l ed "Femi ni st Schol arshi p Gui del i nes. " The first
gui del i ne is unexcept i onabl e: "Femi ni st schol ars seek to recover t he lost
wor k and t hought of wome n in all areas of huma n endeavor . "
3 7
But after
t hat , t he gui del i nes unravel : "Femi ni st schol arshi p begi ns wi t h an aware-
ness t hat muc h pr evi ous schol arshi p has offered a whi t e, mal e, Eurocen-
tric, het erosexi st , and elite vi ew of' real i t y. ' "
The gui del i nes el aborat e on t he at t i t ude t oward mascul i ni st schol arshi p
and met hods by quot i ng t he feminist t heori st Elizabeth Fee: "Knowl edge
was creat ed as an act of aggr essi ona passive nat ur e had to be i nt erro-
gat ed, uncl ot hed, penet r at ed, and compel l ed by man to reveal her se-
cret s. " Fee' s r esent ment and suspi ci on of mal e "ways of knowi ng" follows
a pat h well t r odden by such feminist t hi nkers as Mary El l man, Cat hari ne
MacKi nnon, and Sandra Har di ng, whose views of pat ri archal knowl edge
and science have qui ckl y become central gender feminist doct ri ne. Play-
ing on t he biblical doubl e meani ng of knowing to refer bot h to i nt ercourse
and to cogni t i on, El l man and MacKi nnon claim t hat men appr oach nat ure
as rapi st s appr oach a woman, t aki ng j oy in violating "her, " in "penet rat -
i ng" her secrets. Femi ni st s, says MacKi nnon, have finally realized t hat for
men, "to know has meant to f uck. "
3 8
In a similar mood, Sandra Har di ng
suggest s t hat Newt on' s Pri nci pl es of Mechani cs coul d j ust as aptly be
called "Newt on' s Rape Ma nua l . "
3 9
The New Jersey Project is i nspi red by such insights. As a teacher of
phi l osophy, I s uppos e I shoul d be happy to see pr of ound issues in met a-
physi cs and t he t heor y of knowl edge bei ng di scussed in gover nment
pamphl et s on educat i onal reform. But it is qui t e clear t hat this di scussi on
is mor e political t han phi l osophi cal . New Jersey gets its t heory of knowl -
edge from feminist activists like Paula Rot henberg and Cat hari ne St i mp-
son. That t he state shoul d under wr i t e a condemnat i on of "phal l ocent ri c"
concept i ons of reality and scientific knowl edge is far mor e a t ri but e to the
energy and political influence of t he feminist t ransformat i oni st s t han to
New Jersey' s pr of ound appreci at i on of cont empor ar y epistemology.
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 67
Male schol ars specializing in t hei r mascul i ni st academi c di sci pl i nes
(from chemi st ry to phi l osophy) are known to t ransformat i oni st s as "sep-
arate knower s. " The aut hor s of Women's Ways oj Knowing, a text muc h
cited by t ransformat i oni st s, define "separat e knowi ng" as "t he game of
i mpersonal reason, " a game t hat has "bel onged traditionally to boys . "
4 0
"Separate knower s are t ough- mi nded. They are like door men at exclusive
clubs. They do not want to let anyt hi ng in unl ess t hey are pr et t y sur e it is
good. . . . Present ed wi t h a pr oposi t i on, separat e knower s i mmedi at el y
l ook for somet hi ng wr onga l oophol e, a factual error, a logical cont ra-
diction, t he omi ssi on of cont rary evi dence. "
4 1
Separate knower s mai nl y me npl a y t he "doubt i ng game. " The au-
t hors of Women's Ways of Knowing cont rast separat e knowi ng wi t h a
hi gher state of "connect ed knowi ng" t hat t hey vi ew as t he mor e femi ni ne.
In place of t he "doubt i ng game, " connect ed knower s pl ay t he "believing
game. " This is mor e congeni al for wome n because "many wome n find it
easier to believe t han to doubt . "
4 2
Peggy Mci nt osh has devel oped her own special vari ant of t he
connect ed- knower / separ at e- knower di st i nct i on. Why, she asks, shoul d
schools focus so muc h on t he peopl e at t he t o p o n t he "mount ai n
st ronghol ds of whi t e me n " wh e n what we need to st udy are t he "valley
values" of women and mi nor i t i es ?
4 3
Mci nt osh shifts bet ween t he moun-
tain-valley met aphor and a di st i nct i on t hat s ounds mor e t echni cal
(t hough it is in fact equal l y met aphori cal ) bet ween t he t wo ways of know-
ing: a nar r ow, pat ri archal , mal e, "vertical" way and a ri cher, female,
"lateral" way.
The mal e domi nant el i t et he "vertical t hi nker s, " as Dr. Mci nt osh calls
t he ma i m at "exact t hi nki ng, or decisiveness or mast ery of somet hi ng,
or bei ng able to make an ar gument and t ake on all comer s, or t ur ni ng i n
t he perfect pa pe r . "
4 4
Vertical t hi nki ng is "triggered by wor ds like excel-
lence, accompl i shment , success, and achi evement . " Lateral t hi nki ng is
mor e spiritual, "relational, inclusive. " Wo me n and peopl e of col or t end
to be lateral t hi nkers. For "laterals," t he "ai m is not to wi n, but to be in a
decent rel at i onshi p wi t h t he invisible el ement s of t he uni verse. "
Mci nt osh elaborates t he vertical-lateral met aphor in pr oposi ng five
stages in t he devel opment of an accept abl e cur r i cul um. Her "phase t he-
ory" is one of several popul ar typologies i nfl uenci ng t he gender feminist
mission to t ransform Ameri can school s. Stage t heori es l end t hemsel ves
well to t he wor ks hop mode and pr ovi de admi ni st rat ors a useful means
68 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
for eval uat i ng faculty. Mci nt osh grades i nst ruct ors by t he level of t he
phases t hei r courses exemplify.
In phase one, t he i nst ruct or focuses on t he mount ai n peopl e, or "pi n-
nacl e peopl e. " A phase one hi st ory course "t ends to emphasi ze laws, wars
. . . and t o tell t he stories of wi nner s, at t he t ops of t he l adders of so-
called success, accompl i shment , achi evement , and excel l ence. "
4 5
Phase
one t hi nker s t ake for gr ant ed such dogmas as "t he quest for knowl edge is
a uni versal huma n under t aki ng. "
4 6
Dr. Mci nt osh speaks of t he "hi dden
et hos" hangi ng over t he "phase one" cur r i cul um, wi t h its logic of "either
or, right or wr ong. . . . You wi n lest you lose: kill or be killed. " At a 1990
wor ks hop for publ i c school t eachers and staff in Brookline, Massachu-
setts, she r emi nded t he audi ence of all t he "young whi t e mal es danger ous
to t hemsel ves and t he rest of us, especially in a nucl ear a ge . "
4 7
Thei r
ori ent at i on t owar d logic and achi evement is what makes t hem so threat-
eni ng.
By phase t wo, i nst ruct ors have not i ced t he absence of wome n and
mi nori t i es, so t hey find a few except i onal cases to i ncl ude. Mci nt osh calls
this t he "except i onal mi nor i t y" pha s e .
4 8
She consi ders this "worse" t han
phase one in t hat "it pr et ends to s how us ' women, ' but really shows us
onl y a famous f ew. "
4 9
In phase t hree, t he i nst ruct or begi ns to get i nt erest ed in t he valley
peopl e and why so few have ma de it up t he mount ai n. "Phase t hree
cur r i cul um wor k involves get t i ng angr y. "
5 0
The emphasi s now is on
wome n as a vi ct i mi zed gr oup. "Most t eachers in t he Uni t ed States . . .
wer e t aught t hat t he i ndi vi dual is t he mai n uni t of society and t hat t he
U.S. syst em is a mer i t ocr acy. "
5 1
But at phase t hree, these naive beliefs get
dr opped. Phase t hree i nst ruct ors become radical critics of t he Uni t ed
States: t hey begi n to see "how pat t er ns of colonialism, i mperi al i sm and
genoci de out si de t he U. S. mat ch pat t er ns of domi nat i on, mi l i t ari sm and
genoci de at h o me . "
5 2
Phase four t akes us beyond wi nni ng and losing. "It pr oduces courses
in whi ch we are all seen t o be in it t oget her, all havi ng et hni c and racial
i dent i t y, all havi ng cul t ure . . . all wi t h some power to say no, and yes,
and ' Thi s I cr eat e. ' . . . Phase four classes can be wondr ous in t hei r heal i ng
powe r . "
5 3
Mci nt osh' s descri pt i on of phase four is allusive and poet i c, but to
hi debound "vertical" t hi nker s not very i l l umi nat i ng. She says even less
about t he fifth and hi ghest phas e in her ideal of knowl edge. She admi t s
t hat it is "as yet unt hi nkabl e" and wri t es of it in sent ences wi t h an abun-
dance of capital letters t hat signify its apocal ypt i c character: "Phase five
will give us Reconst ruct ed Gl obal and Biological Hi st ory to Survive By. "
5 4
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 69
Discussing t he fifth phase r emi nds Mci nt osh of a r emar k made by t he
feminist hi st ori an Gerda Lerner: "Don' t w o r r y . . . we wer e 6000 years
carefully bui l di ng a pat ri archal st r uct ur e of knowl edge, and we' ve had
only 12 years to try to correct it, and 12 years is not hi ng. "
5 5
Marilyn R. Schust er and Susan R. Van Dyne of Smi t h College "consul t
nationally" on feminist cur r i cul um t ransformat i on. They have devel oped
a six-stage t heory of pedagogi cal levels t hat l ooks very muc h like Mc-
i nt osh' s five-phase t heory. Thei rs descri bes a feminist al t ernat i ve t o t he
mascul i ni st cur r i cul um t hat is to be pl ural i st i c i nst ead of hi erarchi cal ,
attentive to difference rat her t han elitist, concret e r at her t han abst ract .
But they, t oo, are not keen to tell us wher e t he t ransformat i ons will lead:
What woul d a cur r i cul um t hat offers an inclusive vision of h u ma n
experi ence and t hat at t ends as carefully to difference and genui ne
pl ural i sm as to sameness and general i zat i on actually l ook like? Al-
t hough we possess t he tools of analysis t hat al l ow us to concei ve of
such an educat i on, we can' t, as yet, poi nt t o any i nst i t ut i on t hat has
ent ered t he mi l l enni um and adopt ed such a cur r i cul um.
5 6
But t he pr obl em is not t hat t he "mi l l enni um" of a t ransformed academy
has not yet arrived. Schust er and Van Dyne do not realize t hat t hey have
no idea of t he cur r i cul um t hat is to repl ace t he "andr ocent r i c" one now
in place. Inst ead of submi t t i ng a compr ehensi ve feminist cur r i cul um for
serious consi derat i on and scrut i ny, we are given a l ot of l oose and met a-
phori cal talk about female epi st emol ogi es charact eri zi ng how wome n
view t he wor l d from a female perspect i ve.
Cat hari ne St i mpson, one of t he mat r on sai nt s of t ransformat i oni sm, is
a former pr esi dent of t he Moder n Language Association and, unt i l re-
cently, was dean of t he Gr aduat e School and vi ce-provost at Rut gers
University. We do get a fairly detailed descri pt i on from her of a late-stage
cur r i cul um t hat she out l i ned in Change magazi ne i n 1988.
5 7
St i mpson
begi ns in convent i onal t ransformat i oni st fashion by denounci ng t he tra-
ditional phase one cur r i cul um for t eachi ng st udent s t o recogni ze bi g
(male) names from "Abr aham and Isaac t o Zola" as little mor e t han a
game that, "at its most i nnocent , " appeal s onl y to cr osswor d puzzl e or
"Jeopardy" fans. Dean St i mpson has a mor e "coher ent cur r i cul um" in
mi nd, and because she has been unusual l y specific, I shall quot e her at
some l engt h:
What mi ght a coher ent cur r i cul um be like? Let me pass out s ome
whiffs of a syllabus, whi ch focuses on t he humani t i es. . . . "My syl-
70 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
l abus" desi res t o s how . . . cul t ure, not as a static and i mmobi l e
st r uct ur e, but as a ki net i c series of processes, in whi ch vari ous forces
often compet e and clash. However, a st udent mus t have a certain
securi t y in or der to appreci at e diversity. . . . To hel p create t hat
sense of stability and securi t y for U. S. st udent s . . . my . . . college
cur r i cul um st art s wi t h a linear narrat i ve about America' s own wei rd,
compl ex hi st ory. . . . For exampl e, when t he narrative shut t l es t o-
war ds t he sevent eent h cent ury, it coul d st op at four texts: Native
Ameri can myt hs, l egends and rituals; t he 1 6 3 7 - 3 8 trials of Anne
Hut chi nson; t he poe ms of Anne Br adst r eet . . . and finally, t he nar-
rative of Mary Rowl andson, i ssued in 1682, about her capt ure by
Nat i ve Amer i cans dur i ng t he l i berat i on struggle of 1676.
5 8
St i mpson gives us an idea of how one coul d correct t he st andar d
mascul i ni st narrat i ves wi t h t hei r endl ess di scussi on of "expl orers, "
"foundi ng fathers, " and t he Cons t i t ut i onnone of whi ch figure in Samp-
son' s versi on of Ameri can st udi es.
Among my novel s woul d be Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand.
. . . Like many cont empor ar y specul at i ve fictions, Stars in My Pocket
finds convent i onal het erosexual i t y absur d. The central figures are
t wo men, Rat Korga and Mar q Dyet h, who have a compl ex, but
ecstatic, affair. Mar q is also t he pr oud pr oduct of a rich "nur t ur e
st r eam. " Hi s ancest ry i ncl udes bot h humans and aliens. His genetic
heri t age bl ends differences. In a sweet scene, he sees t hree of his
mot her s.
St i mpson knows her cur r i cul um will be criticized. But she is light-
heart edl y defiant: "If my cur r i cul um seems to yowl like a beast of relativ-
ism, I find this cause for cheer. . . . My reconst ruct i ve proj ect affirms t hat
relativism is no beast but a goon t hat will nur t ur e a mor e democrat i c, a
mor e cul t ural l y literate, and yes, a brai ni er university. "
We can let St i mpson' s talk of a "coherent cur r i cul um" and "brainier
uni versi t y" fall of its own wei ght . Ot her t ransformat i oni st s have not been
so fort hcomi ng about wher e they are t aki ng t he academyand we can
see why. As it happens , I have met Ms. St i mpson at several recent confer-
ences and found her t o be mor e moder at e and sensible t han she appears
to have been in 1988. Nevert hel ess, her views of t he eighties cast light on
t he pr edi cament of universities in t he ni net i es. Many courses of t he ki nd
St i mpson dr eamed of are now in pl ace, and t he campai gn against "patriar-
chal " cul t ure and schol arshi p is unabat ed.
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 71
It is under st andabl e t hat t he t ransformat i oni st s are mor e lyrical t han
informative about what t he t ransformed academy will actually l ook like
and what its cur r i cul um will be. Ther e is no lack of pr ogr ammat i c di scus-
sion about "subjectivity," "lateral t hi nki ng, " "concret eness, " "i ncl usi ve-
ness, " "rel at edness, " and t he i mpor t ance of i nt erdi sci pl i nary st udi es as
features of a feminist reconcept ual i zat i on of hi gher l earni ng. Ther e is also
lots of met aphori cal talk about wi ndows and mi r r or s and voices. But t he
descri pt i on of t he new cur r i cul um is silent on crucial mat t ers. What , for
exampl e, is supposed to be t he fate of such suspect "first phase, vertical,
mal e" subjects as mat h, logic, or analytical phi l osophy?
Linda Gardi ner, edi t or of t he Women's Review of Books, whi ch is hous ed
in t he Wellesley College Cent er for Research on Wome n, wonder s
whet her West er n phi l osophy speaks for wome n at all. "We mi ght begi n
to quest i on t he i mpor t of Descart es' stress on logic and mat hemat i cs as
t he ideal types of rationality, in a society in whi ch onl y a tiny per cent age
of peopl e coul d realistically s pend t i me devel opi ng skills in t hose fields,"
she wr i t es.
5 9
Not i ng t hat t he phi l osophi cal elite is bi ased in favor of t he
abstract, met hodi cal , and uni versal , Gar di ner suggest s t hat a feminist
phi l osophy woul d be mor e concret e and mor e suspi ci ous of logic and
met hod. "What woul d a female logic be like?" she asks, and answer s t hat
this woul d be like aski ng what female ast r onomy or part i cl e physi cs
woul d be like. "We cannot i magi ne what it woul d mean to have a ' female
version' of t he m. "
6 0
For that, says Ms. Gardi ner, we s houl d first need to
devel op different epi st emol ogi es. Readi ng Gardi ner' s spi ri t ed ar gument s
for t he thesis t hat classical phi l osophy is essentially and inveterately mal e
biased, one cannot avoid t he i mpr essi on t hat t he feminist critic is mor e
i ngeni ous at finding mal e bias in a field t han in pr oposi ng an intelligible
alternative way to deal wi t h its subj ect mat t er.
The gender feminist "cri t i que" of t he physi cal sci ences, one of t he
busiest areas of feminist t ransformat i oni st t heory, is also rich in met aphor
and poor in literal cont ent . To be sure, sci ence does pr esent s ome genui ne
issues of concern to any feminist. Laboratories can be as unwel comi ng t o
women as mal e l ocker r ooms; a lot still needs to be done to make t he life
of science mor e hospi t abl e to women. But equi t y feminists par t company
wi t h t hose who hol d t hat science itselfits met hodol ogy, its rul es of
evidence, its concer n for empi ri cal gr oundi ng, its ideal of obj ect i vi t yi s
an expressi on of a "mascul i ni st " appr oach t o knowl edge. I ndeed, t he
gender feminist doct ri nes are a di st i nct embar r assment and a t hreat t o
any woman wi t h aspi rat i ons to do real science.
Inevitably, gender feminist phi l osopher s seek t o find t hei r i deas con-
firmed by emi nent wome n scientists. Evelyn Fox Keller argues t hat Nobel
72 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
l aureat e Barbara McCl i nt ock' s achi evement s in cell biology were made
possi bl e because of her out si der st at us, whi ch gave scope to her uni quel y
femi ni ne appr oach. As a woma n of integrity, says Fox Keller, McCl i nt ock
coul d not accept t he "i mage of t he scientist model ed on t he pat ri archal
hus ba nd. "
6 1
Thi s, accor di ng to Fox Keller, led McCl i nt ock to creative and
radical redefinitions: "Nat ur e mus t be r enamed as not female, or, at least,
as not an al i enat ed object. By t he same t oken, t he mi nd, if t he female
scientist is t o have one, mus t be r enamed as not necessarily mal e, and
accordi ngl y recast wi t h a mor e inclusive subj ect i vi t y. "
6 2
But Professor
McCl i nt ock herself does not accept Fox Keller' s i nt erpret at i on of her
wor k. As Fox Keller candi dl y acknowl edges, "She [McClintock] woul d
di scl ai m any analysis of her wor k as a woman' s wor k, as well as any
suggest i on t hat her views r epr esent a woman' s perspect i ve. To her, sci-
ence is not a mat t er of gender , ei t her mal e or female; it is, on t he cont rary,
a pl ace wher e (ideally at least) ' t he mat t er of gender dr ops away. ' "
6 3
Femi ni st critics have l ooked at t he met aphor s of "male sci ence" and
found t hem sexist. I recent l y hear d a feminist ast r onomer i nt ervi ewed on
CNN say in all seri ousness t hat sexist t ermi nol ogy like "t he Big Bang
Theor y" is "off-putting to young wome n" who mi ght ot herwi se be inter-
est ed in pur s ui ng careers in her field.
64
It is har d to believe t hat anyone
wi t h an intelligent i nt erest in ast r onomy woul d be put off by a graphi c
descri pt i on of a cosmi c event . Ot her critiques of science as mascul i ni st
are equal l y fat uous and scientifically fruitless. After asserting t hat "t he
warl i ke t er mi nol ogy of i mmunol ogy whi ch focuses on ' compet i t i on, ' ' in-
hi bi t i on, ' and ' i nvasi on' as maj or t heori es of how cells i nt eract reflects a
militaristic vi ew of t he wor l d, " Sue Rosser, who offers wor ks hops on how
t o t ransform t he bi ol ogy cur r i cul um, concedes t hat "a feminist critique
has not yet pr oduced t heoret i cal changes in t he area of cell bi ol ogy. "
6 5
She does not tell us how t he "feminist cri t i que" could lead to advances in
biology, but she consi ders it obvi ous t hat it must : "It becomes evi dent
t hat t he i ncl usi on of a feminist perspect i ve leads to changes in model s,
exper i ment al subj ect s, and i nt erpret at i ons of t he data. These changes
entail mor e inclusive, enr i ched t heori es compar ed to t he traditional, re-
strictive, uni causal t heor i es . "
6 6
To some, j us t t he pr omi se of a female perspect i ve in t he sciences seems
enough. To de ma nd mor e seems churl i sh to t hem. Sandra Har di ng has
made feminist phi l osophy of sci ence her specialty. Har di ng makes it
s ound as if merel y art i cul at i ng a feminist critique of mal e science is
equi val ent to havi ng br oken t hr ough to a feminist alternative: " When we
began t heori zi ng our experi ences . . . we knew our task woul d be a diffi-
cul t t hough exciting one. But I doubt t hat in our wi l dest dr eams we ever
T R A N S F O R M I N G T H E A C A D E M Y 73
i magi ned we woul d have to rei nvent bot h science and t heori zi ng itself in
order to make sense of women' s social exper i ence. "
6 7
Unfort unat el y, we
are not given even a vague idea of how her alleged br eakt hr ough mus t
now affect t he st udy of t he nat ur al sciences; in part i cul ar, we r emai n in
t he dar k on t he quest i on of what a feminist scientific cur r i cul um woul d
l ook like and how it woul d l ead to "rei nvent i ng sci ence. " As phi l osopher
of mat hemat i cs Margarita Levin dryl y r emar ks, "One still want s t o know
whet her feminists' ai rpl anes woul d stay ai rborne for feminist engi neer s . "
6 8
Chapter 4
New Epistemologies
S o me gender feminists claim t hat because women have been op-
pr essed t hey are bet t er "knower s. " Feeling mor e deeply, t hey see mor e
clearly and under s t and reality better. They have an "epi st emi c" advant age
over me n.
1
Does bei ng oppr essed really make one mor e knowl edgeabl e
or percept i ve? The i dea t hat adversi t y confers special insight is familiar
enough. Literary critics often ascribe creativity to suffering, i ncl udi ng
suffering of racial di scri mi nat i on or homophobi a. But feminist phi l oso-
pher s have carri ed t hi s idea muc h further. They claim t hat oppressed
gr oups enjoy pri vi l eged "epi st emol ogi es" or "different ways of knowi ng"
t hat bet t er enabl e t hem to under s t and t he worl d, not only socially but
scientifically.
Accor di ng t o "st andpoi nt t heory, " as t he t heory of epi st emi c advant age
is called, t he oppr essed may make bet t er biologists, physicists, and phi -
l osopher s t han t hei r oppr essor s. Thus we find t he feminist theorist Hilary
Rose sayi ng t hat mal e scientists have been handi capped by bei ng men. A
bet t er sci ence woul d be based on women' s domest i c experi ence and prac-
N E W E P I S T E M O L O G I E S 75
t i ce.
2
Professor Virginia Hel d offers hope t hat "a feminist st andpoi nt
woul d give us a qui t e different under st andi ng of even physi cal real i t y. "
3
Conversely, t hose who are most socially favored, t he proverbi al whi t e,
mi ddl e-cl ass mal es, are in t he wor st epi st emi c posi t i on.
Wha t do mai nst r eam phi l osopher s make of t he idea of "st andpoi nt
theories"? Professor Susan Haack of t he University of Mi ami is one of t he
most respect ed epi st emol ogi st s i n t he count ry. She is also an equi t y fem-
inist. In December 1992 she part i ci pat ed in a s ympos i um on feminist
phi l osophy at meet i ngs of t he Ameri can Phi l osophi cal Association. It was
a uni que event. For once, someone out si de t he i nsul ar little wor l d of
gender femi ni sm was asked to comment on gender feminist t heori es of
knowl edge. Wat chi ng Professor Haack cri t i que t he "st andpoi nt t heori st s"
was a little like wat chi ng a chess gr andmast er defeat all opponent s i n a
si mul t aneous exhi bi t i on, bl i ndfol ded.
Haack told t he audi ence t hat she finds t he idea of "female ways of
knowi ng" as puzzl i ng as t he idea of a Republ i can epi st emol ogy or a seni or
citizens' epi st emol ogy.
4
Some of her ar gument s are t oo t echni cal to revi ew
here. I cite onl y a few of her criticisms:
I am not convi nced t hat t here are any distinctively female "ways of
knowi ng. " All any huma n bei ng has to go on, in figuring out how
t hi ngs are, is hi s or her sensory and i nt rospect i ve experi ence, and
t he expl anat ory t heori zi ng he or she devises to accommodat e it; and
differences in cognitive style, like differences in handwr i t i ng, seem
mor e i ndi vi dual t han gender - det er mi ned.
5
She poi nt ed out t hat t heori es based on t he idea t hat oppr essi on or
depri vat i on results i n a privileged st andpoi nt are especially i mpl ausi bl e;
if t hey wer e right, t he most di sadvant aged gr oups woul d pr oduce t he best
scientists. In fact, t he oppr essed and socially margi nal i zed often have little
access to t he i nformat i on and educat i on needed to excel in science, whi ch
on t he whol e put s t hem at a seri ous "epi st emi c disadvantage. " Professor
Haack also observed t hat t he female t heori st s who argue t hat oppr essi on
confers an advant age are not t hemsel ves oppressed. She asks: if oppr es-
sion and povert y are i ndeed so advant ageous, why do so many hi ghl y
advant aged, mi ddl e-cl ass wome n consi der t hemsel ves so well si t uat ed
"epistemically"?
Ms. Haack identifies herself as an "Ol d Femi ni st " who opposes t he
at t empt "of t he New Femi ni st s to col oni ze phi l osophy. " Her reasons for
rejecting feminist epi st emol ogi es wer e cogent and, to most of t he profes-
76 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
si onal audi ence, clearly convi nci ng. Unfort unat el y, her cool, sensible ad-
moni t i ons are not likely to sl ow down t he campai gn to pr omot e "women' s
ways of knowi ng. "
The gender feminists' convi ct i on, mor e ideological t han scientific, t hat
t hey bel ong t o a radically insightful vanguar d t hat compar es favorably
wi t h t he Coper ni cuses and Dar wi ns of t he past ani mat es their revisionist
t heori es of i nt el l ect ual and artistic excellence and inspires their pr ogr am
t o t ransform t he knowl edge base. Thei r exul t at i on cont rast s wi t h t he deep
rel uct ance of mos t ot her academi cs to challenge t he basic assumpt i ons
under l yi ng feminist t heori es of knowl edge and educat i on. The confidence
of t he one and t he t r epi dat i on of t he ot her combi ne to make transforma-
t i oni sm a powerful l y effective movement t hat has so far pr oceeded un-
checked in t he academy.
Yol anda Moses is t he newl y appoi nt ed presi dent of City University of
New York. She was formerly t he chai r of women' s st udi es and provost at
California State Uni versi t y at Domi nguez Hills. Her anti-intellectual ideas
mi ght seem sur pr i si ng t o anyone unfamiliar wi t h t he fashionable doct ri ne
t hat extols t he ne w "ways of knowi ng" whi l e deval ui ng t he traditional
mal e Eur opean appr oach to "knowi ng": "Inst i t ut i ons of hi gher educat i on
in t he Uni t ed States are pr oduct s of West er n society in whi ch mascul i ne
val ues like an ori ent at i on t owar d achi evement and objectivity are val ued
over cooper at i on, connect edness, and subj ect i vi t y. "
6
In Presi dent Moses'
view, t he mascul i ne emphasi s on achi evement and objectivity is an obsta-
cle to progress! She also finds it depl orabl e t hat faculty member s ' research
has been val ued above t hei r communi t y service. "That will have to change
if cul t ural pl ur al i sm is to flourish."
7
Despi t e its i nfl uence, t he gender feminist proj ect of "t ransformi ng t he
knowl edge base" mus t in t he end pr ove to be a deep embar r assment to
t he feminist movement . As Susan Haack has poi nt ed out , t he belief in
female "ways of knowi ng" is remi ni scent of mal e chauvi ni st deni grat i ons
of women. Those wh o pr omot e it and cheer it on find t hemsel ves cheeri ng
al ongsi de t hose wh o have al ways hel d t hat women t hi nk differently from
men.
The t ransformat i oni st s are out to reconst ruct our cul t ural and scientific
heri t age. Even if one believes t hat this badl y needs doi ng (and I, for one,
do not ) , t here is little r eason to be sangui ne t hat t he gender feminists are
intellectually equi pped t o do it. Thei r belief in t he superi ori t y of "women' s
ways of knowi ng" fosters a sense of solidarity and cul t ural communi t y
t hat seems to have al l owed t hem to overl ook t he fact t hat their doct ri ne
N E W E P I S T E M O L O G I E S 77
t ends to segregate wome n in a cul t ure of t hei r own, t hat it increases social
divisiveness al ong gender lines, and t hat it may seriously weaken t he
Ameri can academy. Nor does it wor r y t hese feminists t hat t hei r t eachi ng
allows i nsecure men once again to pat roni ze and deni grat e wome n as t he
naive sex t hat t hi nks wi t h its heart , not wi t h its head.
The early feminists of t he First Wave, fighting for equi t y and equal
oppor t uni t i es in politics and educat i on, rejected all t heori es of mal e su-
periority. However, t hey wer e not t empt ed to retaliate agai nst sexi sm by
maki ng unf ounded claims t hat wome n wer e super i or to men. They kne w
all t oo well t he danger s of pr omot i ng divisive dogmas about mal e and
female ways of knowi ng. They wer e especially leery of bei ng called mor e
intuitive, hence less analytical, less "rat i onal , " t han men.
An event in t he life of Elizabeth Cady St ant on, t he great foremot her of
Ameri can femi ni sm, illustrates t he at t i t ude t hat t he First Wave feminists
had t owar d t hose who believed t hat wome n negot i at ed t he wor l d less
wi t h skept i cal reason t han wi t h a t rust i ng i nt ui t i on. St ant on had di scov-
ered t hat her four-day-ol d baby had a bent col l arbone. The doct or pl aced
a bandage on t he shoul der and secured it by tying it to t he chi l d' s wrist.
Soon after he left, St ant on not i ced t he chi l d' s hand was bl ue. She r emoved
t he bandage and s ummone d a second doct or. He di d muc h t he same
thing. Again t he baby' s fingers t ur ned bl ue soon after t he doct or left. Over
t he prot est s of t he nur se, Ms. St ant on r emoved t he bandage a second
time. She told t he nur se, "What we want is a little pr essur e on t hat bone;
t hat is what bot h of t hose me n have ai med at. How can we get it wi t hout
involving t he ar m, is t he ques t i on. "
8
Ms. St ant on t hen soaked st ri ps of
l i nen in a sol ut i on of wat er and arnica and wr apped t hem ar ound t he
baby "like a pai r of suspender s over t he shoul der , crossi ng t hem bot h in
front and behi nd, pi nni ng t he ends to t he di aper. " Thi s pr ovi ded t he
necessary pr essur e wi t hout st oppi ng t he child' s circulation, and t he baby
soon recovered.
Whe n t he doct ors r et ur ned, Ms. St ant on told t hem how i nadequat e
their bandages had been and how she had solved t he pr obl em. They
smiled knowi ngl y at one anot her . "Wel l after all, a mot her ' s i nst i nct is
better t han a man' s reason, " one r emar ked. "Thank you, gent l emen, "
St ant on repl i ed, "t here was no i nst i nct about it. I di d some har d t hi nki ng
before I saw how I coul d get pr essur e on t he shoul der wi t hout i mpedi ng
t he circulation, as you di d. "
9
78 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Pr omot i ng a gynocent r i c cri t i que of knowl edge is unwor t hy of a dig-
nified femi ni sm. It is also educat i onal l y harmful. We hear a lot about how
poor l y our ent eri ng college st udent s compar e wi t h Ameri can st udent s of
past decades or wi t h t hei r cont empor ar i es in foreign count ri es. Whe n
respect for l earni ng a nd academi c achi evement is at such a l ow poi nt ,
why s houl d feminist academi cs be cont r i but i ng to it?
Creat i ng a cl i mat e of gender mi st r ust of received knowl edge only adds
t o t he r ampant ant i -i nt el l ect ual i sm of our t roubl ed cul t ure. There is a
mor e const ruct i ve way, and it is t he way of t he classical equity feminist
who asks for wome n "a fair field and no favors" in j oi ni ng men to create
t he cul t ur e of t he future. My own "equi t y feminist" creed is el oquent l y
art i cul at ed by Iris Mur doch. Mur doch still believes in a "cul t ure of hu-
mani t y, " a nd her war ni ngs about t he dangers of t he divisive, mean-
spi ri t ed al t ernat i ve are timely.
Men "creat ed cul t ur e" because t hey wer e free to do so, and women
wer e t reat ed as inferior and ma de to believe t hat t hey were. Now
free wome n mus t j oi n in t he huma n wor l d of wor k and creation on
an equal footing a nd be everywhere in art, science, busi ness, poli-
tics, etc. . . . However , t o lay claim, in this battle, to female ethics,
female criticism, female knowl edge . . . is to set up a new female
ghet t o. (Chauvi ni st mal es s houl d be del i ght ed by t he move . . .)
" Women' s St udi es" can mean t hat wome n are led to read medi ocre
or per i pher al books by wome n rat her t han t he great books of hu-
mani t y in general . . . . It is a dead end, in danger of si mpl y separat-
i ng wome n from t he mai nst r eam t hi nki ng of t he huma n race. Such
cul t s can also waste the time of young peopl e who may be readi ng
all t he latest books on femi ni sm i nst ead of st udyi ng t he difficult and
i mpor t ant t hi ngs t hat bel ong t o t he cul t ure of humani t y [her em-
pha s e s ] .
1 0
Tr ansf or mat i oni sm is galvanizing, and it has pr oved to be profitable.
No one is offering mone y for a wor ks hop t hat woul d teach its part i ci pant s
t hat me n a nd wome n are not all t hat different, t hat t he traditional st an-
dar ds are bet t er left unt r ansf or med by t he i deol ogues who believe in
"women- cent er edness, " or t hat st udent s are bet t er off l earni ng a universal
cur r i cul um t hat is not gender-di vi si ve. The t hought s of Susan Haack, Iris
Mur doch, and a handf ul of critics of t ransformat i oni sm do not l end t hem-
selves t o t he wor ks hop mode: t hey cannot be expressed as a "five-phase
t heory" t hat l ends itself so neat l y to wor ks hops and retreats. It is al most
i mpossi bl e to get fundi ng to i mpl ement ideas t hat favor moder at e reform
N E W E P I S T E M O L O G I E S 79
rat her t han exciting Coper ni can t ransformat i ons. By suppor t i ng and pr o-
mot i ng t ransformat i oni sm, not onl y do school admi ni st rat ors bui l d u p
their r sums, t hey get t o feel t hey are part i ci pat i ng in t he educat i onal
equi val ent of t he st or mi ng of t he Bastille. Equi t y feminists have not hi ng
that exciting to offer.
Transformat i oni st s do not invite criticism or intellectual scrut i ny of
their assumpt i ons, and it is not likely t hat t he t ransformat i on movement
will be checked by fair and open debat e. Women' s conferences t end to
be rallies of t he faithful. Critics who do vent ur e doubt s about t he val ue of
t he t ransformat i oni st movement are di smi ssed as "ri ght -wi ng ext remi st s, "
and t hei r ar gument s are i gnored. The usual syst em of checks and bal ances
by means of peer revi ew seems t o have fallen apart .
Yet al t hough t he t ransformat i oni st s have every reason to celebrate t hei r
many successes, t hey have recent l y experi enced a set back from an unex-
pect ed quart er. Wh e n Mci nt osh, Mi nni ch, and t hei r followers de ma nde d
t hat t he oppressi ve Eur opean, whi t e, mal e cul t ure bei ng t aught in t he
school s be radically t ransformed, t hey had not i magi ned t hat anyone
coul d l ook upon them as oppressors. The t ransformat i oni st l eaders are
not men, but t hey are whi t e, t hey are "Eur opean, " t hey are mi ddl e-cl ass.
Minority wome n have begun to deny t hat t he l eaders of t he women' s
movement have any ri ght to speak for t hem. Most member s of t he wome n
of color caucus boycot t ed t he 1992 Aust i n Nat i onal Women' s St udi es
Conference I at t ended for its failure to recogni ze and respect their political
identity. The sl i ght ed gr oup sent t he conferees an African-American wom-
en' s qui l t made from dashi ki fabrics, as bot h a r epr i mand and a "heal i ng
gest ure. " The assembl ed whi t e feminists sat before it in resentful but
guilty silence. In t he game of mor al one- upmans hi p t hat gender feminists
are so good at, t hey had been out qui l t ed, as it were, by a mor e margi nal -
ized const i t uency. Clearly any numbe r of mi nori t y gr oups can pl ay t he
victimology game, and al most all coul d pl ay it far mor e pl ausi bl y t han
t he socially wel l -posi t i oned Hei l bruns, Mcl nt oshes, and Mi nni ches.
An obvi ous recourse is t o deflect criticism by "confessing" at t he out set
one' s privileged st at us. Two feminist edi t ors of Feminism, a new women' s
st udi es t ext book, i nt r oduce t hemsel ves as follows:
"We" are Robyn and Di ane; we speak as whi t e mi ddl e-cl ass het er o-
sexual Ameri can feminist academi cs in our early t hi r t i est o cover
a number of t he categories feminist criticism has lately been empha-
sizing as significant to one' s readi ng and speaki ng posi t i on: race,
class, sexual ori ent at i on, nationality, political posi t i oni ng, educa-
tion level, and age. Colleagues at t he University of Ver mont si nce
80 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
1989, we t wo have found t hat we share passi onat e interests in
fiction, femi ni sm, and qui l t maki ng.
1 1
Mor e and mor e frequently, t he gender feminists who r un t he women' s
cent ers, t he wor ks hops , t he t ransformat i oni st projects, and t he vari ous
women' s conferences are finding t hemsel ves accused of bei ng elitist and
member s of oppr essor gr oups.
In t he spr i ng of 1993 , twenty-five hundr ed women gat hered in Al bu-
quer que, New Mexi co, for a spi ri t ual conference organi zed by t he Cat ho-
lic feminist " Wome n- Chur c h" movement . Femi ni st inclusiveness was t he
or der of t he day, a nd so all goddesses wer e honor ed equal l yfrom Hera,
Art emi s, and Isis t o Mary of t he Chri st i an t r adi t i on.
1 2
The part i ci pant s
had been t ol d to br i ng dr ums , and all event s were accompani ed by dr um
beat i ng. Thi s t hemat i c ri t ual was i nt ended as a way of honor i ng Native
Ameri cans. But it was not wel l received. Peter Steinfels of t he New York
Times was t here, a nd he r epor t ed t hat a "traditional Ameri can Indi an Pipe
Cer emony was nearl y dr owned out by t he dr ummi ng of goddess wor shi p-
ers wh o wer e ' raising power ' not far away in t he Al buquer que Convent i on
Cent er . "
1 3
Soon, wor d came t hat t he dr ummi ng of t he whi t e women had
offended t he Nat i ve Amer i can women.
That pract i ce [of dr um- beat i ng] was implicitly quest i oned when a
general sessi on on spi ri t ual i t y t ur ned i nt o a pr obi ng discussion of
how rel i gi ous voyagers from domi nant cul t ures enhance their spiri-
t ual exper i ence by expr opr i at i ng exotic practices from t he religions
of mi nori t i es, j us t as wel l -t o-do t ouri st s decorat e t hemsel ves and
t hei r houses wi t h t he crafts and art of i ndi genous peopl e. . . . Ami d
gr owi ng compl ai nt s from several gr oups about latent racism in t he
conf er encet he organi zers r equest ed that, out of sympat hy for
t hose wh o had been offended, t he dr ums not be pl ayed.
So t he whi t e wo me n goddess wor shi per s coul d not beat their dr ums ,
and even t hei r wel l - known predi l ect i on for peasant j ewel ry and et hni c
cl ot hi ng was put i n quest i on.
The l eaders a nd t heori st s of academi c feminism have pr udent l y sought
to war d off mi nor i t y censur e by pl aci ng women' s issues under t he br oad
and popul ar umbr el l a of mul t i cul t ural i sm. Presi dent Moses t ook t hat tack
whe n she castigated mal es who val ue objectivity and achi evement above
communi t y service, war ni ng her City University faculty t hat such values
wer e i nconsi st ent wi t h an emphasi s on "cul t ural pl ural i sm. " But "cultural
pl ur al i sm" has ma ny si des, each wi t h its own shar p edge. The well-
N E W E P I S T E M O L O G I E S 81
educat ed, whi t e, mi ddl e-cl ass wome n who have for t he past t wo decades
been denounci ng men for t reat i ng t hem as "t he Ot her " now find t hem-
selves denounced for havi ng margi nal i zed and silenced Native Ameri can
women, Hi spani c women, di sabl ed women, and ot her gr oups, all of
whom claim to be vi ct i ms in a compl ex ecology of domi nat i on and s ub-
j ugat i on.
Even t he bel oved "click experi ence" has become a symbol of whi t e,
mi ddl e-cl ass privilege. Two African-American feminists, Barbara Smi t h
and Beverly Smi t h, have wri t t en an article unmas ki ng t he elitism of
women who descri be t he "click" as "an experi ence t hat makes you realize
your oppr essi on as a wo ma n . "
1 4
They poi nt out t hat clicks are for t hose
who are relatively privileged. Minorities, whet her mal e or female, do not
experi ence t hem: "The day-t o-day i mmedi acy of vi ol ence and oppr essi on"
suffices well enough t o r emi nd t hem of t hei r condi t i on.
The feminist l eaders and t heori st s are somewhat discomfited by t hese
unexpect ed reproaches. But it woul d be a mi st ake t o under est i mat e t he
self-assurance and resolve of t he gender feminists. They are not about to
rel i nqui sh their domi nance, not even t o ot her wome n whose bona fides
as victims are great er t han t hei r own.
The typical gat heri ng of gender feminist academi cs illustrates t he un-
easy and somewhat unst abl e compr omi se t hat has been st ruck. The au-
di ence consists largely of t he whi t e, mi ddl e-cl ass wome n who are t he
mai nst ays of academi c feminism. On t he ot her hand, mi nor i t y wome n are
given st rong represent at i on in t he panel s and symposi a, and t he rhet ori c
of feminist t ransformat i on is given a mul t i cul t ural cast.
The April 1993 Parsi ppany, New Jersey, conference on t ransformi ng
t he cur r i cul um t hat I di scussed in chapt er 3 is a case in poi nt . All t he
l eadi ng gender feminist t ransformat i oni st s wer e t here: Cat hari ne St i mp-
son, Annet t e Kol odny, t he Schust er and Van Dyne t eam, Elizabeth Mi n-
ni ch, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Sandra Har di ng, and, of course, t he
ubi qui t ous Peggy Mci nt os h.
1 5
Professor Paula Rot henberg, t he conference moder at or and self-
descri bed "Marxist-feminist, " wel comed us and i nvi t ed us to j oi n her "t o
imagine t oget her a cur r i cul um for t he next cent ury. " The mood was
generally upbeat , but one pr esent er after anot her war ned of i mpendi ng
backl ash. Rot henber g caut i oned t he audi ence to be suspi ci ous of t he
Cl i nt on admi ni st rat i on' s announced commi t ment to diversity; she called
it an "et hni c foods and fiestas" versi on of inclusiveness.
Annet t e Kol odny expl ai ned how her posi t i on as dean of humani t i es at
t he University of Ari zona had given her t he means to pr omot e transfor-
mat i oni st changes t here. Kol odny had been i nst r ument al in i nt r oduci ng
82 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
"new pr omot i on and t enur e" pr oposal s t hat reward and prot ect transfor-
mat i oni st wor k at t he Uni versi t y of Arizona. Kol odny also report ed on
t he t ransformat i on ret reat s wher e "out si de facilitators" are br ought in to
hel p sel ect ed faculty and admi ni st rat ors "ret hi nk how t hey t each. " She
hai l ed t he New Jersey Project as t he i nspi rat i on for Arizona. "Thank you,
Paula!" she cried.
A di scor dant not e was i nt r oduced by Beverly Guy-Sheftall, director of
t he Wome n' s Research Cent er at Spel man College, who at t acked Kolod-
ny' s chart s. " What about t hose of us who are women and member s of a
mi nori t y? Whi c h char t i ncl udes us?" Ms. Guy-Sheftall conceded t hat
identifying a c ommon bl ack perspect i ve pr esent ed difficulties. Some Af-
rocent ri st s, for exampl e, hol d views t hat conflict wi t h t hose of t he black
l esbi an movement . Whos e poi nt of vi ew is to count as representative? Ms.
Guy-Sheftall s poke of t he issue of fragmented represent at i on as a "pr ob-
l emat i zed" area. Calling a subj ect "probl emat i zed" often serves to paper
over t he embar r assi ng and t ouchy quest i ons it raises; this is especially
t r ue of quest i ons about t he politics of gr oup identity.
Like several ot her speaker s who t ouched on t he future of curri cul ar
t ransformat i on, Guy-Sheftall confessed she is "still not sure we have a
clue about what t hi s really means as we appr oach t he twenty-first cen-
t ury. " But her doubt s di d not da mpe n her ent husi asm for t he transfor-
mat i on movement or her det er mi nat i on to hel p it get mor e funding.
I ndeed, Guy-Sheftall, a consul t ant to t he For d Foundat i on, has been
advi si ng t he f oundat i on t hat s uppor t for women' s st udi es and transfor-
mat i on wor k s houl d intensify dur i ng this paradoxi cal per i od.
1 6
Professor Rot henber g i nt r oduced t he New Jersey chancel l or of hi gher
educat i on, Edwar d Gol dberg, as "t he Fairy Godmot her of t he New Jersey
Project. " Mi ddl e-aged and bal di ng, sport i ng a suit and tie and a paunch,
Gol dber g l ooked as t hough he woul d be mor e at home at a conference of
Shri ners or Legi onnai res. He spoke pridefully of t he millions of dollars
t hat New Jersey had put i nt o t he Cur r i cul um Transformat i on Project and
expressed hope t hat ot her states woul d soon follow suit. For hi m, curric-
ul um t ransformat i on is a mat t er of basic decency. Cur r i cul um transfor-
mat i on, he announced, is "a vi ndi cat i on of t he si mpl e and honest concept
t hat schol ar shi p s houl d reflect cont r i but i ons of all." Whe n I heard Mr.
Gol dber g say t hi s, it confi rmed my belief t hat many wel l -meani ng govern-
ment officials do not under s t and t he i mpl i cat i ons of t he feminist demand
for a mor e woman- cent er ed cur r i cul um. Gol dberg is not a "gynocrat"; he
is pr obabl y an ol d-fashi oned equi t y feminist who want s a fair deal for
wome n i n educat i on. Appar ent l y he di d not see t hat beneat h t he charges
of sexi sm and gender unfai rness is an illiberal, irrational, and anti-intel-
N E W E P I S T E M O L O G I E S 83
lectual pr ogr am t hat is a t hreat to everyt hi ng he pr obabl y believes in:
Ameri can democracy, liberal educat i on, academi c freedom, and t he ki nd
of mai nst r eam femi ni sm t hat has gai ned wome n near-equal i t y in Ameri -
can society.
Did Gol dberg stay l ong enough to appreci at e what an unus ual gat her-
ing of academi cs this was? Was he surpri sed by an academi c audi ence in
whi ch t he at mospher e of mass agr eement and self-congratulation was
al most total? Di d he count t he numbe r of t i mes t he l eadi ng t ransforma-
tionists admi t t ed t hey had no idea what they were doing? Had he any idea
of t he numbe r of wor ks hops on t hor ny t opi cs like "Resistance in t he
Cl assroom" or "Ant i -Oppressi on Met hods of Teaching"? I wonder ed what
he woul d have made of t he packed aft ernoon session on t ransformi ng t he
science cur r i cul um in whi ch Sandra Har di ng di scussed how sci ence was
part of a di scredi t ed "bourgeoi s" Chri st i an legacy practically i ndi st i n-
gui shabl e from i mperi al i sm, its cognitive core "t ai nt ed by sexi sm and
racism. "
Richard Bernstein of t he New York Times at t ended t he Parsi ppany con-
ference. Wh e n I asked hi m what he t hought of Hardi ng' s pr esent at i on he
said t hat her thesis was absur d: if West er n science is repressive and elitist
and par t of a bourgeoi s Chri st i an legacy, why are t he Japanese and t he
Chi nese so good at it? Bernstein, who had spent several years in Chi na as
Time magazi ne' s bur eau chief, and who has wri t t en a wonderful book on
Chi na, told me t hat t hr oughout t he t went i et h cent ur y Chi nese reformers
have had great respect for West er n science as a progressi ve force. "Science
and Democr acy" was t he slogan of t he cel ebrat ed May 4t h Movement
bet ween 1915 and 1918. Chi nese reformers saw West er n science as a
powerful weapon against t he aut hori t ari ani sm and superst i t i on t hat wer e
the bul war k of t he i mperi al system. Nei t her Bernstein nor I vent ur ed a
criticism of Ms. Hardi ng' s views. We were bot h very muc h aware t hat it
woul d have been exceedi ngl y i ndecor ous for anyone to raise obj ect i ons.
This was a gat heri ng of "connect ed knowers": har d quest i ons from "sep-
arate knower s" wer e deci dedl y unwel come.
Ronal d Takaki , t he Berkeley expert on et hni c st udi es, was easily t he
most popul ar figure at t he Parsi ppany gat heri ng, and not least because
his presence conferred on t he feminist t ransformat i on proj ect s t he cachet
of a mul t i cul t ural movement . Gender feminists have found it is wise to
ally t hemsel ves wi t h men and wome n of non- Eur opean descent who are
critical of West er n cul t ure for its "Eurocent ri sm. " A mor e general offen-
sive on West er n "Eurocent ri c" cul t ure (created by and cont rol l ed by
84 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
"bourgeoi s whi t e mal es of Eur opean descent") is t hen pr osecut ed under
t he banner s of "cul t ural pl ural i sm, " "inclusiveness, " and "diversity." Fem-
inist l eaders have eagerly embr aced t hese causes part l y to deflect at t ent i on
from t he largely whi t e, mi ddl e-cl ass charact er of their own movement and
part l y t o camoufl age t he divisive mi sandr i sm t hat inspires t hem but is off-
put t i ng to ot her s. The pr opi t i at or y strategy of pl aci ng their radical fem-
i ni sm unde r t he banner of "i ncl usi veness" has also been successful in an
i nt ernal respect : it has gi ven many feminist activists t he feeling t hat t hey
are par t of a wi der st ruggl e for social j ust i ce. Finally, t he call for "inclu-
si veness" usefully di vert s at t ent i on from t he uncomfort abl e but undeni -
able fact t hat t he feminists are t he ones getting most of t he money, t he
professorshi ps, and t he wel l -pai d (but vaguely defined) j obs inside t he
bur geoni ng ne w vi ct i m/ bi as i ndust ry.
Takaki began by recogni zi ng t hat no one seemed to know exactly what
a t ransformed cur r i cul um woul d l ook like. And he asked, "How do we
do it?" " How do we concept ual i ze it?" He advised t he assembl ed gender
feminists t o listen carefully to hi s l ect ure because he was goi ng to show
t hem what a t ransformat i oni st l ect ure actually l ooks like. "I will do it! I
will pract i ce it," he said.
He t ol d us about t he mi sunder st ood and alienated Chi nese railroad
wor ker s in California, and about t he expl oi t ed and deni grat ed Irish fac-
t ory girls in Lowell, Massachuset t s, in t he ni net eent h cent ury, mi xi ng his
facts wi t h r emar ks about British col oni al i sm and t he Opi um War . He read
us s ome t el egrams sent by a young Chi nese railroad wor ker to some mal e
friends ur gi ng t hem to hel p hi m in his pl ans to mar r y a young Chi nese
woman. Takaki expl ai ned t hat he st udi ed telegrams because t he Chi nese
left few document s for st udy. The t el egr amswhi ch Takaki called "texts"
r eveal ed t he power l essness of t he prospect i ve Chi nese bri de. (It seemed
to me t hey reveal ed mu c h about Chi nese i mmi gr ant at t i t udes t oward
wome n t hat reflected on t he st at us of women in Chi na, a poi nt Takaki
negl ect ed t o make. ) Takaki ur ged t he audi ence to listen to t he silences.
The silence of t he Irish factory wor ker s, t he silence of t he Chi nese i mmi -
grant s. The silence of t he br i de. The silence of millions of aliens who are
a par t of Amer i can hi st ory yet rarely, if ever, figure in t he narrative.
"Blame t he hi st ori ans!" he cried. He singled out Oscar Handl i n and
Ar t hur Schlesinger, Jr. , bot h Pulitzer Prize hi st ori ans, for special censure.
Few in t he cr owd seemed to know muc h about Handl i n' s semi nal writ-
ings on Amer i can hi st ory. Mor e recogni zed Schlesinger, who is a liberal
Democr at but a critic of muc h of what passes under t he banner of mul t i -
cul t ural i sm, and t hey hi ssed and booed at t he ment i on of his name.
Takaki at t acked Handl i n' s The Uprooted and Schlesinger' s The Age of Jack-
N E W E P I S T E M O L O G I E S 85
son on t he gr ound t hat bot h "compl et el y i gnored" t he Chi nese, t he Cher-
okee Indi ans, and t he African-Americans. Takaki di d not tell t he audi ence
of nonhi st or i ans t hat t he books wer e wri t t en in 1941 and 1945, respec-
tively.
The Harvard hi st ori an St ephan Ther nst r om, edi t or of t he awar d- wi n-
ni ng Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups and t he aut hor of
numer ous books and articles on et hni c history, told me t hat at t he t i me
Handl i n and Schlesinger wr ot e t hei r books, few hi st ori ans addr essed race,
class, or gender issues. In recent decades, research on i mmi gr ant gr oups
Chi nes e, Jewi sh, and especially Irish factory wor ker s has been very
muc h in vogue. "Now we t hi nk of not hi ng else, " said Ther nst r om. Et hni c
st udi es are thriving. African-American hi st ory and Native Ameri can hi s-
tory are now respect ed and est abl i shed fields wi t h recogni zed expert s and
classics. Takaki was at t acki ng a st raw man.
As a poi nt of fact, Handl i n' s The Uprooted port rays t he archet ypal
pat t erns and confi gurat i ons of i mmi gr ant experi ence, and it is still a
classic. Handl i n is now in his late seventies, and many consi der hi m to
be among t he greatest Ameri can hi st ori ans of this cent ury. I called hi m to
get his react i on to Takaki ' s compl ai nt s.
"The whol e at t ack is silly," he said. "And t oo bad he di d not do hi s
homewor k. In 1954 I wr ot e a book, The American People, whi ch does give
an account of t he Asian i mmi gr ant experi ence . . . but what can you do?"
I had a l ook at The American People and found t hat Handl i n does
i ndeed give at t ent i on to t he Asian experi ence at t he t ur n of t he cent ury.
He descri bes not onl y t he l onel i ness of t he Chi nese but also t hei r re-
sourcefulness. He also consi dered t he effects of t he pauci t y of females on
t he i mmi gr ant s and of t he raci sm t hey were subject t o, t opi cs Takaki
di scussed as if for t he first t i me in history.
I recent l y appear ed wi t h Mr. Takaki on a local (Boston) PBS di scussi on
panel on mul t i cul t ur al i sm.
1 7
He was char mi ng and personabl e, and I
j oi ned t he Parsi ppany cr owd in liking hi m. Whi l e we wer e wai t i ng for
t he s how to begi n, I asked hi m why he had not given Mr. Handl i n credi t
for his t r eat ment of Asi an-Ameri cans in t he 1954 book. "What book is
that?" he asked.
Takaki' s New Jersey talk was billed as a t ransformat i oni st l ect ure t hat
was to s how how t he new inclusive l earni ng handl es t he sensitive t hemes
of t he di spossessed. The success of t he talk depended on t he audi ence
bei ng compl et el y unawar e not onl y of Handl i n' s wor k but of thirty years
of Ameri can social hi st ory. But success was assured. The conference had
not invited a single per son who coul d possi bl y be expect ed to chal l enge
anyt hi ng bei ng said by any present er.
86 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Professor Ther ns t r om, for exampl e, was very surpri sed to hear that
Takaki s poke about t he Irish factory girls of Lowell, Massachuset t s, as
"silenced": t hey are in fact among t he most st udi ed gr oups in Ameri can
social hi st ory. But no one remot el y like Professor Ther nst r om had been
i nvi t ed.
The spr i ng i ssue of t he j our nal Transformations had been di st ri but ed at
t he regi st rat i on desk. Insi de, t he edi t or, Sylvia Baer, compar ed t he uni -
versity cur r i cul um t o a di l api dat ed t wo- hundr ed- year - ol d house she was
hel pi ng to renovat e: " We can all hel p each ot her scrape and pai nt and
desi gn and bui l d our cur r i cul ums. It's har d wor k, all this renovat i on, and
somet i mes t he deci si ons are r i s kybut l ook at t he gl ori ous results. . . .
Toget her we can do t hi s. I invite you to hel p wi t h t he pl anni ng, t he
bui l di ng, and t he si ngi ng and danci ng. "
1 8
The Par si ppany audi ence, whi ch consi st ed al most exclusively of whi t e
Amer i can mi ddl e-cl ass females, was in fact thrilled by Takaki' s "renova-
t i ons. " Paula Rot henber g and Annet t e Kol odny were beami ng t hr oughout
t he talk, and t hey appl auded it wildly. Takaki was t he topic of conversa-
tion for t he next t wo days. By pr ovi di ng a vivid exampl e of what a
t ransformat i oni st appr oach coul d do, he had hel ped t hem all "to i magi ne
t oget her a cur r i cul um for t he next cent ury. " He had said he woul d do it,
and he di d.
An exhi l arat i ng feeling of momentousness rout i nel y surfaces at gender
feminist gat heri ngs. El i zabet h Mi nni ch is among t hose who i nvoke Co-
per ni cus and Dar wi n t o give us an idea of t he vital i mpor t ance of what
t he feminist t heori st s have di scovered. She and several ot her transforma-
tionists t ook par t i n a panel di scussi on called "Transformi ng t he Knowl-
edge Base" in Was hi ngt on, D. C. , in February 1989. The Ford-funded
Nat i onal Counci l of Research on Wo me n publ i shed t he proceedi ngs and
r epor t ed t he mood: "There was a pal pabl e sense of maki ng history in t he
r oom as we concl uded our di s cus s i ons . "
1 9
But maki ng hi st ory and cont r i but i ng to progress are not necessarily t he
same. It is in fact t r ue t hat t he t ransformat i oni st s are havi ng a significant
effect on Amer i can educat i on. They are i mposi ng a nar r ow political
agenda, di l ut i ng t radi t i onal schol arl y st andar ds, and usi ng up scarce re-
sources. They are doi ng t hese t hi ngs in t he name of a t ransformat i on
proj ect t hey t hemsel ves do not seem fully to compr ehend.
Chapter 5
The Feminist Classroom
The exhi l arat i on of feeling t hemsel ves in t he vanguar d of a new con-
sci ousness infuses feminist pedagogues wi t h a doct ri nal fervor uni que in
the academy. Here is how five professors from t he University of Massa-
chuset t s descri be t he feminist cl assroom:
The feminist cl assroom is t he pl ace to use what we know as wome n
to appr opr i at e and t ransform, totally, a domai n whi ch has been
men' s. . . . Let us wel come t he i nt rusi on/ i nfusi on of emot i onal i t y
love, rage, anxiety, er ot i ci smi nt o intellect as a st ep t owar d heal i ng
t he fragmentation capi t al i sm and pat ri archy have demanded from
us .
1
Women: A Feminist Perspective is said to be t he best-selling women' s
st udi es t ext book of all t i me. The first selection, "Sexual Terrori sm" by
Carole J. Sheffield, is a good exampl e of how t he feminist cl assroom can
"infuse" anxi et y and rage. Ms. Sheffield descri bes an "ordi nary" event t hat
88 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
t ook pl ace early one eveni ng whe n she was al one in a Laundromat : "The
l aundr omat was bri ght l y lit; and my car was t he onl y one in t he lot.
Anyone passi ng by coul d readily see t hat I was al one and isolated. Know-
i ng t hat r ape is a cri me of oppor t uni t y, I became terrified." Ms. Sheffield
left her l aundr y in t he washer and dashed back to her car, sitting in it
wi t h t he door s l ocked and t he wi ndows up. "When t he wash was com-
pl et ed, I dashed in, t hr ew t he cl ot hes i nt o t he drier, and ran back out to
my car. Wh e n t he cl ot hes wer e dry, I t ossed t hem recklessly i nt o t he
basket and hur r i edl y dr ove away t o fold t hem in t he security of my home.
Al t hough I was not vi ct i mi zed in a direct, physi cal way or by objective or
measur abl e st andar ds, I felt vi ct i mi zed. It was, for me, a terrifying expe-
rience." At home , her t error subsi des and t ur ns to anger: "Mostly I was
angr y at bei ng unfree: a host age of a cul t ure that, for t he most part ,
encour ages vi ol ence agai nst females, i nst ruct s men in t he met hodol ogy of
sexual vi ol ence, and pr ovi des t hem wi t h ready justification for their vio-
l ence. . . . Fol l owi ng my experi ence at t he Laundr omat , I talked wi t h my
st udent s about t er r or i zat i on. "
2
Any cour se (be it on Baroque art, English composi t i on, or French
dr ama) can be t aught in t hi s "women- cent er ed" way. Commi t t ed i nst ruc-
t ors speak of t hei r "feminist cl assrooms" as "liberated zones" or "safe
spaces" wher e "si l enced wome n" will be free for t he first t i me to speak
out in a secur e gynocent r i c ambi ence. Thi s is a pedagogy t hat ai ms above
all to t each t he s t udent t o unma s k t he inimical wor ki ngs of t he pat ri archy.
We get a good i dea of what st udent s experi ence in t he feminist class-
r oom by l ooki ng at a "model " i nt r oduct or y women' s st udi es course de-
vel oped by t wel ve Rut gers Uni versi t y professors.
3
One of t he stated goals
of t he cour se is t o "chal l enge and change t he social i nst i t ut i ons and
pract i ces t hat creat e and per pet uat e syst ems of oppressi on. " Forty per cent
of t he st udent ' s gr ade is to come from:
1. per f or mi ng s ome "out r ageous" and "liberating" act out si de of class
and t hen shar i ng feelings and react i ons wi t h t he class;
2. keepi ng a j our nal of "narrat i ves of per sonal experi ence, expressi ons
of emot i on, dr eam account s, poet ry, doodl es, etc."; and
3 . formi ng smal l in-class consci ousness-rai si ng groups.
The professors i n t he Rut gers course hand out a list of mandat or y
cl assroom "gr ound rul es. " Accor di ng to one of t hese rules, st udent s agree
to "creat e a safe at mos pher e for open di scussi on. If member s of t he class
wi sh to make comment s t hat t hey do not want repeat ed out si de t he
cl assroom, t hey can preface t hei r r emar ks wi t h a request and t he class
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 89
will agree not to repeat t he r emar ks. " Thi s confidentiality rul e is critical
in classes in whi ch t he i nst ruct or encourages st udent s t o reveal whet her
a family member , boyfriend, or st ranger has mol est ed, r aped, bat t ered, or
ot herwi se vi ct i mi zed t hem.
The general effect of feminist pedagogy is descri bed i n a 1990 "Report
to t he Professions" by five women' s st udi es l eaders:
Women' s st udi es st udent s typically under go a pr of ound transfor-
mat i on as t hey claim mor e knowl edge. They pass t hr ough an i den-
tifiable series of moment s of recogni t i on. . . . Such i nsi ght s are
followed by moment s of empower ment in whi ch pat ri archal frame-
wor ks and per cept i ons are modi fi ed, redefined, or rejected al t o-
get her and repl aced by a newl y emergi ng vi ew of t he self and
society. The difficulty and compl exi t y of this process . . . cannot be
overemphasi zed. . . . Breaking what feminist wri t er Tillie Ol sen calls
t he "habi t s of a lifetime" is no trivial mat t er. It is accompani ed by
t he full range of huma n resistance, by cont i nual at t ract i on and re-
pul si on, deni al and r ecogni t i on.
4
Professor Susan Ar pad, who has been t eachi ng women' s st udi es courses
at California State University at Fresno for al most fifteen years, descri bes
t he powerful effect t he courses have on bot h st udent and teacher:
It is a radical change, quest i oni ng t he fundament al nat ur e of every-
t hi ng t hey know. . . . At its worst , it can l ead to a ki nd of psychol og-
ical br eakdown. At its best, it necessitates a per i od of adj ust ment .
. . . On a daily basis, I talk t o st udent s and colleagues who are
euphor i c as a resul t of t hei r change of consci ousness. . . . I also talk
to ot her st udent s and colleagues who are st uck in a stage of anger
or despai r .
5
There are some solid scholarly courses offered by women' s st udi es
pr ogr ams, wher e t he goal is si mpl y t o t each subj ect s like women' s poet r y
or women' s hi st ory i n a nonrevi si oni st way. Unfort unat el y such courses
are not t he nor m. In t hei r report , t he women' s st udi es officers i ncl uded
thirty-seven sampl e syllabi, of whi ch t he Rut gers "model syl l abus" was
given pr i de of pl ace. Buried among t he t hi rt y-seven syllabi wer e t wo t hat
were relatively free of i deol ogy and pedagogi cal gi mmi cks.
One of t hese was a course called "Sout her n Wome n: Black and Whi t e"
given by Professors Susan Tush and Virginia Goul d (t he r epor t does not
say wher e t hey t each). The st udent s read wel l -regarded historical and
90 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
sociological t ext s, s uch as El i zabet h Fox-Genovese' s Within the Plantation
Household, Charl es Joyner ' s Down by the Riverside, and Eugene Genovese' s
Roll Jordan Roll. V. S. Nai paul ' s A Turn in the South was on t he l i st as
wel l as wor ks by Kate Chopi n, Ellen Glasgow, and August Evans Wi l son.
I was sorry not t o find Eudor a Wel t y or Fl annery O' Connor , who are
general l y est eemed as t wo of t he most out st andi ng sout her n women writ-
ers. All t he same, it appear s to be a solid course. Unfortunately, courses
like t hi s one are t he except i on. The Rut gers model is mor e t he nor m, not
onl y for women' s st udi es but for all "feminist cl assrooms. "
For t he past few years I have revi ewed hundr eds of syllabi from wom-
en' s st udi es courses, at t ended mor e feminist conferences t han I care to
r emember , st udi ed t he ne w "feminist pedagogy, " reviewed dozens of
texts, j our nal s, newsl et t ers, and done a lot of l at e-i nt o-t he-ni ght readi ng
of e-mail l et t ers t hat t hous ands of "net wor ked" women' s st udi es teachers
send to one anot her . I have t aught feminist t heory. I have debat ed gender
feminists on college campuses ar ound t he count ry, and on nat i onal tele-
vision a nd radi o. My exper i ence wi t h academi c feminism and my i mmer -
si on i n t he ever-growi ng gender feminist literature have served to deepen
my convi ct i on t hat t he maj ori t y of women' s st udi es classes and ot her
classes t hat t each a "reconcept ual i zed" subject mat t er are unschol arl y,
i nt ol erant of di ssent , and full of gi mmi cks. In ot her wor ds, t hey are a
wast e of t i me. And al t hough t hey at t ract female st udent s because of their
social ambi ence, t hey at t ract al most no men. They divert t he energies of
st udent sespeci al l y young wo me n wh o sorely need to be l earni ng
how t o live i n a wor l d t hat demands of t hem appl i cabl e talents and skills,
not feminist fervor or ideological rect i t ude.
Jour nal i st Karen Lehr man visited women' s st udi es pr ogr ams at Berke-
ley, t he Uni versi t y of Iowa, Smi t h College, and Dar t mout h, audi t ed al-
mos t t hi rt y classes, and i nt ervi ewed many professors and st udent s for a
st ory in Mother Jones: "In ma ny classes di scussi ons alternate bet ween t he
per sonal and t he political, wi t h mer e pi t st ops at t he academi c. Somet i mes
t hey are filled wi t h uni nt el l i gi bl e post -st ruct ural i st j argon; somet i mes t hey
consi st of consci ousness-rai si ng psychobabbl e, wi t h t he st udent s' feelings
and experi ences val ued as mu c h as anyt hi ng t he professor or texts have
to offer. "
6
Ms. Ler hman consi ders this a betrayal: "A hundr ed years ago,
wome n wer e fighting for t he right to l earn mat h, science, Lat i nt o be
educat ed like men; t oday, many wome n are cont ent to get their feelings
hear d, t hei r per sonal pr obl ems ai red, their instincts and i nt ui t i on re-
s pect ed. "
7
The feminist cl assroom does little to pr epar e st udent s to cope in t he
wor l d of wor k and cul t ure. It is an embarrassi ng scandal that, in t he name
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 91
of feminism, young wome n in our colleges and universities are t aki ng
courses in feminist cl assrooms t hat subj ect t hem to a lot of bad pr ose,
psychobabbl e, and "new age" nonsense. Wha t has real femi ni sm to do
wi t h sitting ar ound in circles and t al ki ng about our feelings on menst r ua-
tion? To use a phr ase muc h used by resent er feminists, t he feminist
cl assroom shortchanges wome n st udent s. It wast es t hei r t i me and gives
t hem bad intellectual habi t s. It isolates t hem, socially and academi cal l y.
Whi l e mal e st udent s are off st udyi ng such "vertical" subj ect s as engi neer-
ing and biology, wome n in feminist cl assrooms are sitting ar ound bei ng
"safe" and "honor i ng" feelings. In this way, gender feminist pedagogy
plays i nt o ol d sexist st ereot ypes t hat extol women' s capacity for i nt ui t i on,
emot i on, and empat hy whi l e deni grat i ng t hei r capacity t o t hi nk objec-
tively and systematically i n t he way me n can.
A par ent shoul d t hi nk very carefully before sendi ng a daught er to one
of t he mor e gender-femi ni zed colleges. Any school has t he freedom t o
transform itself i nt o a feminist bast i on, but because t he effect on t he
st udent s is so powerful it ought to be honest about its at t i t ude. I woul d
like to see Wellesley College, Mount Hol yoke, Smi t h, Mills, and t he
University of Mi nnes ot aamong t he mor e ext r eme exampl es pr i nt t he
following announcement on t he first page of t hei r bul l et i ns:
We will hel p your daught er di scover t he ext ent to whi ch she has
been in compl i ci t y wi t h t he pat ri archy. We will encour age her t o
reconst ruct herself t hr ough di al ogue wi t h us. She may become en-
raged and chroni cal l y offended. She will very likely reject t he reli-
gi ous and mor al codes you raised her wi t h. She may wel l di st ance
herself from family and friends. She may change her appear ance,
and even her sexual ori ent at i on. She may end up hat i ng you (her
father) and pi t yi ng you (her mot her ) . After she has compl et ed her
reeducat i on wi t h us, you will certainly be out t ens of t housands of
dollars and very possi bl y be out one daught er as well.
At t he Aust i n conference, my sister and I at t ended a packed wor ks hop
called "Whi t e Male Hostility in t he Femi ni st Cl assroom, " led by t wo
female assistant professors from t he State University of New York at
Pl at t sburgh. Wha t to do about young men who refuse to use gender -
neut ral pr onouns? Most agreed t hat t he i nst ruct or shoul d grade t hem
down. One of t he Pl at t sburghers told us about a mal e st udent who had
"baited her " when she had defended a fifteen-year-old' s right t o have an
abort i on wi t hout par ent al consent . The st udent had asked, "What about
92 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
a 15-year-ol d t hat want ed t o mar r y a 30-year-ol d?" She referred to this as
a "t r ap. " In phi l osophy, it is known as a legitimate count er exampl e to be
t reat ed seri ousl y and deal t wi t h by count er ar gument . But she want ed to
know what advi ce we had t o offer.
The agr eed- upon r emedy was t o say to this mi sgui ded young man, "I
am t ryi ng t o figure out why you are aski ng this ki nd of quest i on. " Some-
one not ed t hat female st udent s i n t he class can usually be relied upon to
keep mal e s t udent s in check. One woma n got a big l augh when she told
of a feminist s t udent wh o si l enced an "obnoxi ous mal e" by screami ng
"Shut up, you fucker!"
The gr oup was mor e per pl exed about what to do wi t h recalcitrant
females. Now t hat women' s courses are requi red on mor e and mor e
campuses, t he feminist pedagogues expect mor e resistance. As one part i c-
i pant t r i umphant l y not ed, "If t he st udent s are comfortable, we are not
doi ng our j ob. "
In t he feminist cl assroom, st udent s encount er commi t t ed t eachers
eager t o i nt er pr et t hei r lives, t hei r societies, t hei r intellectual heritage for
t h e mi n no uncer t ai n t erms. Here, for exampl e, is how Professor Joyce
Trebi l cot of Was hi ngt on Uni versi t y in St. Louis sees her pr i mar y peda-
gogical dut y: "If t he cl assroom si t uat i on is very het er opat r i ar chal a large
begi nni ng class of 50 or 60 st udent s, say, wi t h few feminist s t udent s I
a m likely t o define my t ask as largely one of r ecr ui t ment . . . of per suadi ng
st udent s t hat wome n are oppr es s ed. "
8
Per suadi ng female st udent s t hat t hey are oppressed is t he first st ep in
t he ar duous consci ousness-rai si ng process. Professor Ann Ferguson, a
Uni versi t y of Massachuset t s phi l osopher , uses her phi l osophy classes to
hel p s t udent s uncover t hei r feelings of "anger and oppressi on": "There
are vari ous t echni ques whi ch aid such personal recovery of feelings, in-
cl udi ng per sonal j our nal s, role pl ayi ng . . . class and t eacher collectively
shar i ng per sonal experi ences and feel i ngs. "
9
St udent s like st r ong- mi nded
t eachers who br eat he commi t ment , and t he feminist t eacher has her ap-
peal . But it is fair t o say t hat mos t st udent s are not "buyi ng i nt o" gender
femi ni sm. Many r esent t he at t empt t o recrui t t hem. Even mor e resent t he
shift away from a t radi t i onal pedagogy whose primary objective is teach-
ing st udent s a subj ect mat t er t hat will be useful to t hem. Professor Fer-
guson has also had to wor k out t echni ques to deal wi t h st udent
r esent ment t owar d her. She admi t s she is rout i nel y accused of bei ng
"nar r ow- mi nded and pol emi cal . "
1 0
The Par si ppany conference on curri cul ar t ransformat i on i ncl uded sev-
eral wor ks hops on s t udent resistance: in "Resistance in t he Cl assroom, "
Professor K. Edi ngt on from Towson State University referred to her mal e
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 93
st udent s as "Chi ps" and t he females as "Buffys." Professor Edi ngt on was
del i ght ed by an "enor mous federal grant " t hat Towson State had received
for t ransformat i on wor k. But she di d not give t he i mpressi on of liking her
st udent s, and she cert ai nl y seems t o have little regard for t hem moral l y
or intellectually. Havi ng t ol d us about t he Buffys and t he Chi ps and
about what "all t he pr eppy cl ones believe, " she went on, wi t hout a hi nt
of i rony, to say, "We have to t each t hem to confront st ereot ypes a nd bias
directly."
Al t hough t hey are t hemsel ves doct ri nal l y i mmune to cri t i ci smi t ' s
really "backl ash" in di sgui set ransformat i oni st t eachers are far from i n-
different to t he di ssi dent s in t hei r cl assrooms. In a recent issue of Thought
and Action, t he j our nal on hi gher educat i on put out by t he Nat i onal
Educat i on Association, t wo professors from Fresno State University, Mar-
cia Bedard and Beth Har t ung, r epor t on a "crisis" in women' s st udi es
courses creat ed by "hostile mal e st udent s" and t hei r "negative body l an-
guage. "
1 1
They single out member s of "hyper mascul i ne campus subcul -
t ures . . . fraternities, organi zed athletics, and military and pol i ce sci ence"
as especially di srupt i ve. "They never mi ss a class. "
Wha t sort of behavi or do t he Fresno pedagogues consi der exampl es of
"cl assroom harassment "? Thei r list of offenses i ncl udes "chal l engi ng
facts," stating t he except i ons to every general i zat i on, and l eapi ng t o an
ar gument at t he first pause in t he t eacher' s l ect ure. Professor Har t ung says
st udent s are har der on women' s st udi es t eachers t han on t eachers of ot her
courses: "Male and female st udent s eval uat i ng t hei r women' s st udi es
t eacher . . . compar ed t o t eachers of ot her courses . . . wer e mor e likely t o
make negative and even cruel assessment s, even in r et r ospect . "
1 2
Reading bet ween t he lines of Ms. Bedard and Ms. Har t ung' s report ,
and many ot her s on t he subject, we get a clear pi ct ur e of st udent s t ryi ng
har d t o manage all by t hemsel ves, wi t h what mus t be a very frustrating
cl assroom si t uat i on. The st udent who is unawar e of t he charged at mo-
spher e in t he feminist cl assroom qui ckl y l earns t hat humor is not a good
idea. A University of Mi chi gan s ophomor e, Shawn Brown, wr ot e a paper
for a political sci ence course in whi ch he di scussed t he difficulties of
getting reliable pol l s:
Let's say Dave [the] St ud is ent ert ai ni ng t hree beautiful ladies in hi s
pent house whe n t he phone ri ngs. A pol l st er on t he ot her end want s
to know if we shoul d el i mi nat e t he capital gai ns tax. Now Dave is a
knowl edgeabl e busi nessper son who cares a l ot about this issue. But
since Dave is "tied u p " at t he moment , he tells t he pol l st er to
"bot her " s omeone el se.
1 3
94 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Debor ah Meizlish, a gr aduat e t eachi ng assistant who graded Mr. Brown' s
paper , was i ncensed. She wr ot e in t he margi ns:
Professor Rosenst one has encour aged me to i nt erpret this comment
as an exampl e of sexual har assment and to take t he appr opr i at e
formal st eps. I have chosen not to do so in this i nst ance. However,
any future comment s , i n a paper , in a class or in any dealings [with
me] will be i nt er pr et ed as sexual har assment and formal st eps will
be t aken. . . . YOU are forewarned!
The mal e professor who read Mr. Brown' s paper had i ndeed advised
t eachi ng assi st ant Debor ah Meizlish to file formal harassment charges.
The chair, Professor Arl ene Saxonhouse, backed Rosenstone' s and Meiz-
lish' s censur i ng of Mr. Brown: "Ther e is a difference bet ween censorshi p
and expressi ng concer n over a st udent ' s mode of expr essi on. "
1 4
In a reply
to Saxonhouse' s letter, an under gr aduat e, Adam Devore, poi nt ed out t hat
"t here is also a difference bet ween ' expressi ng concern' and wri t i ng, 'You
are forewarned!' "
In a case of this ki nd, faculty do not usual l y rally to t he suppor t of t he
st udent . However , t he i nci dent at t ract ed t he at t ent i on of Professor Carl
Cohen, a wel l - known social phi l osopher and free speech defender. Pro-
fessor Cohen wr ot e t o t he school newspaper , defendi ng Shawn Brown
and criticizing t he chai r of t he depar t ment of political science, t he dean,
and t he t eachi ng assi st ant for t hei r violation of Brown' s right to write as
he di d. Professor Cohen' s ar gument s wer e later cited by a member of t he
boar d of regent s wh o vot ed agai nst a hi ghl y restrictive behavi or code
bei ng pr opos ed for t he uni versi t y.
Shawn Br own had not meant to offend or even to criticize anyone. For
t he mos t par t , st udent s pr udent l y t end to reserve critical comment unt i l
after final grades are in and st udent eval uat i ons can be safely publ i shed.
Dale M. Bauer, a professor of Engl i sh who teaches composi t i on and i nt ro-
duct or y l i t erat ure courses at Mi ami University, report ed t hat about half of
t he eval uat i on r esponses from t wo first-year composi t i on and i nt r oduc-
t i on t o l i t erat ure sect i ons expressed obj ect i ons to her feminist st ance.
1 5
Ms. Bauer pr ovi des sampl es, "copi ed verbat i m, " of st udent compl ai nt s:
I feel t hi s cour se was domi nat ed and over power ed by feminist doc-
t ri nes and ideals. I feel t he feminist movement is very interesting to
l ook at, but I got ext remel y bor ed wi t h it and it lost all its punc h &
meani ng because it was so drilled i nt o our brai ns.
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 95
I . . . t hi nk you shoul dn' t voice your "feminist" views because we
don' t need to know t hat I t ' s somet hi ng t hat shoul d be left out si de
class.
I found it very offensive t hat all of our readi ngs focused on femin-
ism.
Femi ni sm is an i mpor t ant issue in soci et ybut a very cont roversi al
one. It needs to be confront ed on a per sonal basis, not in t he class-
r oom. I di dn' t appreci at e feminist comment s on paper s or expressed
about wor k. Thi s is not t he onl y i nst r uct or ot her s in t he English
Dept. have difficulties leaving per sonal opi ni ons out of t hei r com-
ment s.
Characteristically, Ms. Bauer and her colleagues profess not to be di s-
concert ed by t he negat i ve eval uat i ons. Inst ead t hey t ake t hem to s how
t hat r enewed efforts are needed. As Ms. Bauer sees it, t he quest i on re-
mai ns "How do we move oursel ves out of this political i mpasse and
resistance in or der to get our st udent s to identify wi t h t he political agenda
of f emi ni sm?"
1 6
She regards her t eachi ng as "a ki nd of count er - i ndoct r i -
nat i on. " The need for "count er - i ndoct r i nat i on" was made clear to her
when she saw t he following negative eval uat i on of herself from a s t udent
who had t aken one of her first-year composi t i on courses: "[The t eacher]
consistently channel s class di scussi ons ar ound feminism and does not
spend t i me di scussi ng t he comment s t hat oppose her beliefs. In fact, she
usually twists t hem ar ound to s uppor t her bel i ef s. "
1 7
In deal i ng wi t h this ki nd of resistance, t he feminist pedagogue t ends
to read st udent criticism as t he expressi on of unacknowl edged but deep-
seated prej udi ce or fear. "Resistance" is "onl y to be expect ed. " After all,
st udent s have been t hor oughl y "socialized" to t hei r gender roles and class
loyalties; onl y a painful process of reeducat i on can free t hem from t hose
roles and loyalties. Thei r very resistance is dr amat i c evi dence of t hei r
condi t i on. Criticism may cause her to modify her tactics; it can never
cause her to doubt her cause.
The gender feminist will usual l y acknowl edge t hat her ai ms are i ndeed
political and t hat she is seeki ng to per suade her st udent s to become active
in t he cause. She justifies t ur ni ng her cl assroom i nt o a base in t he st ruggl e
against pat ri archy by argui ng t hat all t eachi ng is basically political, t hat
all teachers i ndoct ri nat e t hei r st udent s, t hough often wi t hout bei ng aware
that t hey are doi ng so. As for t he pedagogi cal ideal of di si nt erest ed schol -
96
W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
ar shi p and "objective t r ut h, " t he gender feminists deny t hat these ideals
are at t ai nabl e.
The claim t hat all t eachi ng is a form of i ndoct ri nat i on, usually in t he
service of t hose who are politically domi nant , hel ps to justify t he peda-
gogy of t he feminist cl assroom. Femi ni st academi cs often say that apart
from t he enclave of women' s st udi es, t he university cur r i cul um consists
of "men' s st udi es. " They mean by this t hat most of what st udent s normal l y
l earn is desi gned t o mai nt ai n and reinforce t he existing patriarchy. To
anyone who act ual l y believes this, combat t i ng t he st andar d i ndoct ri nat i on
wi t h a feminist "count er - i ndoct r i nat i on" seems onl y fair and sensible.
The British phi l osopher Roger Scrut on, ai ded by t wo colleagues at t he
Educat i on Research Cent er in Engl and, has poi nt ed to several pr omi nent
features t hat di st i ngui sh i ndoct r i nat i on from nor mal educat i on.
1 8
In a
compet ent , wel l -desi gned course, st udent s learn met hods for wei ghi ng
evi dence and critical met hods for evaluating ar gument s for soundness.
They l earn how t o arrive at r easoned concl usi ons from t he best evi dence
at hand. By cont rast , in cases of i ndoct ri nat i on, t he concl usi ons are as-
s umed beforehand. Scr ut on calls this feature of i ndoct ri nat i on t he "Fore-
gone Concl usi on. " Accor di ng to Scrut on, t he adopt i on of a foregone
concl usi on is t he mos t salient feature of i ndoct ri nat i on. In t he case of
gender femi ni sm, t he "foregone concl usi on" is t hat Ameri can men strive
to keep wome n subj ugat ed.
The "Hi dden Uni t y" is a second salient feature. The foregone concl u-
si ons are par t of a "unified set of beliefs" t hat form t he worl dvi ew or
political pr ogr am t he i ndoct r i nat or wi shes to i mpar t to t he st udent s. In
t he case of t he gender feminist, t he "Hi dden Uni t y" is t he sex/ gender
i nt erpret at i on of society, t he belief t hat moder n women are an oppressed
class living " under pat ri archy. "
I ndoct r i nat or s also operat e wi t hi n a "Cl osed System" t hat is i mmune
to criticism. In t he case of gender feminism, t he closed syst em i nt erpret s
all dat a as confi rmi ng t he t heory of pat ri archal oppressi on. In a t erm made
popul ar by Sir Karl Popper , gender feminism is nonfalsifiable, maki ng it
mor e like a rel i gi ous under t aki ng t han an intellectual one. If, for exampl e,
s ome wome n poi nt out t hat they are not oppressed, t hey only confirm t he
exi st ence of a syst em of oppr essi on, for t hey "show" how the syst em
dupes wome n by socializing t hem to believe t hey are free, t hereby keepi ng
t hem doci l e and cooperat i ve. As Smi t h College transformationists Marilyn
Schust er and Susan Van Dyne not e, "The number of female professors
who still see no i nequi t y or omi ssi ons in t he male-defined cur r i cul um . . .
serves t o under s cor e dramat i cal l y how t hor oughl y women st udent s may
be decei ved in bel i evi ng t hese val ues are congr uent wi t h t hei r i nt er est s. "
1 9
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 97
But what t hese appr oaches dramat i cal l y under scor e is how "effectively"
doct ri nai re feminists deal wi t h any phe nome non t hat poses t he r emot est
threat to t hei r t i ght little ment al island. Gender femi ni sm is a closed
system. It chews u p and digests all count erevi dence, t r ansmut i ng it i nt o
confirming evi dence. Not hi ng and no one can refute t he hypot hesi s of
t he sex/ gender syst em for t hose who "see it everywhere. "
Every society t eaches and hi ghl i ght s its own political hi st ory, and
America is no except i on. Recognizing this, however, is very different from
admi t t i ng t hat a "nor mal educat i on" is basically an i ndoct ri nat i on in t he
politics of t he st at us quo. In fact, objectivity r emai ns t he ideal t owar d
whi ch fai r-mi nded t eachers aspi re. One way t hey appr oxi mat e it is by
present i ng bot h si des of a cont roversi al subject. Of course, we recogni ze
and acknowl edge t hat what and how he or she t eaches is very often
affected by t he biases of t he teacher. It r emai ns t rue, nevert hel ess, t hat
some teachers and t he courses t hey t each are mor e bi ased t han ot hers.
Consi der how hi st ory is t aught in totalitarian societies. Is a st andar d
course in, say, anci ent hi st ory, as typically t aught by an Ameri can profes-
sor, ideological in t he same sense as a st at e- moni t or ed hi st ory of t he USSR
t aught in Stalin' s era? To hol d t hat all t eachi ng is ideological is to be bl i nd
t o t he cardi nal di st i nct i on bet ween educat i on and i ndoct ri nat i on. If one
believes t hat all knowl edge is socially const r uct ed to serve t he power s
that be, or, mor e specifically, if one hol ds t hat t he science and cul t ure we
teach are basically a "pat ri archal const r uct i on" desi gned t o s uppor t a
"male hegemony, " t hen one deni es, as a matter of principle, any i mpor t ant
difference bet ween knowl edge and ideology, bet ween t r ut h and dogma,
bet ween reality and pr opaganda, bet ween objective t eachi ng and i ncul -
cating a set of beliefs. Many campus feminists do, in fact, reject t hese
di st i nct i ons, and t hat is pedagogically and politically i rresponsi bl e and
dangerous. For when t he Big Brot hers in an Orwel l i an wor l d justify t hei r
cynical mani pul at i on of t he many by t he t yranni cal few, they, t oo, argue
t hat reality is "socially const r uct ed" by t hose i n power and t hat i ndoct ri -
nat i on is all we can expect .
In 1984, George Orwel l ' s tragic her o, Wi ns t on Smi t h, tries to defy t he
t ort urer, O' Brien, by hol di ng fast t o t he belief in an objective reality.
O' Brien r emi nds Wi ns t on Smi t h t hat he will be payi ng t he pri ce for t hat
old-fashioned belief: "You believe t hat reality is somet hi ng objective, ex-
ternal, existing i n its own right. . . . But I tell you, Wi nst on, reality is not
external. . . . It is i mpossi bl e to see reality except by l ooki ng t hr ough t he
eyes of t he Par t y. "
2 0
98 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
And Wi ns t on Smi t h is "per suaded" to change his mi nd.
Those who believe t hat all t eachi ng is political have labeled everything
in advance, and t hey br ook no count er ar gument s. Critical phi l osophers
are wel l acquai nt ed wi t h this move: first it labels everything, t hen it rides
r oughs hod over f undament al differences. That happens when armchai r
psychol ogi st s come u p wi t h t he startling doct ri ne that all huma n activity
is mot i vat ed by selfishness, or when armchai r met aphysi ci ans announce
t hat what ever happens is bound to happen. The pr onouncement s of "psy-
chological egoi sm" or "fatalistic met aphysi cs" have an air of bei ng pr o-
found, but t hey dest r oy s ound t hi nki ng by obliterating t he distinctions
t hat we mus t have if we are to t hi nk straight and see t hi ngs clearly and
distinctly. Label it as you will; t here is, after all, a difference bet ween
cari ng and uncar i ng behavi or, bet ween callous, selfish disregard for ot h-
ers and consi drat eness and concer n. There is a difference bet ween events
t hat happen acci dent al l y and t hose t hat are pl anned.
So, t oo, is t here a difference bet ween educat i on and pr opaganda. The
economi st Thomas Sowell not es t hat t he st at ement "All teaching is polit-
ical" is trivially t rue in j us t t he way t he st at ement "Abraham Lincoln and
Adolf Hi t l er wer e bot h i mperfect huma n bei ngs" is t r ue.
2 1
The bl ur r i ng of vital di st i nct i ons is a mar k of ideology or i mmat uri t y.
We coul d be mor e t ol erant of t he pr onouncement t hat in some sense all
courses are pol i t i cal if campus feminists were pr epar ed to acknowl edge
t he vital difference bet ween courses t aught in a di si nt erest ed manner and
t hose t aught to pr omot e an ideology. But t hat is precisely what so many
deny.
Thi s deni al is so perverse t hat we are led to wonder what possible
advant age t he feminist i deol ogues coul d be getting from erasing t he ob-
vi ous and reasonabl e di st i nct i ons t hat most of us recognize and respect.
On reflection, it is clear t hat t hei r deni al serves t hem very well i ndeed, by
l eavi ng t hem free to do what t hey please in their classrooms. Having
deni ed t he very possi bi l i t y of objective l earni ng, they are no longer bound
by t he need to adher e to t radi t i onal st andar ds of a cur r i cul um that seeks
t o convey an objective body of i nformat i on. Put t i ng "objectivity" in scare
quot es, t he feminists si mpl y deny it as a possi bl e pedagogical ideal. "Man
is t he measur e of all t hi ngs, " said old Pr ot agor asand t he gender femi-
ni st s agree t hat in t he past Man was t he measure. Now it is Woman' s
t ur n.
Thi s pedagogi cal phi l osophy licenses t he feminist teacher to lay down
"concl usi ons" or "rul es" wi t hout feeling t he need to argue for t hem. Con-
si der t he "gr ound rul es" devel oped by t he Cent er for Research on Wome n
at Memphi s State Uni versi t y and used at Rutgers University, t he Univer-
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 99
sity of Mi nnesot a, Penn State, and ot her school s ar ound t he count ry. The
st udent s are asked t o accept t hem as a condi t i on for t aki ng t he course:
For t he pur poses of this course we agree to t hese rul es:
1. Acknowl edge t hat oppr essi on (i.e., raci sm, sexism, classism) exists.
2. Acknowl edge t hat one of t he mechani sms of oppr essi on (i.e., rac-
ism, sexism, classism, het erosexi sm) is t hat we are all systematically
t aught mi si nformat i on about our own gr oups and about member s
of bot h domi nant and subor di nat e gr oups.
3 . Assume t hat peopl e (bot h t he gr oups we st udy and t he member s of
t he class) always do t he best t hey can.
4. If member s of t he class wi sh to make comment s t hat t hey do not
want repeat ed out si de t he cl assroom, t hey can preface t hei r r emar ks
wi t h a request and t he class will agree not to repeat t he r emar ks .
2 2
First, it shoul d be poi nt ed out t hat t hese "rul es" are very unus ual for a
college class. Teachers frequently have rul es about absences or late paper s,
but here t he rul es demand t hat t he st udent s adopt part i cul ar beliefs, none
of whi ch is self-evident. Consi der rul e no. 1, whi ch asserts t hat "oppr es-
sion exists." Stated in this unqual i fi ed way, it cannot be deni ed. But si nce
t he st udent is meant to under s t and t hat oppr essi on exists in t he Uni t ed
States in t he form of classism and sexism, t he mat t er is not nearl y so
si mpl e. Is it not at least arguabl e t hat one of t he good features of Amer i can
life is t hat here, in cont rast t o most ot her count ri es, an i ndi vi dual can rise
in t he soci oeconomi c scale despi t e his or her backgr ound? Is t hi s not one
reason why many out si ders are so eager to come here? Wh y t hen speak
of class oppressi on?
The coupl i ng of sexi sm and raci sm is also probl emat i c. Are t hey really
t hat similar? Is sexi sm a nat i onal pr obl em on a par wi t h racism? The rul e
requi res t he st udent to accept t hat it is. Indeed, it is typical of t he st r uc-
t ure of many women' s st udi es courses in put t i ng a lot of l oaded and
controversial quest i ons beyond t he pal e of di scussi on. And t hat is exactly
what a college course shoul d not be doi ng.
Rule no. 2 says: " One of t he mechani sms of oppr essi on is t hat we are
all systematically t aught mi si nformat i on. " No doubt on occasi on everyone
is t aught somet hi ng t hat is not t rue. But are we "systematically" bei ng
given "mi si nformat i on"? Wh e n peopl e wer e of t he opi ni on t hat t he wor l d
was flat, one mi ght say t hey wer e "systematically" bei ng t aught that. But
since everyone t hought t hat was t rue, we shoul dn' t speak of "misinfor-
mat i on, " whi ch connot es mor e t han uni nt ent i onal error. As t he women' s
st udi es schol ars her e use it, "systematically" connot es "deliberately" and
100 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
wi t h political pur pos es in mi nd. Thi s al l udes to t he i nsi di ous worki ngs of
pat ri archy, t he "Hi dden Uni t y" t hat keeps women in thrall to men. But it
is cert ai nl y false t hat all of us are bei ng deliberately (systematically) t aught
unt r ut hs .
Rule no. 3 asks s t udent s t o assume t hat gr oups always do t he best they
can. But why s houl d t hey be r equi r ed to make such a plainly false as-
sumpt i on? Peopl e, especially in gr oups, often coul d do a lot bet t er t han
t hey do. Wh y as s ume t he opposi t e? Thi s rul e, t oo, is characteristic of t he
"feel good" spi ri t of ma ny women' s st udi es courses. Since every gr oup is
"doi ng its best , " it is chur l i sh t o criticize any given gr oup. (Does this
assumpt i on ext end to fraternities? And to t he football team?) Rule no. 3
serves anot her , unst at ed pur pose: to pr eempt criticism t hat mi ght di srupt
t he t eacher' s agenda.
Rule no. 4, whi ch requi res absol ut e confidentiality, is similarly objec-
t i onabl e. Classes s houl d be free and open: anyt hi ng said in the classroom
s houl d be repeat abl e out si de. That an i nst ruct or invites or even allows
her st udent s t o "speak out " about per sonal affairs is an unfailing sign t hat
t he cour se is unsubst ant i al and unschol arl y. Moreover, t he st udent s who
are encour aged t o speak of painful i nci dent s in their lives not onl y are
bei ng shor t changed scholastically, t hey are also at risk of bei ng har med
by t hei r di scl osures. Even ment al heal t h professionals in clinical settings
exercise great caut i on i n eliciting t raumat i c disclosures. Any good school
pr ovi des professi onal hel p to di st ressed st udent s who need it. The ama-
t eur i nt er vent i ons of a t eacher are i nt rusi ve and pot ent i al l y harmful.
But get t i ng s t udent s t o make painful personal disclosures is a special
feature of feminist pedagogy. Kali Tal, a cul t ural st udi es i nst ruct or, re-
cent l y shar ed t he "Rules of Conduct " she used at George Mason Univer-
sity wi t h all t he member s of t he women' s st udi es electronic bulletin
b o a r d :
2 3
Rape a nd i ncest are t ouchy subj ect s. Some class part i ci pant s will be
survi vors of sexual abuse. Everyone will likely have moment s in this
class whe n t hey are angr y or sad or per haps frightened. It is i mpor -
t ant . . . t o ma ke t hi s cl assroom a safe pl ace for st udent s to share
experi ences, feelings, a nd intellectual ideas. I have therefore com-
pos ed t he following list of gr ound rules:
1. Ther e will be no i nt er r upt i on of any speaker.
2. Ther e will be no per sonal criticism of any ki nd di rect ed by any
me mbe r of t he class t o any ot her member of t he class.
3 . Because s ome of t he mat eri al di scussed and vi ewed in this course
cont ai ns ext remel y gr aphi c and vi ol ent material, some st udent s
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 101
may find it necessary to take an occasional "breat her. " St udent s
shoul d feel free to st and u p and wal k out of class if t hey find
t hemsel ves in need of a shor t break. It is permi ssi bl e (and even
encour aged) t o ask a cl assmat e to accompany you dur i ng such a
break.
As a final gr ound rul e, Professor Tal tells st udent s "t hi s class is not a
t herapy sessi on. "
Inevitably, some st udent s who come to class t o get i nformat i on, t o
learn useful skills, and t o analyze issues mor e deepl y feel cheat ed by such
approaches. They may feel t hat t he t eacher is wast i ng their t i me. Wha t
does t he feminist teacher, i nt ent on "creat i ng agent s of social change, "
t hi nk of her st udent s when t hey react in this way?
Elizabeth Fay, a feminist wri t i ng i nst ruct or at t he University of Massa-
chuset t s, tells about a st udent she calls Mi nni e, a young worki ng-cl ass
woman from Puert o Rico who lived wi t h her di vorced mot her . Mi nni e sat
sullenly t hr ough her classes, occasionally aski ng angry quest i ons and
bei ng "confront at i onal " in conference sessi ons.
2 4
Wh e n t he course was
over, Mi nni e filed a compl ai nt t hat she had not l earned any wri t i ng skills
in t he course. As Professor Fay descri bes it:
Minnie' s compl ai nt s rest ed on t hree mai n poi nt s: she was given no
model essays to emul at e; she was not given directive comment ar y
t hat woul d have s hown her how to rewri t e; she was given no for-
mul ae to follow for each part i cul ar essay genre. In ot her wor ds , she
was deni ed const rai nt , she was asked t o t hi nk on her own, and she
was given t he oppor t uni t y to give and receive peer feedback wi t hout
an i nt r udi ng mast er voi ce.
2 5
Professor Fay' s analysis of Mi nni e' s gri evance is compl acent l y self-serv-
ing. It "silences" Mi nni e by t reat i ng her as someone who prefers "con-
straint" and a "mast er voi ce" to l i berat i on. Professor Fay, who is not
listening to Mi nni e, accuses Mi nni e of refusing t o listen: "She made it
clear t hat not i ons of mul t i pl e voices and visions, not i ons of gender pol i -
tics, not i ons of s t udent empower ment di d not t ouch her need for t he
pr oper style, t he pr oper accent , t he Doolittle makeover she had si gned up
f or . "
2 6
But Mi nni e hadn' t si gned u p for voices, visions, and gender politics;
she had si gned u p for a course in English composi t i on. She want ed her
essays correct ed because she want ed to l earn t o wri t e bet t er English. That
is not an unr easonabl e expect at i on for a wri t i ng course. But to Professor
102 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Fay, Mi nni e had mi ssed t he real poi nt of what t he course in freshman
composi t i on was about :
In freshman composi t i on, what we try to give st udent s is a con-
sci ousness about t he social register and t he range of voices they can
and do adopt i n or der to get on wi t h busi ness. But it is their com-
bi nat i on of de ma nd and di st rust (are you sure this is what I need?
are you wast i ng my t i me and money?) t hat propel s certain st udent s
i nt o resi st ant post ur es. Mi nni e' s out-of-class hostility and in-class
silent pr opr i et y bespeak a surface socialization t hat itself resists t he
i nduct i on pr ocess; she desires an academically gilded ar mor but not
a change of self, not a becomi ng.
2 7
Professor Fay, who is di sappoi nt ed t hat Mi nni e has failed to avail
herself of t he chance t o "become, " qui t e sincerely believes t hat Minnie' s
recal ci t rant at t i t ude comes from havi ng been "socialized" in ways t hat
"pr opel " her i nt o a resi st ant post ur e. It si mpl y never occurs to Professor
Fay t hat her own at t i t ude t owar d Mi nni e is disrespectful and that it is she
who has been t aught by her feminist ment or s to adopt a pat roni zi ng
pos t ur e t owar d wome n like her .
2 8
Mi chael Ol eni ck, a j our nal i sm major at t he University of Mi nnesot a,
r epor t ed hi s experi ences wi t h Women' s Studies 101 in an editorial in t he
school newspaper : " Whe n I si gned up for a women' s st udi es class I
expect ed to l earn about femi ni sm, famous women, women' s history, and
women' s cul t ure. . . . Inst ead of finding new insights i nt o t he worl d of
women, I found . . . bi zarre t heori es about wor l d conspiracies dedi cat ed
t o repressi ng and expl oi t i ng wo me n . "
2 9
Heat her Keena, a seni or at t he University of Mi nnesot a, wrot e a letter
suppor t i ng Ol eni ck' s compl ai nt about t he at mospher e in t he classroom.
"I was ma de t o feel as t hough I was dependent and weak for preferring
me n t o wome n as sexual par t ner s, and to feel t hat my opi ni ons were not
onl y insignificant, but s ome how t wi s t ed. "
3 0
Anot her class member , Kath-
leen Bittinger, t hought t he professor guilty of st ereot ypi ng t he mal e gen-
der as chauvi ni st i c: "I was also t ol d t hat my religious beliefs and sexual
ori ent at i on are not t he correct one s . "
3 1
I wonder ed what Professor Al brecht , who t aught t he course, t hought
of t he cont roversy and phone d her. She was war m and personabl e, and
her concer n was undeni abl e. In response to t he charges t hat her course
was one- si ded, she poi nt ed out t hat st udent s get their fill of st andard
vi ewpoi nt s from "t he mai nst r eam medi a. " It was her j ob to give t hem a
deeper t r ut h: "If schol ar shi p isn' t about i mpr ovi ng peopl e' s lives, t hen
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 103
what is it about ?" Ms. Al brecht was clearly commi t t ed to her sel f-i mposed
task of telling st udent s how t hey wer e bei ng expl oi t ed wi t hi n a pat ri ar-
chal, classist, racist society. It was equal l y clear t hat she felt fully justified
in not giving t he ot her si de a heari ng. I have come across many devot ed
teachers who, like Professor Al brecht , refuse to listen to "voices" t hat
coul d in any way affect t hei r det er mi nat i on t o pr oduce st udent s who are
"agents of social change. " Ms. Al brecht sent me her syllabus, whi ch was
unabashedl y ideological: it even i ncl uded a copy of t he Rutgers "gr ound
rules. "
St udent s who compl ai n about feminist pedagogy get little sympat hy
from t he admi ni st rat i on. Lynne Munson, a recent gr aduat e of Nor t hwest -
ern, found t he "feminist perspect i ve" everywhere on her campus: "I t ook
a classics course, and we wer e encour aged to t ake par t in a feminist
demonst r at i on, ' Take Back t he Ni ght , ' out of solidarity wi t h t he wome n
of Sparta. In an art hi st ory class t he professor at t acked Manet ' s Ol ympi a
for its similarities to por nogr aphi c cent erfol ds. "
Ms. Muns on was especially critical of a freshman semi nar called "The
Menst rual Cycle: Fact or Fi ct i on, " in whi ch st udent s di scussed t hei r "rag-
ing hor monal i mbal ances. " In t he op- ed col umn of her school newspaper ,
Munson wr ot e t hat a course of this ki nd di d not cont r i but e muc h to a
liberal arts educat i on. She found t he class silly and compl ai ned to t he
dean t hat t he cur r i cul um was becomi ng faddish and losing academi c
legitimacy.
The dean, St ephen Fisher, repl i ed t hat t he course was "a legitimate
area of i nqui ry. " He t ol d me t hat Ms. Muns on seemed to be di st ressed by
women' s st udi es and t o be seeki ng ways t o under mi ne it. I asked hi m
whet her he di dn' t t hi nk t he menst r ual cycle seemed an odd subj ect for a
freshman semi nar; woul dn' t such a course be mor e appr opr i at e i n a
medi cal school ? Di d he not shar e some of t he cur r ent concer ns t hat
today' s under gr aduat es have seri ous gaps in t hei r knowl edge of hi st ory,
science, and l i t erat ure and need a firm gr oundi ng in t he "basics"? The
dean replied that, unl i ke t he University of Chi cago, Nor t hwest er n had
rejected t he core cur r i cul um in favor of general st udi es and t hat courses
like t he semi nar on t he menst r ual cycle wer e appr opr i at e to Nor t hwest -
ern' s mor e pl ural i st i c cur r i cul um. Wh e n I poi nt ed out t hat no one was
giving semi nars on prost at e function or noct ur nal emi ssi ons and ot her
i nt i mat e mal e t opi cs about whi ch t here is an equal amount of i gnorance,
he seemed amused, and we left it at that.
Menst ruat i on is a favorite t heme in women' s st udi es courses. The Uni -
104 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
versity of Mi nnesot a offers a course on "Blood Symbol i sm in Cross-Cul -
t ural Perspect i ve. " Topi cs t o be covered i ncl ude "bl ood and sexual fluids"
and "menst r uat i on and bl ood letting. " At Vassar College they had a
"bl eed-i n. " The flier announci ng this event said: "Are you down on men-
st ruat i on? The Wome n' s Cent er war ml y wel comes you to t he first all-
campus BLEED IN Oct ober 16, 1993 , 8: 00 P. M. in t he Women' s Cent er . "
3 2
In a wi del y used t ext book called Feminism and Values, t he st udent will
read Carol P. Chri st on t he i mpor t ance of menst rual fluids in t he new
feminist goddess rituals. Ms. Chri st , a former visiting lecturer at the Har-
vard Divinity School and Pomona College, tells st udent s of "the joyful
affirmation of t he female body and its cycles" in "Goddess-cent ered ritu-
al s" at t he s umme r solstice: "Fr om hi dden dirty secret to symbol of the
life power of t he Goddess, women' s bl ood has come full ci r cl e. "
3 3
If women' s bl ood has come full circle, t he publ i c at large has yet to
hear of it. Fr om Fi nl and comes t hi s e-mail request by a feminist scholar
who is ment or i ng a st udent ' s research in this area:
I have a s t udent wor ki ng on an MA thesis in sociology on different
concept i ons of menst r uat i on in Fi nl and. She has been goi ng t hr ough
medi cal l i t erat ure. . . . All this mat eri al has shown her a domi nant
di scourse based on t radi t i onal medi cal concept i ons. . . . In order to
have different voi ces, she has been i nt ervi ewi ng women. . . . Her
pr obl em is t hat a) mos t wome n don' t very muc h like to talk about
menst r uat i on, b) mos t have negative feelings about i t . . . Does any-
body have any suggest i ons on how to have also positive feelings
expr es s ed?
3 4
Obj ect i ve researchers do not usual l y ask for hel p in getting data mor e
in keepi ng wi t h resul t s t hey woul d vi ew as "positive. " On t he ot her hand,
gender feminists are convi nced t hat prevai l i ng at t i t udes t oward menst rua-
t i on are fixed by a domi nant (male) di scourse. So t he researcher t ends to
di scount t he opi ni ons of wome n (unfort unat el y a majority) whom they
regard as giving expressi on t o negat i ve mal e at t i t udes, and t hey l ook for
t he count ervai l i ng "aut hent i c" women' s voices.
One such voice was s ounded by feminist theorist Joan St raumani s
Qater dean of Facul t y at Rollins College). She concl uded an address at a
women' s st udy conference ent i t l ed "The St ruct ure of Knowl edge: A Fem-
inist Perspective": "It is very consci ousness-rai si ng to have your peri od
dur i ng a conference like t hi s one. . . . I don' t know of any ot her confer-
ence wher e t he speaker got up and said t hat she had her peri od. . . . For
t hat and ot her reasons, women' s st udi es will never di e" !
3 5
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 105
Lee Edel man is a popul ar professor of English l i t erat ure at Tufts Uni -
versity. His course "Hi t chcock: Ci nema, Gender , Ideol ogy" (English 91)
caught my at t ent i on, so I called and asked if I mi ght sit in on one of his
classes.
I at t ended Professor Edel man' s class on t he day he di scussed gender
roles in Hi t chcock' s The Thirty-Nine Steps. Edel man, a t hi r t ysomet hi ng
associate professor, was anal yzi ng t he r omance bet ween Robert Donat
and Madel ei ne Carroll. As he l ect ured he showed clips from t he film,
comment i ng all t he whi l e about t he film's unst at ed sexual politics. The
l ect ure was t hemat i cal l y one- di mensi onal , but i nt erest i ng and engagi ng.
At t he begi nni ng of t he film, Robert Donat , fleeing t he aut hori t i es,
ent ers a railway compar t ment and forcibly kisses Madel ei ne Carrol l t o
avoid bei ng spot t ed. Edel man asked, " What does it mean t o t hi nk about
r omance always in t er ms of cri me and vi ol ence?" He t ol d t he class t hat
love is a social const ruct , first and foremost a political weapon: " How do
mast ers of ci nema get peopl e to find war attractive? By suggest i ng Nazi s
want to hur t Mrs. Miniver. You s how wome n as objects t hat men mus t
prot ect . We b o mb Hi r oshi ma for Rita Haywor t h. "
Professor Edel man asked t he class about a mi nor charact er: " How does
Mr. Memor y r epr esent pat ri archal knowl edge?" No one vol unt eer ed an
answer. One young ma n hesi t ant l y poi nt ed out t hat Carrol l seems t o
enjoy Donat ' s kiss, si nce, after all, she closes her eyes and dr ops her
glasses. Fr om t he back of t he cl assroom a young woma n condemned t he
mal e st udent al ong wi t h Hi t chcock. Both, she said, pr omot e t he idea t hat
women enjoy assaults. The di scussi on became mor e ani mat ed. Edel man
observed t hat t he happy endi ng depends on "buyi ng i nt o t he i deol ogy of
r omant i c l ove. " War mi ng to this t heme, anot her young woma n said, "The
moment t he her oi ne falls in love, she ceases to have a di st i nct i dent i t y. "
Edel man agreed: "She wears a beatific smi l e, t he smi l e of t he fulfilled
het erosexual rel at i onshi p. " The t opi c t o be expl ored t he following week:
love and marri age in t he convent i onal uni on. Assi gnment : Rebecca.
Later I s poke at l engt h wi t h Professor Edel man. Hi s backgr ound is i n
literary deconst r uct i on, a style of criticism he depl oys t o read every "t ext "
(be it a novel , film, song, or TV commerci al ) as an expressi on, if not a
weapon, of t he oppr essor cul t ure. He believes t he pur pos e of t eachi ng is
to challenge t he cul t ur e by debunki ng ("deconst ruct i ng") its "t ext s. " He
believes good t eachi ng is adversarial.
Wh e n I asked hi m if he felt he had an obl i gat i on to give ar gument s for
t he ot her si de, Edel man made Professor Al brecht ' s poi nt : he has t he
106 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
st udent s for onl y a pr eci ous few hour s a week; t he domi nant cul t ure has
t hem t he rest of t he t i me. It may be t he onl y t i me in their lives they are
exposed t o i conocl ast i c t hi nki ng about t hei r cul t ure.
I had enj oyed t he class and woul d not have mi nded heari ng hi m on
Rebecca. Edel man was fun t o listen t o, even when he kept insisting t he
st udent s mus t l earn t o see how sex bias is i nscri bed in every cul t ural
artifact, every wor k of art, every novel , every movi e. The st udent s were
l earni ng a l ot about how Hi t chcock expl oi t ed sexual t hemes, but from
wher e I sat t her e was a l ot t hey wer e not l earni ng, i ncl udi ng why Hi t ch-
cock is consi der ed a great filmmaker. They were not l earni ng about his
mast er y in bui l di ng suspense. They wer e not told, nor coul d they explain,
why The Thirty-Nine Steps had set a ne w style for ci nemat i c dialogue. The
Tufts st udent s wer e bei ng t aught to "see t hr ough" Hi t chcock' s films before
t hey had l ear ned to l ook at t hem and before t hey knew muc h about why
t hey s houl d be st udyi ng t hem in t he first pl ace. Not hi ng t he st udent s said
i ndi cat ed t hey had l ear ned mu c h about Hi t chcock or his wor k. By t he
t i me Edel man got t hr ough "unmaski ng" t he sexi sm of The Thirty-Nine
Steps, t he s t udent s ' di sdai n for it woul d have left t hem wi t h little incentive
t o r egar d Hi t chcock as a great filmmaker. They were l earni ng what Hi t ch-
cock was "really" u p t o, and t hat , apparent l y, was what mat t ered.
These omi ssi ons are charact eri st i c of muc h t eachi ng t hat goes on in t he
cont empor ar y cl assroom. Today' s st udent s are culturally under nour i shed.
The college Engl i sh class is t he one oppor t uni t y for st udent s to be ex-
posed t o great poet r y, shor t stories, novel s, and theater. If they do not
l earn t o respect and enjoy good l i t erat ure in college, t hey probabl y never
will.
The feminist cl assroom st rongl y affects many an i mpressi onabl e st u-
dent . The effect on t he t eacher may also be dramat i c, especially if she is a
neophyt e. Professor Dixie King tells how a course she was t eachi ng t rans-
formed her: "In t eachi ng my first women' s st udi es course many years ago,
I found myself changi ng as I t al ked; I di scovered t he ext ent to whi ch I
had been in compl i ci t y wi t h t he syst em, mal e-t rai ned i nt o t he system; I
deconst r uct ed myself and r econst r uct ed myself t hr ough dialogue in t hat
cl as s . "
3 6
In t he cour se of i nqui ri es i nt o academi c feminism I kept comi ng across
st udent s who mar vel ed at how muc h t hey had been changed by their new
perspect i ve on t he social reality. St udent s who see t he wor ki ngs of t he
sex/ gender syst em "ever ywher e" are t ur ni ng up in nonfemi ni st cl assrooms
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 107
ready to chal l enge t he "phal l ocent ri c reasoni ng" of t hei r i nst ruct ors. Some
faculty consi der such st udent s virtually unt eachabl e. One Mi dwest er n
English professor told me: "It is very difficult to t each st udent s who have
been t rai ned to t ake t he ' feminist perspect i ve. ' They have this steely l ook
in their eyes. They di st rust everyt hi ng you say. For t hem reason itself is
pat ri archal , linear, and oppressi ve. You cannot argue wi t h t hem. Every-
t hi ng is grist for t hei r mi l l . "
Kim Paffenroth, a former divinity st udent at Harvard, is one of several
st udent s who is di st ur bed at t he ext ent to whi ch t he radical feminist
perspect i ve domi nat es hi s classes. One of his professors was sharpl y i n-
t errupt ed, mi dsent ence, by an angry T.A. who "correct ed" hi m because
he had referred to God as "he. " "I was qui t e shocked at t he r udeness of
her i nt er r upt i on, but even mor e aghast as I saw how mu c h power she
coul d wi el d wi t h such pet t y r udeness when t he professor meekl y cor-
rected himself and apol ogi zed. "
College campuses used to be t hought of as enclaves of hi gh spi ri t s a nd
irreverence. Academi c femi ni sm has had a great deal t o do wi t h drastically
changi ng t hat i mage. The political scientist Abigail Ther nst r om descri bes
Ameri can colleges as i sl ands of i nt ol erance in a sea of freedom. I visited
one such island i n t he fall of 1989.
The College of Woos t er in Ohi o has a st r ong feminist presence. Op -
posi t i on to feminist i deol ogy is mai nl y surrept i t i ous. One assistant profes-
sor, who request s anonymi t y, t ol d me t hat it is "sui ci dal " t o criticize
campus feminists in any way. "They want peopl e to be scared. Then you
keep qui et and t hey don' t have t o deal wi t h you. " He descri bed t he
at mospher e as "McCart hyi st . " Anot her silent critic excused his t i mi di t y
on social gr ounds . Being percei ved as confront at i onal in a smal l t own is
costly. "We have to live wi t h t hese peopl e. " Yet anot her professor admi t -
ted his despai r over t he radical feminist encr oachment at Woost er but
said t hat to create a stir mi ght be harmful to enrol l ment s.
Four Woost er seni ors agreed to talk t o me about t hei r experi ence in
t he feminist cl assroom. Peter St rat t on, who t ook Women' s St udi es 110,
was surpri sed on t he first day of class to hear t he professor decl are t he
class a "l i berat ed zone" wher e "suppr essed" wome n woul d be free to
speak out on any subj ect . " Mr. St rat t on says t hat at first he was very
profeminist:
But over and over again we hear d how awful me n are. That t here is
no poi nt in cari ng for mal es, t hat r omant i c i nvol vement is futile. Of
course, t here are s ome bad men in society, but you also have to l ook
108 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
at t he good ones. Wh e n I first arri ved at t he College of Woost er, I
accept ed everyt hi ng I was told. Now some of my friends and I will
use wor ds like "freshman" among oursel ves as a sign of resistance.
Anot her seni or, Mi chael Millican, believes t he College of Woost er has
"officially s us pended t he Bill of Rights. " J ohn Cassais says t hat few st u-
dent s dar e t o quest i on t he t eacher' s vi ewpoi nt . "The risks are too great. "
He believes s t udent s are bei ng i ndoct ri nat ed: "In t he first-year semi nar
(not freshman semi nar ) t hey now concent rat e exclusively on race and
gender i ssues. That pr ogr am resembl es a uni versi t y pr ogr am a lot less
t han it does a r eeducat i on camp. "
The st udent s r ead Racism and Sexism, a st rongl y ideological text edi t ed
by Paula Rot henber g ( ment i oned previ ousl y as head of t he New Jersey
Project and moder at or at t he Par si ppany conference). Defenders of this
book mi sdescr i be it as a collection of "ant i -di scri mi nat i on court cases. "
3 7
In fact, less t han 20 per cent of it deals wi t h cases. The bul k of t he book
is a mi scel l any of most l y bad poet r y and t endent i ous, t edi ous articles, full
of graceless j ar gon, all wr i t t en from a gender feminist perspect i ve. It seems
t hat Rot henber g saw no need t o pr ovi de a heari ng for ot her views. Nor,
si nce relatively few sel ect i ons have literary or stylistic meri t , di d she
appar ent l y feel r esponsi bl e for offering t he st udent s a text t hat woul d
t each t hem how t o wr i t e well. At Woost er , however, Racism and Sexism
was wel l sui t ed t o t he pur pos es of t he feminist activists and their admi n-
istrative allies.
In 1990, t he college i nvi t ed a rost er of speakers to campus to reinforce
t he message i n Ms. Rot henberg' s text: t he speakers i ncl uded Ms. Rot hen-
berg, Angela Davis, Ronal d Takaki , Derri ck Bell, and a l one "conserva-
tive, " former Ne w York mayor Ed Koch. Koch was dul y hissed and booed
by t he "wel l -t rai ned" st udent s.
The i nt ol erance at Woos t er for t hose who are critical of t he gender
feminist faith makes t he faculty very ci rcumspect about voicing criticism,
and t hi s has r ender ed t hem virtually unabl e t o oppose any feminist pr o-
gr am t hey t hi nk unwor t hy of suppor t . "I a m getting old and tired, and I
do not want t o get fired," sai d one professor:
Wha t you have her e are a lot of st udent s and faculty who are very
skept i cal , but t hey are afraid to voice t hei r reservations. On t he ot her
hand, women' s st udi es faculty are well organi zed and t hey have very
effective strategies. First t hey co-ordi nat e wi t h ot her depar t ment s
and offer a large gr oup of courses, t hey bl oc vot e and get a number
of t hemsel ves on educat i onal pol i cy commi t t ees. It' s not har d these
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 109
days to get a powerful admi ni st rat or behi nd you. For t hem it is a
way to make a name for t hemsel ves in college admi ni st rat i on. They
can say t hey initiated a new women' s pr ogr am.
Many st udent s resent women' s st udi es. They want less ideology and
mor e objective cont ent in t hei r courses. One woul d t hi nk t hat t he college
admi ni st rat i ons woul d be sympat het i c to their compl ai nt s. But admi ni s-
trations have changed a lot in t he last t wo decades. We now find deans
and college pr esi dent s admoni shi ng st udent s not to be t aken in by claims
of objectivity and t he allegedly di si nt erest ed schol arshi p of pedagogues
who are fixed in t he earlier phases of an unt r ansf or med cur r i cul um. The
mor e enl i ght ened admi ni st rat ors pr each t he vi rt ues of a new pedagogy
that i mpugns all objectivity, even t hat of science. In a convocat i on ad-
dress, Donal d Har war d, t hen vice pr esi dent of academi c affairs at t he
College of Woost er , said, "A maj or intellectual revol ut i on has occurred.
Wi t hi n t he last t wo decades t he . . . effort ' to objectify' fields of i nqui r y
has been called i nt o quest i on by a chal l enge to t he objectivity of sci ence
t h e pr eemi nent pr ot ot ype . "
3 8
Invoki ng t he aut hor i t y of t he feminist epi st emol ogi st Sandra Har di ng,
among ot hers, Dr. Har war d i nformed t he st udent s t hat "t here is no objec-
tivity, even in sci ence. " He t hen confi ded t hat "t he new vi ew of sci ence,
and t hereby t he new vi ew of any field of intellectual i nqui ry, is onl y a
whi sker from irrationality and total skept i ci sm. But fine lines are i mpor -
tant. " By t he end of hi s address, t he st udent s wer e ready for t he uplifting
message t hat "l earni ng and t eachi ng have less to do wi t h t r ut h, reality,
and objectivity t han we had assumed. "
Transformat i oni st s cannot always rely on a sympat het i c faculty, but
t hey can generally count on admi ni st rat i ve s uppor t in furt heri ng t hei r
projects. Schust er and Van Dyne, t he Smi t h College t ransformat i on t eam,
report t hat "i nformed admi ni st r at or s" are mor e likely t han professors t o
acknowl edge t he need for curri cul ar t r ansf or mat i on.
3 9
At Woost er College
it was Har war d who initiated t he pol i cy of havi ng st udent s evaluate t hei r
teachers on t hei r sensitivity t o gender issues. He has si nce gone on t o
become pr esi dent of Bates College in Mai ne.
St udent s who have been successfully t rai ned in t he feminist cl assroom
to "become agent s of change" may embarrass t hei r ment or s by pract i ci ng
what t hey have l earned ri ght on t he campus. At Si mon' s Rock of Bard
College in Barri ngt on, Massachuset t s, t went y st udent s who wer e not sat-
isfied t hat t he formal pr ocedur es of t he uni versi t y adequat el y pr ot ect ed
110 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
st udent s from sexual har assment formed "defense guar d" gr oups to take
mat t er s i nt o t hei r own hands . "Defense guar di ng" consists of sur r oundi ng
a t arget ed professor in an out -of-t he-way pl ace, chargi ng hi m wi t h sexual
har assment , and t hen chant i ng, in uni son, over and over again: "This will
not be t ol erat ed. Thi s has got to s t o p . "
4 0
One of t he part i ci pat i ng st udent s told me t hat if her gr oup hears of
behavi or t hat s ounds sexist or harassi ng, t hey will directly and repeat edl y
confront t he per pet r at or . "Defense guar di ng is a very effective means of
convi nci ng s omeone t hat what t hey are doi ng is wr ong. " I asked whet her
defense guar di ng was not unfairly i nt i mi dat i ng to t he accused and was
told, " Why woul d t hey be i nt i mi dat ed unl ess t hey are guilty? If t hey have
done not hi ng, t hey woul d not be i nt i mi dat ed. "
One foreign professor subj ect ed to this t reat ment became physically ill.
The admi ni st r at i on finally act ed by put t i ng sixteen "defense guar ds"
under t empor ar y suspensi on. Women' s st udi es professor Patricia Sharp
di scl ai med all responsi bi l i t y for t he behavi or of t he defense guards; she
i nsi st ed t hei r at t i t ude has not hi ng t o do wi t h feminism. Yet she expressed
concer n t hat nearl y half of t he ei ght een st udent s in her feminist t heory
class wer e member s of t he defense guar d.
That t he st udent s' behavi or shoul d di sconcert even t he feminist teach-
ers is under st andabl e. It is equal l y under st andabl e t hat t he st udent s feel
bet rayed. One me mbe r of t he defense guar d who was in Professor Sharp' s
class t ol d me t hat i n women' s st udi es courses women are encouraged to
empower t hemsel ves, but "when we put it i nt o practice in a direct and
effective way we are s us pended. "
Si mon' s Rock is par t of Bard College. Whe n asked about t he tactics of
t he defense guar ds, Bard pr esi dent Leon Botstein said, "The best face to
put on it is t hat t hese ki ds do not possess a sufficient historical memor y
t o under s t and t hat s uch behavi or is ext remel y remi ni scent of fascism, of
br own shi rt s; it is a classic gr oup i nt i mi dat i on and publ i c humi l i at i on
whi ch is associ at ed wi t h t he thirties, and t hen finally wi t h t he Red
Gua r ds . "
4 1
Pennsyl vani a State College has an alternative newspaper called t he
Lionhearted t hat r out i nel y pokes fun at campus political correctness. In its
April 12, 1993 , i ssue, it satirized an op- ed piece by a radical feminist
st udent , Amanda Mart i n, t hat appear ed in t he college newspaper. Ms.
Mart i n had recent l y at t ended t he Penn State ant i rape mar ch, whi ch she
called a mar ch of "250 female warri ors. " She compar ed pat ri archy to a
bl oodt hi r st y "monst er " t hat is devour i ng all women. To t hose who woul d
criticize her, she i ssued a war ni ng: "I'll ki ck your a s s . "
4 2
Ms. Mart i n' s article i nvi t ed par ody, and t he Lionhearted obliged by
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 111
criticizing her har angue and irreverently pr i nt i ng a cart oon i mage of her
in a bl ue bi ki ni . The campus feminist activists react ed by seizing and
dest royi ng all six t hous and copi es of t he Lionhearted. Several hundr e d
were bur ned in a bonfire, late at ni ght , out si de t he office of Ben Novak, a
member of t he Penn State boar d of t rust ees who serves as an advi sor to
t he paper.
Mike Abr ams, t he edi t or of t he Penn State school newspaper , t he Daily
Collegian, justified t he bur ni ng of newspaper s: "The i ndi vi dual (s) who
bur ned copi es of t he Lionhearted wer e demonst r at i ng t he same freedom
of expressi on t hat al l owed t he newspaper to pr i nt its vi ews . "
4 3
Donna
Hughes, a Penn State women' s st udi es professor, also saw not hi ng wr ong
wi t h bur ni ng newspaper s, given t he ci rcumst ances. After all, t he car t oon
par ody was a form of har assment . "I t hi nk it was an act of prot est ;
consi deri ng t he very per sonal , defami ng at t ack on [Amanda Mart i n] i n a
full-page car t oon. "
4 4
It is difficult to est i mat e t he pr opor t i on of st udent s who become com-
mi t t ed gender feminists. It is surel y a mi nori t y. Even when t he conversi on
seems to go deep it may be short -l i ved. But t hose who r emai n steadfast
are t ough and formi dabl e. On t he ot her hand, some of t he "defect ors" are
j ust as formidable.
Heat her Hart , a recent graduat e of Brandeis University, tells of her
di senchant ment wi t h academi c feminism:
At Brandeis I di scovered feminism. And I i nst ant l y became a con-
vert. And I di d well, wri t i ng brilliant paper s in my Myt hs of Patriar-
chy humani t i es class, in whi ch I l i kened my fate as a woma n to
ot her victims t hr oughout t he ages. I j oi ned t he women' s coalition,
pr eached to anyone who woul d listen, and even came close to cut -
ting men out of my life entirely.
Ms. Hart , however, came from Mont real , wher e lipstick is in fashion, and
she refused to give it up: "They condemned me from t he get-go. They
talked about feeling excl uded from t he mal e- domi nat ed, pat ri archal soci-
ety, and yet t hey wer e qui ck to di smi ss me as a boy-t oy j ust because I
like t he concept of decorat i on. . . . I was different and, therefore, a t hreat
to t he neat, closed, secret, homogeneous communi t y. "
Ms. Hart says t hat t he near-ost raci sm she suffered kept her from enjoy-
ing t he "st rengt hs" t hat solidarity coul d have offered her; nevert hel ess,
she accept ed bei ng di sappr oved of because she "di d not wi sh to al i enat e"
herself from t hose she felt allied to. The inevitable break came when Eddi e
112 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Mur phy came t o Brandei s to give a concert : "I was i nt ent on going . . .
yet at a meet i ng wi t h my fellow feminists I was i nformed t hat we were
boycot t i ng t he s how as Mur phy was a homophobi c, misogynistic racist."
Ms. Har t crossed t he pi cket line and had t he revelation t hat in many
ways her sisters in women' s st udi es and t he women' s cent er were
"frighteningly r emi ni scent " of t he forces "t hey claimed to be fighting all
t hose years. "
Some who later defected l ook back wi t h r esent ment on t he feminists
who hel d t hem in thrall. Anni e Ballad, a 1988 graduat e of Harvard, felt
her pri vat e life t o be i nt ol erabl y i ncorrect , bei ng in conflict wi t h what she
was l earni ng i n t he feminist cl assroom. She had been per suaded t hat
het erosexual l ovemaki ng was basically a violation: "Whi l e t aki ng women' s
st udi es (at Har var d) wi t h a separat i st t eachi ng fellow t here, I nearly had a
ner vous br eakdown because I t hought my boyfriend of five years was
r api ng me every t i me he penet r at ed me. " She set out to "depr ogr am"
herself, usi ng a t echni que of linguistic reversal t hat is known to be effec-
tive. Ms. Ballad ha d been t rai ned t o certain l ocut i ons, avoi di ng t hose t hat
gender feminists deem condescendi ng to women. She began to force
herself t o be "i ncorrect "; "I i nsi st ed on calling women ' girls,' ' chicks, ' and
' babes. ' " After a shor t whi l e she felt free to enjoy her sexually i ncorrect
life.
Irreverence is bot h an ant i dot e and an i mmuni zer . At st rongl y feminist
Vassar College, t wo j uni or s , Regina Peters and Jennifer Lewis, founded
t he "Fut ur e Housewi ves of Ameri ca. " At first t he gr oup t ook themselves
in a t ongue- i n- cheek spirit. One of t hei r earliest proj ect s (foiled at t he last
mi nut e) was to sneak i nt o t he messy women' s cent er late at ni ght and
clean it up, l eavi ng a not e si gned "Compl i ment s of t he Fut ur e Housewi ves
of Ameri ca. " St udent gr oups are rout i nel y given modest funds for r unni ng
expenses: as a women' s gr oup, Fut ur e Housewi ves was entitled to appl y
for funds t hr ough t he Femi ni st Alliance. Peters and Lewis showed up at
an Alliance meet i ng and announced t he formation of their gr oup. They
t ol d about t hei r first t wo pl anned activities: to publ i sh their own cook-
book and t o host a Tupper war e part y. "I have never seen anyt hi ng like
it," said Pet ers later. "Fifty s t unned women gapi ng in disbelief." They
wer e not funded a nd have si nce di sbanded.
Campus feminists have ma de t he Ameri can campus a less happy place,
havi ng successfully br owbeat en a once out spoken and free faculty. One
of t he saddest t hi ngs about t hei r influence is their effect on pedagogy
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 113
out si de t hei r own cl assrooms. They have raised a generat i on of st udent
wat chdogs ever on t he l ookout for sexist bias in all its i nsi di ous mani fes-
tations. St udent s are careful rat her t han carefree. Humor is guar ded. Many
teachers now pract i ce a ki nd of defensive pedagogy.
In December 1989 I received a phone call from a man who t ol d me he
was a graduat e s t udent at t he University of Mi nnesot a. He asked me to
l ook i nt o some "fri ght eni ng" t hi ngs campus feminists wer e up to. He
ment i oned t he Scandi navi an st udi es depar t ment . He t ol d me he di d not
want to give me hi s name because he felt he woul d be hur t : "They are
powerful , t hey are organi zed, and t hey are vi ndi ct i ve. "
The University of Mi nnesot a is heavily "col oni zed. " In addi t i on to its
Women' s St udi es depar t ment , it has a Cent er for Advanced Femi ni st
Studies, t he Cent er for Wo me n in Int ernat i onal Devel opment , a Wome n' s
Cent er, a Young Women' s Association, t he Cent er for Cont i nui ng Edu-
cation for Wome n, and t he Humphr e y Cent er on Wo me n and Publ i c
Policy. The feminist j our nal Signs is housed t here, and t he radical feminist
review Hurricane Alice is associated wi t h t he English depar t ment . Ther e
is a Sexual Violence Program, as wel l as a Commi ssi on on Wome n.
After a few phone calls I found some faculty member s who woul d
speak u p about t he "campus feminists, " pr ovi ded anonymi t y was pr om-
ised. One professor of social science t ol d me:
We have a har dened and embi t t er ed core of radical feminists. These
women have been vi ct ori ous in court : t hey have t he ear of several
powerful regent s and admi ni st rat ors. They call t he shot s. Every-
wher e you l ook t here are feminist faculty member s concer ned to
divest depar t ment s of t he whi t e mal e vi ewpoi nt . If you quest i on
this, you are l abel ed a sexist. It is a ni ght mar e. At faculty meet i ngs
we have l earned to speak in code: you say t hi ngs t hat alert ot her
faculty member s t hat you do not agree wi t h t he radical feminists,
but you say not hi ng t hat coul d br i ng a charge of gender insensitiv-
ity. Peopl e are out for cont rol and power . I di d not fully under s t and
what was happeni ng unt i l I read Ni en Cheng' s Life and Death in
Shanghai.
Professor Nor man Fr uman, a di st i ngui shed schol ar in t he English de-
par t ment , was out spoken:
If you resist feminists you are liable to t he charge of sexism. You
t hen may be socially or professionally isolated. Wi t h t he rise of
post st ruct ural i sm, Derri da, Foucaul t , Al t husser, you have t he basis
114 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
for a Stalinist posi t i on. Many faculty are now teaching st udent s that
t here is no objectivity. All is subjective. This is their rallying cry. All
of t he literary mast erpi eces, i ncl udi ng t he very not i on of aesthetic
qual i t y, are said t o be a means of pat ri archal cont rol .
I t hen called Professor Lois Eri ckson, a feminist activist. She expl ai ned
why t he t wo me n I had s poken to woul d of course be "hostile and
defensive":
It is a ne w era at t he Uni versi t y of Mi nnesot a. Our shared reality has
been t hr ough a mascul i ne l ens. I spent a sabbatical at Harvard wor k-
i ng wi t h Carol Gilligan wher e I l earned to honor t he i nner feminine
voice. Unt i l we can bal ance t he feminine and t he mascul i ne, peace
is not possi bl e. For this we need a st r ong feminist st udi es depart -
ment . . . . We have at least t hree hundr ed women on campus em-
power ed by a favorable cour t rul i ng. Thi s gives us a st rong collective
voice. Some me n and wome n are t hreat ened because t hey fear their
femi ni ne si de.
Havi ng hear d "bot h si des" of t he feminist quest i on at Mi nnesot a, I felt
r eady t o t ackl e t he myst ery of t he Scandi navi an st udi es depar t ment . It
t ur ned out not to be a myst ery at al l onl y a di st urbi ng exampl e of
ext r eme feminist vigilance.
On Apri l 12, 1989, four female gr aduat e st udent s filed sexual harass-
ment charges agai nst all six t enur ed member s of t he Scandi navi an st udi es
depar t ment (five me n and one woman) . The professors were called to
Dean Fred Luker man' s office, notified of t he charges and, accordi ng to
t he accused, t ol d t hey' d bet t er get t hemsel ves lawyers.
In a letter sent t o Professor Wi l l i am Mischler of Scandi navi an st udi es,
Ms. Patricia Mul l en, t he uni versi t y officer for sexual harassment , i nformed
Mi schl er t hat he had been accused of sexual har assment and woul d be
r epor t ed to t he pr ovost unl ess he r esponded wi t hi n ten days. Similar
letters wer e sent t o t he ot her five professors. Mischler' s letters cont ai ned
no specific facts t hat coul d be remot el y consi dered to describe sexual
har assment . Wh e n Mi schl er made further i nqui ri es, he discovered he had
been accused of giving a nar r ow and "pat ri archal " i nt erpret at i on of Isaak
Di nesen' s wor k, of not havi ng read a novel a st udent deemed i mport ant ,
and of havi ng greet ed a s t udent in a less t han friendly manner . Two of
Mi schl er' s col l eagues wer e accused of harassi ng t he plaintiffs by not hav-
i ng given t hem hi gher grades.
The plaintiffs had dr awn u p a list of puni t i ve demands, among t hem:
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 115
1. t he deni al of mer i t pay for a per i od of not less t han five years;
2. mont hl y sexual har assment wor ks hops for all Scandi navi an core
faculty for at least twelve mont hs ; and
3 . annual sexual har assment wor ks hops for all Scandi navi an core fac-
ulty, adj unct faculty, visiting faculty, gr aduat e assistants, reader-
graders, and gr aduat e st udent s.
Lacking any s uppor t from t he admi ni st rat i on what soever, t he profes-
sors wer e forced t o seek legal counsel . On Oct ober 13 , six mont hs later,
all charges agai nst four of t he accused wer e dr opped. No expl anat i on was
offered. A few mont hs later, t he charges agai nst t he r emai ni ng t wo wer e
dr opped, again wi t hout expl anat i on. All of t hem are still shaken from
what t hey descri be as a Kafkaesque ordeal . " When I saw t he charges, "
says Professor Allen Si mpson, "I pani cked. It's t he most terrifying
t hi ng . . . t hey want me fired. It cost me t wo t housand dollars to have my
response drafted. I can' t afford j ust i ce. "
Professor Mischler r equest ed t hat t he cont ent s of t he compl ai nt s be
made publ i c to t he Mi nnesot a communi t y. But, accordi ng to t he Minne-
sota Daily, Patricia Mul l en opposed di scl osure on t he gr ounds t hat "it
woul d da mpe n peopl e from comi ng f or war d. "
4 5
My efforts to reach someone who coul d give me t he admi ni st rat i on' s
side of t he st ory wer e not successful. Ms. Mul l en decl i ned to speak wi t h
me. Fred Luker man, who was dean of t he College of Liberal Arts at t he
t i me, also pr oved to be inaccessible. I finally di d talk to a dean who
assured me he was very suppor t i ve of feminist causes on campus, but t hat
he believed t he Scandi navi an st udi es affair was i ndeed a "wi t ch hunt . "
"But please do not use my name, " he i mpl or ed.
More recently, at t he University of New Hampshi r e, Professor Donal d
Silva was trying to dramat i ze t he need for focus in wri t i ng essays. Unfor-
t unat el y for hi m, he used sexual i mages to make his poi nt : "Focus [in
writing] is like sex. You seek a target. You zero in on your subject. You
move from si de to si de. You close in on t he subject. You bracket t he
subject and cent er on it. Focus connect s experi ence and l anguage. You
and t he subj ect become o n e . "
4 6
Duri ng anot her l ect ure he graphi cal l y illustrated t he way some similes
work, saying, "Belly danci ng is like Jel l -O on a pl at e, wi t h a vi brat or
under neat h. "
The vast majority of his large l ect ure class found these r emar ks i nnoc-
uous. Six female st udent s filed formal har assment char gescl ai mi ng his
116 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
wor ds had demeaned wome n and creat ed a hostile and i nt i mi dat i ng en-
vi r onment , SHARPPt he Sexual Har assment and Rape Prevent i on Pro-
gr am on t he Ne w Hamps hi r e c a mpus t ook up their cause. Professor
Silva was found gui l t y of havi ng used "t wo sexually explicit exampl es"
t hat "a reasonabl e female s t udent woul d find . . . offensive, i nt i mi dat i ng,
and cont r i but i ng t o a host i l e envi r onment . " He was or der ed to apologize
in wri t i ng for havi ng creat ed a "hostile and offensive academi c envi ron-
ment . " He was fined t wo t hous and dol l ars and formally r epr i manded. He
is now r equi r ed t o at t end counsel i ng sessions by a t herapi st appr oved by
t he uni versi t y, and t o r epor t on his progress in t herapy to his pr ogr am
di rect or at t he uni versi t y. Silva has courageousl y refused t o compl yand
has been s us pended from t eachi ng wi t hout pay. The Ameri can Associa-
t i on of Uni versi t y Professors wr ot e a letter war ni ng t he university t hat any
sanct i ons t aken agai nst Silva wer e a t hreat to academi c freedom. At a
meet i ng of mor e t han sixty ret i red University of New Hampshi r e profes-
sors, t hey revi ewed t he case and vot ed unani mousl y to condemn t he
uni versi t y' s act i ons. But so far SHARPP and t he University of New Hamp-
shi re have prevai l ed. Silva' s at t empt to get his si de of t he story hear d is
cost i ng hi m t hous ands in legal fees, and it may cost hi m his career.
One expect s faculty to pr ot est encr oachment s on their traditional free-
doms and prerogat i ves. One woul d expect t hem to be out raged at t he
"wi t ch hunt s " ( and t o express t hei r out rage before t hey retire). But what
sense of out r age t her e is comes, i nst ead, from t he gender feminists who,
t rue t o t hei r self-image as "vi ct i ms, " urge gender feminists in t he univer-
sities to be per manent l y alert for any signs of mascul i ni st at t empt s to
rest ore t he st at us quo. Schust er and Van Dyne have chart s and graphs
out l i ni ng strategies for pr epar ednes s .
4 7
The Ford-funded Nat i onal Counci l
for Research on Wo me n is now raising money for what it calls a "rapi d
r esponse fund. " As it expl ai ns in a fundraising letter dat ed December 8,
1993 , t he fund will enabl e it to act qui ckl y to combat adverse publ i ci t y
for s uch t hi ngs as "feminist cur r i cul um reforms. "
Fears of resi st ance and backl ash mot i vat e pr eempt i ve strikes at critics
and pot ent i al critics. The Moder n Language Association Commi t t ee on
t he St at us of Wo me n has recent l y pr opos ed "antifeminist harassment "
and "i nt el l ect ual har assment " as ne w and official categories of victimiza-
t i on. Exampl es of i nt el l ect ual har assment i ncl ude:
easy di smi ssal of feminist wri t ers, j our nal s, and presses
aut omat i c depr ecat i on of feminist wor k as "narrow, " "part i san, " and
"l acki ng in ri gor"
mal i ci ous h u mo r di rect ed agai nst f emi ni st s
4 8
T H E F E M I N I S T C L A S S R O O M 117
Toni McNar on, professor of English at t he University of Mi nnesot a,
expresses t he confi dence of many when she predi ct s in t he Women's
Review of Books t hat gender feminist academi cs will t ransform t he "aca-
demi c est abl i shment " in t he ni net i es.
4 9
She makes t he cust omar y compar -
ison bet ween recent feminist t heory and t he scientific br eakt hr ough made
by Coper ni cus. But her exul t ant mood is laced wi t h gl oom. She r emi nds
us t hat "pr oponent s of Coper ai can t heory were dr umme d out of t hei r
universities or, in ext r eme cases, excommuni cat ed, j ai l ed, and even
killed." Acknowl edgi ng t hat cont empor ar y feminists are not likely to suf-
fer t he mor e ext r eme ret ri but i ons, she nevert hel ess war ns of i mpendi ng
attacks. She exhort s feminist academi cs to "st and and resist wher ever
possi bl e t he onsl aught s" of t hose who find fault wi t h t he feminist agenda.
Professor McNar on' s r emar ks were br ought to my at t ent i on because she
ment i ons me as one of t he per secut or s of t he new Coper ni cans.
By now, feminists have a wel l -deserved r eput at i on for bei ng good at
di shi ng it out but compl et el y unabl e to t ake it. Many are known to deal
wi t h opponent s by ad homi ne m or ad femi nam count erat t acks: accusa-
tions of mi sogyny, raci sm, homophobi a, or opposi t i on to diversity or
inclusiveness. Some woul d- be critics fear for t hei r very j obs. In t hese
ci rcumst ances a critic may find himself suddenl y al one. Ot her s, wat chi ng,
learn to keep a l ow profile. It is now qui t e clear t hat a self-protecting
Ameri can faculty has been seriously derelict in its dut y to defend t he
liberal t radi t i ons of t he Ameri can academy.
St udent s are qui ck to l earn t hat open criticism of t he feminist class-
r oom will not wi n t hem s uppor t from t eachers who privately agree wi t h
t hem. The lesson t hey l earn from t he cravenness of t hei r t eachers is never
lost on t hem: keep clear of cont roversy. Conformi t y is safest: pract i ce it.
That is a terrible lesson to convey to one' s st udent s and t he ant i t hesi s of
what t he college experi ence shoul d be.
In t he st ory "The Emper or ' s New Cl ot hes, " t he boy at t he par ade who
dared to declare t hat t he emper or had not hi ng on was i mmedi at el y j oi ned
by his elders, who were grateful t hat someone had given voice to t hat
i nnocent and obvi ous t rut h. Sadly, t he st ory is not t rue t o life. In real life
t he boy is mor e likely to be s hunt ed asi de by par adi ng functionaries for
failing to percei ve t he emper or ' s finery. In real life, t he spect at ors do not
take t he boy' s si de. At Mi nnesot a, Nor t hwest er n, Mi chi gan, Woost er , New
Hampshi r e, Harvard, and on campuses across t he count ry, t he gender
feminists are unchal l enged because t he faculties have so far found it
politic to l ook t he ot her way.
Chapter 6
A Bureaucracy of
One's Own
If there is one word that sums up everything that has gone
wrong since the war, it's "workshop."
ATTRI BUTED TO KINGSLEY AMIS
T h a t t he gender feminist perspect i ve is compar abl e to a Coperni can
revol ut i on is open t o quest i on. A revol ut i on has undoubt edl y t aken place,
but it is mor e a bur eaucr at i c t han an intellectual one.
In 1982 Peggy Mci nt osh, t he associate di rect or of t he Wellesley College
Cent er for Research on Wome n, gave a presci ent and influential keynot e
addr ess t o an audi ence of feminist schol ars in Geneva, Indi ana:
I t hi nk it is not so i mpor t ant for us to get women' s bodi es in hi gh
pl aces, because t hat doesn' t necessarily hel p at all in social change.
But to pr omot e wome n who carry a new consci ousness of how t he
mount ai n st r onghol ds of whi t e men need valley val uest hi s will
change society. . . . Such per sons pl aced hi gh up in existing power
st r uct ur es can really make a difference.
1
Ms. Mci nt osh' s begui l i ng met aphor s are mat ched by her uner r i ng un-
der st andi ng of how t o gai n cont rol of bureaucraci es, a talent t hat has
hel ped t o make her one of t he most influential and effective leaders
among academi c t ransformat i oni st s. The gender feminists that Dr. Mc-
A B U R E A U C R A C Y O F O N E ' S O W N 119
Int osh addr essed t ook her advice to heart . So di d many ot hers. Femi ni st
academi cs have wor ked har d and successfully to get peopl e "who carry a
new consci ousness" i nt o admi ni st rat i ve posi t i ons at every academi c level.
These now do t hei r best t o ensur e t hat new appoi nt ment s are not out of
line. To criticize feminist i deol ogy is now hazar dous in t he ext reme, and
even to have a "cl ean" record is no l onger sufficient. Aspi rant s to uni ver-
sity presi denci es, deanshi ps, pr ogr am di rect orshi ps, and ot her key post s
are aware t hat t hey will pr obabl y have t o s how a record of demonst r at ed
sympat hy wi t h gender feminist doct ri nes and policies. The same is rapi dl y
becomi ng t rue for faculty appoi nt ment s.
The Association of Ameri can Colleges (AAC), itself one of t he "power
st ruct ures" t hat have been col oni zed by wome n of t he ri ght consci ous-
ness, di ssemi nat es a wi del y used quest i onnai r e ent i t l ed "It' s All in Wha t
You Ask: Quest i ons for Search Commi t t ees to Use. " Prospect i ve candi -
dates for faculty or admi ni st rat i ve posi t i ons are asked such quest i ons as
these:
How have you demonst r at ed your commi t ment to women' s issues i n
your cur r ent posi t i on? [Lead quest i on]
Wha t is your rel at i onshi p to t he women' s center?
How do you i ncor por at e new schol arshi p on wome n i nt o under gr ad-
uat e coursework? Int o your research? Int o graduat e coursework?
Wi t h your gr aduat e st udent s? How do you hel p your colleagues do
so?
How do you deal wi t h backl ash and denial?
The t ype of screeni ng pr omot ed by t he AAC pr oved effective at t he
University of Maryl and in its last presi dent i al search. Speaki ng at t he
(self-styled) "hi st ori c" forum ent i t l ed "Transformi ng t he Knowl edge
Base," Betty Schmi t z, anot her maj or figure on t he t ransformat i on circuit,
descri bed how t he search commi t t ee had quest i oned all t he candi dat es
about t hei r commi t ment to feminist t ransformat i on proj ect s. Ms. Schmi t z
was pl eased to report : "Every single candi dat e was pr epar ed for t he ques-
tion. Two had funded pr ogr ams on t hei r own campuses, and t he t hi rd
had actually been i nvol ved in a pr oj ect . "
2
Ms. Schmi t z' s confi dence in t he screeni ng pr ocedur e was not mi s-
placed. Short l y after his appoi nt ment , Presi dent Wi l l i am Kirwan came
t hr ough wi t h $500, 000 of t he university' s funds for a cur r i cul um t rans-
formation project, wi t hout goi ng t hr ough t he faculty senat e to do so.
Curri cul ar mat t ers are traditionally t he pr ovi nce of t he faculty or one
of its represent at i ve bodi es, such as t he faculty senat e. Changes in t he
120 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
cur r i cul um nor mal l y i nvol ve i nt ensi ve scrut i ny and extensive debat e fol-
l owed by a vot e. Ki rwan' s act i on seems most unusual . Ms. Schmitz, who
had become Ki rwan' s assistant, r epor t ed how t he pr esi dent had to face a
lot of "backl ash" from t he faculty and how she hel ped t he presi dent by
giving hi m ar gument s t o cope wi t h t he pr obl em. She advised her sister
t ransformat i oni st s t o expect similar si t uat i ons: "You will also have to
pr epar e your admi ni st r at or s about what is goi ng to happen. . . . It is won-
derful t o be abl e to s uppl y appr opr i at e wor ds to t he head of an institution,
and it is i mpor t ant t hat peopl e knowl edgeabl e about t he issues and well-
versed in t he l anguage be in key posi t i ons to do s o. "
3
Faculty resistance
does not faze Ms. Schmi t z: "Speaki ng t he unspeakabl e is a component of
di sr upt i ng t he pat ri archy. The anger or disbelief t hat surfaces when fac-
ul t y are forced t o confront bi as as a systemic, pervasive pr obl em is t he
necessary first stage in t he change pr oces s . "
4
Ms. Schmi t z, who is bet t er known as an activist t han as a cont ri but or
to educat i on t heor y or epi st emol ogy, is a confident apparat chi k who goes
about appl yi ng t he i nsi ght s of feminist theorists like Peggy Mci nt osh and
El i zabet h Mi nni ch t o t he ur gent proj ect of "breaki ng t he disciplines" and
t ransformi ng t he cur r i cul um. In t hese pract i cal tasks she report s gratifying
progress: A "hear t eni ng t r end is t he degree to whi ch state moni es and
i nt ernal funds are bei ng pl aced i nt o cur r i cul um t ransformat i on, " she says,
boast i ng of her success i n est abl i shi ng "a new posi t i on for a per manent
di rect or of t he cur r i cul um t ransformat i on proj ect " at t he University of
Mar yl and.
5
I dwel l on Ms. Schmi t z not because she is so unusual ( t hough she is
very good at what she does) but precisely because she is representative of
t he ne w br eed of bur eaucr at i c feminist. Skilled wor kshopper s, net work-
ers, and fundrai sers, t hey move wi t hi n t he corri dors of academi c power
wi t h ease and effectiveness, occasionally suppl yi ng "appropri at e wor ds"
to t hose in power as needed t o further t he goals of t he new pedagogy and
to count er criticism. Schmi t z is a great admi r er of Dr. Mci nt osh, bot h for
her i nsi ght s i nt o feminist pedagogi cal t heory and for her presci ent politi-
cal analysis of h o w to get and hol d power in t he academy and, once
at t ai ned, how t o use it to furt her an agenda of transformation.
Since Maryl and, Ms. Schmi t z has moved t o t he state of Washi ngt on,
wher e again she is wor ki ng t o install t he appar at us of transformation.
Her e is mor e of her ast ut e advi ce t o her sisters in t he t ransformat i on
movement : "We . . . have t o bui l d our message i nt o t he mi ssi on of t he
i nst i t ut i on, and we have t o hel p t hose in t he i nst i t ut i on t hi nk about t he
future. . . . We have t o see what t he organi zat i on is aspi ri ng to be and
A B U R E A U C R A C Y O F O N E ' S O W N 121
make sur e t hat as t he sent ences art i cul at i ng t hose goals are bei ng formed,
we pr ovi de l anguage t hat i nforms t he m. "
6
Ms. Schmi t z has wr i t t en a handbook for t ransformat i oni st s. In it she
uses Peggy Mci nt osh' s five-phase t heory t o grade t eachers and t hei r
classes. Phase one, you will r emember , is t he l owest stage of curri cul ar
consci ousness. Phase five cannot be at t ai ned i n today' s cul t ure, but phase
four, in whi ch "classes are wondr ous and heal i ng, " is at t ai nabl e. Even so,
says Ms. Schmi t z, "t he a mount of t i me it will t ake a given i ndi vi dual to
reach Phase 4 is not pr edi ct abl e. "
7
Schmi t z refers t o t he five phases as if
t hey wer e as scientifically est abl i shed as t he phases of t he moon. Her
handbook cont ai ns poi nt er s on how t o deal wi t h "host i l e" faculty "wi t h
an unwaver i ng belief in t radi t i onal st andar ds of excellence. " These are t he
"respect ed schol ars, " an "unr eachabl e" gr oup of "Phase 1 t hi nker s . "
8
Ac-
cordi ng to Schmi t z:
These faculty may also be respect ed schol ars in t hei r field and pop-
ul ar t eachers. They have no reason to change. If faced wi t h pr essur e
from admi ni st r at or s or proj ect l eaders, t hey will raise issues of aca-
demi c freedom, t he pl ace of i deol ogy in t he cur r i cul um, and t hei r
ri ght to det er mi ne what is to be t aught in t hei r cl asses.
9
Ms. Schmi t z seems cynically aware that, despi t e t hei r prot est s over t he
erosi on of academi c freedoms, t he respect ed schol ars no l onger have t he
power t hey once had, and she r epor t s t hat most proj ect di rect ors do not
consi der it "wor t h t he effort to target this gr oup speci fi cal l y. "
1 0
Few on t he faculty offer resistance to curri cul ar change, nor do many
raise issues of academi c freedom. To get t hem to cooperat e actively i n
their own "reeducat i on, " Ms. Schmi t z and her colleagues candi dl y rec-
omme nd financial i ncent i ves: "How muc h faculty r eeducat i on is possi bl e
wi t hout benefit of money for st i pends? Our recent experi ence wi t h re-
gional consort i a for cur r i cul um i nt egrat i on suggests t hat even smal l
amount s of seed money for initiating proj ect s can result in concret e
change. "
1 1
Large amount s of money wor k even better. At Maryl and, for t he past
several s umme r vacat i ons, t he admi ni st r at i on has offered faculty member s
a percent age of t hei r annual salary t o at t end semi nar s on cur r i cul um
t ransformat i on. In 1991, for exampl e, t he classes met twice a week dur i ng
Jul y and August and faculty received 20 per cent of t hei r salary. Assumi ng
an average $40, 000 annual salary, this woul d mean t hat wor ks hopper s
earned about $500 for each class t hey at t ended.
122 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Professor Her man Belz, a di st i ngui shed political scientist, not ed wi t h
al ar m t hat cur r i cul um t ransformat i on was bei ng i mpl ement ed at Mary-
l and, al t hough it had never been vot ed on or endor sed by t he faculty. Not
havi ng access t o t he admi ni st rat i on' s channel s of di st ri but i on, he pub-
l i shed hi s mi sgi vi ngs in t he faculty newspaper :
Facul t y who are concer ned to preserve and mai nt ai n intellectual
i nt egri t y and freedom of academi c i nqui ry in t he University shoul d
exami ne carefully t he r ecommendat i ons of t he [curri cul um transfor-
mat i on commi t t ee] report . They shoul d be aware of t he pot ent i al
t hreat t o di sci pl i nary aut onomy t hat it cont ai ns. And t hey shoul d
t ake st eps to br i ng t he subj ect of cur r i cul um t ransformat i on i nt o t he
fresh air and open forums of publ i c debat e, wher e t hr ough t he forms
and pr ocedur es of critical del i berat i on we govern ourselves as an
academi c c ommuni t y.
1 2
At t he "hi st ori c" panel di scussi on, Ms. Schmi t z woul d refer to prot est s
in t he school paper as "hyst eri cal and ext reme" backl ash.
1 3
She assured
her sister panel i st s t hat t ransformat i on at Maryl and woul d be unaffected.
"But we . . . have t o keep educat i ng t he l eadershi p. "
Ms. Schmi t z became known t o t he Mi ddl e Tennessee State University
faculty when, unde r t he sponsor shi p of t he Tennessee Board of Regents,
she conduct ed a cur r i cul um t ransformat i on wor ks hop in February 1990. .
In Mar ch 1990, t he Advi sory Commi t t ee for Curri cul ar Transformat i on
became pr omi nent . Thi s commi t t ee, whi ch had been given no charge by
t he faculty senat e, assert ed t hat its aut hori t y to t ransform t he cur r i cul um
s t emmed from t he regent s: "Thi s commi t t ee was formed in response to a
mandat e from t he Board of Regents based on t he findings publ i shed in
t he 1989 st at ewi de r epor t on t he St at us of Wome n in Academe. "
1 4
Pur sui ng what it t ook t o be its mandat e, t he Advisory Commi t t ee for
Curri cul ar Tr ansf or mat i on sent a l engt hy (eighty-seven-item) quest i on-
nai re t o t he Mi ddl e Tennessee State faculty queryi ng t hem in detail about
how t hey r an t hei r classes and aski ng quest i ons desi gned to test their
level of feminist consci ousness. The advi sory commi t t ee asked t he profes-
sors to anal yze t hei r assi gned readi ngs, t hei r lectures, and their audi ovi -
sual mat eri al and t o repl y t o quest i ons like "How often were t he pr onouns
' she' or ' her' used? How often di d exampl es relate onl y to typical mal e
experi ence or use onl y mal es in exampl es? How often are women shown
in posi t i ons of power or act i on? How often are men s hown in familial or
domest i c rol es?" One sect i on asks whet her t he i nst ruct ors agree, agree
A B U R E A U C R A C Y O F O N E ' S O W N 123
strongly, disagree, or di sagree st rongl y wi t h such st at ement s as "My st u-
dent s l earned about how wome n feel about t hei r lives. My st udent s
l earned about changi ng gender rol es. "
One sect i on ent i t l ed "Overall Cour se Eval uat i on" coul d be used to
show wher e t he professor r anks on Peggy Mci nt osh' s five-phase scale.
The per t i nent quest i on is:
Havi ng l ooked at vari ous component s of your course, now l ook at your
course as a whol e. How woul d you classify this course?
1. nei t her me n nor wome n wer e i ncl uded i n this course
2. woma nl e s s no ment i on of wome n at all [a yes to No. 1 or No. 2
woul d signal to t he i nt errogat or t hat t he r es pondent is i n t he first
phase]
3 . t he onl y wome n depi ct ed wer e t reat ed as except i onal wome n or as
anomal i es [a second or t hi rd phaser ]
4. wome n and men wer e descri bed bot h separat el y and comparat i vel y,
stressing i nt er-rel at i onshi ps [a phase four lateral t hi nker]
Needless t o say, mos t Tennessee professors wer e pr obabl y unawar e t hat
their answers in this sect i on coul d be indicative of t hei r pl ace on t hat
critical scale.
Actually, t he faculty "scored" qui t e well on t he feminist consci ousness
scale. Femi ni ne pr onouns wer e used j ust as muc h or more t han mal e
pr onouns in t he readi ngs. Inst ruct ors r epor t ed t hey "rarely" used exam-
ples t hat related onl y t o mal es. Femal es wer e mor e often t he mai n focus
of films and vi deos s hown in class and appear ed in t wo- t hi r ds of t he
t ext book illustrations. Professors r epor t ed t hat men and wome n spoke u p
in class at t he same rate but t hat me n wer e slightly mor e likely to be
i nt er r upt ed by ot her st udent s t han wer e t he women. Mor e t han half t he
r espondent s r eached "phase four" on Ms. Mci nt osh' s scal e.
1 5
Nevert hel ess, many faculty felt t he i nt errogat i ons wer e fat uous and
irritating, and t hey began to s how some fight. The senat e i nt r oduced a
resol ut i on agai nst any l anguage t hat "mandat es revision, t ransformat i on,
i nt egrat i on, or rest ruct uri ng of t he cur r i cul um. " Though t hat passed
unani mousl y, t he advi sory commi t t ee i gnored it. A new and equal l y in-
trusive quest i onnai re was soon on t he way, and t he regent s and t he
Mi ddl e Tennessee State Uni versi t y admi ni st r at or s wer e spendi ng mor e
university funds on wor ks hops and ot her t ransformat i on activities.
I called Mi ddl e Tennessee State' s vice pr esi dent of academi c affairs,
James Hi ndman, t he admi ni st r at or i n charge of t he t ransformat i on pr oj -
ect. At first he expressed ent husi asm for it, but when he sensed I di d not
124 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
shar e hi s ent husi asm, he became defensive and cl ai med never to have
seen t he quest i onnai r e. "It came from some out si de organization. I had
not hi ng t o do wi t h it," he said. He said he knew very little about t he
details of t he t ransformat i on proj ect and advi sed me to speak to t he
women' s st udi es staff.
Wh e n I asked hi m about t he wor ks hops , conferences, and ot her t rans-
format i oni st activities, he got angry. " Who are you? You have no right to
i nt ervi ew me or quot e me. " He s l ammed t he phone down. I have since
sent in a freedom-of-i nformat i on form aski ng about t he fundi ng for t he
t ransformat i on activities at Mi ddl e Tennessee State University, wi t h cop-
ies t o t he at t or ney general ' s office and t he Tennessee Board of Regents.
The citizens of Tennessee have t he right t o know j ust how muc h of their
money is bei ng s pent to have t hei r college cur r i cul um t ransformed to t he
l i ki ng of Ms. St i mpson, Ms. Schmi t z, Ms. Mci nt osh, Ms. Schuster, Ms.
Van Dyne, a nd Ms. Mi nni ch.
Vice Presi dent Hi ndma n was ri ght about one t hi ng. The quest i onnai re
came from el sewhere: it was i n fact desi gned by t he Association of Amer-
ican Colleges (AAC), an organi zat i on funded by dues from most of Amer-
ica' s colleges. The AAC used t o be a nonpol i t i cal professional organi zat i on
devot ed t o moni t or i ng t he schol arl y st andar ds of Ameri can colleges.
These days, t hough, it pr oduces an i mpressi ve number of surveys, pack-
ets, t ract s, a nd br ochur es t hat pr omot e gender feminist causes in t he
Amer i can academy. Among t hei r many feminist publ i cat i ons are "Success
and Survival Strategies for Wo me n Facul t y Member s, " "St udent s at t he
Cent er: Femi ni st Assessment , " "Evaluating Courses for Incl usi on of New
Schol arshi p on Wo me n , " and "The Campus Cl i mat e Revisited: Chilly for
Wo me n Facul t y, Admi ni st r at or s, and Gr aduat e St udent s. "
The Associ at i on of Amer i can Colleges was founded in 1915 to "im-
pr ove under gr aduat e liberal educat i on, " a task to whi ch it was conven-
tionally faithful unt i l fairly recently. As late as 1985, an AAC report
def ended t he college maj or and spoke of "t he j oy of mast ery, t he thrill of
movi ng forward i n a formal body of knowl edge and gai ni ng some effective
cont r ol over it, i nt egrat i ng it, per haps even maki ng some small cont ri bu-
t i on t o it."
Several women' s st udi es l umi nar i esJohnnel l a Butler, Sandra Coyner,
Marl ene Longenecker , a nd Car yn McTi ghe Musi l f ound this r emar k
offensive. In a scat hi ng r epor t t o t he AAC, made possi bl e by "generous
fundi ng" from t he cooperat i ve For d Foundat i on and t he Fund for t he
A B U R E A U C R A C Y O F O N E ' S O W N 125
I mpr ovement of Post -Secondary Educat i on (FIPSE), t hey "deconst r uct ed"
the offending passage:
A feminist analysis of t hi s rhet ori c reveals . . . an anal ogy bet ween
knowl edge and sexual subj ugat i on . . . , an idea of l earni ng as mas-
tery or cont rol . Clearly embedded . . . are unconsci ous andr ocent r i c
assumpt i ons of domi nance and subor di nat i on bet ween t he knower
and t he known, assumpt i ons t hat t oo readily br i ng to mi nd t he
t radi t i onal rel at i onshi p of men to women; of t he col oni zers to t he
col oni zed; i ndeed, of t he mast ers to t he slaves. Such phal l ocent ri c
met aphor s . . . [are not ] t he acci dent al usage of one report ; t hey
replicate t he domi nant di scourses of West er n empi ri ci sm t hat wom-
en' s st udi es . . . cr i t i ques.
1 6
The AAC is not likely t o offend again. Even as it was bei ng so sharpl y
r ebuked, t he AAC was t arget ed for a gender feminist makeover. These
days, it is an i mpor t ant resource for t ransformat i oni st s, and Caryn Mc-
Tighe Musil is one of its seni or fellows. She and Johnnel l a Butler, t he
feminist schol ar from Washi ngt on University, are pl ayi ng a pri nci pal role
in t he newl y i naugur at ed $4. 5 mi l l i on AAC t ransformat i oni st pr oj ect .
1 7
As for Ms. Schmi t z, she is now a seni or associate for t he Cul t ural
Pluralism Project at t he Was hi ngt on Cent er at Evergreen State College,
wher e, ampl y funded by t he For d Foundat i on and t he state gover nment ,
she oversees t he t ransformat i on proj ect in several universities and colleges
in t he state. She, t oo, has recent l y served as a seni or fellow at t he AAC.
The AAC is not t he onl y such organi zat i on t o have caught t he transfor-
mat i oni st fever. Gr oups like t he Ameri can Association of University
Wome n and t he prest i gi ous Ameri can Counci l on Educat i on now t ake it
for grant ed t hat Amer i can educat i on mus t be radically t ransformed. Con-
sider, for exampl e, this pr ogr ammat i c st at ement in a r epor t sponsor ed by
t he Ameri can Counci l on Educat i on ent i t l ed "The New Agenda of Wo me n
for Hi gher Educat i on":
What has yet to happen on all of our campuses is t he t ransformat i on
of knowl edge and, therefore, of t he cur r i cul um demanded by this
expl osi on of ne w i nformat i on, and by chal l enges to convent i onal
ways of t hi nki ng and knowi ng. Women' s st udi es, t he new schol ar-
shi p on women, or t ransformat i on of t he cur r i cul um pr oj ect s t he
names vary accor di ng to campus and cul t ur es houl d be goals of
t he faculty and academi c admi ni st rat i on on every c a mpus .
1 8
126 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
The t ransformat i on of t he phi l osophy major at Mount Hol yoke College
is an exampl e of change as it may affect an i ndi vi dual scholarly depart -
ment . In t he late eighties Mount Hol yoke College was given funds by t he
Donner Foundat i on t o conduct t ransformat i on semi nars. Next it acqui red
a pr ovost of t he ri ght consci ousness, Peter Berek, who had been at Wi l -
l i ams College. In t he spr i ng of 1992, this little i t em appeared in t he
college newspaper , under t he headl i ne "Phi l osophy Transforms Major":
In an unus ual move, t he Phi l osophy Depar t ment has br oken away
from t radi t i onal r equi r ement s for phi l osophy majors and mi nors.
. . . [As a result] st udent s will be able to pur s ue in dept h an area of
special i nt erest , i ncl udi ng cont empor ar y topics of phi l osophi cal
t hought s uc h as feminist phi l osophy, t he phi l osophy of racism,
and t he phi l os ophy of film.
The article not ed t he s uppor t t he admi ni st rat i on had given to t he
t ransformat i on of t he phi l osophy major. Here is how t he phi l osophy
maj or was descri bed before t he t ransformat i on: "The major in phi l osophy
is desi gned to pr ovi de t he st udent wi t h a br oad under st andi ng of t he
historical backgr ound of cont empor ar y phi l osophi cal t hought . . . . It shall
consi st of at least ei ght courses, i ncl udi ng one each in t he hi st ory of
anci ent phi l osophy, t he hi st ory of moder n phi l osophy, and logic." Here
is t he new descri pt i on: "A maj or in phi l osophy shoul d provi de t he stu-
dent wi t h a br oad under s t andi ng of t he backgr ound of cont empor ar y
phi l osophy. . . . Because phi l osophy admi t s of a diversity of somet i mes
compet i ng concept i ons of what phi l osophy is, t he Depar t ment encour-
ages each maj or t o art i cul at e her own maj or pr ogr am. "
The catalog does say t hat "most st udent s" will be "encouraged to in-
cl ude . . . courses t hat pr ovi de an historical backgr ound for her area of
special i nt erest . " But t he ol d r equi r ement s are gone, and phi l osophy as a
t radi t i onal maj or at Mount Hol yoke no l onger exists. Havi ng br oken away
from t he hi st ori c "phase one" demands t hat requi red t he st udent to be-
come t hor oughl y conver sant wi t h such "geni uses" as Plato, Descartes, and
Kant, t he rul es n o w al l ow a phi l osophy st udent to get her degree by
t aki ng s uch courses as "Devel opment s in Femi ni st Phi l osophy: Rethink-
i ng t he Wor l d" ( whi ch expl ai ns how feminists reconst ruct their "own . . .
versi on of phi l osophy") , "Phi l osophy and Fi l m" (i ncl udi ng a special st udy
of films t hat feature an "unl i kel y coupl e"), "Film Comedy" (whi ch in-
cl udes "feminist appr oaches t o screwbal l comedy"), and "Femi ni st Sci-
ence Fi ct i on as Femi ni st Theor y. "
1 9
Some colleges have i nst i t ut ed policies to screen out phase one "un-
A B U R E A U C R A C Y O F O N E ' S O W N 127
reachabl es" early in t he faculty hi ri ng process. Cornel l College in Iowa
was one of t he first t o make such policies official. All appl i cant s for
teaching posi t i ons at Cornel l College mus t s how t hat t hey are conversant
wi t h and sympat het i c to t he new feminist schol arshi p. Accordi ng to a
1988 issue of t he Chronicle of Higher Education,
Denni s Damon Moore, dean of t he College, says t hat prospect i ve
faculty member s are asked at i nt ervi ews what i mpact feminist schol -
arshi p has had on t hei r wor k and t eachi ng. In addi t i on, he says,
when faculty member s are reviewed, t hey are specifically asked to
exami ne t he rel at i onshi p of t he feminist perspect i ve to t hei r wor k.
2 0
Six years later t hese sort s of devel opment s are no l onger "news, " and
t he Chronicle does not r epor t on t hem. The t ransformat i oni st s have come
a l ong way in a very shor t t i me. How muc h farther t hey will go depends
on t he university faculties and t he i ndependent l earned societies, whi ch
have so far s hown little i ncl i nat i on to make a st and in defense of t he
traditional st andar ds of liberal l earni ng. Moreover, t he t ransformat i oni st s
are increasingly seei ng to it t hat t he faculties t hemsel ves are changi ng t o
i ncl ude mor e and mor e peopl e of t he "right consci ousness. " As t he num-
ber of doct ri nal l y correct per sonnel grows, they, t oo, will see to it t hat
only candi dat es of like qualifications are hi red in t he future. Ironically,
t he ongoi ng self-selection of faculty of t he ri ght feminist per suasi on is
bei ng carried out in t he name of "diversity" and "i ncl usi veness. "
There are hundr eds of wel l -funded t ransformat i oni st proj ect s t hr ough-
out t he count ry. Peggy Mci nt osh' s Cent er for Research on Wo me n at
Wellesley College has a mul t i mi l l i on-dol l ar budget . The proj ect at t he
University of Maryl and has half a mi l l i on to wor k wi t h. The doyenne of
transformationists, Caryn McTighe Musil, and her associates at t he Asso-
ciation of Ameri can Colleges will have $4. 5 million. Al most all transfor-
mat i oni st proj ect s are financially hel ped by bei ng housed in t he
universities, wher e rent , post age, and ot her overhead is mi ni mal . Many
use t he secretarial staffs and services of t hei r host colleges.
Much of t hei r fundi ng comes from foundat i on grant s, but t he bul k of
it comes from publ i c funds, via st at e s uppor t for universities. In addi t i on
to t he many i ndi vi dual proj ect s s uppor t ed wi t hi n t he universities, t here
are t he umbrel l a organi zat i ons such as t he AAC, whi ch are now commi t -
ted to t he educat i onal phi l osophy and agenda of t he t ransformat i oni st s.
And t here, again, t he uni versi t y bureaucraci es are payi ng.
128 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
It, is a di smayi ng fact t hat onl y one or gani zat i ont he Nat i onal Asso-
ciation of Schol ar s has been openl y expressi ng concern at what t he
t ransformat i oni st s are doi ng in and to t he Ameri can academy. The NAS
has an office in Pri ncet on, New Jersey, wi t h a staff of six (two part -t i mers),
a budget of $900, 000, and a nat i onal member shi p of fewer t han t hree
t housand. In cont rast t o t he t ransformat i oni st s, t he NAS operat es entirely
on its own; no uni versi t y suppor t s it or offers it facilities.
Needl ess to say, t he "politically correct " forces led by t he gender femi-
nists are cont i nual l y bl ast i ng t he NAS as a backl ashi ng, sexist, racist,
ri ght -wi ng organi zat i on popul at ed by "phase one" unreachabl es. In fact,
like mos t professi onal educat i onal or academi c associations, t he NAS has
liberal as well as conservat i ve member s , i ncl udi ng James David Barber, a
Duke Uni versi t y political sci ence professor, ant i war leader, and former
pr esi dent of Amnest y Int ernat i onal ; Richard Lamm, former Democrat i c
gover nor of Col or ado; Seymour Mart i n Lipset, current presi dent of
t he Amer i can Sociological Association; and Eugene and Elizabeth Fox-
Genovese, a Marxi st hi st ori an and a socialist feminist, respectively. My
hus band, Fr ed Sommer s, and I bot h registered Democr at sar e mem-
ber s of t he Boston chapt er, whi ch has no distinctive political coloration.
The c ommon denomi nat or is al arm at t he loss of academi c freedoms and
a st r ong convi ct i on t hat t radi t i onal academi c st andar ds mus t be prot ect ed.
The NAS, a tiny mi nor i t y i n t he Ameri can academy, has a pri nci pl ed
respect for open di scussi on. Thi s requi res it to give heari ngs to t he op-
posi t i on wher ever it can. Steven Balch, its nat i onal director, and his staff
make it a pract i ce t o invite maj or spokesper sons wi t h opposi ng poi nt s of
vi ew to NAS meet i ngs and convent i ons. These gat heri ngs are often t he
scenes of real debat e on t he very cont roversi al issues t hat divide t he NAS
from its adversari es.
One reason t he NAS has r emai ned so small is t hat anyone who j oi ns
t he organi zat i on faces oppr obr i um and labeling as a "reactionary. " Unt en-
ur ed member s pl ace t hemsel ves in special j eopar dy. Nevertheless, as mor e
and mor e faculty are becomi ng fed u p wi t h t he doct ri nai re forces that are
steadily r educi ng t he degrees of freedom of bot h teachers and st udent s on
Ameri ca' s campuses, t he member s hi p keeps rising.
Professor J i m Hawki ns t eaches phi l osophy at Santa Monica City Col-
lege. Wha t happened at hi s college i nduced hi m to j oi n wi t h several of
hi s colleagues to form an NAS chapt er on his campus. Dur i ng t he 1 9 8 9 -
90 academi c year, a "Cur r i cul um Transformat i on Task Force" was formed
at Santa Moni ca by t he admi ni st r at i on wi t hout t he usual faculty senat e
part i ci pat i on. The Cur r i cul um Transformat i on Task Force issued a report
whos e cent ral thesis seemed t o be t hat t he college' s traditional curri cul um
A B U R E A U C R A C Y O F O N E ' S O W N 129
had a "Eurocent ri c, whi t e mal e ori ent at i on. " It "prescri bed a whol esal e
ret hi nki ng of ' all t he categories on whi ch we have come, consci ousl y or
not , to depend, ' i ncl udi ng our very definitions of courses, par adi gms,
disciplines, and de pa r t me nt s . "
2 1
Professor Hawki ns and his colleagues
also became aware t hat t he admi ni st rat i on was maki ng subst ant i al
changes in t he hi ri ng processes, again wi t hout benefit of faculty i nput .
For exampl e, "a larger admi ni st rat i ve cont i ngent began to serve on previ -
ously facul t y-domi nat ed hi ri ng commi t t ees, al ong wi t h . . . peopl e specif-
ically t rai ned t o pr omot e t he cause of ' diversity. ' " The hi ri ng of new
faculty at Santa Moni ca was soon bei ng carefully moni t or ed by t he t rans-
formationists to ensur e ideological rect i t ude. It is now a mat t er of r out i ne
at Santa Moni ca City College t hat appl i cant s are asked mul t i pl e quest i ons
on t ransformat i oni sm. Hawki ns cites one ent husi ast i c moni t or as saying,
"If you have to hi re a whi t e mal e, at least be sur e his head is in t he ri ght
pl ace. " Professor Hawki ns concl udes hi s r epor t on t ransformat i oni st activ-
ities at Santa Moni ca City College wi t h t he advi ce to "chal l enge your local
t ransformat i oni st s t o defend t hei r pr oposal s and pr emi ses. For many of
t hem this will be, sadly, an unaccust omed exper i ence. "
2 2
At many colleges and universities, admi ni st r at or s ask st udent s to eval-
uat e their professors on t hei r sensitivity to gender issues. Ameri can Uni -
versity, for exampl e, now asks t he st udent whet her "t he course exami ned
t he cont r i but i ons of bot h wome n and men. " One political sci ence profes-
sor expl ai ned to me t hat at Ameri can your salary is directly l i nked to how
well you do on t hese forms. He once ma de t he mi st ake of saying "con-
gressmen" i nst ead of "congresspersons" and was r udel y r ebuked by t wo
female st udent s. He was convi nced t hey woul d dock hi m several poi nt s
for t hat lapse. The University of Mi nnesot a has est abl i shed a core of
graduat e st udent s called "Cl assroom Cl i mat e Advi sors" t o hel p st udent s
offended by t he r emar ks of professors or fellow st udent s "devel op a strat-
egy for deal i ng wi t h t he pr obl e m. "
2 3
But mor e i mpor t ant changes have occur r ed at t he level of staffing.
Candi dat es for faculty posi t i ons are likely t o be subj ect t o careful screen-
ing to keep out per sons of t he wr ong consci ousness. To make this pos -
sible, t he deci di ng commi t t ees mus t t hemsel ves be of t he ri ght
consci ousness. At t he University of Ari zona, faculty member s who are not
"keepi ng u p wi t h cur r ent t r ends" i n pos t moder n and feminist t hought
may be disqualified from sitting on t enur e and pr omot i on commi t t ees.
This new pol i cy pr opos ed by t he (t hen) dean of t he faculty of humani t i es,
Annet t e Kol odny, woul d significantly curtail t he t radi t i onal prerogat i ves
of seni or faculty t o pass on appoi nt ment s and pr omot i ons .
2 4
The i mpul se
to doct ri nal cont rol by r emovi ng di ssi dent opi ni on from posi t i ons of
130
W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
power somet i mes t akes a less subt l e form. Incensed t hat an NAS chapt er
was bei ng formed at Duke University, Professor Stanley Fish asked t he
dean t o i nst i t ut e a pol i cy t hat woul d excl ude NAS member s from serving
on commi t t ees deal i ng wi t h t enur e and pr omot i on decisions. In t hat case
t he dean di d not compl y.
In addi t i on to t i ght eni ng t he bureaucrat i c screws, t he forces of doc-
trinal rect i t ude wor k persi st ent l y and effectively to modify perspectives
and gr oup behavi or. One exampl e: In 1990, Virginia Polytechnic issued
to t he faculty copi es of Removing Bias, a sixty-page gui de present i ng "tac-
tics for at t i t udi nal change. " The gui de advises professors on how they can
avoi d offensive humor : professors are encouraged to consul t Free to Be
You and Me by Mari o Thomas for hel p on how to be funny whi l e "elimi-
nat i ng gender s t er eot ypi ng. "
2 5
The tacit cooper at i on of gover nment per sonnel is i ndi spensabl e to t he
t ransformat i oni st s. I recent l y phone d t he State Board of Educat i on in
Was hi ngt on to i nqui r e about a Transformat i on Conference bei ng orga-
ni zed by Betty Schmi t z for twelve communi t y colleges. All four speakers
wh o i ncl uded Johnnel l a Butler and Betty Schmi t zr epr esent ed essen-
tially t he same poi nt of view. I asked Alberta May, an assistant di rect or
for s t udent services on t he Washi ngt on State Board for Communi t y and
Techni cal Colleges who hel ps Ms. Schmi t z to organize events, why they
wer e not i nvi t i ng speaker s who had different ideas about curri cul um
reform. After all, I said, t he educat i onal phi l osophy advocat ed by Ms.
Schmi t z and her associates is qui t e controversial. "What do you mean?"
asked a genui nel y baffled Ms. May. "In what way coul d it be called
cont roversi al ?"
Ms. May is a st at e empl oyee. My quest i on evidently rattled her, and
she sent me a fol l ow-up letter t hat gives some i ndi cat i on of t he bl i nd
loyalty t hat t ransformat i oni st s command wi t hi n some gover nment bu-
reaucraci es: "Visionary l eaders at a large percent age of institutions of
hi gher educat i on percei ve t he infusion of cul t ural pl ural i sm as addi ng
st r engt h to t he general educat i onal curri cul a. . . . The State Board for
Communi t y and Techni cal Colleges . . . values t he l eadershi p and exper-
tise of bot h Dr. Betty Schmi t z and Dr. Johnnel l a Butler in this area."
News of my conversat i on wi t h Ms. May must have reached Ms.
Schmi t z, for she wr ot e t o me accusi ng me of "havi ng at t empt ed to per-
suade one of my clients t o t ermi nat e my empl oyment " and war ni ng me
t hat her "at t orneys consi der [my] conduct unlawful interference wi t h a
busi ness r el at i onshi p. " She concl uded: "If I learn t hat you have again
at t empt ed to interfere in any of my professional rel at i onshi ps, I shall take
A B U R E A U C R A C Y O F O N E ' S O W N 131
all available st eps t o assure t hat such conduct does not occur again and
to redress any resul t i ng damage. "
Ms. Schmi t z' s readi ness t o use t he mascul i ni st cour t s t o deal wi t h
"interference" does not surpri se me. Nor is it surpri si ng t hat her experi -
ence has given her t he assurance t hat t he gover nment is on her si de and
that its largesse is rightfully hers.
Despite t hei r over whel mi ng successes, t he t ransformat i oni st s keep
war ni ng t hei r suppor t er s about an i mpendi ng "ri ght -wi ng backl ash. "
Caryn McTi ghe Musi l at t acks t he NAS in t he 1992 ant hol ogy The Courage
to Question: Women's Studies and Student Learning for pur veyi ng "mi si n-
formed and danger ous pol emi cs . "
2 6
No exampl es are given, al t hough a
footnote cites a 1988 NAS conference. Ms. Musil' s react i on is i nst ruct i ve:
criticism of any ki nde ve n in a smal l schol arl y conference four years
agocannot be abi ded. It mus t be denounced, and t hose responsi bl e
must be i mpugned. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, di rect or of t he Women' s Re-
search Cent er at Spel man College, says it mor e soberl y in a recent finan-
cial r epor t she wr ot e for t he For d Foundat i on:
We mus t not al l ow t he cur r ent pr eoccupat i on wi t h "political cor-
rect ness" to obscur e t he reality of a moder n- day, wel l -organi zed,
right-wing movement (i nsi de and out si de t he academy) whos e ol d
and popul ar racist, sexist, and homophobi c schemes t hr eat en t o
reverse t he progressi ve reforms of t he 1960' s. . . . Thi s makes it nec-
essary to advocat e l oudl y and clearly for t he demi se of t he andr ocen-
tric cur r i cul um. . . . The s uppor t for Women' s St udi es shoul d
intensify dur i ng t hi s paradoxi cal per i od of assaul t .
2 7
It goes wi t hout sayi ng t hat no one deserves to be called sexist or racist
for defendi ng t he t radi t i onal cur r i cul um. Nor shoul d criticizing t he edu-
cational phi l osophy of gender feminists be t aken as any ki nd of sign t hat
t he critic bel ongs t o a "ri ght -wi ng movement . " Al t hough many conserva-
tives oppose t ransformat i oni sm, many of t he best - known critics who p u b -
licly express al arm about its effects on Ameri can educat i on woul d be
count ed politically as left of cent er. These i ncl ude Ar t hur Schlesinger, Jr. ,
James David Barber, Nat Hentoff, James Atlas, Robert Hughes, C. Vann
Woodwar d, Robert Alter, t he late Irving Howe, Eugene Genovese, Alan
Dershowi t z, Paul Berman, and J ohn Searle.
They are j oi ned by a gr owi ng numbe r of progressi ve wome n i ncl udi ng
such di st i ngui shed figures as Cynt hi a Ozi ck, Cynt hi a Wolff, Mary Lef-
kowitz, Iris Mur doch, Dori s Lessing, Sylvia Hewl et t , Elizabeth Fox-Gen-
132 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
ovese, Jean Bet hke El sht ai n, Rita Si mon, Susan Haack, and Rut h Barcan
Marcus.
The novel i st Cynt hi a Ozi ck is a classical feminist who believes we are
now wi t nessi ng t he det eri orat i on of feminism in t he academy. She told
me, "The whol e poi nt of femi ni sm was to give women access to t he great
wor l d. The ne w femi ni sm on t he campuses is regressive."
Mary Lefkowitz, a Wel l esl ey classicist, is a pi oneer in t he st udy of
wome n in t he anci ent wor l d, but she does not read t he lives of women of
ant i qui t y in t er ms of any rigid feminist syst em of i nt erpret at i on. As a
result, Professor Lefkowitz is per sona non grata among many feminist
hi st ori ans. As a vet eran equi t y feminist, Lefkowitz fought l ong and har d
against t he ol d boy net wor k t hat once di scri mi nat ed against women
schol ars. She believes it is bei ng repl aced by a new net work, an old girl
net wor k of feminist preferment . "Just like many revol ut i ons, " she poi nt s
out , "it becomes as bad as what it repl aced. "
I s poke wi t h anot her di st i ngui shed classical scholar, Rebecca Hague,
professor of classics at Amher st College. She expressed grave doubt s
about t he val ue of a "feminist perspect i ve on t he anci ent wor l d" t hat
focuses on women' s absence from t he government , t aki ng t hat as proof
t hat wome n wer e si l enced and oppressed. "I am not sure t hat women in
t he anci ent wor l d want ed a role in t he government . For t hem t he religious
life had far mor e val ue, and t here wome n had a central role. " Like Lefko-
wi t z, Hague c onde mns t he feminist i nt ol erance to criticism. "I have t he
feeling t hat if you quest i on t hem, you will be targeted. "
Iris Mur doch fears t hat t he progress bei ng made in t he cause of libera-
t i on, whi ch she defines as freedom "to enjoy equal educat i on, equal
oppor t uni t i es, equal rights, and to be t reat ed as men ar eas ordi nary
peopl e on t hei r own mer i t s and not as a special t ri be, " is bei ng seriously
t hr eat ened by feminists who lay claim t o female ethics, female criticism,
and female knowl edge.
Wh e n one t hi nks of "role model s" for female college st udent s of a
liberal, artistic bent , wome n like Iris Mur doch, Joan Di di on, Doris Less-
i ng, Susan Sont ag, and Cynt hi a Ozi ck come to mi nd. These women have
expressed deep reservat i ons about gynocent ri c feminism. Joan Di di on
art i cul at ed her abhor r ence of t he idea of desi gnat i ng "women" as a special
class in a 1979 essay.
2 8
Susan Sont ag wr ot e in a 1975 essay publ i shed in
t he New York Review of Books t hat she depl ores feminist "anti-intellectual-
i sm" and felt it necessary t o "dissociate myself from t hat wi ng of feminism
t hat pr omot es t he ranci d and danger ous antithesis bet ween mi nd . . . and
e mot i on. "
2 9
A B U R E A U C R A C Y O F O N E ' S O W N 133
In a 1991 l ect ure at t he 92 nd Street Y i n New York City, Dori s Lessing
criticized t he "r ampagi ng ki nd of feminist" and called t he deni grat i on of
mal e wri t ers sheer "nonsense" t hat will alienate sensi bl e wome n from
feminism. "Heari ng this ki nd of t hi ng, many wome n t hi nk, oh my God, I
don' t want to have anyt hi ng to do wi t h t hi s . "
3 0
But such opi ni ons are
i gnored by t he women' s st udi es and t ransformat i on movement s. "That is
what has ma de you margi nal in t he uni versi t i es, " Cynt hi a Ozi ck was
war ned by a campus feminist when she expressed t he "wr ong" vi ews in a
New Yorker article s ome years ago.
Per haps t he most conspi cuous target of feminist oppr obr i um is Cami l l e
Paglia, who has managed to conf ound her at t ackers by st ri ki ng back
publ i cl y and to great effect. After her book Sexual Personae not onl y
became an unexpect ed best-seller but also was hai l ed by a numbe r of
scholarly critics, she coul d reasonabl y have expect ed to be acknowl edged
as an out st andi ng woma n schol ar even by t hose who t ake st r ong excep-
tion to her unfashi onabl e views.
But t he Women's Review of Books br anded Sexual Personae a wor k of
"crackpot ext r emi sm, " "an apol ogi a for a new pos t - Col d Wa r fascism,"
pat ri archy' s "count er-assaul t on f emi ni sm. "
3 1
Femi ni st professors at Con-
nect i cut College, at t empt i ng to get it r emoved from a readi ng list, com-
par ed it to Mein Kampf Wh e n Paglia appear ed at a Brown University
forum, out raged faculty feminists si gned a pet i t i on censuri ng her and
demandi ng an i nvest i gat i on i nt o pr ocedur es for i nvi t i ng speakers t o t he
campus.
Yale professor Har ol d Bloom has poi nt ed out t hat "someone as bri l -
liant, as l earned, as t al ent ed, and as ferociously bur ni ng an intellect as
Camille Paglia" bel ongs in t he Ivy League or at somepl ace like t he Uni -
versity of California at Berkeley or t he University of Chi cago. But t he
"bureaucrat s of r esent ment who are appoi nt ed by ot her s in t he net wor k
because t hey are politically correct " will cont i nue to do t hei r ut mos t t o
make sur e t hat this does not happen. "They will bl ackbal l her every-
whe r e . "
3 2
Despi t e Paglia' s cont i nued defiance, t he l esson is clear: anyone who
dares to criticize t he "New Femi ni st schol ar shi p" mus t be pr epar ed for
r ough t reat ment . Wh e n t he Shakespearean schol ar Ri chard Levin t ook
issue wi t h some feminist i nt erpret at i ons of Shakespeare' s t ragedi es, he
was denounced i n a r ude letter boast i ng no fewer t han t went y-four sig-
natories. Signing i n gr oups is a st andar d feature of feminist critical re-
sponse. In t he letter, publ i shed in PMLA, t hey tell us t hey are "puzzl ed
and di st ur bed t hat Ri chard Levin has made a successful academi c career"
134 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
in vi ew of hi s way of i nt er pr et i ng literary texts. They censure t he j our nal
for havi ng publ i shed Levin' s article. If t hey had their way, Levin woul d
effectively be deni ed t he oppor t uni t y t o publ i sh his vi ews.
3 3
Nei t her Levin nor Paglia is fazed by such feminist onsl aught s, but it
woul d be har d to under est i mat e t he i nhi bi t i ng effects on ot hers. Intimi-
dat i on has enforced a stultifying conformi t y. To criticize t he New Femi -
ni st schol ar shi p wi t hout havi ng t enur e is reckless in t he ext reme: it is
now vi rt ual l y i mpossi bl e to find publ i c fault wi t h academi c feminism
wi t hout payi ng for it in drastically di mi ni shed prospect s for j obs or ad-
vancement i n t he Amer i can academy. The pressure to refrain from criti-
ci sm is mat ched by t he pr essur e to t oe t he line by zealously pr omot i ng
feminist doct r i ne.
The New Femi ni sm has been rapi dl y col oni zi ng and "t ransformi ng" t he
Ameri can uni versi t y. The influx was not invited, nor was it greeted wi t h
muc h ent husi asm. Yet it has not met wi t h significant resistance. Why not?
Part of t he answer is t hat s ome academi c gender feminists regard t he
academy as a pat ri archal i nst i t ut i on whose nor mal pr ocedur es serve to
keep Eur opean whi t e mal es in power . Being moral l y convi nced t hat t hey
are not bound t o adher e t o rul es of "fair pl ay" devised by t he oppressor,
t hese gender feminist i deol ogues have no scrupl es about bypassi ng nor-
mal channel s i n gai ni ng t hei r ends.
A mor e i mpor t ant par t of t he answer is t hat a confused and well-
meani ng academi c communi t y has failed to di st i ngui sh clearly bet ween
equi t y and gender femi ni sm. A befuddl ed liberalism has pr oved to be
fertile soil for t he gr owt h of an i nt ol erant gender feminism. The canni er
feminists wer e qui ck t o seize t hei r oppor t uni t i es. "You mi ght wonder , "
says Paula Gol dsmi d, a former dean at Oberl i n College, "how we managed
t o generat e a women' s st udi es pr ogr am t hat has a catalog suppl ement
listing mor e t han t went y courses, t hat offers an i ndi vi dual major in wom-
en' s st udi es, t hat has been abl e t o involve several commi t t ees in really
wor ki ng t o t ransform t he academy in vari ous ways. " She describes one
successful tactic: "Ther e is a great rel uct ance to say or do anyt hi ng pub-
licly t hat goes agai nst t he liberal and ' progressive' Oberl i n st ance. Ober-
lin' s liberal val ues can be t ur ned t o our advant age" (her emphasi s) .
3 4
Paula Rot henber g, head of t he New Jersey Project, gives much t he same
expl anat i on for how she and her sister feminists got their own college,
Wi l l i am Pat erson, t o i nst i t ut e a women' s st udi es requi rement : "Our sur-
pri si ng success was due to . . . t he pr esence on t he cur r i cul um commi t t ee
of s ome allies a nd ol d-st yl e liberals who found it difficult to disagree wi t h
t he idea of s uch a r equi r ement , at least in publ i c . "
3 5
Those who have t hei r reservat i ons about t he costs of t he rapi d feminist
A B U R E A U C R A C Y O F O N E ' S O W N 135
col oni zat i on of t he academy r emai n in disarray. Many of t he feminists
who ent ered t he academy i n t he seventies and eighties had been activists
in t he ant i war sixties and seventies. Est abl i shed academi cs, who mi ght
have been expect ed to resist some of t he ideological baggage t hese femi-
nists had br ought wi t h t hem, pr oved t o be no mat ch for t hese dedi cat ed
vet erans. In t he first pl ace, many wer e i nexperi enced in deal i ng wi t h
peopl e who simply ignored t he uns poken under st andi ng t hat no gr oup on
an Ameri can campus shoul d pr omot e a political agenda in its cl assrooms.
And mal e faculty qui ckl y became aware t hat resistance to feminist pr o-
posal s woul d automatically be condemned as sexist and react i onary. The
charge t hat t he uni versi t y itself was a mal e cl ub kept t hem per manent l y
off bal ance.
Moreover, par t of t he legacy of t he sixties was t hat a significant par t of
t he liberal academy had l ong si nce shifted away from t he classical i ndi vi d-
ualist liberalism of J ohn Locke and J ohn St uart Mill to "ant i -est abl i shment
liberalism. " They wer e not averse to t he gender feminists' message t hat
t he university itself was par t of a moral l y di scredi t ed est abl i shment .
Recently, I was di scussi ng t he subj ect of t he gender feminist "col oni -
zat i on" of t he academy wi t h a pr omi nent schol ar and equi t y feminist. I
told her of my vi ew t hat wel l - meani ng admi ni st rat ors and pr of essor s
most l y mal es wer e failing to di st i ngui sh bet ween equi t y femi ni sm and
its unscr upul ous t wi n, gender feminism, and what har m t hei r confusi on
was causing. My friend' s t heory was less flattering t han mi ne. In her vi ew,
t he mal e schol ars who have given so muc h l at i t ude t o poor l y qualified
feminist i deol ogues knew very well what t hey wer e doi ng. Most academi c
men, she says, are t hemsel ves average schol ars and not overly comfort abl e
wi t h compet i t i on from capabl e women. The female schol ars wh o m t hey
have al l owed to out fl ank t hem strategically are at least intellectually less
t hreat eni ng t han "vertical" t hi nkers like Hel en Vendl er, Rut h Barcan Mar-
cus, or El i zabet h Fox-Genovese. If my friend is right, t he i nor di nat e
influence of gender femi ni sm in t he academy is due at least in par t to ol d-
fashioned sexi sm. Her t heory is mi schi evous and attractive, and it has
el ement s of t rut h. For when a ma n of indifferent talents is consci ous of
bei ng inferior to a woman, t he pr obl em of hi s own inferiority t ends to be
compounded by t he fact t hat he is bei ng best ed by a woman.
On t he whol e, however, most wome n schol ars I have spoken to about
this do not s uppor t my friend' s t heory. Most compet ent wome n academ-
ics find t hat t hey are t reat ed no wor se and no bet t er t han t hei r mal e
count erpart s. The far less i nt erest i ng expl anat i on t hey offer for t he failure
of menespeci al l y mal e de a ns t o st and up to feminist i deol ogues and
their proj ect s is t hat t hey wi shed to avoi d unpl easant ness.
136 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
I once asked a pr omi nent phi l osopher of sci encea politically
progressi ve, fai r-mi nded ma n wh a t he t hought of a l ect ure by Sandra
Har di ng cri t i qui ng "mal e sci ence. " He told me he found it to be i ncom-
pr ehensi bl e.
"Di d you raise any obj ect i on in t he quest i on-and-answer peri od?" I
i nqui r ed.
"No, " he said. "I a m j us t hopi ng it will all go away. "
The pr obl em is t hat "it" is not j ust goi ng to go away. "I t "t he gender
feminist est abl i shment i s wel l ent r enched, and its number s are increas-
ing. It is confi dent , and it has little respect for schol ars like my friend. If
anyt hi ng, it is t hi s Oxford-t rai ned phi l osopher , a "phase one vertical
t hi nker , " who is in danger of becomi ng irrelevant in t he transformed
uni versi t y of t he future.
The pr esence of a frankly ideological and politically powerful core of
academi cs i n Ameri ca' s universities has consequences far beyond t he
academy. Activist organi zat i ons like t he Nat i onal Organi zat i on of
Wome n, t he Ms. Foundat i on, and t he Ameri can Association of University
Wo me n strive const ant l y t o per suade t he wi der publ i c t hat women are
urgent l y in need of t he pr ot ect i ons t hey will hel p to provi de. These
organi zat i ons rely on a pool of academi c feminists to faithfully pr oduce
books, dat a, a nd st udi es t hat demonst r at e al armi ng amount s of sexism,
di scri mi nat i on, and gender bias.
Most feminist activists are sincerely commi t t ed to their mi ssi on, but
t here are mat eri al r ewar ds t hat shoul d not go unnot i ced. In our tight
economy, ma ny pr oduct i ve peopl e in depressed i ndust ri es have lost or
are in danger of l osi ng t hei r j obs. Ther e is no comparabl e t hreat to t he
t hri vi ng careers of t he professi onal f emi ni st st he wor kshopper s, facili-
t at ors, and t ransformat i oni st s. Large number s of professionals wi t h j ob
titles like "sex equi t y expert , " "gender bias officer," and "harassment facil-
i t at or" are r emuner at i vel y engaged in finding, moni t ori ng, and eradicating
endl ess mani fest at i ons of gender bias.
That t he feminist bureaucraci es al ready command significant pat ronage
and power is due i n great par t t o t hei r ability to influence local legislatures
and school boar ds. Mor e recent l y, t hey have s hown a capacity to influence
pol i cy a nd l aw at t he federal level. Her e again, muc h of their effectiveness
is due t o t hei r t al ent s for per suadi ng legislatures of t he t rut h of some
al ar mi ng "facts" about t he pl i ght of women, based on "studies t hat
s h o w . . . " The near - t er m pr ospect t hat t hey will have at their disposal
an ever-larger numbe r of ill-defined but wel l -payi ng j obs is bri ght
i ndeed.
Chapter 7
The Self-Esteem Study
In 1991, newspaper s ar ound t he count r y carried al armi ng r epor t s
about t he pl ummet i ng self-esteem of Ameri can t eenage girls. "Little girls
lose t hei r self-esteem on way to adol escence, st udy finds," said t he New
York Times.
1
"Girls' confi dence erodes over years, st udy says" (Chicago
Tribune).
2
"St udy poi nt s t o st ark gender differences" (Boston Globe).
3
The st udy had been commi ssi oned by t he Ameri can Association of
University Wo me n (AAUW), a women' s organi zat i on f ounded in 1881,
dedi cat ed t o pr omot i ng excellence in women' s educat i on. Like t he League
of Wome n Vot ers, it is one of t he mor e respect ed women' s organi zat i ons,
wi t h a cur r ent member s hi p of about 140, 000. Any st udy bear i ng its
i mpr i mat ur is assur ed of wi de and seri ous at t ent i on.
As par t of its "Initiative for Educat i onal Equi t y, " t he AAUW commi s-
si oned t he Washi ngt on, D. C. , pol l i ng firm of Greenberg-Lake Associates
to measur e t he self-esteem of girls and boys bet ween t he ages of ni ne a nd
fifteen. Thr ee t hous and chi l dren wer e asked about t hei r self-confidence,
career goals, and schol arl y i nt erest s. Accordi ng to t he AAUW, t he pol l
138 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
s howed t hat bet ween t he ages of eleven and sixteen, girls experi ence a
dr amat i c dr op i n self-esteem, whi ch in t ur n significantly affects their
ability t o l earn and t o achi eve. The AAUW t ook a very seri ous vi ew of its
findings, publ i shi ng t hem under t he title "Short changi ng Girls, Short-
changi ng Ameri ca. "
Not onl y di d t he r epor t make headl i nes ar ound t he count ry, it led to
hundr e ds of conferences and communi t y act i on projects. Politicians, ed-
ucat ors, and busi ness l eaders have been recrui t ed by t he AAUW to hel p
Ameri ca' s "shor t changed" girls. Fifty congresspersons r esponded to t he
al ar m by sponsor i ng a $3 60 mi l l i on bill, t he Gender Equi t y in Educat i on
Act, t o deal wi t h t he pr obl ems raised by t he AAUW st udy. Whe n Pat
Schr oeder i nt r oduced t he Gender Equi t y in Educat i on Act before Con-
gress in Apri l 1993 , she cited t he AAUW r epor t as if it were gospel:
For t oo l ong, t he needs of girls have been i gnored or overl ooked in
crafting educat i on pol i cy. . . . Today, we know t hat little girls as
young as 11 years ol d suffer from l ow levels of self-esteem. Wher e
9-year-ol d girls wer e once confi dent t hat t hey coul d conquer t he
wor l d, girls at age 11 suddenl y begi n doubt i ng their wor t h. They no
l onger like t hemsel ves and t hey begi n to quest i on t hei r own abilities.
. . . The Gender Equi t y in Educat i on Act will hel p make schools an
envi r onment wher e girls are nur t ur ed and respect ed, wher e they can
l earn t hat t hei r lives are val uabl e at t he same t i me t hey learn their
ABC' s.
4
Al t hough t he self-esteem r epor t is havi ng an enor mous i mpact , a most
casual gl ance at its cont ent s suffices to raise grave doubt s about its phi l os-
ophy, met hodol ogy, and concl usi ons. One glaring exampl e is this major
pi ece of evi dence for t he difference in boys' and girls' aspi rat i ons for
success: "Self-esteem is critically related to young peopl e' s dr eams and
successes. The hi gher self-esteem of young men translates i nt o bigger
career dr eams. . . . The numbe r of boys who aspi re to gl amorous occu-
pat i ons (rock star, spor t s star) is great er t han t hat of young women at
every stage of adol escence, creat i ng a ki nd of ' gl amour gap. ' "
5
I di d a doubl e t ake on r eadi ng this. A glamour gapl Most ki ds do not
have t he t al ent and dri ve t o be r ock stars. The sensible ones know i t .
6
Wha t t hese r esponses suggest, and what many expert s on adol escent
devel opment will tell you, is t hat girls mat ur e earlier t han boys, who at
this age, appar ent l y, suffer from a "reality gap. "
We' l l soon get t o ot her dubi ous aspect s of t he AAUW' s report . But
T H E S E L F - E S T E E M S T U D Y 139
first, let' s see how t he AAUW pr omot ed it. For it was a model of how
gender feminist activists t end t o use "research" t o political advant age.
Whe n it compl et ed t he st udy in 1991, t he AAUW hel d a blitz of pr ess
conferences. It di st ri but ed t hous ands of "Call t o Act i on" br ochur es t o its
member shi p, to j ournal i st s, and t o pol i t i ci ans. It also pr oduced a hi ghl y
professional document ar y dr amat i zi ng t he resul t s of t he st udy. The doc-
ument ar y was s hown ar ound t he count r y at communi t y conferences or-
gani zed by local AAUW chapt ers. In t he document ar y, Anne Bryant,
executive di rect or of t he AAUW, expl ai ns why we cannot afford to i gnore
t he pol l findings: "It is tragic t o t hi nk about all t he pot ent i al talent we
lose. . . . It's frightening not onl y for our girls, but for our count ry. Wh e n
we shor t change girls, we shor t change Amer i ca. "
7
Dr. David Sadker, an
educat i on t heori st from Ameri can University who was i nt ervi ewed i n t he
document ar y, offered a gr i m est i mat i on of what Ameri ca was l osi ng by
allowing this si t uat i on to persist: "If t he cur e for cancer is i n t he mi nd of
a girl, t here is a chance we will never get it."
The AAUWs findings wer e no surpri se t o psychol ogi st Carol Gilligan
of t he Harvard Uni versi t y Gr aduat e School of Educat i on. Dr. Gilligan,
who was featured in t he AAUW self-esteem vi deo, speaks of how her own
research had hel ped her t o see t hat girls experi ence a "loss of voi ce" t hat
somet i mes leads to seri ous psychol ogi cal pr obl ems such as "depr essi on,
eating di sorders and vari ous ki nds of di sl ocat i on. " At eight or ni ne years
old, she' d found, girls are forthright and self-confident. But as t hey ent er
adol escence t hey begi n t o fade, t o retreat. They begi n t o not i ce t hat
women are under val ued and t hat t he cul t ural message is "keep qui et . "
Gilligan and her associates have become convi nced t hat somet hi ng dr ead-
ful happens t o girls at age t hi rt een or fourteen. As Gilligan r epor t ed to t he
New York Times, "By 15 or 16 t hat resistance has gone under gr ound. They
start saying, T don' t know, I don' t know, I don' t know. ' They start not
knowi ng what t hey had known. "
8
In her foreword t o t he "Call to Act i on" br ochur e, AAUW pr esi dent
Sharon Schust er makes a di rect appeal to t he reader on behalf of all t he
"shor t changed girls": " When you read this report , we ask you, most of
all, to t hi nk of s ome special girl in your l i fea daught er or gr anddaugh-
ter, a sister or st udent , a ni ece or a nei ghbor. Ask yourself, ' What can I
do to make sur e t hat our school s aren' t shor t changi ng her future?' "
9
In Januar y 1991 t he AAUW organi zed an "Educat i onal Equi t y Round-
table" for l eaders i n gover nment , educat i on, and busi ness to begi n t o
address t he pr obl em of girls' pr eci pi t ous loss of confi dence. Part i ci pant s
i ncl uded Gover nor Roy Romer of Col or ado and Mart ha Frick, pr esi dent
of t he Nat i onal School Boards Association. Journal i st s wer e also invited.
140 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
As Shar on Schust er expl ai ns, "There was an i mpr essi veand overwhel m-
i ngc ommi t me nt by t hese l eaders to address t he needs of girls and
young wo me n . "
1 0
The r esponse from t he medi a was gratifying. The AAUW has its aura
of r eput e and integrity, so it is per haps under st andabl e t hat t he news
r epor t s about its self-esteem st udy wer e t aken at face value. No one
suggest ed t hat t he AAUW' s al ar mi ng findings about t he pl i ght of t he
nat i on' s girls mi ght be t he pr oduct of "advocacy research, " research un-
der t aken wi t h an eye t o "pr ovi ng" concl usi ons t hat advocat es are ideolog-
ically commi t t ed t o a nd t hat t hey find politically useful. Reporters who
mi ght nor mal l y seek out al t ernat i ve poi nt s of vi ew di d not do so in this
case.
Despi t e t he sensat i onal and sweepi ng nat ur e of t he findings t hat girls'
self-esteem pl umme t s , as far as I coul d ascertain, none of t he j ournal i st s
who r epor t ed on t he st udy i nt ervi ewed any social scientists to see whet her
t he pol l t hat r epor t ed t hi s was pr oper l y desi gned and its results properl y
i nt er pr et ed. Except for Carol Gilligan and her followers, no ot her expert s
in adol escent psychol ogy wer e cited by t he press. Indeed, in none of these
st ori es was a si ngl e critic cited, despi t e t he existence of a large body of
findings and cont r ar y opi ni ons t hat t he AAUW had i gnored. Because t he
medi a ma de no effort t o l ook beyond t he news releases given t hem by t he
AAUW, it was left t o skept i cs t o come forward on their own. As we shall
see, s ome di d.
In t he meant i me, however , t he AAUW' s rhet ori c had t aken hol d. Whe n
t he AAUW i ni t i at ed its st udy in 1990, self-esteem was t he hot topic of
t he moment . Everyone want ed it; s ome states had task forces to hel p
peopl e get it. Concer n about chi l dren' s self-image was so hi gh t he Chil-
dr en' s Mus e um i n Denver installed a "self-esteem corner. " Self-esteem
was t he cur e for what ails t he count r y and a ticket to t he best-seller l i st .
1 1
Books wi t h titles like Learning to Love Yourself, The Inner Child Work-
book, Co-Dependent's Guide to the Twelve Steps, and Children of Trauma:
Recovering Your Discarded Self sol d in t he millions. A Nat i onal Counci l on
Self-Esteem was est abl i shed.
1 2
The New York State Educat i on Depar t ment
publ i shed a self-esteem manual t hat identifies four "component s" of self-
est eem. "I a m s omebody, " "I bel ong, " "I a m compet ent , " and "I have
possi bi l i t i es, " it pr ocl ai ms, s oundi ng very muc h like Stuart Smalley on
"Sat urday Ni ght Live" ("I' m good enough, I' m smart enough, and dog-
goni t , peopl e like me " ) .
1 3
The charge t hat t he self-esteem of t he nat i on' s girls was bei ng under -
mi ned was ma de to or der for t he t i mes. But was it true? That t he report
was so wi del y a nd uncri t i cal l y credi t ed cannot be t aken as a sign of its
T H E S E L F - E S T E E M S T U D Y 141
soundness. The j our nal i st s and t hei r readers, t he concer ned pol i t i ci ans
and t hei r const i t uent s, di d not know t hat t he AAUW is yet anot her para-
academi c organi zat i on t hat has become hi ghl y political and ideological in
recent years. Its chart er is br oad enough to i ncl ude gender feminists,
equi t y feminists, and nonfemi ni st women. But its pr esent l eadershi p has
changed t he associ at i on i nt o an activist ar m of gender feminism. Its cur-
rent gr oup of officersexecutive di rect or Anne Bryant, pr esi dent Shar on
Schuster, and Alice McKee, pr esi dent of t he AAUW educat i onal founda-
t i onar e commi t t ed gender feminists who had expect at i ons of what t hey
woul d find when t hey initiated t he self-esteem st udy. So a cool and
objective l ook at t he r epor t ed findings and t he evi dence for t hem is badl y
needed.
Here is how t he AAUW summar i zes t he resul t s of t he survey in its
"Call to Act i on" br ochur e:
In a crucial measur e of self-esteem, 60 per cent of el ement ary school
girls and 69 per cent of el ement ary school boys say t hey are "happy
t he way I am. " But, by hi gh school , girls' self-esteem falls 3 1 poi nt s
to onl y 29 per cent , whi l e boys' self-esteem falls onl y 23 poi nt s to 46
per cent .
1 4
Girls are less likely t han boys to say t hey are "pret t y good at a lot of
t hi ngs. " Less t han a t hi rd of girls express this confi dence, compar ed
to al most half t he boys. A 10-poi nt gender gap in confi dence in t hei r
abilities i ncreases to 19 poi nt s in hi gh s chool .
1 5
The st udy found boys to be mor e likely to stick u p for t hemsel ves in a
di sagreement wi t h a t eacher (28 per cent of boys, 15 per cent of girls); and
boys are mor e likely t han girls t o "believe t hei r career dr eams will come
t r ue . "
1 6
The AAUW is happy to accommodat e anyone who want s to see t he
"Call t o Act i on" br ochur e and t he "Short changi ng Girls" vi deo: t hey have
an 800 numbe r for t hose who wi sh t o or der t hese and ot her gender bias
materials t hey have devel oped. These readily available mat eri al s s umma-
rize t he "findings. " Get t i ng hol d of t he act ual Gol dberg-Lake self-esteem
s t udyt he har d dat a on whi ch all t he claims are bas edt ur ned out to
be far mor e difficult. You cannot or der it t hr ough t he 800 number . It is
not available in libraries. The onl y way to get a l ook at it is to buy it
directly from t he AAUW for $85. I was willing to do that, t hough it is
very unusual t hat a st udy cited as aut hori t at i ve by member s of t he Uni t ed
States Congress woul d be unavai l abl e in any library. Even buyi ng it
t ur ned out t o be a pr obl em, t hough.
142 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
" Why do you want it?" asked a curi ous woman in t he AAUW office in
Was hi ngt on. I said, truthfully enough, t hat I was doi ng research for a
book and woul d like t o revi ew t he data. She told me to leave my number
and s omeone woul d get back t o me. No one di d. I tried again. This t i me,
t her e was a t ent at i ve under s t andi ng t hat t hey woul d send me t he st udy.
But first t hey woul d send me a letter out l i ni ng certain t erms. A letter
event ual l y came, si gned by Anne Bryant. She wrot e: "Please send a state-
ment out l i ni ng how you pl an to use t he survey i nst r ument and results,
al ong wi t h your payment for t he full research report . If your review and
analysis of t he dat a resul t s i n a possi bl e publ i cat i on or present at i on, t hat
use of dat a mus t receive advance wr i t t en appr oval from AAUW. "
I sent t he mone y and a bl and "st at ement " about my pl ans. I also used
t he 800 numbe r t o or der all t he hi gh- pr i ced pamphl et s, newsl et t ers, and
summar i es and, of course, t he vi deo. Whe n t he full report finally arrived,
after several weeks and t hr ee mor e phone calls, I saw i mmedi at el y why
AAUW was so caut i ous. For one t hi ng, it cont ai ned not hi ng like a defi-
ni t i on of self-esteem, or even an i nformal di scussi on of what they meant
by it.
The concept of self-esteem is generally consi dered to be unst abl e and
cont roversi al , yet few psychol ogi st s doubt its central i mport ance. The
instability a nd fluidity of t he concept makes it ill-suited for a pollster
appr oach. Polling firms are good at tallying opi ni ons, but self-esteem is a
compl ex per sonal charact eri st i c, and peopl e' s expressed opi ni ons of
t hemsel ves may have little to do wi t h t hei r sense of i nner wort h. Yet
t he AAUW/ Gr eenber g- Lake pr ocedur es relied al most exclusively on self-
report s.
Self-esteem and a host of rel at ed per sonal characteristics such as self-
love, humi l i t y, pr i de, and vani t y have been under st udy since Aristotle.
The scientific st udy of self-esteem by devel opment al psychologists and
sociologists is i n its infancy. At t he moment , t here is little agreement
about how t o define it and far less agr eement on how to measur e it.
Oxford Uni versi t y psychi at ri st Philip Robson says, "It has even been
quest i oned whet her self-esteem exists as an i ndependent ent i t y. "
1 7
Wha t
is mor e, different tests pr oduce different results. Accordi ng to Dr. Robson,
"The same peopl e do not get hi gh scores on all of t hem. " Self-reports on
feelings of i nner wor t h are not consi st ent over t i me, nor are t hey easy to
i nt erpret . Hi gh scores on a self-esteem test, says Dr. Robson, may i ndi cat e
"conformi t y, rigidity, or i nsensi t i vi t y. "
1 8
Jack Block, a research psychol ogi st at t he University of California,
Berkeley, has also criticized self-esteem quest i onnai res for failing to deter-
mi ne why peopl e like or dislike t hemsel ves. Dr. Block poi nt s out t hat
T H E S E L F - E S T E E M S T U D Y 143
someone wi t h hi gh mar ks on a self-esteem test may 1) be decei vi ng t he
researchers; 2) be a self-absorbed egoist; or 3) have a heal t hy sense of
self.
1 9
Professor Susan Hart er, anot her expert on adol escent self-esteem,
war ns of t he difficulties in defining and measur i ng self-esteem:
Ambi guous definitions of t he const ruct , i nadequat e measur i ng in-
st r ument s, and lack of t heory have pl agued self-esteem research.
There is now a growi ng consensus . . . t hat self-esteem is poor l y
capt ur ed by measur es t hat combi ne eval uat i ons across diverse do-
ma i ns s uc h as scholastic compet ence, social accept ance, behav-
ioral conduct , and appear ancei nt o a single s ummar y s cor e.
2 0
Setting asi de for t he mome nt t he very seri ous pr obl ems of definition
and measur ement , we may ask whet her researchers in t he area of adol es-
cent psychol ogy are in any ki nd of agr eement t hat girls do experi ence a
dramat i c dr op in self-esteem.
Bruce Bower, behavi oral sci ence edi t or at Science News, was sur pr i sed
when he read t he AAUW' s announcement in t he New York Times. He calls
t he AAUW findings cont roversi al , not i ng t hat t hey "have refocused at t en-
tion on l ong- st andi ng quest i ons about t he meani ng of such st udi es and
their i mpl i cat i ons, if any, for educat i onal reform and . . . psychol ogi cal
devel opment . "
2 1
Bower canvassed t he opi ni on of ot her researchers, and
he found t hat t he AAUW' s finding t hat girls' self-esteem pl ummet s di d
not square wi t h what most of t he expert s i n adol escent psychol ogy wer e
saying. He s ummar i zed t he di screpanci es bet ween t he AAUW findings
and what t he expert s say in t he May 2 3 , 1991, issue of Science News. After
readi ng Bower' s article, I t al ked wi t h several of t he expert s he cited.
Barton J. Hi rsch, a professor of psychol ogy at Nor t hwest er n University,
has found compar abl e levels of self-esteem in adol escent boys and girls. I
asked Professor Hi rsch what he t hought of t he AAUW report . "Its findings
are i nconsi st ent wi t h t he recent l i t erat ure. For a whi l e t here was said t o
be a small dr op in self-esteem of hi gh and mi ddl e school gi r l s now new
results s how ot herwi se. " He also caut i oned, and most expert s in self-
est eem seem to agree, t hat no one has been able to establish a clear
correlation bet ween self-esteem and behavi or .
2 2
Yet t he AAUW aut hor s
categorically assert: "Much of t he difference bet ween t he educat i onal as-
pi rat i ons and career goals of girls and boys can be t raced to a gender gap
in self-esteem t hat wi dens dur i ng t hei r school year s . "
2 3
Some researchers such as Susan Hart er, Jack Block, Joseph Adel son,
and t he late Robert a Si mmons say t hat adol escent girls do experi ence
144 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
s ome dr op i n self-esteem. But t hei r concl usi ons are nuanced and tenta-
tive: not hi ng like t he dr amat i c, simplistic, and al armi ng cont ent i ons of
t he AAUW. I asked Susan Hart er what she t hought of t he AAUW st udy.
She sai d, "It was poor l y desi gned and psychomet ri cal l y uns ound. "
Robert a Si mmons i n her semi nal wor k on adol escent psychol ogy, Mov-
ing into Adolescence, says t hat girls experi ence a t empor ar y dr op as they
go t hr ough j uni or hi gh school , onl y to r ebound once t hey establish a
circle of friends. In hi gh school t here is a second dr op. She says, "We
don' t k n o w if t hat last self-esteem dr op . . . was t empor ar y or per ma-
ne nt . "
2 4
We n d y Wo o d at Texas A&M University di d a statistical compari son of
ni net y- t hr ee i ndependent st udi es on women' s feelings of well-being.
Bruce Bower has s ummar i zed Wood' s research: "In exami ni ng these st ud-
ies, whi ch focused on wel l -bei ng and life satisfaction among adul t men
and wome n, Wo o d and her colleagues found t hat wome n report ed bot h
great er happi ness and mor e dissatisfaction and depressi on t han me n . "
2 5
I s poke wi t h Dr. Wood. She cl ai ms t hat what may l ook like a self-
est eem gender gap may be merel y due to a gap in expressiveness. Wood
and her col l eagues believe t hat girls and wome n are mor e aware of their
feelings and mor e art i cul at e in expressi ng t hem, and so t hey are mor e
candi d about t hei r negat i ve emot i ons in self-reports t han males are. "If
you do not cont r ol for t hi s difference, it is very easy to get a very di st ort ed
pi ct ur e. "
Naomi Gerstel, a sociologist at t he University of Massachuset t s, faults
self-esteem s ur veys i ncl udi ng t he AAUW st udyf or neglecting to in-
t ervi ew hi gh school dr opout s . Mor e mal es dr op out t han females. The
fact t hat t hese boys do not get i ncl uded in t hese st udi es may be creating
a false pi ct ur e of boys' sel f-est eem.
2 6
The Berkeley psychol ogi st Di ana Baumr i nd is skeptical about t he reli-
ability of sel f-report i ng al t oget her. She and her colleagues first measure
chi l dren' s overall achi evement s and compet ence. They t hen rely on
t rai ned observers t o eval uat e chi l dren' s social and emot i onal well-being.
Usi ng objective measur es as mu c h as possi bl e, t hey have found no signif-
i cant lasting differences bet ween boys and girls in areas of sel f-est eem.
2 7
Anne Pet ersen, a Uni versi t y of Mi nnesot a adol escent psychologist, re-
cently s ummar i zed t he opi ni on shar ed by most clinicians and researchers
wor ki ng in adol escent psychol ogy:
It is now known t hat t he majority of adol escent s of bot h genders
successfully negot i at e t hi s devel opment al per i od wi t hout any major
T H E S E L F - E S T E E M S T U D Y 145
psychol ogi cal or emot i onal di sorder, devel op a posi t i ve sense of
personal identity, and manage to forge adapt i ve peer rel at i onshi ps
at t he same t i me t hey mai nt ai n close rel at i onshi ps wi t h t hei r fami-
l i es.
2 8
Roberta Si mmons had sai d very muc h t he same t hi ng: "Most ki ds come
t hr ough t he years from 10 to 20 wi t hout maj or pr obl ems and wi t h an
increasing sense of sel f-est eem. "
2 9
If Pet ersen and Si mmons are right, t he AAUW' s cont ent i ons are an
expensi ve false al arm. In any case, t he AAUW is less t han candi d whe n it
speaks of its efforts to revi ew t he growi ng body of research on how girls
learn. It is doi ng no such t hi ng.
Wi l l i am Damon, t he Di rect or for t he Cent er for St udy of Huma n De-
vel opment at Brown University, t ook some t i me to l ook i nt o t he claim
t hat t eenage girls wer e suffering a loss of self-esteem. "So far I have been
unabl e to find a single article in any refereed j our nal t hat act ual l y tests
this t hesi s. " He concedes t hat he di d not s pend mont hs searchi ng t he
literature. But, he says, if t here is such an article, it' s not easy to find. As
he sees it, t he debat e over girls' self-esteem has never t aken pl ace a mong
researchers. Rather, "t he whol e t hi ng is bei ng carri ed on in t he cour t of
t he medi a. "
I asked Joseph Adel son, a University of Mi chi gan psychol ogi st and
edi t or of t he Handbook on Adolescent Psychology, what he t hought of t he
AAUW Report on self-esteem. " When I saw t he r epor t I t hought , ' Thi s is
awful. I coul d pr ove it is awful, but it' s not wor t h my t i me. ' "
Given t he hazar ds facing any investigator doi ng research in t he area of
self-esteem, and given t hat few adol escent psychol ogi st s cor r obor at e t he
AAUW findings, t he bur den of proof is on t he AAUW to s how t hat its
st udy was well desi gned and its findings carefully i nt erpret ed. But this is
precisely what it has not shown. That may expl ai n why t he act ual dat a
for t he Greenberg-Lake survey on whi ch t he AAUW based its sensat i onal
concl usi ons are so har d to come by. In fact, showi ng t hat t he AAUW
results are wr ong is not as t i me- consumi ng as Adel son i magi ned it to be.
A careful l ook at t he self-reports qui ckl y reveals t he artful ways t hat t he
quest i ons wer e asked and t he answer s t abul at ed to get t he al armi ng con-
clusions of a nat i onal crisis i n t he self-esteem of adol escent girls.
The AAUW/ Greenberg-Lake' s self-esteem survey asked t hree t hous and
chi l dren t o r espond to st at ement s such as "I' m happy t he way I am, " "I
like most t hi ngs about myself," "I am good at a lot of t hi ngs, " "My t eacher
is pr oud of me, " and "I' m an i mpor t ant per son. " In its "Call to Act i on"
146 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
br ochur e, t he AAUW says t he responses to such quest i ons offer a "crucial
meas ur e" of self-esteem. Let us gr ant t hat this may be so and consi der
mor e closely t he r epor t ed findings on t he happi ness query:
The nat i onwi de survey commi ssi oned by AAUW found t hat 60 per-
cent of el ement ar y school girls and 69 per cent of el ement ary school
boys say t hey' re " happy t he way I a m" a key i ndi cat or of self-
est eem. By hi gh school , girls' self-esteem falls 3 1 per cent to 29
per cent , whi l e boys' self-esteem falls onl y 23 per cent to 46 percent
a n i ncrease from 7 t o 17 poi nt s in t he gender gap on this measur e
of sel f-est eem.
3 0
One can see why any fai r-mi nded per son woul d be t horoughl y al armed
by s uch a resul t . However , even if we accept t hat self-reports are reliable
i ndi cat ors of self-esteem, t he claims st at ed in t he br ochur e are seriously
mi sl eadi ng. We are onl y t ol d about how many boys and girls r esponded
"always t r ue" t o " happy t he way I am. " We are not told t hat this was only
one of five possi bl e r esponses, i ncl udi ng "sort of t rue, " "somet i mes t rue/
somet i mes false," "sort of false," or "always false" and t hat most responses
wer e in t he mi ddl e ranges. Few chi l d psychol ogi st s woul d consi der any
but the last two responsesor per haps only the very last oneas a sign of
danger ousl y l ow self-esteem. The dat a pr esent ed to t he publ i c by t he
AAUW i n all its l i t erat ure a nd i n its document ar y suggest t hat t he majority
of girls are abnor mal l y l acki ng i n self-esteem. But this is decept i ve be-
cause, in addi t i on t o t he 29 per cent of girls who checked "always t rue, "
3 4 per cent checked "sort of t r ue" and anot her 25 per cent "somet i mes
t r ue/ somet i mes fal se"a total of 88 per cent , compar ed to 92 per cent of
boys. The AAUW cl ai med a sevent een- poi nt gender gap in adol escent
self-esteem.
The medi a, of cour se, followed t he line laid down by t he AAUW,
whi ch carefully and exclusively based its "happy t he way I am" report on
t he "always t r ue" r espondent s, i gnori ng all ot her r espondent s. Relying on
t hi s, NEA Today, t he news paper of t he Nat i onal Educat i on Association,
said, "By t he t i me girls are in hi gh school , onl y 29 percent say t hey are
happy wi t h t hems el ves . "
3 1
An article i n t he Chicago Tribune was typical of t he response in t he
popul ar press: "Whi l e 60 per cent of el ement ary school girls and 69 per-
cent of boys pr ocl ai m t hemsel ves ' happy t he way I am, ' by hi gh school
onl y 29 per cent of girls a nd 46 per cent of boys express such feel i ngs. "
3 2
These decept i ve figures ma de t hei r way i nt o Gloria Steinem' s Revolution
from Within. In fact, she mi st akenl y reversed t he figures for ni ne-year-ol d
T H E S E L F - E S T E E M S T U D Y 147
boys and girls, maki ng t he girls' dr op in self-esteem appear even mor e
drastic:
Even t hough girls get good grades, l earn how to read sooner and
have an edge over boys in verbal skills, t he quest i on we really need
to ask is: "What are these girls learning [her emphasi s]? Accordi ng to
a st udy commi ssi oned by t he Ameri can Association of University
Wome n and released in 1991, a large par t of t he lesson is to under -
value oneself. As ni ne-year-ol ds, for i nst ance, 67 [sic] per cent of
girls and 60 per cent of boys said t hey wer e "happy wi t h t he way I
am. " By t he t i me st udent s wer e in hi gh school , however, onl y 46
per cent of boys said t hey felt t hat wayal s o a t ragedy t hat needs
every at t ent i onand t he girls had pl ummet ed to 29 per cent .
3 3
The Women' s Research and Educat i on Inst i t ut e in Washi ngt on, D. C. ,
publ i shes an influential st at us r epor t on Ameri can wome n called The
American Woman.
3
* "No book on t he st at us of wome n is mor e i mpor t ant
for gover nment officials, member s of Congress, and pol i cy maker s t han
The American Woman," says Gover nor Ann Ri char ds.
3 5
"This book shoul d
be on t he desk of every per son and pol i cy-maker i nt erest ed in t he st at us
of women t oday, " says Senat or Barbara Mi kul ski . Here is how The Amer-
ican Woman r epor t s on t he AAUW findings: "Surveying youngst er s ages
9 to 15 in 12 l ocat i ons across t he count r y, [AAUW] researchers found
t hat by t he t i me t hey are in hi gh school , onl y 29 per cent of girls say t hey
are happy wi t h t hemsel ves, compar ed to 46 per cent of boys . "
3 6
Appar -
ently, nei t her St ei nem, t he j ournal i st s, nor t he staff at t he Women' s Re-
search and Educat i on Inst i t ut e l ooked at t he dat a bei ng used by t he
AAUW.
3 7
They mus t have relied i nst ead on t he AAUW' s br ochur e.
Here is how t he AAUW itself woul d soon be referring to its own
findings:
A nat i onwi de survey commi ssi oned by t he Ameri can Association of
University Wo me n (AAUW) in 1990 found t hat on average 69 per -
cent of el ement ary school boys and 60 per cent of el ement ary school
girls r epor t ed t hat t hey wer e "happy t he way I am"; among hi gh
school st udent s t he percent ages wer e 46 per cent for boys and onl y
29 per cent for gi r l s.
3 8
The br ochur e publ i ci zed anot her mi sl eadi ng concl usi on: "Girls are less
likely t han boys t o feel [they are] ' good at a lot of t hi ngs. ' Less t han a
t hi rd of girls express this confi dence, compar ed to al most half t he boys.
148 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
A 10- poi nt gender gap in confi dence i n t hei r abilities increases to 19
poi nt s in hi gh s c hool . "
3 9
But again t he reader is not i nformed t hat al most
half of t he hi gh school girls (44 per cent ) chose t he second possible re-
sponse, "sort of t r ue, " whi ch woul d have given a total of 67 percent girls
and 79 per cent boys who essentially feel t hey are "good at a lot of t hi ngs. "
If t he "somet i mes t r ue/ somet i mes false" response is i ncl uded, t he results
for girls and boys are 95 per cent and 98 percent , respectively, an alto-
get her negligible di fference.
4 0
The usual sequence of responses in such
surveys, by t he way, is "al ways t rue, " "usually t rue, " "somet i mes t rue, "
"rarely t r ue, " a nd "never t r ue. " Can it be t hat t he researchers suspect ed
s uch answer s mi ght not yield useful r es ul t s ?
4 1
Why, for t hat mat t er , s houl d s omeone who answers "somet i mes t rue/
somet i mes false" t o "I' m good at a l ot of t hi ngs" be count ed as lacking in
self-confidence? In fact, aren' t t he "always t r ue" answers suspect? The 42
per cent of boys wh o say "al ways t r ue" to "good at a lot of t hi ngs" may be
showi ng a lack of mat ur i t y or reflectiveness, or a want of humi l i t y. Simi-
larly, a boy who t hi nks of himself as "always" "happy t he way I am" may
be suffering from a "mat ur i t y gap. " Conversely, it is not necessarily a
mar k of i nsecuri t y or l ow self-esteem to admi t to feeling bl ue or not
pr odi gi ousl y profi ci ent s ome of t he t i me.
The AAUW/ Gr eenber g- Lake anal yst s may have been unawar e t hat their
"survey i ns t r ument " was seri ousl y i nadequat e, and t hat their pollsters
mi ght have been measur i ng somet hi ng different from self-esteem or self-
confi dence (e.g., mat ur i t y) . Had t he AAUW been less concer ned to show
t hat girls are bei ng "shor t changed, " it woul d have suppl ement ed its pol l
by consul t i ng wi t h ot her expert s t o arrive at mor e responsi bl e concl u-
si ons.
The AAUW st udy di d find areas wher e boys and girls show nearly t he
same levels of self-confidence, but t hey do not emphasi ze these findings
in t he br ochur e, s umma r y report , or document ar y. On t he "teacher is
pr oud of me " st at ement , girls scored hi gher t han boys (41 percent said
"always t r ue" or "sort of t r ue, " compar ed to 3 6 per cent of boys). Virtually
t he same pr opor t i on of boys and girls said "always t r ue" to t he "pr oud of
my wor k in school " st at ement ( 17 per cent of girls, 16 percent of boys),
and 3 2 per cent girls a nd 3 4 per cent boys said "sort of t rue. "
These resul t s are available t o anyone who cares to send in t he $85 and
sign t he "St at ement of I nt ent " form. Had t he j ournal i st s who hel ped
advert i se t he AAUW' s message been less cr edul ous had t hey t aken t he
t i me t o revi ew h o w t he quest i onnai r e was desi gned and t he results inter-
pr e t e dt he y woul d have seen t hat t he st udy on whi ch it was based was
a lot of s moke and mi r r or s.
T H E S E L F - E S T E E M S T U D Y 149
Whe n gender feminists like Sharon Schust er, Anne Bryant, and Gloria
Steinem di scuss self-esteem, t hey assume as a mat t er of course t hat
women are t reat ed in ways t hat di mi ni sh t hei r self-confidence, t hereby
keepi ng t hem subor di nat e to men. It r emai ns onl y to per suade t he publ i c
t hat this under mi ni ng of wome n is const ant l y t aki ng pl ace and t hat t he
nat i on' s girls are suffering. The AAUW' s "crucial measur e of self-esteem"
(self-reporting "always t r ue" for "I am happy t he way I am") is offered as
evidence to confi rm t hat hi gh school girls are bei ng under mi ned. But if
we accept this as a "crucial measur e, " we find it yields a curi ous result.
For it t ur ns out t hat African-American girls scored much higher on self-
est eem in t he AAUW st udy t han even whi t e boys.
To t he "happy t he way I am" st at ement , 58 per cent of t he African-
Ameri can hi gh school girls say "always t rue"; 3 6 per cent of whi t e hi gh
school boys say "always t r ue. " For whi t e hi gh school girls, t he figure is
22 percent . The whi t e boys are fourteen poi nt s ahead of t he whi t e gi r l s
a "gap" t he AAUW finds shocki ng and unaccept abl e. But on t hei r test,
the African-American girls lead t he whi t e boys by t went y-t wo poi nt s, and
t he whi t e girls by thirty-six poi nt s!
Clearly this finding does not squar e wi t h t he ot her basic assumpt i on
t hat t he AAUW made: it claims t here is a di rect positive correl at i on
bet ween self-esteem and academi c achi evement . In many categories, Afri-
can-Ameri can girls are at greater risk (for l ow grades and dr oppi ng out )
t han whi t e girls or boys.
African-American boys are never ment i oned in t he br ochur es and t he
videos. But, if you l ook carefully enough in t he full five-hundred-page
data r epor t from Greenberg-Lake, you find t hem. You also see why t he
AAUW bur i ed and i gnored t he dat a on t hese chi l dren. The Greenberg-
Lake dat a r epor t i nforms us t hat African-American boys score highest of
all on t he i ndexes of self-esteem, "lead[ing] bl ack girls by mar gi ns of 10
to 18 per cent on measur es of general happi nes s . "
4 2
If t hei r dat a are cor-
rect, about t hree of every four African-American boys are "al ways" "happy
t he way I am, " versus one in five whi t e girls. As for t he "gl amour gap, "
t he African-American boys t ur n out t o be t he most confi dent and ambi -
tious of all. Far mor e of t hem pl an to become doct ors, scientists, gover-
nors, or senat ors t han t hei r whi t e count er par t s. Sixty-seven per cent said
yes when asked, "Do you really t hi nk you will ever end up bei ng a spor t s
s t ar ?"
4 3
These results mus t have startled t he desi gners of t he survey. They claim
t hat self-esteem, as t hey measur ed it by t he self-reports, is directly and
positively correl at ed wi t h future achi evement . Isn't future achievement what
all the fuss is about? So how is it t hat t hose who score hi ghest on t he
150 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
AAUW' s self-esteem measur e are educat i onal l y at risk, whi l e the group
with the lowest confidence does so well? Whi t e girls are getting t he bet t er
grades and goi ng t o college i n far great er number s t han any ot her gr oup.
4 4
These resul t s unde r mi ne ei t her t he l i nk t he AAUW claims bet ween
self-esteem and academi c per f or mance or t he met hodol ogy of self-report-
ing. Ei t her way, t hey vitiate t he AAUW' s findings.
In t he r epor t itself, t he aut hor s scrambl e to make sense of these i ncon-
veni ent r esponses. African-American st udent s, t hey specul at e, "have a
great er t endency t o pr ovi de [pollsters] t he ' right' answers to survey ques-
t i ons on self-esteem. They have l earned t hat ot hers depi ct their cul t ure as
self-hating or sel f-deprecat i ng and strive to put a ' best foot forward.' "
4 5
But put t i ng one' s best foot forward is not known to be a racial trait.
Moreover, why woul d African-American boys do so mor e t han African-
Amer i can girls? And why woul dn' t t hat reason account for t he di screp-
ancy of r esponses bet ween whi t e boys and whi t e girls? Once we admi t
s uch except i ons and expl anat i ons, what becomes of t he credibility of t he
"survey i ns t r ument " for any pur pos e what soever?
One researcher di d try to expl ai n why African-American girls have
hi gher self-esteem scores t han whi t e girls. Jani e War d specul at es t hat t he
self-esteem of Afri can-Ameri can girls is unaffected by t hei r academi c per-
formance. "Black girls seem t o be mai nt ai ni ng hi gh levels of self-esteem
by di sassoci at i ng t hemsel ves from school , " she says.
4 6
But why woul d
onl y Afri can-Ameri can girls be so little affected? How do we know t hat
t he whi t e boys' hi gh scores are not due to their relative indifference to
academi c wor t h? Concept ual l y, t oo, t he idea of a separat e "academi c self-
est eem, " s ome how di st i nct from self-esteem pr oper , is i ncoherent . A
chi l d' s pr i de i n pl ayi ng t he pi ano may well cont ri but e to her self-esteem,
but we woul d not call t hi s feeling a ki nd of musi cal self-esteem.
If one t akes t he AAUW' s way of measur i ng self-esteem seriously, t hen
one s houl d now begi n t o t ake seri ousl y t he suggestion t hat t here is an
inverse rel at i on bet ween self-esteem r epor t s and success in school , for that
is what t he st udy act ual l y suggest s. Of course, t hat is exactly t he opposi t e
of what t he AAUW cl ai ms. Yet, it is not al t oget her out of t he quest i on:
Asian chi l dren test very muc h hi gher t han Ameri can st udent s in mat h
and sci ence, yet Amer i can st udent s express far mor e confidence in their
mat h and sci ence abilities t han do t hei r Asian count erpart s. In ot her
wor ds , our chi l dr en r ank near t he bot t om, but they' re "happy t he way
t hey are. "
Thi s br i ngs us t o per haps t he most seri ous failing of t he AAUW "call
to act i on. " The r epor t begi ns by telling us t hat our chi l dren cannot thrive
in t he next cent ur y unl ess "t hey become t he best educat ed peopl e on
T H E S E L F - E S T E E M S T U D Y 151
on Eart h. " But t he educat i on reform movement has mi ssed t he poi nt , it
cont i nues, because "most of this debat e has i gnored mor e t han half t he
peopl e whos e futures are shaped by t he school s: gi r l s . "
4 7
After that, we
hear no mor e about t he l earni ng gap bet ween Ameri can and foreign
chi l dren, but t he i mpl i cat i on is clear: t he l earni ng gap will be br i dged
when we bri dge t he gender gap. Al t hough t hat assumpt i on s ounds super -
ficially pl ausi bl e, such facts as we have poi nt to its unl i kel i hood.
Professor Har ol d St evenson of t he University of Mi chi gan is one of
several researchers who has been st udyi ng t he differences bet ween Amer -
ican and Asian st udent s in bot h skills and self-esteem. Hi s influential
article in Education Digest (December 1992), "Chi l dr en Deserve Better
t han Phony Self-Esteem," r epor t ed on scholarly research done over many
years. It di d not rely on pol l s, and it had no preconcei ved not i ons on
what t he out come woul d be. The AAUW researchers do not cite hi s wor k,
nor was he i nvi t ed to t hei r r oundt abl e. He has found t hat t hough t her e is
a seri ous l earni ng gap bet ween Ameri can and foreign chi l dren, t he Amer -
ican chi l dren are unawar e of t hei r shor t comi ngs:
Our University of Mi chi gan research gr oup spent t he last decade
st udyi ng t he academi c per f or mance of Ameri can st udent s, and one
of our most consi st ent findings is t hat t he academi c achi evement of
our st udent s is inferior to t hat of st udent s in many ot her societies.
. . . The l ow scores of t he Ameri can st udent s are distressing, but of
equal concer n is t he di screpancy bet ween t hei r l ow levels of perfor-
mance and t he posi t i ve eval uat i ons t hey gave of t hei r ability in
ma t h.
4 8
In mat h, at least, it appear s t hat t he vaunt ed correl at i on bet ween self-
est eem and achi evement does not hol d. Inst ead of a bill called "Gender
Equi t y in Educat i on, " we need a bill called " Common Sense in Educa-
tion, " whi ch woul d oversee t he way t he gover nment spends money on
phony educat i on issues. The measur e woul d not need a very big budget ,
but it coul d save mi l l i ons by cut t i ng out unneeded proj ect s like t he ones
pr oposed for raising self-esteem and force us i nst ead to addr ess directly
t he very real pr obl ems we mus t solve if we are to give our st udent s t he
academi c compet ence t hey need and to whi ch t hey are entitled.
Meant i me, t he feminist al arms over t he self-esteem of female adol es-
cents keep soundi ng. The AAUW i gnored t he views of many r eput abl e
expert s on adol escent psychol ogy, but it had its own schol ar and phi l os-
opher in Carol Gilligan. Gilligan has wri t t en vol umi nousl y on adol escent
girls and t hei r self-esteem. The AAUW' s "Call to Act i on" br ochur e i n-
152 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
voked her aut hor i t y in pr omot i ng its findings. She is in t he video. Ac-
cor di ng to t he New York Times, she was also "an advisor on t he
devel opment of quest i ons asked in t he s ur vey. "
4 9
In her influential book In a Different Voice, Gilligan claims t hat women
have special ways of deal i ng wi t h mor al di l emmas; she mai nt ai ns that,
bei ng mor e cari ng, less compet i t i ve, less abstract, and mor e sensitive t han
me n in maki ng mor al deci si ons, wome n speak "in a different voice. " She
argues t hat t hei r cul t ur e of nur t ur i ng and caring and their habi t s of
peaceful accommodat i on coul d be t he salvation of a wor l d governed by
hyper compet i t i ve mal es and t hei r habi t s of abstract mor al reasoni ng. She
has si nce ar gued t hat our society silences, deni grat es, and squel ches wom-
en' s voices and t hat t hi s often causes seri ous pat hol ogi es. Her recent wor k
has pl aced her at t he cent er of t he self-esteem movement .
Gilligan' s st andi ng is general l y hi gher among gender feminist intellec-
t ual s t han a mong schol ars at large. As her general popul ari t y has skyrock-
et ed, her r eput at i on as a researcher has been at t acked. Professionally,
Gilligan is a social psychol ogi st concent rat i ng on mor al devel opment . But,
for want of empi ri cal evi dence, she has failed to convi nce many of her
peer s of t he validity of her t heori es. We ndy Wood, t he specialist in
women' s psychol ogy at Texas A&M, voices a consi dered j udgment shared
by ma ny professi onal s i n t he field of women' s psychol ogy: "I ndependent
research in mor al psychol ogy has not confi rmed [Gilligan' s] findings."
On t he cont rary, i ndependent research t ends to disconfirm Gilligan' s
thesis t hat t her e is a subst ant i ve difference in t he mor al psychol ogy of
men and wome n. Lawrence Wal ker of t he University of British Col umbi a
has revi ewed 108 st udi es on gender difference in solving mor al di l emmas.
He concl udes, "Sex differences in mor al reasoni ng in late adol escence and
yout h are r a r e . "
5 0
Wi l l i am Damon (Brown University) and Anne Colby
(Radcliffe College) poi nt out t hat t hough mal es are vi ewed as mor e ana-
lytical and i ndependent , and wome n mor e empat het i c and tactful, t here
is little evi dence to s uppor t t hese st ereot ypes: "There is very little suppor t
in t he psychol ogi cal l i t erat ure for t he not i on t hat girls are mor e aware of
ot her s' feelings or are mor e altruistic t han boys. Sex differences in empa-
t hy are i nconsi st ent l y found and are generally very small when t hey are
r epor t ed. "
5 1
In The Mismeasure of Woman, t he psychol ogi st Carol Tavris reviews t he
l i t erat ure on sex differences and mor al devel opment . Her assessment
echoes Wal ker ' s, Wood' s , Damon' s, and Colby' s. Tavris says, "In st udy
after st udy, researchers r epor t no average differences in t he ki nd of moral
reasoni ng t hat me n and wome n appl y. "
5 2
Tavris rejects t he "woman is
T H E S E L F - E S T E E M S T U D Y 153
bet t er" school of femi ni sm for lack of convi nci ng evi dence t hat wome n
are mor e "pl anet -savi ng . . . pacifistic, empat hi e or ear t h- l ovi ng. "
5 3
Even ot her feminist research psychol ogi st s have t aken to criticizing
Gilligan' s findings. Faye Crosby, a psychol ogi st at Smi t h College, ques-
tions Gilligan' s met hodol ogi cal appr oach:
Gilligan referred t hr oughout her book to t he i nformat i on obt ai ned
in her st udi es, but di d not pr esent any t abul at i ons. I ndeed she never
quantified anyt hi ng. The reader never l earns anyt hi ng about 136 of
t he 144 peopl e from [one of her t hree st udi es] , as onl y 8 are quot ed
in t he book. One pr obabl y does not have to be a t rai ned researcher
to wor r y about this t act i c.
5 4
Mart ha Medni ck, a Howar d University psychol ogi st , refers to a "spat e
of articles" t hat have chal l enged t he validity of Gilligan' s data. But she
acknowl edges, "The belief in a ' different voi ce' persi st s; it appear s to be a
symbol for a cl ust er of wi del y hel d social beliefs t hat argue for women' s
difference, for reasons t hat are qui t e i ndependent of scientific me r i t . "
5 5
Gilligan herself seems unt ouched by t he criticism and shows little sign
of t emper i ng her t heori es or her met hods of research and report i ng. Her
recent wor k on t he "si l enced voi ce" cont i nues t o use t he same anecdot al
met hod t hat Cr osby and ot her s have criticized. As Gilligan sees t hem,
young girls are spont aneous, forthright, and truthful, onl y to be bet rayed
in adol escence by an accul t urat i on, an acqui r ed "pat i na of ni ceness and
piety" t hat di mi ni shes t hei r spirit, i nduci ng i n t hem a ki nd of "self-
si l enci ng. "
5 6
Chr i st opher Lasch, one of Gilligan' s shar per critics, argues t hat Gilli-
gan' s idealized vi ew of female chi l dren as nobl e, spont aneous, and nat u-
rally vi r t uous bei ngs who are progressively spoi l ed by a cor r upt i ng
socialization has its root s i n Jean-Jacques Rousseau' s t heory of educat i on.
Rousseau, however, sent i ment al i zed boys as wel l as girls. Lasch insists t hat
bot h Rousseau and Gilligan are wr ong. In part i cul ar, real girls do not
change from a Rousseaui an ideal of nat ur al vi rt ue t o somet hi ng mor e
mut ed, pi ous, conformi st , and "ni ce. " On t he cont rary, whe n researchers
l ook at j uni or hi gh school girls wi t hout pr econcept i ons t hey are often
st ruck by a glaring absence of ni ceness and pi et y, i ncl udi ng t he pri vi l eged
private school s Gilligan st udi ed. Of Gilligan and her associates, Lasch says:
They woul d have done bet t er t o r emi nd t hemsel ves, on t he st r engt h
of t hei r own evi dence, t hat wome n are j us t as likely as men t o
154 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
mi suse power , to relish cruelty, and to i ndul ge t he taste for cruelty
in enforci ng conformi t y. St udy of a girls' school woul d seem to
pr ovi de t he i deal correct i ve t o sent i ment al views of women' s nat ural
gift for nur t ur e a nd compas s i on.
5 7
What ever Gilligan' s shor t comi ngs as an empi ri cal psychol ogi st may be,
t hey seem not t o mat t er . Her mos t recent book on t he "silenced voice, "
Meeting at the Crossroads, recei ved an adul at ory review from Carol yn
Hei l br un. Hei l br un concedes t hat Gilligan' s research has been challenged
but insists t hat her cont r i but i on r emai ns a "l andmar k in psychol ogy. "
5 8
I ndeed, Gilligan r emai ns a feminist i con who "valorized" women by
ar gui ng for t hei r speci al gifts and descri bi ng t hei r special fragilities. It was
onl y nat ur al t hat t he AAUW woul d t ur n to her and like feminists for
"expert " suppor t . Gilligan herself is not an aut hor of t he AAUW report . It
is not easy to det er mi ne who t he aut hor s are, but in one document we
find a not e t hanki ng Nancy Gol dberger and Jani e Victoria War d, "who
gave us hundr e ds of hour s of expert i se and gui dance in devel opi ng t he
quest i onnai r e a nd i nt er pr et i ng t he pol l dat a. "
5 9
Gilligan was War d' s
t eacher and di ssert at i on advi sor at t he Harvard School of Educat i on. Dr.
Gol dberger, a psychol ogi st at t he Fi el di ng Inst i t ut e in Santa Barbara, is a
coaut hor of Women's Way of Knowing, t he bi bl e of gynocent ri c epi st emol -
ogy. Wa r d and Gol dber ger wer e pr obabl y "sympat het i c. " Had t he AAUW
consul t ed s ome of t he wel l - known expert s in t he field cited in Bruce
Bower' s article i n Science News, it is not at all certain t hat t he AAUW
woul d have had t he clear finding of gender bias it pr esent ed to t he publ i c.
The Ms. Foundat i on decl ared April 28, 1993 , "Take Our Daught ers to
Wo r k Day. " The event was a great success; mor e t han 500, 000 girls went
to wor k wi t h t hei r mot her s or fathers, and t he Ms. Foundat i on expects to
make it an annual event . It has creat ed a special "Take Our Daught ers to
Wor k" t eacher' s gui de, whi ch addresses t he quest i on "Why such extra
effort on behalf of girls?" The t eacher' s gui de recites t he AAUW/Gilligan
formula: "Recent st udi es poi nt to adol escence as a t i me of crisis and loss
for girls. Whi l e mos t girls are out s poken and self-confident at t he age of
ni ne, levels of self-esteem p l u mme t . . . by t he time t hey reach hi gh
s chool . "
6 0
The Ms. Foundat i on had originally pl anned to confine "Take Our
Daught er s t o Wo r k Day" t o t he New York City area. But t hen Gloria
St ei nem ment i oned t he event i n an i nt ervi ew in Parade magazi ne in whi ch
she s poke of girls' dr amat i c loss of self-esteem. Accordi ng to J udy Mann
T H E S E L F - E S T E E M S T U D Y 155
of t he Washington Post, t he event "t ook off like Mot her' s Day. "
6 1
Wha t
was St ei nem' s gal vani zi ng comment ? "At age 11, girls are sur e of what
they know. . . . But at 12 or 13 , when t hey t ake on t he femi ni ne role, t hey
become uncert ai n. They begi n to say, T don' t know. ' Thei r t rue selves go
unde r gr ound. "
6 2
St ei nem added t hat this makes girls vul nerabl e to
depressi on, t eenage pr egnancy, and even eat i ng di sorders. Fr om t he day
her comment s appear ed i n Parade, t he Ms. Foundat i on says it was i nun-
dat ed wi t h cal l s mor e t han five hundr e d per day. The event qui ckl y
devel oped i nt o a nat i onal happeni ng. The foundat i on pr epar ed i nforma-
tion kits, a t eacher' s gui de, leaflets, fliers, and pamphl et s, even a "mi ni -
magazi ne" and T-shirts. The advi sory commi t t ee est abl i shed t o hel p
organi ze t he day i ncl uded some of t he New Femi ni sm' s bri ght est stars:
Mario Thomas, Gloria St ei nem, Carol Gilligan, Naomi Wolf, and Callie
Khouri (t he scri pt wri t er of Thelma and Louise).
63
The t heme of t he event was t hat for one day, at least, girls woul d be
"visible, val ued, and hear d. " As for t he boys left behi nd at school , t he Ms.
Foundat i on suggest ed t hey s pend t he day doi ng exercises to hel p t hem
under st and how our society shor t changes wo me n .
6 4
The t eacher' s gui de
suggests t hat boys ponde r t he quest i on "In t he cl assroom, who speaks
mor e, boys or girls?" Usi ng "gui ded i magery, " t he t eacher is s uppos ed t o
ask t hem to i magi ne t hemsel ves living i nsi de a box:
Describe t he box t o t hem: its size, ai rhol es and light (if any). Ask
t hem to reach out and t ouch t he roof and t he si des wi t h t hei r hands .
Now make t he box even smaller. Whi l e t hei r eyes are still closed ask
t hem: "What if you want t o get out of t he box and you can' t ?. . .
What do peopl e say to girls to keep t hem in a box? Wha t happens
to girls who st ep out si de of t he box?"
The object is t o get boys "t o experi ence t he l i mi t at i ons defined by
gender . "
6 5
So t he girls are off for a fun day wi t h t hei r par ent s, bei ng "visible,
val ued, and hear d, " and t he boys are left behi nd t o l earn t hei r l esson. I
am not opposed t o t he idea of t aki ng a chi l d t o wor k ( t hough I t hi nk it
shoul d be done in t he s ummer , to avoi d mi ssi ng a school day). I am sur e
many par ent s and daught er s had a good experi ence. But if havi ng chil-
dr en j oi n par ent s for a day at wor k is a good idea, t hen boys mus t not be
excl uded. Of course, boys mus t l earn to be t hought ful and respectful of
girls, but t hey are not cul pri t s; t hey are not silencing girls or l ower i ng
their self-esteem, and no one shoul d be sendi ng t he boys t he message t hat
156 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
t hey are doi ng any of t hese t hi ngs. A day t hat singles out t he girls inevi-
tably conveys t hat ki nd of message.
The gender feminist self-esteem al arm shoul d not be allowed to be-
come t hemat i c in our publ i c school s. The Ms. Foundat i on is now maki ng
an al l -out effort t o make Apri l 28 an annual girls' holiday. That shoul d
not be al l owed. Parent s a nd school officials mus t st ep in t o insist t hat a
day wi t h par ent s mus t be gender - neut r al and nondi vi si ve; it mus t i ncl ude
t he sons as wel l as t he daught er s.
Chapter 8
The Wellesley Report:
A Gender at Risk
The Amer i can Association of Uni versi t y Wo me n had every reason to
be gratified and exhi l arat ed by t he publ i c success of t he self-esteem re-
port . It had "pr oved" t hat Ameri can girls "do not believe in t hemsel ves. "
The association moved qui ckl y t o commi ssi on a second st udy. Thi s ne w
st udy woul d s how how schoolgirls are bei ng under mi ned and poi nt to
remedi es. Its advent was announced by Shar on Schuster: "The survey and
t he r oundt abl e are j ust t he first st eps in AAUW' s effort to st i mul at e a
nat i onal di scussi on on how our s chool s and our ent i re soci et ycan
encourage girls t o believe in t hemsel ves. . . . We have awar ded a grant to
t he Wellesley College Cent er for Research on Wo me n t o revi ew t he gr ow-
ing body of research on how girls l ear n. "
1
The Wellesley Report was compl et ed in 1992, a year after t he self-
est eem r epor t was released. Not surpri si ngl y, it appear ed to dramat i cal l y
reinforce t he tragic t i di ngs of t he earlier report . The AAUW had called
t he self-esteem st udy "Short changi ng Girls, Shor t changi ng America"; t hey
called t he Wel l esl ey Report " How School s Shor t change Girls. "
158 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
The AAUW di st r i but ed t he findings in attractive little bookl et s and
pamphl et s , pr ovi di ng all i nt erest ed part i es, especially j ournal i st s, wi t h
conveni ent s ummar i es and hi ghl i ght s t hat coul d serve as t he basis for
t hei r stories. Wr i t i ng t he foreword for t he new report , Alice McKee,
pr esi dent of t he AAUW Educat i onal Foundat i on, repeat ed and reinforced
t he t heme of t he AAUW' s first st udy: "The weal t h of statistical evidence
mus t convi nce even t he mos t skept i cal t hat gender bias in our schools is
shor t changi ng gi r l s and compr omi si ng our count ry. . . . The evidence
is in, and t he pi ct ur e is clear: shor t changi ng gi r l st he women of t omor-
r ows hor t changes Amer i ca. "
2
The Wel l esl ey revel at i ons t ur ned out to be even mor e newswor t hy t han
t he Greenberg-Lake pol l on self-esteem, generat i ng mor e t han fourteen
hundr e d st ori es by j our nal i st s and newscast ers. The San Francisco Chron-
icle r epor t ed t he "Dreadful Wast e of Femal e Tal ent . "
3
"Powerful Impact
of Bias Agai nst Girls, " cried t he Los Angeles Times.* Time magazi ne in-
formed its r eader s t hat "t he latest research finds t hat t he gender gap goes
well beyond boys' persi st ent edge i n mat h and sci ence. "
5
The Boston Globe
emphasi zed t he di st ress of girls: "Fr om t he very first days in school
Amer i can girls face a drum-fi re of gender bias, rangi ng from sexual ha-
r assment to di scri mi nat i on in t he cur r i cul um to lack of at t ent i on from
t eachers, accor di ng to a survey released t oday in Was hi ngt on. "
6
The New
York Times wei ghed i n wi t h "Bias Against Girls Is Found Rife in Schools,
wi t h Lasting Damage. "
7
The AAUW was qui ck t o seize on t he largesse pr ovi ded by a coopera-
tive and t rust i ng press. Most of t he press stories cited above were re-
pr i nt ed in br ochur es showi ng how "AAUW is maki ng headl i nes. " The
whol e of Time magazi ne' s adul at or y article became par t of t he AAUW' s
pr omot i onal packet .
Once agai n, t he release of a sensat i onal AAUW st udy was t he occasion
for a gat her i ng of peopl e who woul d be influential in t he association' s call
for act i on on t he federal level. On April 2 7 - 2 9 , 1992, t he Counci l on
Foundat i ons, an organi zat i on of l eaders of t he most powerful phi l an-
t hr opi c organi zat i ons in Ameri ca, met at t he Fount ai nbl eau Hi l t on Resort
in Mi ami Beach. The AAUW and Wellesley feminist researchers hel d a
wi ne and cheese par t y for t he phi l ant hr opi st scompl et e wi t h hand-
somel y pr oduced i nformat i on kits t hat announced t he Wellesley results,
hai l i ng t hei r significance and pl eadi ng t he urgent need for funding. Susan
Fal udi del i vered a keynot e addr ess on "t he undecl ar ed war against Amer-
ican wome n. "
The next st ep was al ready i n t he wor ks. The $3 60 million "Gender
Equi t y in Educat i on" bill was i nt r oduced in Congress in April of 1993 by
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 159
t he bi part i san Congressi onal Caucus for Women' s Issues.
8
Among t he
bill' s sponsor s wer e Patricia Schroeder, Ol ympi a Snowe, Susan Mol i nari ,
Patsy Mi nk, Conni e Morella, Nita Lowey, Dale Kildee, Lynn Wool sey,
Cardiss Collins, Jol ene Unsoel d, and Louise Slaughter. The Gender Equi t y
in Educat i on Act (H.R. 1793) woul d establish a per manent and well-
funded gender equi t y bureaucracy. It calls for an Office of Women' s
Equity wi t hi n t he Depar t ment of Educat i on, charged wi t h "pr omot i ng
and coordi nat i ng women' s equi t y policies, pr ogr ams, activities and initia-
tives in all federal educat i on pr ogr ams and offices."
Politically, a bill calling for gender equi t y woul d seem to have clear
sailing apart from any meri t s it mi ght or mi ght not have. On t he one
hand, it offered some member s of Congress a wel come oppor t uni t y t o
show t hey wer e sensitive to women' s issues. On t he ot her hand, t he
dangers of chal l engi ng t he AAUW or t he Wellesley College Cent er for
Research on Wo me n wer e obvi ous.
Congr esswoman Patricia Schroeder cited t he Wellesley Report in i nt r o-
duci ng t he bill. For her, t he r epor t was an unquest i oned source of t r ut h:
our nat i on' s girls are bei ng systematically under mi ned, and Congr ess
must act. In Sept ember of 1993 , Senat ors Edwar d Kennedy, Tom Har ki n,
Carol Moseley-Braun, Paul Si mon, and Barbara Mi kul ski i nt r oduced a
Senate versi on of t he Gender Equi t y i n Educat i on Act. Referring to t he
Wellesley Report , Senat or Kennedy said: [It] "refutes t he c ommon as-
sumpt i on t hat boys and girls are t reat ed equal l y in our educat i onal sys-
t em. Clearly t hey are not . "
9
The officers of t he powerful foundat i ons who had been feted by t he
AAUW in Mi ami wer e r epr esent ed by Wal t een Grady Truely, who ap-
peared before t he congressi onal subcommi t t ee to argue for t he Gender
Equity in Educat i on Act. She dul y poi nt ed out t hat "girls' self-esteem
pl ummet s bet ween pre-adol escence and t he 10t h gr a de . "
1 0
Like Pat
Schroeder, Ol ympi a Snowe, Senat or Kennedy, and ot hers, Ms. Truel y
appears to have t rust ed t he AAUW br ochur es.
Everyone expect s t he bill to pass. The Nat i onal Counci l for Research
on Wome n was happy to r epor t t he AAUW' s success as an i nspi ri ng
exampl e of how women' s research can lead directly to congressi onal
action:
Last year a r epor t by t he Ameri can Association of University Wo me n
(AAUW) document ed seri ous i nequi t i es in educat i on for girls and
women. As a resul t of t hat wor k, an omni bus package of legislation,
t he Gender Equi t y in Educat i on Act (H.R. 1793 ) , was recent l y i nt r o-
duced in t he House of Representatives. . . . The i nt r oduct i on of H.R.
160 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
1793 is a mi l est one for demonst r at i ng valuable linkages bet ween
feminist research and pol i cy in investigating gender di scri mi nat i on
in educat i on.
1 1
That t he l i nkages are of val ue to t hose doi ng t he research is unques-
t i onabl e. Wha t is hi ghl y quest i onabl e is t he val ue and integrity of t he
research and t he way t he advocat es have depl oyed t he "findings" to acti-
vate t he Uni t ed States Congress.
Are girls really bei ng i nsi di ousl y damaged by our school systems? That
quest i on act ual l y r emai ns t o be investigated. Everyone knows we need to
i mpr ove our school s, but are t he girls wor se off t han t he boys? If one does
insist on focusing on who is wor se off, t hen it doesn' t take l ong to see
t hat , educat i onal l y speaki ng, boys are t he weaker gender. Consi der that
t oday 55 per cent of college st udent s are female. In 1971, women received
43 per cent of t he bachel or' s degrees, 40 per cent of t he mast er' s degrees,
and 14 per cent of t he doct orat es. By 1989 t he figures grew to 52 percent
for B.A.'s, 52 per cent for M.A.' s, and 3 6 per cent for doct oral degrees.
Wo me n are still behi nd me n in earni ng doct orat es, but accordi ng to t he
U. S. Depar t ment of Educat i on, t he numbe r of doct orat es awar ded to
wome n has i ncreased by 185 per cent si nce 1 9 7 1 .
1 2
The Wel l esl ey s t udy gives a lot of at t ent i on to how girls are behi nd in
mat h and sci ence, t hough t he mat h and science test differentials are small
compar ed t o large differentials favoring girls in readi ng and writing. On
t he Nat i onal Assessment of Educat i on Progress Tests (NAEP), admi ni s-
t ered t o sevent een-year-ol ds in 1990, mal es out performed females by
t hree poi nt s i n mat h a nd eleven poi nt s in science. The girls out performed
boys by t hi rt een poi nt s in readi ng and t went y-four poi nt s in wr i t i ng.
1 3
Girls out numbe r boys i n all ext racurri cul ar activities except sport s and
hobby cl ubs. Al most twice as many girls as boys part i ci pat e in st udent
gover nment , band a nd orchest ra, and dr ama or service clubs. More girls
wor k on t he school newspaper s and yearbooks. More are member s of
honor and service soci et i es.
1 4
Boys far out number girls in sport s, but t hat
gap is nar r owi ng each year. In 1972, onl y 4 per cent of girls were in hi gh
school at hl et i c pr ogr ams. By 1987 t he figure was up to 26 percent , mor e
t han a sixfold i ncr ease.
1 5
On t he pur el y academi c front, progress cont i nues apace. The UCLA
Hi gher Educat i on Research Inst i t ut e' s annual survey of college freshmen
shows mor e wome n (66 per cent ) t han me n (63 percent ) pl anni ng to
pur s ue advanced degr ees .
1 6
The UCLA dat a s how a tripling in t he per-
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 161
centage of wome n ai mi ng for hi gher degrees in less t han twenty-five years.
As t he institute' s di rect or, Al exander Astin, not es, "To close such a wi de
gap in t he relatively shor t span of t wo decades is t rul y r emar kabl e. " David
Merkowi t z of t he Amer i can Counci l on Educat i on agrees: "If you want a
l ong-t erm i ndi cat or of maj or social change, this is one. " But i ndi cat ors
t hat girls are doi ng wel l are not t he stuff of t he Wellesley Report.
The r epor t illegitimately bol st ers its "shor t changed girls" thesis by
omi t t i ng all compar i sons of boys and girls in areas wher e boys are clearly
in t roubl e. In a st udy of self-reports by hi gh school seni ors, t he U. S.
Depar t ment of Educat i on found t hat mor e boys t han girls cut classes, fail
to do homewor k assi gnment s, had di sci pl i nary pr obl ems, had been sus-
pended, and had been in t roubl e wi t h t he pol i ce.
1 7
St udyi ng t ranscri pt s
of 1982 hi gh school graduat es, t he Depar t ment of Educat i on found girls
out performi ng boys in all subj ect s, from mat h t o English to sci ence.
1 8
It
also l earned t hat in all racial and et hni c gr oups, "females wer e generally
mor e likely t han mal es t o r epor t t hei r par ent s want ed t hem t o at t end
col l ege. "
1 9
The Wellesley researchers l ooked at girls' bet t er grades in mat h and
science classes and concl uded t hat t he st andar di zed tests mus t be bi ased.
Girls get bet t er grades, but boys are doi ng bet t er on t he tests. But t hei r
concl usi on woul d have had mor e credibility had t hey also consi der ed t he
possibility t hat t here coul d be a gradi ng bias against boys.
Accordi ng t o t he 1992 Digest of Educational Statistics, mor e boys dr op
out . Between 1980 and 1982, 19 per cent of mal es and 15 per cent of
females bet ween t he t ent h and twelfth grade dr opped out of school . Boys
are mor e likely t o be r obbed, t hr eat ened, and at t acked in and out of
school . Just about every pat hol ogyi ncl udi ng al cohol i sm and dr ug
abus ehi t s boys har der .
2 0
Accordi ng t o t he Wellesley Report , "adol es-
cent girls are four t o five t i mes mor e likely t han boys to at t empt sui -
ci de. "
2 1
It ment i ons parent het i cal l y t hat mor e boys actually die. It does
not say t hat five t i mes as many boys as girls actually succeed in killing
themselves. For boys fifteen to t went y-four t he figure is 21. 9 per 100, 000;
for girls it is 4. 2 per 100, 000. The adul t sui ci de rat e is not very different.
In t he Uni t ed States in 1990, 24, 724 men and 6, 182 wome n commi t t ed
sui ci de.
2 2
Wha t woul d t he Wellesley investigators and ot her advocat es
have made of t hese statistics wer e t he number s reversed?
The t ri bul at i ons of school boys are not an ur gent concer n of t he l ead-
ershi p of t he AAUW; its i nt erest is in st udi es t hat uncover bi as agai nst
girls and women. For details on how Ameri can girls are suffering from
i nequi t abl e t r eat ment i n t he nat i on' s cl assrooms, t he Wellesley investiga-
tors relied heavily on t he expert i se of Myra and David Sadker of t he
162 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Ameri can Uni versi t y School of Educat i on, who had already found j ust t he
ki nd of t hi ng t he AAUW was concer ned about : "In a st udy conduct ed by
Myra and Davi d Sadker, boys in el ement ary and mi ddl e school called out
answer s eight t i mes mor e often t han girls. Whe n boys called out , teachers
l i st ened. But whe n girls called out , t hey were told to ' raise your hand if
you want t o speak. ' "
2 3
The telling difference in "call-outs" has become a
favorite wi t h t hose who seek to s how how girls are bei ng cheated. Pat
Schr oeder faithfully echoed t he claim in i nt r oduci ng t he Gender Equity
in Educat i on Act: "Teachers are mor e likely to call on boys and to give
t hem const ruct i ve feedback. Wh e n boys call out answers, teachers t end
t o listen t o t hei r comment s . But girls who call out their answers are
r epr i manded and t ol d t o raise t hei r h a n d s . "
2 4
The Sadkers have been observi ng t eachers in t he cl assroom for mor e
t han t wo decades, gat her i ng t hei r dat a on gender bias. Convi nced t hat
"America' s school s cheat girls, " as t he subt i t l e of their new book, Failing
at Fairness, cl ai ms, t hey have devi sed strategies for ri ddi ng teachers (a
majority of wh o m happen to be women) of their unconsci ous gender bias
t hat t he Sadkers feel is at t he root of t he pr obl em. The Sadkers' latest
book descri bes t hei r wor k as t he "backbone" of t he Wellesley Report, and
t hey are a mong t he report ' s chief aut hor s. Certainly their wor k provi ded
key s uppor t for t he report ' s claim t hat "whet her one l ooks at preschool
cl assrooms or uni versi t y l ect ure halls, at female teachers or mal e teachers,
research s panni ng t he past t went y years consistently reveals that mal es
receive mor e t eacher at t ent i on t han do f emal es. "
2 5
Teachers t end not t o be sur pr i sed to hear t hat boys in their classes may
be get t i ng mor e at t ent i onboys t end to be rowdi er in t he classrooms
and t o r equi r e mor e supervi si on. But is t hat a sign or form of discrimina-
tion? Despi t e t hei r decades of at t ent i on t o t he pr obl em, t he Sadkers sup-
pl y us wi t h no pl ausi bl e evi dence t hat girls are losing out because teachers
are less at t ent i ve t o t hem. Inst ead, t hey argue t hat it st ands to reason:
"The mos t val uabl e r esour ce in a cl assroom is t he teacher' s at t ent i on. If
t he t eacher is giving mor e of t hat val uabl e resource to one gr oup, it shoul d
come as no surpri se t hat gr oup shows great er educat i onal gai ns . "
2 6
As we have seen, however, t he evi dence suggests t hat it is boys who
are suffering an overall academi c deficit. Boys do perform slightly bet t er
on st andar di zed ma t h tests, but even t hat gap is small, and closing. In t he
1991 Int ernat i onal Assessment of Educat i onal Progress (IAEP), t he Edu-
cat i onal Test i ng Service found t hat on a scale of 100, t hi rt een-year-ol d
Amer i can girls average 1 poi nt bel ow boys. And this slight gap is alto-
get her negligible in compar i son wi t h t he gap t hat separat es Ameri can
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 163
st udent s from t hei r foreign count er par t s. Tai wanese and Korean girls are
mor e t han 16 poi nt s ahead of Ameri can boys on this same t est .
2 7
In addi t i on t o measur i ng abilities, t he Educat i onal Test i ng Service
asked st udent s ar ound t he wor l d whet her or not t hey t hought mat h was
"for boys and girls equal l y. " In most count ri es, i ncl udi ng t he Uni t ed
States, al most all st udent s agreed it was. The except i ons wer e Korea,
Taiwan, and Jor dan. In Korea, 27 per cent said t hat mat h was mor e for
boys; for Tai wan and Jor dan, t he figure was 15 percent . "Int erest i ngl y, "
t he report not es, "t he t hree count ri es t hat wer e mor e likely to vi ew mat h-
ematics as gender l i nked . . . di d not exhi bi t significant differences i n
performance by ge nde r . "
2 8
And girls in t wo of t hose count r i esKor ea
and Tai wanout per f or med Ameri can boys.
Fr om t he IAEP at least, it appear s t hat gender - l i nked at t i t udes about
mat h are not st rongl y correl at ed to per f or mance. The Educat i onal Test i ng
Service di d find one key variable positively related wi t h achi evement
t hr oughout t he wor l d: t he a mount of t i me st udent s spent on t hei r mat h
homewor ki r r espect i ve of gender.
Despi t e this, t he Wellesley Report sticks t o its guns. Tackl i ng t he
gender pr obl em is t he first pri ori t y i n maki ng Ameri ca educat i onal l y
st rong for t he global economy of t he future.
In any case, gender i nequi t y in t he form of t eacher i nat t ent i on t o girls
is what t he Sadkers' research is all about , and many of t he Wel l esl ey
concl usi ons st and or fall wi t h t hei r expert i se and probi t y. The Sadkers,
who collected dat a from mor e t han one hundr e d fourth-, sixth-, and
ei ght h-grade classes, report edl y found t hat boys di d not merel y get mor e
r epr i mands but received mor e feedback of all ki nds: "Cl assrooms wer e
charact eri zed by a mor e general envi r onment of i nequi t y: t here wer e t he
' haves' and t he ' have not s' of t eacher at t ent i on. . . . Male st udent s recei ved
significantly mor e remedi at i on, criticism, and prai se t han female st u-
de nt s . "
2 9
How muc h is that? I wonder ed. And how well, if at all, is t he di spari t y
in at t ent i on correl at ed wi t h a di spari t y in st udent achi evement ? I was
curi ous to read t he Sadkers' research paper s. The Wellesley Report l eads
readers t o t he Phi Delta Kappan for t echni cal details on t he Sadkers'
findings. But t he Phi Delta Kappan is not a research j our nal , and t he
Sadkers' publ i cat i ons in it are very shor t l ess t han four pages each,
i ncl udi ng illustrations and car t oons and merel y restate t he Sadkers'
claims wi t hout giving details concer ni ng t he research t hat backs t hem up.
In t wo exhaust i ve searches in t he educat i on dat a base (ERIC), I was
unabl e t o find any peer-revi ewed, schol arl y articles by t he Sadkers i n
164 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
whi ch t hei r dat a and t hei r cl ai ms on cl assroom i nt eract i ons are laid out .
The Sadkers t hemsel ves make no reference to such articles in t he Wel l es-
ley Report , nor in t hei r 1991 revi ew of t he literature on gender bias in
t he Review of Research in Education, nor in Failing at Fairness. The Welles-
ley Report does refer readers to t he final report s on t he Sadkers' unpub-
l i shed st udi es on cl assroom i nequi t i es. The Sadkers di d t wo of these, in
1984 and 1985, bot h s uppor t ed by gover nment grant s. The first is called
Year Three: Final Report, Promoting Effectiveness in Classroom Instruction
(funded by t he Nat i onal Inst i t ut e of Educat i on, 1984); t he ot her is called
Final Report: Faculty Development for Effectiveness and Equity in College
Teaching ( sponsor ed by t he Fund for t he I mpr ovement of Post -Secondary
Educat i onFI PSE1985) . Since t he concl usi ons of t he Wellesley Re-
por t rely on st udi es like t hese, I was det er mi ned to get hol d of t hem. But
I found it even har der to get my hands on t hem t han on t he AAUW' s
research on self-esteem.
The 1985 FIPSE st udy seems to have vani shed altogether. After ex-
haust i ve l i brary and comput er searches, I called t he Depar t ment of Edu-
cat i on, whi ch i nformed me it no l onger had a copy. The librarian at t he
Wi dener Library at Har var d University di d a comput er search as t hor ough
and hi gh- t ech as any I have ever seen. Finally, she request ed it from t he
Library of Congress. "If t hey do not have it, no one does, " she s ai dand
t hey di d not .
In t he meant i me, one of my under gr aduat e assistants called David
Sadker hi msel f t o ask how to find it. He t ol d her t hat he di d not have a
copy and ur ged her t o have a l ook at t he article in t he Phi Delta Kappan.
We had come full circle.
I di d find t he ot her st udy: Year Three: Final Report, Promoting Effective-
ness in Classroom Instruction. It was available in t he Educat i on Library at
Har var d Uni versi t y on microfilm, for twenty-five cents per page. Hol di ng
t he 189 pages phot ocopi ed from t he microfilm, I wonder ed if I mi ght be
t he onl y per son in t he wor l dbes i des t he Sadkers and some of their
gr aduat e s t ude nt s t o have l ooked at its cont ent s. Yet it cont ai ns t he data
behi nd t he cont ent i on, now on t he t i p of many politicians' t ongues, t hat
girls are suffering an at t ent i on gap t hat seriously compr omi ses their edu-
cat i on.
Wha t had t he Sadkers found? They and their assistants visited
hundr e ds of el ement ar y cl assrooms and observed t he t eachers' interac-
t i ons wi t h st udent s. They identified four types of t eacher comment s:
prai se ("Good answer ") , accept ance ("Okay"), remedi at i on ("Give it an-
ot her try; t hi nk a littler har der this t i me"), and criticism ("Wrong"). They
det er mi ned t hat fewer t han 5 per cent of t eachers' i nt eract i ons const i t ut ed
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 165
criticism. Praise account ed for about 11 per cent of i nt eract i on; 3 3 per cent
was remedi at i on. The r emai nder (approxi mat el y 5 1 - 5 6 per cent ) was
bl and accept ance.
3 0
Al t hough boys and girls got close to t he same a mount
of bl and accept ance ("Okay"), boys got a larger share of t he ot her cate-
gories. The exact numbe r is difficult to det er mi ne from t he data. In t hei r
many publ i shed articles, t he Sadkers generally do not specify t he act ual
size of t he difference, but i nst ead make cl ai ms about di screpanci es wi t h-
out specifying t hem: "Girls received less t han t hei r share in all cate-
gor i es. "
3 1
In t he ki nd of observat i ons t he Sadkers and t hei r researchers made, t he
chances of observer bias in selecting t he dat a are ext raordi nari l y hi gh. It
is all t oo easy t o "find" j ust what one believes is t here. As I have not ed,
t he Wellesley Report relies st rongl y on research by t he Sadkers t hat pur -
port edl y found boys calling out ei ght t i mes mor e often t han girls, wi t h
boys bei ng respectfully at t ended t o, whi l e t he relatively few girls who
called out wer e t ol d t o "please raise your hands if you want t o speak. "
Professor Jere Brophy of Mi chi gan State, who is per haps t he most pr omi -
nent schol ar wor ki ng in t he area of cl assroom i nt eract i on, is suspi ci ous of
t he Sadkers' findings on call-outs. "It is t oo ext reme, " he says. "It all
depends on t he nei ghbor hood, t he level of t he class, and t he t eacher.
Many t eachers si mpl y do not al l ow cal l -out s. " I asked hi m about t he
Sadkers' claim t hat boys get mor e careful and t hought ful t eacher com-
ment s. Accordi ng to Brophy, any differences t hat are showi ng up are
negligibly slight. Di d he see a l i nk bet ween t he ways t eachers i nt eract
wi t h boys and girls and t hei r overall achi evement ? "No, and t hat is why I
have never tried to make t hat muc h of t he sex difference findings."
For details of t he Sadkers' findings, t he Wellesley Report refers t o
research r epor t ed in a 1981 vol ume of a j our nal called The Pointer.
32
The
Pointer is now defunct, but when I finally got to read t he article I was
surpri sed t o see t hat what it said about cl assroom di sci pl i ne in part i cul ar
was not , in my vi ew, at all indicative of bi as agai nst girls. Thi s por t i on of
t he Pointer article focuses not on "cal l -out s, " but on how t eachers repri -
ma nd boys and girls differently, emphasi zi ng t hat boys are di sci pl i ned
mor e t han girls. Her e is what t he Sadkers and t hei r coaut hor , Dawn
Thomas, found:
Boys, part i cul arl y l ow-achi evi ng boys, receive eight to t en t i mes as
many r epr i mands as do t hei r female classmates. . . . Wh e n bot h girls
and boys are mi sbehavi ng equally, boys still receive mor e frequent
discipline. Research shows t hat whe n t eachers are faced wi t h di sr up-
tive behavi or from bot h boys and girls, t hey are over t hree t i mes as
166 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
likely to r epr i mand t he boys t han t he girls. Also, boys are mor e
likely to get r epr i manded in a har sh and publ i c manner and to
receive heavy penal t i es; girls are mor e likely to get r epr i manded in
a softer, pri vat e ma nne r and to receive lighter penal t i es.
3 3
The article says not hi ng at all about "call-outs, " and not hi ng about girls
bei ng t ol d t o raise t hei r hands if t hey want to speak. Yet it is cited as t he
sour ce for t he Report ' s oft -repeat ed claims about this mat t er. Thi nki ng
t hat I mus t be in error, I l ooked at a 1991 article in t he Review of Research
in Education by t he Sadkers t hemsel ves, in whi ch they, t oo, cite t he re-
search r epor t ed i n t he Pointer article:
D. Sadker, Sadker, and Thomas ( 1981) report ed t hat boys were
ei ght t i mes mor e likely t han girls to call out in el ement ary- and
mi ddl e- school cl assrooms. Wh e n boys called out , t he teacher' s most
frequent r esponse was t o accept t he call-out and cont i nue wi t h t he
class. Wh e n girls called out , a mu c h rarer phenomenon, t he teach-
er' s mos t typical r esponse was to remedi at e or correct t he i nappr o-
pri at e behavi or wi t h comment s such as "in this class, we raise our
h a n d s . "
3 4
But t he Sadker s are mi squot i ng t hemsel ves; The Pointer cont ai ns no
s uch findings. Suppor t for t he Sadkers' claim about "call-outs" may well
exist. But put t i ng asi de bot h t he Wellesley Report and t he Sadkers' appar-
ent error i n citing t he Pointer article for suppor t , one can not e t hat t he
claim about "cal l -out s" keeps t he dr ums of out rage beat i ng and gives fuel
t o t he not i on t hat Amer i can girls "spend years l earni ng t he lessons of
silence in el ement ar y, secondar y, and college cl assrooms, " after whi ch
t hey find it difficult or i mpossi bl e t o "regain their voi ces. "
3 5
Suppose, i ndeed, t hat t eachers do call on boys mor e often. There is no
clear evi dence t hat girls lose because of that. Girls are getting t he bet t er
grades, t hey like school bet t er, t hey dr op out less, and mor e of t hem go
t o college. If t eacher at t ent i on wer e crudel y to be correlated wi t h st udent
achi evement , we woul d be l ed to t he perverse concl usi on t hat mor e
at t ent i on causes poor er per f or mance.
In any case, I coul d find no st udy showi ng a direct relation bet ween
t eacher and s t udent i nt eract i on and st udent out put . Looki ng back at t he
Sadkers' Year Three: Final Report, I not i ce t hat they, t oo, acknowl edge t hat
"at t hi s poi nt it is not possi bl e to dr aw di rect cause and effect links
bet ween t eacher behavi or and s t udent out comes . "
3 6
The Wel l esl ey Report cites ot her st udi es supposedl y corroborat i ve of
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 167
t he claim t hat t eachers' i nat t ent i on i nequi t abl y shor t changes Ameri ca' s
schoolgirls. But again, t he sources cited do not make t he case. For exam-
pl e, a gover nment st udy ent i t l ed Final Report: A Study of Sex Equity in
Classroom Education by Marl ai ne Lockheed, an educat i on specialist i n t he
Educat i on and Social Policy Depar t ment at t he Wor l d Bank, does say t hat
boys get mor e t eacher react i on; however, in s ummi ng up her findings,
Lockheed denies t hat this is to be i nt erpret ed in t erms of gender i nequi t y:
"Data from t he st udy do not s uppor t t he not i on t hat cl assroom t eachers
play a maj or role in creat i ng and mai nt ai ni ng i nequi t i es. Despi t e findings
t hat boys are mor e di srupt i ve (and t hus receive mor e t eacher at t ent i on) ,
dat a suggest t hat t eachers r espond to t he nat ur e of t he st udent behavi or
rat her t han to st udent gender . "
3 7
Anot her st udy cited in t he r epor t war ns t hat "at this poi nt , all com-
ment s on t he pot ent i al effects of vari ous pat t er ns of t eacher-chi l d behavi or
on social and cognitive devel opment are hi ghl y specul at i ve. "
3 8
The r epor t
also i ncl udes a reference to a 1989 survey by M. Gail J one s .
3 9
The article
does not itself cont ai n any original dat a, but r at her gives a brief s ummar y
of t went y articles on bias in cl assroom i nt eract i on. Fr om Jones' s survey,
t he s t udi es s ome bet t er desi gned t han ot her s appear to be i nconcl u-
sive. Many researchers find mor e t eacher i nt eract i on wi t h t he r owdi er
boys but none have s hown t hat it har ms t he girls. A 1987 st udy by K.
Tobi n and P. Garnet t had found t hat a few "target" st udent s in t he sci ence
cl assroom t ended t o domi nat e cl assroom i nt eract i ons, and t hese targets
t ended to be mal es .
4 0
But a further st udy of target st udent s by J ones
herself found t hat "al t hough t here wer e mor e mal e t han female target
st udent s, t he female target st udent s averaged mor e i nt eract i ons per class
session t han mal e target s t udent s . "
4 1
That ki nd of result is typical of t he
st at us of research i n this area. It makes one wonder whet her t he st udy of
st udent - t eacher i nt eract i on, usi ng gender as a key category and "uncon-
scious bi as" as a possi bl e par amet er , is wor t h all t he t roubl e.
Oddl y enough, t he aut hor s of t he Wel l esl ey Report do ment i on, al most
as an aside, t hat "new evi dence i ndi cat es t hat it is t oo soon to state a
definitive connect i on bet ween a specific t eacher behavi or and a part i cul ar
st udent out c ome . "
4 2
The r epor t does not say what this new evi dence is
and never ment i ons it again. Nor are we t ol d why t he existence of s uch
evi dence does not vitiate t he report ' s sensat i onal concl usi on t hat gender
bias favoring boys is rife and its correct i on a mat t er of nat i onal urgency.
To put it mi l dl y, t he l i t erat ure on t he subj ect of cl assroom bi as seems
confusing and not a little confused.
168 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
The advocacy research on cl assroom bias woul d not mat t er much were
it not for t he l ack of skept i ci sm on t he par t of legislators who now see
gender equi t y in t he cl assroom as a critical nat i onal issue. The t est i mony
of Anne Bryant, t he execut i ve di rect or of t he AAUW, before Congress in
April 1993 i n favor of t he Gender Equi t y in Educat i on Act is typical of
what it has hear d:
Myra and Davi d Sadker of t he Ameri can University and ot her re-
searchers have extensively document ed gender bias in teacher-
s t udent i nt eract i ons. . . . Teachers t end to give girls less at t ent i on,
wi t h s ome st udi es showi ng t eachers di rect i ng 80 per cent of all their
quest i ons t o boys .
4 3
In her pr esent at i on, Ms. Bryant i ndi cat ed t hat t he AAUW had wor ked
wi t h t he Congr essi onal Caucus on Women' s Issues to devel op t he bill
and vowed t hat "we will cont i nue to wor k wi t h you as t he omni bus
educat i onal equi t y package moves t hr ough Congr es s . "
4 4
It was a close rel at i onshi p. The wor di ng of t he bill echoed t hat of t he
AAUW br ochur e:
Research reveals t hat , at all cl assroom levels, girls receive different
t r eat ment from t eachers t han do boys. . . . To address this pr obl em,
this legislation woul d creat e pr ogr ams to pr ovi de teacher t rai ni ng in
identifying a nd el i mi nat i ng i nequi t abl e pract i ces in t he cl assr oom.
4 5
Member s of Congr ess have compet ent and intelligent staffs who are
accust omed t o checki ng u p on all ki nds of claims made by special interest
gr oups. One hopes t hey will l ook i nt o t he dat a behi nd t he AAUW and
Wel l esl ey br ochur es before vot i ng mi l l i ons of dollars for t he Gender Eq-
ui t y Act and r eapi ng us t he bi t t er fruits of t he AAUW' s i rresponsi bl e and
divisive initiative.
Because of t he key rol e t he Sadkers were pl ayi ng in t he AAUW and
Wel l esl ey initiatives, I was cur i ous to find out mor e about t hem. The
oppor t uni t y came whe n I was i nvi t ed t o part i ci pat e in a di scussi on of
gender bi as i n t he school s on t he PBS radi o s how "Talk of t he Nat i on. "
4 6
The pr oducer expl ai ned t hat t here woul d be four of us: t he Sadkers,
Shar on St ei ndam, a school admi ni st r at or from Arl i ngt on, Virginia, and
me. I kne w not hi ng about Ms. St ei ndam, but t he PBS pr oducer told me
she had s ome familiarity wi t h t he Sadkers' gender bias wor kshops and
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 169
was pr epar ed to di scuss t he difficulties of appl yi ng t hei r r ecommenda-
tions in t he cl assroom. For my part , I was grateful to have t he opi ni on of
an experi enced educat or.
Once on t he air, t he Sadkers hel d forth on t hei r ideas. I raised ques-
tions about t hei r research met hods and concl usi ons. After a whi l e, t he
medi at or, Ira Glass, i nt r oduced Dr. St ei ndam as s omeone who was pr e-
par ed to talk about "some of t he problems of bei ng at t uned t o gender bi as
in t he cl assroom" (his emphasi s) .
But Dr. St ei ndam had no pr obl em t o report . She had onl y t he hi ghest
praise for t he Sadkers' pr ogr am and she t ol d us how "aghast " t eachers
were to di scover how sexist t hey had been. Ira Glass clearly had not
expect ed this response. He said: " Now wer e t here problems i mpl ement i ng
it (his emphasi s)?" Again she raved on about how enl i ght eni ng t he wor k-
shops had been. She was pl eased t hat t he state of Virginia had given a
"$5, 000 or $10, 000 grant to fund t he Sadkers' wor ks hop" and assured us
t he money was "absol ut el y mi ni mal . "
After t he pr ogr am ai red, my phone rang: it was a colleague of t he
Sadkers from Ameri can University. He told me t hat Ms. St ei ndam was
not t he objective out si der she appear ed to be on t he PBS show. She had
been a st udent of t he Sadkers and had wri t t en her doct oral thesis wi t h
t hem. She had even coaut hor ed an article wi t h t hem called "Gender
Equi t y and Educat i onal Ref or m. "
4 7
I coul d not believe t hat PBS knew about this rel at i onshi p wi t hout
telling me before t he show, so I called Ira Glass. He knew t hat Ms.
St ei ndam was acquai nt ed wi t h t he Sadkers' t rai ni ng met hods but had no
idea she was t hei r colleague and coaut hor .
The professor from Ameri can University was skept i cal of t he Sadkers'
dat a-gat heri ng t echni ques i n general. "They, or t hei r gr aduat e st udent s,
sit in cl assrooms and tally up how many t i mes t eachers prai se, criticize,
etc., boys versus girls. The possibilities for subjective i nt erpret at i on are
endl ess. "
He also t ol d me about hi s encount er wi t h one of t he Sadkers' st udent s,
who was doi ng research for her own thesis:
A doct oral st udent of t hei rs used one of my classes in her research.
At t he end of her first visit, she said, "You are screwi ng up my dat a. "
Whe n I s howed surpri se, she said, "Yes, you' r e one of t he cont r ol
classes and you' r e s uppos ed to s how bias but you don' t . " She came
t o t hat class t wo mor e t i mes, and each t i me she di scovered mor e
bias. In fact, t he last t i me she observed, t he number s l ooked so
l opsi ded and not at all reflective of t he way t he class went , I asked
170
W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
my gr aduat e assi st ant t o t ake a sampl e pol l of st udent s to see how
t hei r recol l ect i ons j i bed wi t h t he number s she wrot e down. In every
case, t he mal e st udent s recalled bei ng called on far fewer times, and
t he female s t udent s several mor e t i mes t han her number s i ndi cat ed.
I a m distrustful of s uch research.
Somet hi ng else happened dur i ng t he PBS show t hat i ncreased my own
doubt about s uch research met hods . Halfway i nt o t he pr ogr am, a woman
na me d Lisa called in. She identified herself as a feminist and pr oceeded
to admoni s h Ira Glass, t he very pol i t e and respectful PBS moderat or, for
i nt er r upt i ng Myra and me "seven t i mes" and David Sadker, t he l one mal e,
"not at all. " Glass was clearly shaken by this attack. David Sadker was
happy t o have t hi s neat confi rmat i on of hi s thesis. "Lisa is right, " he said,
and pr oceeded t o give a brief l ect ure on how many mor e t i mes women
are i nt er r upt ed t han men.
I went back t o t he PBS t ape wi t h a st opwat ch. Up to t he poi nt Lisa
called, Davi d Sadker had s poken for a total of t wo mi nut es, and Ms.
Sadker a nd I had s poken for six mi nut es each. True, we were i nt er r upt ed
mo r e b u t we had t al ked t hree t i mes as much! Glass i nt er r upt ed Mr.
Sadker appr oxi mat el y once every fifty-two seconds. He i nt er r upt ed Ms.
Sadker and me once every ni net y-t hree seconds. In effect, Mr. Glass had
i nt er r upt ed hi s mal e guest nearl y twice as often as he had i nt er r upt ed his
female guest s. Fur t her mor e, wher eas an i nt er r upt ed Mr. Sadker l apsed
i nt o silence, Ms. Sadker and I bot h insisted on finishing what we were
saying.
On Apri l 7, 1992, NBC News' "Dat el i ne" wi t h Jane Pauley and St one
Phillips had Myra a nd Davi d Sadker on as guest s. Ms. Pauley began:
The [Wellesley] r epor t cites dat a compi l ed over t he last decade by a
husband- and- wi f e research t eam. Drs. David and Myra Sadker of
Amer i can Uni versi t y are t he nat i on' s l eadi ng expert s on gender bias.
We hi r ed t hem as consul t ant s t o observe Miss Lowe [a teacher] and
anal yze our vi deot ape for evi dence of bias against gi r l s.
4 8
A "Dat el i ne" cr ew had filmed Ms. Lowe' s el ement ary school class for
several hour s . A few mi nut es of this wer e shown. In one scene chi l dren
wer e wor ki ng qui et l y at t hei r desks, and Ms. Lowe was movi ng from one
boy t o t he next maki ng brief, t hought ful comment s. She t hen went on to
a girl but said not hi ng of consequence to her. In a voice-over, Ms. Pauley
excitedly poi nt ed out , "Remember , she knows our cameras are t here, and
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 171
she knows we are l ooki ng for gender bi as. " Pauley was visibly s t unned by
what she regarded as Ms. Lowe' s sexist behavi or: "So boys are get t i ng t he
message t hat what t hey have to say is i mpor t ant , and girls begi n to
concl ude j ust t he opposi t e, wi t h seri ous consequences. "
I called Ms. Lowe. She agrees wi t h t he goals of t he Sadkers' research
and believes t eachers may exhi bi t unconsci ous bias. She herself t ook par t
in a t eachers' present at i on in s uppor t of t he Gender Equi t y in Educat i on
Act. Nevert hel ess, she felt t hat t he "Dat el i ne" pr ogr am was a sham. "That
class was boy-heavy, " she said. "Of course I called on mor e boys. A good
document ar y shoul d tell you t he pr opor t i on of boys to girls in t he class.
There wer e four or five mor e boys t han girls. " Moreover, she poi nt ed out ,
t he "Dat el i ne" crew had filmed her for eight to t en hour s, but onl y a few
mi nut es wer e shown. Of course it was possi bl e t o find i n all t hat footage
some small sequence t hat appear ed t o s how bias. "By t hat met hod, " Ms.
Lowe observed derisively, "t hey coul d document most anyt hi ng. " (The
segment , by t he way, ai red j ust after NBC had weat her ed t he embar r ass-
ment of airing a "document ar y" on t he danger s of GM t r ucks whos e gas
t anks were l ocat ed on t he si de. It t ur ned out t hat an NBC crew had fitted
a t ruck wi t h an explosive and t hen graphi cal l y "showed" how i mpact
caused t he fuel t ank t o expl ode wi t hout expl ai ni ng how t he footage had
been rigged.)
Ms. Lowe t ol d me t hat her fifth-graders wer e i ncensed by what "Dat e-
l i ne" had made of t he l ong hour s of filming. The ki ds knew t here wer e
mor e boys t han girls in t he class. Wh y wasn' t t hat made clear, t hey
wonder ed. Thei r general feeling was t hat "Dat el i ne" was st ret chi ng t o
drive home a message. I asked Ms. Lowe how t he "Dat el i ne" staff and Ms.
Pauley had happened to choose her school t o film. Ms. Lowe i nformed
me t hat t he cont act was made t hr ough Dr. Shar on St ei ndam, one of her
school admi ni st rat ors who had wor ked wi t h t he Sadkers.
"Dat el i ne" di d i nt ervi ew one skept i c. Ms. Pauley asked Di ane Ravitch,
t hen assistant secret ary of educat i on under Lamar Al exander, what she
t hought of t he Wel l esl ey Report. Ms. Ravitch t ol d Pauley all about t he
over whel mi ng dat a t hat s how boys to be in seri ous t roubl e. She s poke
about dr opout rat es, t he gradi ng gap t hat favors girls, t he far great er
number of boys wi t h l earni ng disabilities. Accordi ng to Ravitch, Paul ey
showed no i nt erest in t he boys' pl i ght but kept after her to concede t hat
girls were suffering from gender bias. Wh e n it became clear t hat Ravitch
was not goi ng to capi t ul at e, Pauley asked her, "Wel l , what if peopl e believe
t here is bias?" Ms. Ravitch, by t hen net t l ed, ret ort ed, "If peopl e believe
this is a seri ous pr obl em, t hey shoul d send t hei r daught er s to single-sex
172 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
school s. " All t hat ai red of her comment s was t hat isolated exasperated
r emar k.
4 9
No fewer t han fifty member s of Congress sent a letter to Lamar Alex-
ander , professi ng t hemsel ves out r aged by Ravitch' s comment , and they
cited t he AAUW/ Wel l esl ey r epor t "How Schools Short change Girls"
t o cont radi ct her. They de ma nde d t hat t he secretary take seri ous st eps
wi t h regard to Ms. Ravitch. The letter also put t he secretary on notice:
if he oppos ed t he Gender Equi t y in Educat i on Act, t here woul d be fire-
wor ks.
St one Phillips may well have been right when he said on a recent
"Dat el i ne" updat e on t he Gender Equi t y in Educat i on Act, "Wi t h women
pl ayi ng a bi gger rol e t han ever in Washi ngt on . . . this may be one bill
i mmune from congressi onal gr i dl ock. "
5 0
But t he women who are playing
a bi gger role are not necessarily member s of Congress; they are mor e
likely t o be t he det er mi ned wome n of organi zat i ons like t he AAUW and
t he Wel l esl ey College Cent er for Research on Wome n.
Jane Paul ey was clearly moved by t he Wellesley Report. Her husband,
Garry Tr udeau, was t oo; he used his "Doonesbur y" col umn to popul ari ze
its findings. It is under st andabl e t hat Ms. Pauley and Mr. Tr udeau shoul d
assume t hat t he Wel l esl ey schol ars and t he AAUW had been fair and
compet ent in t hei r research. To Pauley and Tr udeau, as to most ot her
intelligent and i nformed Ameri cans, Wellesley and t he AAUW are syn-
onymous wi t h professi onal i nt egri t y and scholarly aut hori t y.
On t he ot her hand, t he Ameri can publ i c relies on Ms. Pauley' s reput a-
tion as an investigative r epor t er t o be accur at eeven on issues that
passi onat el y concer n her. Ironically, t he title of her gender bias documen-
tary was "Failing at Fai rness. "
I have had yet anot her br us h wi t h t he Sadkers. On t he afternoon of
Monday, Januar y 10, 1994, 1 recei ved a call from a pr oducer of t he Opr ah
Wi nfrey show. The Sadkers woul d be appear i ng on t he show on Thur sday
mor ni ng to di scuss t hei r findings on how girls are bei ng short changed in
t he nat i on' s school s. I was i nvi t ed t o j oi n t hem on t he show to provi de a
cont rast i ng poi nt of view. Despi t e t he shor t not i ce, I was delighted. It is
so rare t hat t he gender - bi as expert s are confront ed wi t h any ki nd of
criticism. I accept ed and we pl anned t hat I woul d leave for Chicago
Wednes day mor ni ng to avoi d t ransport at i on pr obl ems from a predi ct ed
st or m. But on late Tuesday aft ernoon, t he pr oducer called to tell me that
t here had been an ext r aor di nar y devel opment . The Sadkers were refusing
to appear wi t h me. The pr oducer was apologetic, but he was in a bi nd.
The s how woul d go on wi t hout my cr i t i ci smwhi ch is j ust what t he
Sadkers want ed. I t ol d t he pr oducer t hat this was a pat t ern wi t h gender-
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 173
bias advocat es; t hey meet onl y in l i ke- mi nded gr oups and speak onl y in
uncont est ed venues. They do not feel obl i gat ed to deal wi t h obj ect i ons t o
their views and doct ri nes. Wha t is ext raordi nary is that, so far, t hey have
been able to get t hei r way.
The Sadkers are j ust t wo of several aut hor s of t he Wellesley Report .
Peggy Mci nt osh is anot her . She is listed as a "core t eam member " who
hel ped to do t he research and to wri t e t he r epor t and who "di scussed,
reviewed, and debat ed every aspect of t he proj ect for its ent i re twelve-
mont h l i f e. "
5 1
In addi t i on to t he charge t hat school s under mi ne girls' self-
est eem by "silencing" t hem in our nat i on' s cl assrooms, t he r epor t cl ai ms
t hat girls "do not see t hemsel ves" reflected in t he cur r i cul um. That is Ms.
Mci nt osh' s pet charge.
Blandly accept i ng Ms. Mci nt osh' s qui r ky di st i nct i on bet ween (femi-
ni ne) "lateral" and (mascul i ne) "vertical" t hi nki ng, t he r epor t urges t hat
girls' special ways of t hi nki ng and knowi ng be recogni zed and empha-
sized in t he nat i on' s el ement ary school s. Likewise, t he r epor t refers t o
Mci nt osh' s five interactive phases of curri cul ar devel opment as if t hese
were recogni zed scientific findings:
Phases I, II, and III have a vertical axis of "ei t her/ or t hi nki ng" t hat
views wi nni ng and losing as t he onl y alternatives. An i mpor t ant
concept ual and emot i onal shift occurs in Phase IV. . . . In Phase IV
we see, for t he first t i me, t he cyclical nat ur e of daily life, t he maki ng
and mendi ng of t he social fabric. . . . Phase IV features lateral and
pl ural t hi nki ng, sees "vertical" t hi nki ng as si mpl y one versi on of
t hi nki ng, and encourages all st udent s to "make t ext books of t hei r
l i ves. "
5 2
The r epor t does not expl ai n t he meani ng of "vertical" and "lateral"
t hi nki ng or what it mi ght mean t o "make t ext books of [one' s life]," but it
repeat s as gospel Mci nt osh' s assessment of t he t radi t i onal cur r i cul um as
i nsi di ous: "Many school subj ect s, as present l y t aught , fall wi t hi n t he gen-
eral descri pt i ons of Phases I and II. In t he upper grades especially, t he
cur r i cul um nar r ows and definitions of knowi ng t ake on gender-specific
and culture-specific qualities associated wi t h Angl o- Eur opean mal e val-
ue s . "
5 3
Such passages pr ovi de i nsi ght i nt o what t he gender feminists mean
by gender i nequi t ya definition far from what most peopl e under s t and
it to mean. As an exampl e of a phase one Angl o- Eur opean mal e activity,
t he r epor t cites civics classes t hat focus on cont roversy. It suggest s t hat
174 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
girls woul d be mor e comfort abl e i n classes t hat are mor e personal and
less cont ent i ous t hat addr ess what t he r epor t calls "t he daily t ext ure of
life."
To get at t he phi l os ophy under l yi ng t he Wellesley Report, it is i nst ruc-
tive t o r et ur n t o Mci nt osh' s fall 1990 wor ks hop for grade school teachers
i n Brookl i ne, Massachuset t s, whe n she condemned "young whi t e mal es"
as a gr oup, calling t hem "danger ous to t hemsel ves and to t he rest of u s . "
5 4
To give her audi ence an i dea of t he har m inflicted by t he vertical ap-
pr oach, she t ol d of a young girl who had t roubl e addi ng a col umn of
number s : 1 + 3 + 5. The pr obl em, as Mci nt osh saw it, was t hat t he
wor ksheet r equi r ed her t o t hi nk vertically, t hereby under mi ni ng her self-
est eem and causi ng her t o become di scouraged. She urged t he Brookline
t eachers t o find ways t o " p u t . . . [st udent s] off t he ri ght -wrong axis, t he
wi n-l ose axi s. "
Wha t t hat mi ght mean for l earni ng s ums , Mci nt osh never explicitly
said. One exasperat ed par ent who saw t he vi deo, Robert Costrell, a pr o-
fessor of economi cs at t he Uni versi t y of Massachuset t s at Amherst wrot e
a pi ece in t he local news paper critical of Ms. Mci nt osh' s educat i onal
phi l osophy:
Since t he chi l d coul d not add 1 + 3 + 5, we need t o know if she
coul d add 1 + 3 . If not , t hen she woul d onl y be further demoral -
i zed by mor e t hr ee- t er m exercises, no mat t er how non-hi erarchi cal .
If she can add 1 + 3 , t hen t he chi l d is ready for a br eakt hr ough,
si nce she coul d t hen a dd 4 + 5 and finish t he pr obl em. The child
woul d not onl y have found t he answer, but woul d have t he basis
for later st udy of t he associative l aw in algebra, not to ment i on t he
self-esteem t hat goes al ong wi t h it. But of course, this is "vertical
t hi nki ng. "
5 5
Professor Cost rel l her e t ouches on a fundament al i nconsi st ency wi t hi n
t he Wel l esl ey Report . On t he one hand, it tells us t hat girls are left behi nd
in mat h, sci ence, a nd engi neeri ng and t hat we mus t take st eps to hel p
t hem cat ch up. Though t he r epor t exaggerates t he significance of t he
di spari t y bet ween t he mat h skills of boys and t hose of girls, we may all
acknowl edge t he need t o addr ess any deficiency girls may have in mat h
and sci ence. But t he r epor t goes on to deni grat e vertical appr oaches to
subj ect s like ma t h a nd sci ence, despi t e t he fact t hat t hey depend on exact
t hi nki ng and cal cul at i on. It' s not t hat t he aut hor s of t he r epor t coul d not
make u p t hei r mi nds ; i n fact, t hey seem to have little use for exact
t hi nki ng and real sci ence. But t he report ers and politicians needed some
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 175
evi dence t hat girls are bei ng shor t changed. The di screpancy in sci ence
and mat h, t hough smal l , was useful for t hat pur pose. So t he r epor t cites
t he boys' advant age i n t hese areas, i gnori ng for t he mome nt its own
prej udi ce against t hose subj ect s.
Debat i ng cl ubs, whi ch t ake for grant ed an "adversarial, wi n/ l ose ori -
ent at i on, " are cited in t he r epor t as anot her exampl e of a mal e appr oach
to knowl edge. Yet mos t analytical di sci pl i nes, from phi l osophy to hi st ory
to law, requi re skill i n ar gument . As an equi t y feminist who want s
girls to excel, I see debat i ng cl ubs as an i mpor t ant t ool for t eachi ng
st udent s to be art i cul at e, cogent , persuasi ve, and forceful. Tr ue, adversar-
ial compet i t i veness is a par t of every debat e, and so favoring skill in debat e
may be made to seem like favoring aggression. So what ? Adversarial
rhet ori c is a t radi t i on of t he greatest school s, from t he dialectical pract i ces
of t he Greek academi es and t he anci ent yeshivas of Babylonia to t he great
debat i ng cl ubs of Oxford and Cambr i dge. Wha t woul d our moder n sys-
t em of democr at i c par l i ament s be wi t hout debates? Mor e t han ever
women are called upon to use debat i ng skills in t hei r professi ons and
in politics. To talk about "kill or be killed" pract i ces and to suggest
t hat women are "above" t hat sort of t hi ng is to relegate t hem to ineffective-
ness.
Mci nt osh' s t heori es are depressi ngl y remi ni scent of t he canar d t hat
women are i nnat el y i rrat i onal and t oo delicate for t he r ough- and- t umbl e
wor l d we associate wi t h effective intellectual exchange and clear t hi nki ng.
How far, after all, is Mci nt osh from t he ei ght eent h- cent ur y Ger man phi -
l osopher J ohann Gottlieb Fichte, who had his own views about mal e and
female "ways of knowi ng. " "Man r educes all t hat is in and for hi m to clear
concept i ons, and di scovers it onl y t hr ough reasoni ng. . . . Woma n, on t he
ot her hand, has a nat ur al sent i ment of what is good, t rue, and pr oper . "
Not surpri si ngl y, Fi cht e offers this l eft -handed compl i ment to wome n
and their wondr ous "sent i ment s" i n t he course of argui ng against grant i ng
t hem t he ri ght to vot e.
5 6
The wome n at t he AAUW and t he Wellesley College Cent er for Re-
search on Wo me n cannot have it bot h ways: if you want girls to succeed
in mat h, sci ence, and engi neeri ng, t hen you have to t each t hem, al ong
wi t h boys, to be analytical t hi nker s, to val ue t he very t hi ngs Ms. Mci nt osh
was war ni ng t he Brookl i ne t eachers agai nst "exact t hi nki ng, decisive-
ness, mast ery of s omet hi ngr i ght and wr ong answers, wi n lest you l ose. "
As J ohn Leo of U.S. News & World Reportone of t he few j ournal i st s
who t ook t he t roubl e to read past t he first few pages of t he r e por t put
it, "Mci nt osh want s to pr omot e ' lateral t hi nki ng' in t he cur r i cul um, t he
ai m of whi ch is not t o wi n or excel but ' to be in a decent rel at i onshi p to
176 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
t he invisible el ement s of t he uni verse. ' Consi der t hat an al arm bell. This
r epor t needs a full vertical anal ysi s. "
5 7
Colleges use bot h t he Scholastic Apt i t ude Test and t he hi gh school
r ecor ds in sel ect i ng st udent s for admi ssi on. On average, girls have bet t er
grades but do slightly wor se on t he SAT. The mean mat h scores in 1992
wer e 499 for boys, and 456 for girls; in English, 42 8 for boys, and 419
for gi r l s.
5 8
The SAT is s uppos ed t o pr edi ct how well a st udent will do in
college; however , once t hey get t o college, it is t he girls who get t he bet t er
grades.
Ever on t he alert for how school s are "short changi ng" girls, t he Wel l es-
ley Report t akes t hese facts as clear evi dence t hat t he SAT is biased in
favor of boys. It is possi bl e t hat t he test score differentials are indicative
of bi as and t hat t he test s houl d be al t ered to mi ni mi ze or eliminate such
bias. But we cannot accept t hat concl usi on wi t hout bet t er (and mor e
i mpart i al ) research. Scores by t hemsel ves do not necessarily show bias.
Ther e are ma ny ot her factors t o consi der.
Mor e girls t han boys t ake t he SAT (girls, 52 percent ; boys, 48 percent );
mor eover , accor di ng t o t he 1992 College Board Profile of the SAT Test
Takers, mor e females from "at risk" categories take t he test t han males.
Specifically, mor e girls from l ower - i ncome homes or wi t h parent s who
never at t ended college are likely t o at t empt t he SAT exam t han are boys
from t he same backgr ound. "These characteristics are associated wi t h
l ower t han average SAT scores, " says t he College Boar d.
5 9
Men and wo me n t ake different ki nds of courses in college; mor e mal es
enrol l i n ma t h a nd sci ence, mor e females in t he humani t i es. The advent
of radi cal gr ade inflation i n t he humani t i es, and comparat i vel y little in
t he sci ences, mi ght expl ai n why, despi t e l ower SAT scores, women stu-
dent s net hi gher gr ade poi nt averages. The Wellesley researchers were
awar e of this possibility, but t hey insist t hat even when course difficulty
is t aken i nt o account , t he SAT test still t ur ns out to be biased against girls:
The under pr edi ct i on of women' s college grades does not result from
wome n t aki ng easier courses. In mat h courses at all levels, grades of
females a nd mal es are very similar, but mal e SAT-Math scores are
hi gher t han female scores. Even whe n grades are wei ght ed to allow
for differences in t he difficulty of first-year courses t aken by women
and men, t he under pr edi ct i on of women' s grades is r educed but not
el i mi nat ed.
6 0
If t hat wer e right, we woul d certainly be i ncl i ned to say t hat t he test is
skewed i n favor of t he boys. On this poi nt t he report claims suppor t from
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 177
an article ent i t l ed "Gender Bias in t he Predi ct i on of College Cour se Per-
formance" in a 1988 issue of t he Journal of Educational Measurement. But,
as j ournal i st Dani el Seligman r epor t ed in a March 1992 issue of Fortune,
t hat article is a weak reed i ndeed.
6 1
Its aut hor s, Robert McCor mack and
Mary McLeod of San Diego State University, take pai ns t o say t hat once
t he difficulty of t he courses is consi dered, t here is no evi dence of gender
bias. In fact, McCor mack and McLeod found, "Curi ousl y, in t hose few
courses i n whi ch a gender bias was found, it most often i nvol ved over-
predi ct i ng for wome n in a course i n whi ch me n earned a hi gher average
gr ade. "
6 2
Seligman' s observat i ons pr ovoked a letter to Fortune from Susan Bailey
and Patricia Campbel l t wo of t he report ' s aut hor s. They di d not defend,
explain, or apol ogi ze for t hei r reliance on t he McCor mack/ McLeod article;
i nst ead t hey cl ai med t hat ot her st udi es do s uppor t t he finding of bi as.
Fur t her mor e, t hey assert ed, "It is har d to t ake seriously [Seligman' s] cri-
t i que . . . when girls are referred to as ' dol l s. ' . . . The Report was wr i t t en
to document gender bias and to suggest posi t i ve st eps to combat it.
Reference t o guys [and] dolls . . . does little to hel p our school s or our
s t udent s . "
6 3
Mr. Seligman' s choi ce of wor ds may have been frivolous, but
his poi nt was not . And what are we t o t hi nk whe n t hose who claim to be
hel pi ng our school s refuse to answer a criticism t hat pr esent s a si mpl e
finding of error?
Criticism by t he educat i on wri t er Rita Kramer i n Commentary pr ovoked
anot her angry letter from Sharon Schust er, t he pr esi dent of t he AAUW.
Ms. Schust er ar gued t hat girls' weaker per f or mance was caused by t he
biased cont ent of t he tests:
Research st udi es revi ewed in t he r epor t also found subst ant i al gen-
der bias in st andar di zed tests. One analysis of tests found twice as
many references to men as to women, and mor e pi ct ures of and
references to boys t han girls. A later st udy of t he Scholastic Apt i t ude
Test (SAT) found references to 42 men and onl y t hree wome n in
t he r eadi ng- compr ehensi on passages used in t he four 1 9 8 4 - 8 5
exams. Of t he 42 men, 3 4 wer e famous and t hei r wor k was cited;
one of t he t hr ee wome n was famous (Margaret Mead) and her wor k
was cri t i ci zed.
6 4
Ms. Schust er seems to i mpl y t hat if t he SAT and ot her st andar di zed
tests had mor e wor d pr obl ems t hat girls coul d relate t osay, about
famous wome n or per haps about cooki ng, sewi ng, qui l t i ng, or rel at i on-
s hi ps t hen girls' scores woul d go up.
178 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
But surel y Ms. Schust er read t he r epor t whi ch rejects this argument ,
not i ng t hat "references t o mal e or female names, pr onouns , possessions,
or occupat i ons i n t he pl ace of neut r al l anguage had no demonstrable effect
at all on t he exami nee per f or mance on mat hemat i cs wor d pr obl ems [my
emphasi s) . " Boys still averaged bet t er t han girls on SAT pr obl em solving,
"even whe n t he pr obl em rel at ed t o food and cooki ng. " The cont ent of
exampl es ha d no effect on per f or mance one way or t he ot her.
The r epor t di d find t hat girls are bet t er t han boys in comput at i on, a
r at her smal l consol at i on in an era of hand- hel d calculators. Not to be
di scouraged, t he AAUW-Wel l esl ey t eam seized t he oppor t uni t y to rec-
o mme n d t hat boys' a nd girls' test resul t s be equal i zed by testing mor e on
comput at i on a nd less on pr obl em solving. Of course, this sets precisely
t he wr ong emphasi s, si nce it is t he hi gher - or der ski l l spr obl em solving
t h a t are mos t i mpor t ant , and in whi ch our chi l dren are weakest. Inter-
nat i onal exams doc ume nt t hat our school chi l dren come closer to our
compet i t or s i n ar i t hmet i c ( t hough even her e t hey still lag behi nd) t han
t hey do i n mor e chal l engi ng areas.
So, once agai n we find t hat t he gender feminists' ideological and par-
tisan t r eat ment of a pr obl e mwhi c h is in pri nci pl e amenabl e to an
objective and nonpar t i san s ol ut i onends up confusing t he issues, creat-
i ng acr i mony, and hel pi ng nobody. The quest i on of test fairness is i mpor -
t ant , t oo i mpor t ant t o be left t o t he merci es of advocacy research. Wh o is
shor t changi ng whom?
The Wel l esl ey Repor t is correct whe n it poi nt s out t hat Ameri can girls
are trailing boys in mat h and sci ence. The gap is small but real, and t he
r epor t is right t o suggest t hat school s mus t make every effort to "dispel
myt hs about ma t h a nd sci ence as ' i nappr opr i at e' fields for wome n. "
6 5
Unfort unat el y, t hat s ound suggest i on is accompani ed by mor e t han
t went y quest i onabl e and di st ressi ng r ecommendat i ons t hat woul d, if
act ed upon, creat e a ni ght mar i sh "gender equi t y" bureaucracy wi t h pl ent y
of t i me a nd mone y on its hands j us t t he sort of r ecommendat i on anyone
who cares about t he wel l -bei ng of Ameri can school s shoul d fear and
l oat he: "The U.S Depar t ment of Educat i on' s Office of Educat i onal Re-
search a nd I mpr ovement (OERI) shoul d establish an advisory panel of
gender equi t y expert s t o wor k wi t h OERI to devel op a research and
di ssemi nat i on agenda to foster gender-equi t abl e educat i on in t he nat i on' s
cl as s r ooms . "
6 6
Wh o woul d be t rai ni ng t he gender experts? Wh o woul d moni t or t he
nat i on' s school s on how wel l t hey conform t o t he ideals of a correct sexual
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T
179
politics? More generally, who woul d benefit most from t he mi l l i ons bei ng
request ed for t he Gender Equi t y in Educat i on Act? Woul d it not be t hose
who insist t hat gender equi t y is our foremost educat i onal pr obl em? Our
syst em cannot handl e muc h mor e pr essur e from t hese muddl ed but de-
t ermi ned wome n wi t h t hei r mul t i st age t heori es and t hei r met aphor s about
wi ndows, mi r r or s, and voices, t hei r wor kshops, and above all t hei r con-
st ant al arms about t he state of male-female rel at i ons in Ameri can society.
Whi ch l eads us back to what is most wr ongheaded about t he Wellesley
Report: its expl oi t at i on of Ameri ca' s very real pr obl em as a nat i on educa-
tionally at risk. Despi t e its suggest i on t hat solving t he "pr obl em of gender
equi t y" will s omehow hel p us to bri dge t he gap bet ween Ameri can chil-
dr en and t he educat i onal l y super i or chi l dren of ot her count r i es what
t he educat i on researcher Har ol d St evenson apt l y calls t he "l earni ng gap"
t h e r epor t never says how. The reason for t he omi ssi on is obvi ous: t he
aut hor s have no pl ausi bl e sol ut i on to offer.
In 1990 t he Japanese t ransl at ed i nt o English t he mat hemat i cal sect i on
of their college ent r ance exam. Ameri can mat hemat i ci ans were startled by
what t hey saw. Professor Ri chard Askey, a mat hemat i ci an at t he Uni ver-
sity of Wi sconsi n, spoke for many Ameri can scientists and mat hemat i -
cians when he said, "The level at whi ch [Japanese] st udent s perform on
these [exams] is j us t i ncr edi bl e. "
6 7
Science magazi ne recent l y pr i nt ed a sampl e quest i on from t he ent r ance
exami nat i on to Tokyo University. To solve it woul d requi re a lot of
"vertical t hi nki ng": "Given a regul ar pyr ami d, t here is a ball wi t h its cent er
on t he bot t om of t he pyr ami d and t angent to all edges. (A regul ar pyr ami d
has four isosceles triangles adj oi ned to a squar e base. ) If each edge of t he
pyr ami d base is of l engt h a, find t he hei ght of t he pyr ami d and t he vol ume
of t he por t i on it has in c ommon wi t h t he bal l . "
6 8
The Science edi t ors poi nt out t hat this quest i on is bei ng asked not of
future mat h and sci ence maj ors but of Japanese hi gh school st udent s who
were pl anni ng t o maj or in t he humani t i es. They not ed: " When U. S. mat h
majors mi ght trail even lit st udent s in Japan, t here' s a lot of cat chi ng up
to d o . "
6 9
Ameri can educat or s somet i mes expl ai n away t he di screpanci es by
poi nt i ng out t hat onl y t he best st udent s in Japan take t he test. In 1987,
for exampl e, 3 1 per cent of Ameri can college-age st udent s t ook t he SAT;
in Japan t he figure was 14 per cent for t he Japanese equi val ent of t he SAT.
But even our very best st udent s had a har d t i me mat chi ng t he average
score of t he Japanese s t udent s .
7 0
St udi es by Professor Jerry Becker, of
Sout her n Illinois University, and by Fl oyd Mat t hei s, of East Carol i na
University, tell t he same story. Becker r epor t s t hat t he pr obl em is not
180 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
si mpl y t hat Japanese st udent s as a whol e out perform our st udent s but
t hat "average s t udent s in J apan s how great er achi evement t han t he t op
five per cent of U. S. s t udent s " (his emphas i s ) .
7 1
Mat t hei s compar ed j uni or
hi gh s t udent s i n J apan a nd Nor t h Carolina. Report i ng on hi s st udy, Sci-
ence magazi ne says, "It shows Japanese st udent s out front at every age
gr oup in a test t hat measur es six logical t hi nki ng oper at i ons . "
7 2
Professor St evenson has done some of t he most t hor ough comparat i ve
st udi es. He found a big difference bet ween t he average Ameri can score
and t he average for Japanese and Tai wanese st udent s. (Onl y 14. 5 percent
of Tai wanese a nd 8 per cent of Japanese el event h-graders had scores below
t he Amer i can average. ) Among fifth-graders onl y 4. 1 percent of Tai-
wanese chi l dr en and 10. 3 per cent of Japanese chi l dren score as l ow or
l ower t han t he Amer i can aver age.
7 3
St evenson poi nt s out t hat we cannot
at t ri but e t he di spari t y t o "differential sampl i ng. " He st udi ed first-, fifth-,
and el event h-graders i n Japan, Tai wan, and t he Uni t ed States, in all t hree
of whi ch enr ol l ment in first and fifth grades is close to 100 percent . If
vocat i onal school s are i ncl uded in t he figures for hi gh school , t he repre-
sent at i on of adol escent s is also t he same.
Wha t of t he gender gap bet ween Ameri can boys and girls in mat h? As
not ed earlier, t he Educat i onal Test i ng Service (in its Int ernat i onal Assess-
ment of Mat hemat i cs and Science) found t hat al t hough thirteen-year-old
Amer i can girls lag a poi nt behi nd t he boys, t hat gap is insignificant
compar ed to t he one bet ween Ameri can chi l dren and foreign chi l dren.
Recall t hat t he di spari t y bet ween our boys and Tai wanese and Korean
girls was 16 poi nt s .
7 4
Some t heori st s specul at e t hat Asian chi l dren do bet t er at mat h because
t hei r l anguages are so compl ex and abstract, provi di ng bet t er preparat i on
in t he cogni t i ve skills r equi r ed for mat h and science. That does not hel p
to expl ai n why Amer i can chi l dren lag behi nd Eur opean and Canadi an
st udent s t oo. Girls i n Fr ench- speaki ng Quebec out perform our boys by
12 poi nt s on t he IAEP mat h test. In fact, Ameri can boys lag behi nd girls
in s uch count r i es as Irel and, Italy, and Hungar y.
7 5
In science t he results,
al t hough not qui t e so di smayi ng, cont i nue t he pat t ern: Ameri can boys
trail significantly behi nd t he foreign girls.
The pr esi dent of t he Educat i onal Testing Service, Gregory Anrig, has
cited t hr ee factors t hat cont r i but e to Asi ans' and Eur opeans' hi gher per-
formance: rigorous cont ent in t he cur r i cul um, hi gh expect at i ons from
par ent s and t eachers, and posi t i ve cul t ural at t i t udes t oward l ear ni ng.
7 6
Absurdl y, cynically, or foolishly, t he AAUW and t he Wellesley expert s
are focusing on t he one area i n whi ch Ameri can st udent s surpass st udent s
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 181
in ot her count ri es, and wher e t hey need t he least a mount of helpself-
esteem!
Reacting to t he al arms of t he AAUW and t he Wellesley College Cent er
for Research on Wome n, Congress is now likely to pass t he Gender Equi t y
in Educat i on Act. Unfort unat el y, a legislative emphasi s on gender gaps is
an unhel pful di versi on. Dr. St evenson' s findings, backed by seri ous st ud-
ies from many ot her quart ers, hi ghl i ght t he real pr obl ems of a nat i on t hat
is educat i onal l y at risk. The r ecommendat i ons t hat St evenson and ot her
expert s on t he "l earni ng gap" pr obl em are maki ng are st rai ght forward,
const ruct i ve, commonsensi cal , and pract i cabl e. Must we wai t for Con-
gress to exhaust its need to s how t hat its feminist credent i al s are in or der
before we see a seri ous effort to get our educat i onal act together?
The AAUW and t he Wellesley researchers had every ri ght to be grati-
fied at t hei r success. It had all been so easy. The medi a had been cooper-
ative and uncritical. The strategy of "do a st udy, declare a crisis, get
politicians wor ked u p " was pr ovi ng to be ast oni shi ngl y effective.
The Wellesley Cent er t ook t he lead for t he next st udy, focusing on t he
sexual har assment of girls by boys in t he grade school s. Nan Stein was
t he obvi ous choi ce t o carry out such a st udy. A "proj ect di rect or" at t he
Wellesley College Cent er for Research on Wome n, she had been pr omi -
nent on t he wor ks hop circuit for many years. Wor ki ng closely wi t h t he
Nat i onal Organi zat i on of Wome n, Dr. Stein desi gned a quest i onnai r e and
pl aced it in t he Sept ember 1992 issue of Seventeen. The edi t ors at Seven-
teen pr eceded t he quest i onnai r e by an article t hat told a di st ur bi ng st ory
about a Mi nnesot a girl named Katy Lyle who was t or ment ed and humi l i -
ated on a daily basis by her peers and event ual l y t ook legal act i on. Cert ai n
passages from t he st ory wer e hi ghl i ght ed i n large boldface letters: "It' s
probabl y happened to you" and "You don' t have t o put up wi t h i t i n
fact it' s illegal. And your school is responsi bl e for st oppi ng it." The article
ended wi t h a wor d from Dr. Stein about t he i mpor t ance of creating mor e
caring and j ust school s"gi rl s i ncl uded. " Then came t he half-page tear-
off quest i onnai re ent i t l ed "What ' s Happeni ng to You?" Among t he thir-
teen quest i ons asked of t he Seventeen readers wer e these:
Did anyone do any of t he following to you when you didn't want them
to in t he last school year?
(a) t ouch, pi nch, or grab you
(b) lean over you or c ome r you
182 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
(c) give you sexual not es or pi ct ures
(d) make suggest i ve or sexual gest ures, l ooks, comment s, or j okes
(e) pr essur e you t o do somet hi ng sexual
(0 force you to do somet hi ng sexual
If you' ve been sexually harassed at school , how di d it make you
feel?
For t y- t wo hundr e d of t he magazi ne' s 1.9 million subscri bers r et ur ned
t he quest i onnai r e, a 0. 2 per cent r es pons e.
7 7
Nearly all t he r espondent s
r epor t ed t hey had been harassed as defined by t he quest i onnai re. Specif-
ically, t he dat a s howed t hat 89 per cent of t he r espondent s had received
suggestive gest ures, l ooks, comment s , or j okes; 83 per cent had been
t ouched, pi nched, or gr abbed; 47 per cent were l eaned over or cornered;
2 8 per cent recei ved sexual not es or pi ct ures; 27 percent were pressured
to do s omet hi ng sexual ; and 10 per cent were forced to do somet hi ng
sexual .
Ms. Stein, who was muc h moved by t he responses, began to write
about t hem even before she compl et ed t he st udy. In t he November 1992
issue of Education Week, she wr ot e:
Thei r l et t ers arri ve by t he hundr e ds daily, screami ng to be read:
" OPEN, " "URGENT, " "PLEASE READ" are scri bbl ed on t he envelopes.
Somet i mes t he wri t ers give t hei r names and addresses, somet i mes
t hey don' t . . . . Insi de t he envel opes are chilling stories, handwr i t t en
on l i ned not ebook paper . . . . All beg for at t ent i on, for answers, and
above all, for s ome t ype of j us t i ce.
7 8
"To t hous ands of adol escent girls, " she concl udes, "school may be
t eachi ng mor e about oppr essi on t han freedom; mor e about silence t han
aut onomy. We need t o heed t hei r war ni ngs and listen to their stories. "
Wh e n Ms. Stein' s final r epor t came out on March 24, 1993 , t he results
wer e carri ed i n newspaper s ar ound t he count ry. The report ers cited Ms.
Stein' s figures in j us t t he way she and t he Wellesley researchers must have
hoped: Inst ead of poi nt i ng out t hat t he "9 out of 10" of t hose who
r epor t ed bei ng sexual l y harassed wer e girls who had t aken t he t roubl e to
answer a magazi ne s ur veyand who const i t ut ed no mor e t han t wo-
t ent hs of 1 per cent of t he magazi ne' s r eader s hi pt he report ers si mpl y
spoke of an epi demi c of har assment . The st ory headl i ne from t he Boston
Globe was typical: "A U. S. survey shows wi de har assment of girls in
s c hool . "
7 9
Wha t Ms. Stein and t he Nat i onal Organi zat i on of Wome n had devised
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 183
is known as a self-selecting pol l . Responsi bl e pollsters call t hem SLOPs
self-selected listener opi ni on pol l s and t hey avoi d doi ng t hem, or
crediting t hem whe n ot her pol l st ers do t he m.
8 0
A famous exampl e used
in i nt r oduct or y statistics classes shows t hei r fai l i ngst he 193 6 SLOP
publ i shed by t he Literary Digest t hat showed Alf Landon beat i ng FDR by
a l andsl i de. SLOPs cont i nue to be popul ar wi t h some mass- mar ket pub-
lications as a form of ent er t ai nment , but no seri ous researcher relies on
t hem.
I asked Tom W. Smi t h, a di rect or at t he Nat i onal Opi ni on Research
Ceiiter at t he University of Chi cago, whet her we l earn anything from a
pol l of this ki nd: "No, because t here is a crucial fallacy in self-selected
research: you get a bi ased r esponse. " He poi nt ed out t hat t he Wel l esl ey
har assment survey was in fact t he resul t of not one but t wo stages of self-
selection. The st udy was confi ned t o readers of Seventeen, whose readers
are not necessarily represent at i ve of t he popul at i on of adol escent girls;
and readers who r espond t o such a survey t end to be t hose who feel mos t
st rongl y about t he pr obl em. "Even if t hey had forty t hous and r esponses
it woul d still pr ove very little," said Smi t h. "You still have to wonder
about t he ot her mi l l i on and a hal f - pl us who di d not r espond. "
It is not har d t o see how SLOPs coul d be used t o generat e al arm in
al most any area of social i nt eract i on. Usi ng Nan Stein' s met hodol ogy, we
coul d easily get peopl e wor ked u p about t he pr obl em of nei ghborl y
harassment . We begi n by wri t i ng a st ory descri bi ng a case of horrifying
nei ghbor behavi or. Assume t hat we pr i nt this in a publ i cat i on like t he
Reader's Digest. Cert ai n passages woul d be hi ghl i ght ed"I t ' s pr obabl y
happened to you" and "You don' t have to put up wi t h i t i n fact it' s
illegal. And your city gover nment is responsi bl e for st oppi ng it." We
woul d t hen encl ose a conveni ent one- page survey called "What ' s Happen-
ing t o You?" aski ng whet her your nei ghbor di d any of a list of t hi ngs t o
you in t he past year"general l y annoy you by aski ng for bur dens ome
favors," "scream at your chi l dren, " "play l oud musi c or have l oud part i es, "
"damage your l awn, your car, your gar den, your pet , or any ot her pr op-
erty," "frighten you by reckless, t hreat eni ng behavi or i nvol vi ng al cohol ,
drugs, or guns, " "steal from you or physically at t ack you or any member
of your family." And we woul d end by aski ng, "If you have been tor-
ment ed by your nei ghbor, how di d it make you feel?"
It woul d be expect ed t hat t he Digest woul d receive responses from
some small percent age of its readers and t hat the vast majority of this small
percentage woul d give details of bei ng vi ct i mi zed by a nei ghbor. The
"researcher" coul d t hen tally up t he resul t s in a scientific-looking br o-
chur e full of tables, chart s, and percent ages ( 86 per cent were accost ed by
184 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
t hei r nei ghbor , 62 per cent t hr eat ened wi t h physical attack, 45 percent
physi cal l y beat en, 91 per cent subj ect ed to l oud musi c, etc.). Int erspersed
t hr oughout t he r epor t woul d be di st urbi ng passages from letters by t he
sufferers.
Though its findings woul d surel y be depressi ng, a SLOP survey on
nei ghbor l y har assment woul d tell us very little t hat we di d not know.
Everyone knows t hat s ome nei ghbor s are intolerable. Wha t we want to
know is how prevalent nei ghbor har assment is, and for t hat we need to
know about t he exper i ence of t hose who di d not r et ur n t he quest i onnai re.
An SLOP sur vey is of little val ue to most social scientists. In usi ng one
as her sur vey i nst r ument , Nan Stein was virtually assured of t he al armi ng
resul t s. A seri ous st udy of j uveni l e har assment needs anot her ki nd of
appr oach. We need t o know whet her t he cases cited were par t of a mor e
general pr obl em of a br eakdown of civility and discipline among Ameri -
can adol escent s, for exampl e. Sexual har assment may i ndeed be mor e
preval ent t oday t han it has been in t he past. On t he ot her hand, its greater
preval ence may be due to t he overall rise of antisocial behavi or in Amer-
ican life r at her t han t o a rise i n gender bias. We' d also want t o get a sense
of how adol escent girls harass ot her girls.
The poi nt is t hat t he Wel l esl ey har assment st udy is less concer ned wi t h
girls' unhappi nes s t han wi t h how boys make t hem unhappy. The st udy
tells us once agai n how our society "short changes" and "silences" its
females, giving t he gender feminists a fresh suppl y of stories of female
vi ct i mi zat i on and mal e mal feasance. The survey may have been unsci en-
tific, but it was perfectly desi gned for its real pur pose.
Susan McGee Bailey, a di rect or at t he Wellesley College Cent er for
Research on Wo me n , called t he Seventeen survey a "wake- up call" and
ur ged everyone t o "listen to t he girls' voi ces . "
8 1
She acknowl edged, how-
ever, t hat t he sur vey was unscientific. The AAUW soon t ook up t he
i mpl i ci t chal l enge. In a survey conduct ed by t he Louis Harri s pol l i ng
firm, a random sample of fifteen hundr e d boys and girls (grades eight
t hr ough eleven) wer e quer i ed about harassment . The findings surpri sed
everyone i ncl udi ng t he AAUW. Four of five st udent s, mal e as well as
female, r epor t ed bei ng harassed. The st udy does suggest t hat our school s
are t he set t i ng for a lot of incivility and even out ri ght violence. It suggests
t hat ma ny ki ds are erotically overst i mul at ed. More t han half t he girls and
nearl y half t he boys had been t ouched, grabbed, or pi nched "in a sexual
way. " Some of t he s t udent s had been r ubbed up against (57 per cent of
girls, 3 6 per cent of boys) , s ome had had cl ot hi ng pul l ed at, and some had
recei ved sexual not e s .
8 2
The hi gh i nci dence of sexually harassed mal es was a distinct embar-
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 185
rassment to t he AAUW. How do you put a gender bias spi n on t hat ki nd
of finding? Once again, t he AAUW was u p t o t he challenge. Speaki ng t o
t he Boston Globe, Alice McKee ar gued t hat t he effects of t he har assment
differ: "The bot t om l i ne is t hat girls suffer adverse emot i onal , behavi oral
and educat i onal i mpact s t hree t i mes mor e often t han boys as a resul t of
sexual har assment . " The Globe wri t er, Alison Bass, expl ai ned and ampl i -
fied t he poi nt :
Even t hough boys r epor t ed bei ng harassed al most as often as di d
girls, t he survey . . . found t hat girls wer e far mor e likely t han boys
t o want t o cut class and stay home from school as a resul t of t he
harassment . Girls wer e also mor e hesi t ant t o speak up i n class and
less confi dent about t hemsel ves after bei ng sexually harassed, t he
survey f ound.
8 3
So once again we are given to under s t and t hat "research suggest s" t he
girls are bei ng shor t changed. The effects on t hem (in want i ng to cut
classes and stay home) wer e mar kedl y wor se. But wanting to cut classes
and actually cut t i ng classes are not t he same, and t he latter effect is j ust
t he sort of t hi ng we can check.
8 4
If McKee is right, girls shoul d be showi ng
hi gh rates of absent eei sm, cut t i ng class, and get t i ng l ower grades. In fact,
girls have bet t er at t endance and earn bet t er grades t han boys, and mor e
of t hem graduat e. Thi s is not to say t hat girls and boys react to har assment
in t he same way. The r esponse of girls t o i nsul t s or slights may i ndeed be
mor e dramat i c, l eadi ng t hem to express t he desi re to cut classes mor e t han
boys d o a finding t hat woul d be in keepi ng wi t h t hose of We ndy Wo o d
and her colleagues at Texas A&M, t hat "girls are mor e aware of t hei r
feelings and mor e accurat e in r epor t i ng on negative emot i ons. "
This t i me t he AAUW' s pol l st ers had come u p wi t h findings t hat di d
not readily l end t hemsel ves t o t he "shor t changi ng" t heme. And for t he
first t i me s ome skept i cal voices began t o speak u p in t he popul ar press.
In a New York Times story, Felicity Barringer cited st udent s who criticized
t he survey for "charact eri zi ng t oo many behavi ors as sexual har assment . "
After t he Boston Globe ran a st ory giving t he exact spi n t he AAUW di c-
tated, report er Thomas Pal mer had doubt s about t he validity of t he ha-
rassment survey. He and Alison Bass wr ot e a st ory quest i oni ng t he AAUW
findings and i ncor por at i ng out si de opi ni ons. Billie Dzi ech, an expert on
sexual har assment a nd t he aut hor of one of t he most respect ed books on
t he subject, The Lecherous Professor, poi nt ed out t hat t he i nexact t ermi -
nol ogy vitiated t he AAUW r epor t .
8 5
"There is a difference bet ween some-
t hi ng I woul d call ' sexual hassl e' and ' sexual har assment . ' "
186 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Jer r y Wei ner , presi dent -el ect of t he Ameri can Psychiatry Association,
t ol d t he Globe, "I have ma ny reservat i ons and concerns about t he reliabil-
ity of t he dat a and usi ng t hat ki nd of dat a to dr aw t he br oad sweepi ng
concl usi ons t hat wer e dr awn in t he report . " Tom W. Smi t h, t he di rect or
of t he Nat i onal Opi ni on Research Cent er at t he University of Chicago,
also criticized t he vagueness of t he quest i ons and t he wi de range of
possi bl e i nt erpret at i on.
For t he first t i me t he merits of an AAUW st udy alleging gender i nequi t y
wer e not si mpl y r epor t ed but act ual l y debat ed on nat i onal television. Ted
Koppel chose t he AAUW' s r epor t on sexual har assment in grade school s
as a subj ect for "Ni ght l i ne. " He ar r anged a confront at i on bet ween Nan
Stein and me t o debat e its significance. Ms. Stein is an excellent prot ago-
nist, but she faltered whe n I r emi nded her t hat she had spoken of t he
little boys wh o flipped u p t he ski rt s of little girls in t he school yard as
"gender t errori st s. " A skept i cal Mr. Koppel asked whet her she woul d call
a school yar d bul l y pi cki ng on anot her boy a "terrorist" t oo. Ms. Stein
mus t not have enj oyed t he experi enceaft er our "Ni ght l i ne" encount er,
she backed out of anot her debat e bet ween us schedul ed for a Boston
television pr ogr am t he following week. The pr oducer was t oo di pl omat i c
t o tell me what Ms. Stein had said about me. "Let us j ust say she does not
like you very muc h. "
In December 1993 I t ook par t i n anot her debat e about har assment in
t he wor kpl ace wi t h Anne Bryant, executive di rect or of t he AAUW, on
ABC' s "Lifetime Magazi ne. " I said t hat t he AAUW surveys were "t enden-
t i ous and bi ased. " I br ought up t he fact t hat their har assment st udy had
failed t o di st i ngui sh bet ween "casual bant er, teasing, and seri ous harass-
ment . " Shaki ng her finger at me, Bryant admoni s hed me, "Chri st i na, st op
it! Do you want t o know somet hi ng? Thi s is t he last t i me you' ll criticize
t he i ncredi bl y prest i gi ous and wel l - r un or gani zat i ont he Ameri can As-
soci at i on of Uni versi t y Wo me n . "
8 6
It woul d seem she feels t hat any criti-
ci sm of t he AAUW is si mpl y out of or der and shoul d not be given a
publ i c airing. In any case, t he pr oducer t ol d me t hat t he AAUW' s publ i c
rel at i ons di rect or later t ri ed t o per suade ABC not to r un t he debat e.
Femi ni sm is not wel l served by bi ased st udi es or by medi a t hat tolerate
and hel p t o pr omot e t hem. Had j ournal i st s, politicians, and educat i on
l eaders been doi ng a pr oper j ob of checki ng sources, l ooki ng at t he
original dat a, and seeki ng di ssent i ng opi ni ons from schol ars, had they
not put t hei r faith in glossy br ochur es and press releases, t he al armi ng
findings on self-esteem, gender bi as i n t he cl assroom, and har assment in
t he hal l ways woul d not be aut omat i cal l y credi t ed. In a soundl y critical
cl i mat e, t he federal gover nment woul d not be on t he verge of pour i ng
T H E W E L L E S L E Y R E P O R T 187
t ens of mi l l i ons of dol l ars i nt o proj ect s t hat will enri ch t he gender-bi as
i ndust ry and further weaken our school s. And Ms. Bryant and t he ot her
current l eaders of t he AAUW woul d have l earned some t i me ago t hat t he
reput at i on of t he AAUW mus t inevitably be compr omi sed by anyone who
uses its "i ncredi bl e prest i ge" to pr omot e research whos e pr obi t y and
objectivity cannot be defended.
Chapter 9
Noble Lies
Pity, wrath, heroism filled them, but the power of putting
two and two together was annihilated.
E . M. FORSTER, A Passage to India
Statistics a nd st udi es on s uch provocat i ve subjects as eating di sorders,
r ape, bat t ery, a nd wage differentials are used to under scor e t he pl i ght of
wome n i n t he oppressi ve gender syst em and t o hel p recrui t adher ent s to
t he gender feminist cause. But if t he figures are not t rue, t hey al most
never serve t he i nt erest s of t he vi ct i mi zed women t hey concern. Anorexia
is a disease; bl ami ng me n does not hi ng to hel p cure it. Battery and rape
are cri mes t hat shat t er lives; t hose who suffer mus t be cared for, and t hose
who cause t hei r suffering mus t be r ender ed i ncapabl e of doi ng further
har m. But i n all we do t o hel p, t he most loyal ally is t rut h. Tr ut h br ought
to publ i c light recrui t s t he best of us to wor k for change. On t he ot her
hand, even t he best - i nt ent i oned "nobl e lie" ul t i mat el y discredits t he finest
of causes.
Gender feminist i deol ogy hol ds t hat physi cal menace t oward women
is t he nor m. The cause of bat t er ed wome n has been a handy bandwagon
for t hi s creed. Gloria St ei nem' s port rai t of male-female i nt i macy under
pat r i ar chy is typical: "Pat ri archy requires vi ol ence or t he subl i mi nal t hreat
of vi ol ence in or der t o mai nt ai n itself. . . . The most danger ous si t uat i on
for a woma n is not an u n k n o wn man in t he street, or even t he enemy in
N O B L E L I E S 189
wart i me, but a hus band or lover in t he isolation of t hei r own h o me . "
1
Steinem' s descri pt i on of t he dangers wome n face in t hei r own home is
remi ni scent of t he Super Bowl hoax of Januar y 1993 .
2
The reader may r emember t hat some days before t hat Super Bowl,
Ameri can wome n wer e al ert ed t hat a shar p i ncrease in bat t eri ng was to
be expect ed on t he day of t he game. The i mpl i cat i ons wer e sensat i onal ,
but pur por t edl y t here were reliable st udi es. In t he cur r ent cl i mat e, t he
story had a certain ri ng of plausibility, and it qui ckl y spread. Here is t he
chronol ogy.
Thursday, January 27
A news conference was called in Pasadena, California, t he site of t he
fort hcomi ng Super Bowl game, by a coalition of women' s gr oups. At t he
news conference report ers wer e i nformed t hat Super Bowl Sunday is
"t he biggest day of t he year for vi ol ence against wo me n . "
3
Fort y per cent
mor e wome n woul d be bat t ered on t hat day. In s uppor t of t he 40 per cent
figure, Sheila Kuehl of t he California Wome n' s Law Cent er cited a st udy
done at Virginia' s Ol d Domi ni on Uni versi t y t hree years before. The pr es-
ence of Linda Mitchell, a represent at i ve of a medi a "wat chdog" gr oup
called Fairness and Accuracy in Report i ng (FAIR), l ent credibility to t he
claim.
At about this t i me a very large medi a mai l i ng was sent by Dobi sky
Associates, FAIR'S publ i ci st s, war ni ng at -ri sk women: "Don' t r emai n at
home wi t h hi m dur i ng t he game. " The i dea t hat spor t s fans are pr one to
at t ack wi ves or girlfriends on t hat climactic day per suaded many me n as
well: Robert Lipsyte of t he New York Times woul d soon be referring to t he
"Abuse Bowl . "
4
Friday, January 28
Lenore Wal ker , a Denver psychol ogi st and aut hor of The Battered
Woman, appear ed on "Good Mor ni ng Ameri ca" cl ai mi ng to have com-
pi l ed a t en-year record showi ng a shar p i ncrease in vi ol ent i nci dent s
against wome n on Super Bowl Sundays.
Here, again, a represent at i ve from FAIR, Laura Fl anders, was pr esent
to l end credibility t o t he claim.
Saturday, January 29
A story in t he Boston Globe wr i t t en by Lynda Gorov r epor t ed t hat
women' s shel t ers and hot l i nes are "flooded wi t h mor e calls from vi ct i ms
[on Super Bowl Sunday] t han on any ot her day of t he year. " Gor ov ci t ed
"one st udy of women' s shel t ers out West " t hat "showed a 40 per cent
190 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
cl i mb in calls, a pat t er n advocat es said is repeat ed nat i onwi de, i ncl udi ng
in Massachuset t s. "
5
Ms. Gor ov asked specialists in domest i c violence to explain t he phe-
nomenon. Many felt t hat everyt hi ng about t he Super Bowl is calculated
to give me n t he i dea t hat wome n are t here for their use and abuse. "More
t han one advocat e ment i oned provocat i vel y dressed cheerl eaders at t he
game may reinforce abuser s' per cept i ons t hat women are i nt ended to
serve men, " she wr ot e. Accor di ng to Nancy Isaac, an expert on domest i c
vi ol ence at t he Har var d School of Publ i c Heal t h, men see t he violence as
t hei r right: "It' s: ' I' m s uppos ed to be ki ng of my castle, it' s supposed to
be my day, and if you don' t have di nner ready on t i me, you' re goi ng to
get i t . ' "
Ot her news paper s j oi ned in. Robert Lipsyte descri bed t he connect i on
bet ween t he t ensi on gener at ed by t he big game and t he violence it causes:
"Someone s hut u p t hat ki d or someone' s goi ng to get pounde d. "
6
Michael
Collier of t he Oakland Tribune wr ot e t hat t he Super Bowl causes "boy-
friends, hus bands a nd fathers" t o "expl ode like mad l i nemen, leaving
girlfriends, wi ves a nd chi l dren beat en. "
7
Journal i st s and television com-
ment at or s all over t he count r y s ounded t he al arm. CBS and t he Associated
Press called Super Bowl Sunday a "day of dread, " and j ust before t he
game, NBC br oadcast a publ i c service spot r emi ndi ng men t hat domest i c
vi ol ence is a cri me.
In this roi l i ng sea of medi a credul i t y was a l one island of professional
integrity. Ken Ringle, a Washington Post staff wri t er, t ook t he t i me to call
ar ound to check on t he sources of t he st ory.
8
Whe n Ringle asked Janet
Katz, professor of soci ol ogy and cri mi nal j ust i ce at Ol d Domi ni on and
one of t he pr i nci pal aut hor s of t he st udy cited by Ms. Kuehl at t he
Thur s day pr ess conference, about t he connect i on bet ween violence and
football games, she said: "That ' s not what we found at all." Instead, she
t ol d Ringle, t hey had found t hat an increase in emergency r oom admi s-
si ons "was not associ at ed wi t h t he occur r ence of football games in gen-
er al . "
9
Ringle t hen called Charl es Patrick Ewi ng, a professor at t he University
of Buffalo, wh o m Dobi sky Associates had quot ed as saying, "Super Bowl
Sunday is one day in t he year when hot lines, shelters and ot her agencies
t hat wor k wi t h bat t er ed wome n get t he most report s and compl ai nt s of
domest i c vi ol ence. " "I never said t hat , " Ewi ng told Ringle. Whe n told
about Ewi ng' s deni al , Fr ank Dobi sky correct ed himself, saying t hat t he
quot e s houl d have read "one of the days of t he year. " But t hat expl anat i on
N O B L E L I E S 191
either makes t he claim i ncoher ent , since onl y one day can have "t he most "
battery compl ai nt s, or trivializes it, si nce any day (i ncl udi ng April Fool' s
Day) coul d now be sai d to be t he day of hei ght ened brut al i t y.
Ringle checked wi t h Lynda Gorov, t he Boston Globe report er. Gor ov
told hi m she had never seen t he st udy she cited but had been told of it
by FAIR. Ms. Mitchell of FAIR told Ringle t hat t he aut hor i t y for t he 40
percent figure was Lenore Wal ker . Wal ker' s office, in t ur n, referred calls
on t he subject to Mi chael Lindsey, a Denver psychol ogi st and an aut hor i t y
on bat t ered women.
Pressed by Ringle, Lindsey admi t t ed he coul d find no basis for t he
report . "I haven' t been any mor e successful t han you in t racki ng down
any of t hi s, " he said. "You t hi nk maybe we have one of t hese myt h t hi ngs
here?"
Later, ot her report ers got t o Ms. Wal ker , pressi ng her to detail her
findings. She said t hey wer e not available. "We don' t use t hem for publ i c
consumpt i on, " she expl ai ned, "we used t hem to gui de us in advocacy
pr oj ect s. "
1 0
It woul d have been mor e honest for t he feminists who i ni t i at ed t he
campai gn to admi t t hat t here was no basis for saying t hat football fans
are mor e br ut al to wome n t han are chess pl ayers or Democr at s; nor was
t here any basis for sayi ng t hat t here was a significant rise in domest i c
violence on Super Bowl Sunday.
Ringle' s unravel i ng of t he "myt h t hi ng" was publ i shed on t he front
page of t he Washington Post on Januar y 3 1 . On February 2, Boston Globe
staff wri t er Bob Hohl er publ i shed what amount ed to a ret ract i on of Ms.
Gorov' s story. Hohl er had done s ome mor e digging and had got t en FAIR'S
Steven Rendell t o back off from t he organi zat i on' s earlier s uppor t of t he
claim. "It shoul d not have gone out in FAIR mat eri al s, " said Rendell.
Hohl er got anot her set of i nt ervi ews, this t i me wi t h psychol ogi st s who
told hi m t hat t hey had t hei r doubt s about t he st ory from t he very begi n-
ni ng. One expert , J oan Stiles, publ i c educat i on coor di nat or for t he Mas-
sachuset t s Coal i t i on of Battered Women' s Service Gr oups, t ol d t he Globe
that t he Super Bowl st ory "sensat i onal i zed and trivialized" t he bat t eri ng
pr obl em, and damaged t he cause' s credibility. Lundy Bancroft, a t rai ni ng
di rect or for a Cambr i dge- based counsel i ng pr ogr am for me n who bat t er,
said, "I di sbel i eved t he 40 per cent t hi ng from t he mome nt I hear d it."
Bancroft also suggest ed t hat t he campai gn to pr essur e NBC to air t he
domest i c-vi ol ence spot "unfairly st i gmat i zed" football fans. "There is no
stereotypical bat t erer, " he said.
Linda Mitchell from FAIR woul d later acknowl edge t hat she was aware
dur i ng t he original news conference t hat Ms. Kuehl was mi sr epr esent i ng
192 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
t he Ol d Domi ni on st udy. Ringle asked her whet her she di d not feel
obl i gat ed t o chal l enge her colleague. "I woul dn' t do t hat in front of t he
medi a, " Mitchell said. "She has a ri ght to r epor t it as she want s. "
Hohl er' s i nvest i gat i ons fully s uppor t ed t he concl usi ons Ringle had
reached. Ringle wr ot e: "Despi t e t hei r dramat i c claims, none of t he activists
appear s to have any evi dence t hat a l i nk actually exists bet ween football
and wife-beating. Yet t he concept has gai ned such credence t hat their
campai gn has rol l ed on anyway, unabat ed. "
1 1
Lenore Wal ker was furious wi t h Ken Ringle for criticizing her research.
She at t r i but ed hi s unfri endl y st ance to mal e pi que at not bei ng able to get
t hr ough to her on t he phone t he day he was wri t i ng his story. As she
expl ai ned t o t he Boston Globe's Bob Hohl er: "He [Ringle] felt as if he was
ent i t l ed to talk t o me; because he di d not get what he was entitled to he
got angr y and deci ded t o use his pen as a swor d as a bat t erer does wi t h
his fist whe n he does not get what he t hi nks he is entitled t o . "
1 2
The shel t ers and hot lines, whi ch moni t or ed t he Sunday of t he t went y-
sevent h Super Bowl wi t h special care, r epor t ed no variation in t he number
of calls for hel p t hat day, not even in Buffalo, whose t eam (and fans) had
suffered a cr ushi ng defeat. As Mi chael Lindsey comment ed to Ken Ringle,
" Whe n peopl e ma ke crazy st at ement s like this, t he credibility of t he whol e
cause can go ri ght out t he wi ndow. "
Despi t e Ringle' s expos, t he Super Bowl Sunday "statistic" will be wi t h
us for a whi l e, doi ng its divisive wor k of generat i ng fear and resent ment .
In t he book How to Make the World a Better Place for Women in Five
Minutes a Day, a c omme nt under t he headi ng "Did You Know?" informs
readers t hat "Super Bowl Sunday is t he most violent day of t he year, wi t h
t he hi ghest r epor t ed numbe r of domest i c bat t eri ng cases. "
1 3
How a belief
in t hat mi sandr i st canar d can make t he wor l d a bet t er pl ace for women is
not expl ai ned.
How many wome n in t he Uni t ed States are brut al i zed by t he men
in t hei r lives? Her e is a cross sect i on of t he vari ous answers that are
given:
Dur i ng t he 9-year per i od, i nt i mat es commi t t ed 5.6 million violent
vi ct i mi zat i ons agai nst women, an annual average of 626, 000. (U.S.
Depar t ment of Just i ce, 1 9 9 1 )
1 4
Appr oxi mat el y 1.8 mi l l i on wome n a year are physically assaulted by
t hei r hus bands or boyfri ends. (Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the
American Family)
15
N O B L E L I E S 193
In t he past year, 3 mi l l i on wome n have been bat t ered. (Senat or
Joseph Biden, 1 9 9 1 )
1 6
Total domest i c vi ol ence, r epor t ed and unr epor t ed, affects a many as
4 mi l l i on wome n a year. (Senat or Biden' s staff report , 1 9 9 2 )
1 7
An est i mat ed t hr ee to four mi l l i on wome n are brut al l y beat en each
year in t he U. S. (Feminist Dictionary)
18
Nearly 6 mi l l i on wives will be abused by t hei r hus bands in any one
year. (Time magazi ne, Sept ember 5, 1983)
More t han 50 per cent of all wome n will experi ence some form of
vi ol ence from t hei r spouses dur i ng marri age. More t han one- t hi r d
are bat t ered repeat edl y every year. (Nat i onal Coal i t i on Against Do-
mest i c Vi ol ence)
1 9
The est i mat es of t he numbe r of wome n beat en per second vary:
A woman is beat en every ei ght een seconds. (Gail Di nes, 1 9 9 2 )
2 0
An Ameri can woma n is beat en by her hus band or boyfriend every
15 seconds. (New York Times, April 2 3 , 1993)
Every twelve seconds, a woma n in t he Uni t ed States is beat en by her
hus band or lover. (Mirabella, November 1 9 9 3 )
2 1
A gong [will be] s ounded every t en seconds for a woma n bei ng
bat t ered in t he Uni t ed States. ("The Cl ot hesl i ne Project," J ohns Hop-
ki ns Uni ver si t y)
2 2
In t he Uni t ed States, every 7.4 seconds a woma n is beat en by her
hus band. (Annals of Emergency Medicine, J une 1989)
6.5 mi l l i on wome n annual l y are assaul t ed by t hei r par t ner s . . . one
every five seconds. (BrotherPeace, 1 9 9 3 )
2 3
Somet i mes t he same source will give t he figure bot h in mi l l i ons of
women and in s econds wi t hout acknowl edgi ng t hat t he t wo are i ncon-
sistent. Since t here are 3 1, 53 6, 000 seconds i n a year, t he fifteen-second
rate woul d a mount to 2. 1 mi l l i on assaults. Thr ee t o four mi l l i on woul d
mean one every 7.9 or 10. 5 seconds. Thi s mi st ake is common:
Accordi ng to t he Nat i onal Coalition Against Domest i c Violence,
3 million to 4 mi l l i on wome n are bat t ered every year in t he U. S. ,
194 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
one every 15 seconds. (Mary McGrory, Washington Post, Oct ober 20,
1987)
Domest i c vi ol ence affects an est i mat ed 4 to 5 million women a year.
Every 15 seconds, an Ameri can woman is abused by her part ner.
(Christian Science Monitor, Oct ober 12, 1990)
Ther e are 3 mi l l i on to 4 mi l l i on women beat en by husbands or
lovers every year; t hat ' s one every 15 seconds. (Chicago Tribune,
Febr uar y 10, 1992)
Ri chard J. Gelles and Mur r ay A. St raus are academi c social scientists
(from t he Uni versi t y of Rhode Isl and and t he University of New Hamp-
shi re, respectively) who have been st udyi ng domest i c violence for mor e
t han twenty-five years. Thei r research is among t he most respect ed and
frequently cited by ot her social scientists, by police, by t he FBI, and by
t he per sonnel i n domest i c vi ol ence agencies.
For a l ong t i me, Gelles and St raus were highly regarded by feminist
activists for t he pi oneer wor k t hey had done in this once-negl ect ed area.
But t hey fell out of favor in t he late 1970s because their findings were not
i nformed by t he "bat t ery is caused by pat ri archy" thesis. The fact that
t hey wer e me n was also hel d against t hem.
Gelles and St raus do find hi gh levels of violence in many Ameri can
families; but i n bot h of t hei r nat i onal surveys t hey found t hat women
wer e j us t as likely to engage in it as men. They also found t hat siblings
are t he mos t vi ol ent of al l .
2 4
They di st i ngui sh bet ween mi nor violence,
such as t hr owi ng obj ect s, pushi ng, shovi ng, and sl appi ng (no injuries, no
seri ous i nt i mi dat i on) , and severe violence, such as ki cki ng, hitting or
t ryi ng t o hi t wi t h an object, hi t t i ng wi t h fist, beat i ng up, and t hreat eni ng
wi t h gun or kni f eact i ons t hat have a hi gh probabi l i t y of leading to
injury or are accompani ed by t he seri ous t hreat of injury. The vast major-
ity of family di sput es involve mi nor violence rat her t han severe violence.
In t hei r 1985 Second Nat i onal Fami l y Violence Survey, sponsor ed by the
Nat i onal Inst i t ut e of Ment al Heal t h, t hey found t hat 16 percent of couples
wer e vi ol ent t he "Sat urday Ni ght Brawlers" (with t he wife j ust as likely
as t he hus band to sl ap, gr ab, shove, or t hr ow things). In 3 to 4 percent of
coupl es, t here was at least one act of severe violence by t he husband
against t he wife. But in t hei r surveys t hey also found t hat "women assault
t hei r par t ner s at about t he same rat e as men assault t hei r part ners. This
appl i es to bot h mi nor and severe assaul t s. "
2 5
N O B L E L I E S 195
Gelles and St raus are careful to say t hat wome n are far more likely t o
be injured and to need medi cal care. But overall, t he percent age of wome n
who are i nj ured seriously enough to need medi cal care is still relatively
small compar ed to t he inflated claims of t he gender feminists and t he
pol i t i ci ansfewer t han 1 per cent .
2 6
Mur r ay St raus est i mat es t hat appr ox-
imately 100, 000 wome n per year are vi ct i ms of t he severe ki nds of vi o-
lence s hown in t he TV film The Burning Bed. That is a shocki ngl y hi gh
number of vi ct i ms, but it is far shor t of Senat or Biden' s claim, deri ved
from feminist advocacy st udi es, t hat mor e t hat t hree or four mi l l i on
women are vi ct i ms of "horrifying" violence.
Straus and Gelles have made ot her discoveries not appreci at ed by
gender feminists. Among t hem is t he finding t hat because of changi ng
demogr aphi cs and i mpr oved publ i c awareness, t here was a significant
decrease in wife bat t ery bet ween 1975 and 1985.
2 7
Moreover, t hough t hey
once r epor t ed t hat bat t ery i ncreased dur i ng pr egnancy, t hey now say t hey
were mi st aken: "Data from t he 1985 Second Nat i onal Fami l y Violence
Survey i ndi cat e t hat t he previ ousl y r epor t ed association bet ween pr eg-
nancy and husband-t o-wi fe vi ol ence is spur i ous, and is an artifact of t he
effect of anot her variable, a ge . "
2 8
Gelles and St raus consi der domest i c vi ol ence to be a seri ous nat i onal
pr obl em. They have for years been advocat es for social, medi cal , and legal
i nt ervent i on to hel p bat t ered women. All t he same, accordi ng to t hei r
st udi es, mor e t han 84 per cent of families are not violent, and among t he
16 per cent who are, nearl y half t he vi ol ence ( t hough not half t he injuries)
is per pet r at ed by women.
Journal i st s, activists, and even gender feminists make extensive use of
Gelles and Straus' s research. Some researchers mani pul at e t hei r dat a t o
get shocki ng figures on abuse. If you overl ook t he researchers' di st i nct i on
bet ween mi nor and severe violence, if you never ment i on t hat wome n do
j ust as muc h of t he shovi ng, grabbi ng, pushi ng, and sl appi ng, you arrive
at very hi gh figures for battery: t hree mi l l i on, four mi l l i on, six mi l l i on,
dependi ng on how slack you are in what you count as bat t ery.
The Nat i onal Coal i t i on Against Domest i c Violence gives shocki ng fig-
ures on abuse i n t hei r fundraising br ochur e: "More t han 50 per cent of all
women will experi ence some form of vi ol ence from t hei r spouses dur i ng
marriage. More t han one- t hi r d are bat t ered repeat edl y every year. " We
get t he i mpressi on t hat one- t hi r d of all mar r i ed wome n ( 18 mi l l i on) are
repeat edl y bei ng bat t ered. Whe r e di d t he coalition get t hese figures?
Either t hey relied on t hei r own special gender feminist sources or t hey
creatively i nt erpret ed t he FBI's, Depar t ment of Just i ce' s, or Gelles and
196 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Straus' s st udi es to sui t t hei r pur poses. The latter is what t he Common-
weal t h Fund, a New York State phi l ant hr opy concer ned wi t h publ i c
heal t h, di d in t hei r Wome n' s Heal t h Survey.
In Jul y 1993 , t he Commonweal t h Fund released t he results of a tele-
phone survey of 2, 500 women, desi gned and carried out by Louis Harris
and Associates. The Commonweal t h and Harri s investigators t ook their
quest i ons di rect l y from t he Gelles and Straus survey and got t he following
results:
I woul d like you t o tell me whet her , in t he past twelve mont hs, your
spouse or par t ner ever:
YES NO
1. Insul t ed you or
swor e at you 3 4 % 6 6 %
2. St omped out of t he
r oom or hous e or
yard 3 4 66
3 . Thr eat ened t o hi t
you or t hr ow
s omet hi ng at you 5 95
4. Thr ew or s mas hed
or hi t or ki cked
somet hi ng 11 89
5. Thr ew s omet hi ng
at you 3 97
6. Pushed, gr abbed,
shoved, or sl apped
you 5 95
7. Ki cked, bit, or hi t
you wi t h a fist or
s ome ot her obj ect 2 98
8. Beat you u p 0 100
9. Choked you 0 99
10. Thr eat ened you
wi t h a knife or gun 0 100
11. Used a knife or gun 0 100
Usi ng t hese findings, and based on t he assumpt i on t hat t here are
appr oxi mat el y 55 mi l l i on wome n mar r i ed or living wi t h someone as a
N O B L E L I E S 197
coupl e, t he Har r i s/ Commonweal t h survey concl uded t hat as many as four
million women a year wer e vi ct i ms of physi cal assaults, and 20. 7 mi l l i on
were verbally or emot i onal l y abused by t hei r par t ner s .
2 9
Newspaper s ar ound t he count r y, i ncl udi ng t he Wall Street Journal, t he
Washington Post, t he Detroit News, and t he San Francisco Chronicle,
30
car-
ried t he bl eak t i di ngs t hat 3 7 per cent of mar r i ed wome n are emot i onal l y
abused and 3. 9 mi l l i on are physically assaul t ed every year.
No one ment i oned t hat all t he survey quest i ons wer e t aken from t he
quest i onnai re t hat Gelles and St raus had used in their 1975 and 1985
Family Violence Surveys wi t h very different results. Int erpret ed as Gelles
and Straus i nt erpret t he dat a, t he survey actually showed t hat domest i c
violence was still decreasing. The survey had found t hat 2 - 3 per cent of
t he r espondent s had suffered what Gelles and Straus classify as "severe
violence. "
But t he most i nt erest i ng finding of all, and one entirely overl ooked by
t he press, for it di d not har moni ze wi t h t he not es of al arm in t he Harri s/
Commonweal t h press releases, was t he r esponse t he pol l received to
quest i ons 8 t hr ough 11, about t he most severe forms of vi ol ence. Gelles
and Straus had est i mat ed t hat t hese t hi ngs happen t o fewer t han 1 per cent
of women. Accordi ng to t he survey sampl e, t he percent age of wome n
who had t hese experi ences was virtually zero: all r espondent s answer ed
"no" t o all t he quest i ons on severe vi ol ence.
3 1
Thi s finding does not , of
course, mean t hat no one was brut al l y at t acked. But it does suggest t hat
severe violence is relatively r ar e.
3 2
So wher e di d t he four mi l l i on figure for physi cal assault come from?
And t he t went y mi l l i on for psychol ogi cal abuse? Clearly t he i nt erpret ers
of t he Har r i s/ Commonweal t h pol l dat a wer e operat i ng wi t h a muc h wi der
concept i on of "abuse" t han Gelles and Straus. Looki ng at t he "survey
i nst r ument , " we find t hat t hey had i ndeed opened t he door wi de to t he
alarmist concl usi ons t hey di ssemi nat ed. For some of t he answer s t hat
Gelles and St raus count ed as mi nor and not indicative of abuse, t he
Har r i s/ Commonweal t h peopl e t ook seriously. For exampl e, t he quest i on-
naire asked "whet her in t he past 12 mont hs your par t ner ever: 1) i nsul t ed
you or swore at you; or 2) s t omped out of t he r oom or hous e or yard. "
Thirty-four per cent of wome n answer ed "yes" to t hese quest i ons, and all
were classified as vi ct i ms of "emot i onal and verbal abuse. " Had men been
i ncl uded, one wonder s whet her t hey woul d not have pr oved to be equal l y
"abused. "
To arrive at t he figure of four mi l l i on for physical abuse, t he survey
used t he si mpl e expedi ent of i gnori ng t he di st i nct i on bet ween mi nor and
severe violent acts, count i ng all acts of vi ol ence as acts of abuse. Five
198 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
per cent of t he wome n t hey spoke t o said t hey had been "pushed, grabbed,
shoved, or sl apped"; t hey wer e all classified as victims of domest i c vio-
l ence and added i n t o get a proj ect i on of four million victims nat i onwi de.
No effort was ma de to find out if t he aggression was mut ual or whet her
it was physi cal l y harmful or seriously i nt i mi dat i ng. If a coupl e has a fight,
and she s t omps out of t he r oom (or yard), and he grabs her ar m, this
woul d count as a vi ol ent physi cal assault on her .
3 3
If t he survey' s data can be t rust ed and we i nt erpret t hem in t he careful
and reasonabl e way t hat Gelles and Straus r ecommend, t hen we may
l earn t hat t he wor st ki nds of abuse may be abating. That is still not hi ng
to celebrate. If u p to 3 per cent of Ameri can women who are marri ed or
living wi t h par t ner s are at risk of seri ous abuse, t hat woul d amount to 1.6
mi l l i on women. If t he hi gher figures Gelles and Straus found are right
( 3 - 4 per cent ) , t hen t he numbe r of women at risk is 2.2 million. Both
numbe r s are tragically large and speak of an urgent need for prevent i on
and for shel t ers and ot her hel p for t he victims.
But how does t hi s hel p t he gender feminist in her mi sandri st cam-
pai gn? She needs t o find t hat a large pr opor t i on of men are batterers; a
meager 3 or 4 per cent will not serve her pur pose. As for j ournal i st s and
t he newscast ers, t hei r i nt erest s t oo often lie in giving a sensational rat her
t han an accurat e pi ct ur e of gender violence, and t hey t end to credit t he
advocacy sources. Better four mi l l i on or five t han one or t wo. Evidently,
Time magazi ne felt six was even better. And all t he better, t oo, if t he
medi a' s readers and vi ewers get t he i mpressi on t hat t he inflated figures
refer not to sl aps, shoves, or pus hes but to brut al , terrifying, life-threat-
eni ng assaul t s.
Gender feminists are commi t t ed to t he doct ri ne t hat t he vast majority
of bat t erers or rapi st s are not fringe charact ers but men whom society
regards as nor mal s por t s fans, former fraternity brot hers, pillars of t he
communi t y. For t hese "nor mal " men, wome n are not so muc h persons as
"obj ect s. " In t he gender feminist view, once a woman is "objectified" and
therefore no l onger huma n, bat t eri ng her is si mpl y t he next logical st ep.
Just how "nor mal " are me n who batter? Are t hey ordi nary husbands?
These are l egi t i mat e quest i ons, but t he road to reasonabl e answers is all
t oo often bl ocked by feminist dogmas. By setting aside t he feminist road-
bl ocks, we can di scern some i mpor t ant t rut hs.
Are t he bat t erers really j us t your average Joe? If t he state of Massachu-
setts is t ypi cal t he large majority of batterers are criminals. Andr ew Klein,
N O B L E L I E S 199
chief pr obat i on officer in Qui ncy Cour t , Qui ncy, Massachuset t s, st udi ed
repeat bat t erers for t he For d Foundat i on. In hi s final r epor t he said,
"When Massachuset t s comput er i zed its civil rest rai ni ng or der files in
1992, l i nki ng t hem wi t h t he state' s cri mi nal offender record dat a base, it
found t hat al most 80 per cent of t he first 8, 500 mal e subj ect s of rest rai ni ng
orders had pr i or cri mi nal records in t he s t at e. "
3 4
Many of t he bat t erers' records wer e for offenses like dr unk dri vi ng and
drugs, but al most half had pr i or hi st ori es of vi ol ence against mal e and
female vi ct i ms. Klein cont i nues: "In ot her wor ds, t hese men wer e gen-
erally violent, assaulting other males as well as female intimates. The average
number of pr i or cri mes against per sons compl ai nt s was 4. 5" (my empha-
si s) .
3 5
The gender feminist believes t hat t he average man is a pot ent i al bat t erer
because t hat is how men are "socialized" in t he pat ri archy. But i deol ogy
aside, t here are i ndi cat i ons t hat t hose who bat t er are not average. Talk of
a generalized mi sogyny may be pr event i ng us from seeing and facing t he
part i cul ar effect on wome n and men of t he large cri mi nal el ement in our
society.
Massachuset t s may not be typical. Still, t he Massachuset t s bat t erers'
profile suggests it is not helpful to t hi nk of bat t ery exclusively in t er ms of
mi sogyny, pat ri archy, or gender bias. We need to under s t and why t he
number of soci opat hs in our society, especially vi ol ent mal e soci opat hs,
is so hi gh.
My predi ct i on is t hat Mr. Klein' s i mpor t ant findings will be i gnored.
What use is it to gender warri ors like Marilyn Fr ench and Gloria St ei nem
to s how t hat vi ol ent criminals t end to abuse t hei r wi ves and girlfriends
and ot her mal es as well? Thei r pr i mar y concer n is to per suade t he publ i c
t hat t he so-called nor mal man is a moral l y defective huma n bei ng who
gets off on hur t i ng women.
There are ot her i mpor t ant st udi es t hat coul d hel p shed light on bat t er-
ing and coul d ul t i mat el y hel p many victims who are i gnored because
their bat t erers do not fit t he gender feminist st er eot ype.
3 6
It t ur ns out t hat
lesbians may be bat t eri ng each ot her at t he same rat e as het erosexual s.
Several books and articles document t he pr obl em of vi ol ence among
l esbi ans.
3 7
Professor Claire Renzetti, a professor of sociology at St. Joseph' s
University in Phi l adel phi a, has st udi ed t he pr obl em of lesbian vi ol ence
and summar i zed t he findings in Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian
Relationships:
200 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
It appear s t hat vi ol ence i n lesbian rel at i onshi ps occurs at about t he
same frequency as vi ol ence in het erosexual rel at i onshi ps. The abuse
may. . . . [range] from verbal t hreat s and insults to st abbi ngs and
shoot i ngs. I ndeed, bat t erers di spl ay a terrifying i ngenui t y in their
selection of abusi ve tactics, frequently tailoring t he abuse to t he
specific vul nerabi l i t i es of t hei r par t ner s .
3 8
Once again, it appear s t hat bat t ery may have very little to do wi t h
pat ri archy or gender bias. Wher e noncri mi nal s are involved, battery
seems t o be a pat hol ogy of i nt i macy, as frequent among gays as among
st rai ght peopl e.
Battery and r ape research is t he very stuff of gender feminist advocacy.
Researchers wh o try to pur s ue t hei r investigations in a nonpol i t i cal way
are often subj ect t o at t ack by t he advocat es. Murray Straus report s that
he and s ome of hi s co- wor ker s "became t he object of bitter scholarly
and per sonal at t acks, i ncl udi ng t hreat s and at t empt s at i nt i mi dat i on. "
3 9
In t he late sevent i es and early eighties his scholarly present at i ons were
somet i mes obst r uct ed by booi ng, shout i ng, or pi cket i ng. Whe n he was
bei ng consi der ed for offices in scientific societies, he was labeled an
antifeminist.
In t he November 1993 i ssue of Mirabella, Richard Gelles and Murray
St raus wer e accused of usi ng "sexist ' reasoni ng' " and of pr oduci ng wor ks
of " pop ' schol arshi p. ' " The article offers no evi dence for these j udg-
me nt s .
4 0
In 1992 a r umor was ci rcul at ed t hat Murray Straus had beat en
hi s wife and sexual l y harassed his st udent s. Straus fought back as best he
coul d a nd in one i nst ance was able to elicit a wri t t en apology from a
domest i c vi ol ence activist.
Ri chard Gelles cl ai ms t hat whenever mal e researchers quest i on exag-
gerat ed findings on domest i c bat t ery, it is never l ong before r umor s begi n
ci rcul at i ng t hat he is himself a bat t erer. For female skept i cs, however, t he
si t uat i on appear s t o be equal l y i nt i mi dat i ng. Whe n Suzanne K. Steinmetz,
a co-i nvest i gat or in t he First Nat i onal Family Violence Survey, was bei ng
consi der ed for pr omot i on, t he feminists l aunched a letter-writing cam-
pai gn ur gi ng t hat it be deni ed. She also received calls t hreat eni ng her and
her family, and t her e was a b o mb t hreat at a conference wher e she spoke.
As l ong as researchers are t hus i nt i mi dat ed, we will pr obabl y remai n in
t he dar k about t he t r ue di mensi on of a pr obl em t hat affects t he lives of
mi l l i ons of Amer i can women.
Anot her factor l i mi t i ng t he pr ospect s for s ound research in this area is
t he absence of a r i gor ous syst em of review. In most fields, when a well-
known st udy is flawed, critics can make a name for t hemsel ves by show-
N O B L E L I E S 201
ing up its defects. Thi s process keeps researchers honest . However, in
today' s envi r onment for feminist research, t he hi gher your figures for
abuse, t he mor e likely you' l l reap r ewar ds, regardl ess of your met hodol -
ogy. You' ll be ment i oned in feminist encycl opedi as, di ct i onari es, "fact
sheet s, " and t ext books. Your research will be wi del y publ i ci zed; Ellen
Goodman, Anna Qui ndl en, and J udy Mann will put you in t hei r col umns.
Fashi on magazi nes will r epr oduce your chart s and gr aphs. You may be
quot ed by Pat Schroeder, Joseph Biden, and sur geon general s from bot h
parties. Senat or Kennedy' s office will call. You shoul d expect to be i nvi t ed
to give expert t est i mony before Congress. As for woul d- be critics, t hey' re
in for grief.
The same Time magazi ne st ory t hat r epor t ed on t he nonexi st ent Mar ch
of Di mes st udy also i nformed readers t hat "bet ween 22 per cent and 3 5
per cent of all visits by females t o emer gency r ooms are for injuries from
domest i c assaul t s. " Thi s bit of dat a is one of t he most frequently cited
statistics in t he l i t erat ure on vi ol ence against women. It regularly t ur ns
up in news stories on wife abuse. It is in t he br ochur es from domest i c
violence agencies, and it is on t he t i p of many pol i t i ci ans' t ongues. Whe r e
does it come from? The pr i mar y source is a 1984 article ent i t l ed "Domes-
tic Violence Victims in t he Emer gency Depar t ment , " in t he Journal of the
American Medical Association.*
1
Goi ng t o t he st udy, we find t hat it was
conduct ed at t he Henr y For d Hospi t al in downt own Detroit. The aut hor s
candi dl y i nform us t hat t hei r sampl e gr oup was not represent at i ve of t he
Ameri can popul at i on at large. Of t he 492 pat i ent s who r es ponded t o a
quest i onnai re about domest i c vi ol ence, t hey r epor t t hat 90 per cent wer e
from i nner-ci t y Det roi t and 60 per cent wer e unempl oyed.
4 2
We also l earn
that t he 22 per cent figure covers both wome n and men. Thi rt y-ei ght
percent of t hose compl ai ni ng of abuse wer e me n .
4 3
The aut hor s of t he Det roi t st udy t ook care t o poi nt out its l i mi t ed
scope, but t he edi t ors at t he Journal of the American Medical Association
who r epor t ed t hei r results were not as careful. In a 1990 col umn called
"News Updat e" we read t hat "22 per cent t o 3 5 per cent of wome n pr e-
sent i ng wi t h any compl ai nt s are t here because of s ympt oms rel at i ng t o
ongoi ng abuse. " In t he footnotes t hey cite t he 1984 Det roi t st udy, a paper
by Evan Stark and Anne Flitcraft,
4 4
and a 1989 st udy publ i shed in t he
Annals of Emergency Medicine.
Stark and Flitcraft are per haps t he t wo best - known researchers on
domest i c bat t ery and emer gency r oom admi ssi ons. Thei r figures for emer-
gency r oom visits caused by domest i c bat t eri ng go as hi gh as 50 per cent .
4 5
But they, t oo, base t hei r number s on st udi es at large ur ban hospi t al s.
Thei r figures are hi gher t han t hose of t he Det roi t st udy because t hei r
202 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
met hod is t o revi ew ol d medi cal records and estimate how many women
wer e bat t er ednot relying si mpl y on what t he woman or t he at t endi ng
clinician may have said. They have devel oped what t hey call an "i ndex of
suspi ci on. " If a woma n was assaul t ed but t he records do not say who hit
her, St ark a nd Flitcraft classify t hi s as a case of "probabl e" domest i c abuse;
if she has injuries t o her face and t orso t hat are i nadequat el y expl ai ned
("I r an i nt o a door ") , t hey classify it as "suggestive" of abuse. They say:
"Overal l , t he nonabusi ve injuries t end to be to t he extremities, whereas
t he abuse injuries t end t o be cent ral (face or t orso). " This met hod, cou-
pl ed wi t h t hei r exclusive reliance on records from large ur ban hospi t al s,
l eads t hem t o very hi gh number s on abuse.
St ark and Flitcraft' s met hodol ogy is i nnovat i ve and imaginative, and
may i ndeed hel p pract i t i oners identify mor e women who are victimized
by abuse. Still, t he met hodol ogy is hi ghl y subjective. Stark and Flitcraft's
t endency t o l apse i nt o gender feminist j ar gon raises quest i ons about their
objectivity. In an article called "Medi ci ne and Patriarchal Violence, " they
specul at e on why wome n marry: "Economi c di scri mi nat i on against
wome n in capitalist soci et i esj ob segregation by sex, margi nal empl oy-
ment a nd l ower wages dr i ves wome n to marry, appl y their under val ued
l abor t i me t o hous ehol d dr udger y, and to remai n dependent on men
generally, if not on a specific hus band, boyfriend or f at her . "
4 6
They wor r y t hat women' s shel t ers may be co-opt ed by a "bourgeoi s
i deol ogy" t hat di vert s wome n from t he need for a "fundament al social
r evol ut i on. "
4 7
They cite Karl Marx, Franz Fanon, Herbert Marcuse, and
Mi chel Foucaul t as if t hey are unquest i oned aut hori t i es on gender politics
and on capi t al i sm. They criticize Fri edri ch Engel sbut onl y because t hey
say he s ounds t oo mu c h like a "bourgeoi s mor al i st . "
4 8
Flitcraft and Stark
appear t o regard t he abuse t hey claim to have found as t he sort of t hi ng
one s houl d expect t o find in a bourgeoi s capitalist pat ri archy. But it often
wor ks t he ot her way, t oo: you choose a research met hodol ogy t hat will
give you t he findings you expect .
The Journal of the American Medical Association cites a t hi rd source for
t he 2 2 - 3 5 per cent statistic, an article called "Educat i on Is Not Enough:
A Syst ems Fai l ure i n Prot ect i ng Battered Wome n, " from t he Annals of
Emergency Medicine. That article r epor t s on a small st udy done of t he
"emer gency depar t ment r ecor ds of a medi cal school serving t he inner-city
popul at i on" of Phi l adel phi a. Like Flitcraft and Stark, by usi ng "guess-
t i mat es" and focusing on t he segment of t he popul at i on wi t h highest
overall rat es of vi ol ence, t he researchers were able to get very hi gh figures
u p t o 3 0 per cent .
In exami ni ng research on bat t ery, one sees t hat respect ed medi cal
N O B L E L I E S 203
periodicals uncritically i ndul ge t he feminists in t hei r inflationary t enden-
cies. It is har d to avoi d t he i mpressi on t hat t he medi cal j our nal s have
dr opped t hei r usual st andar ds whe n r epor t i ng t he findings of t he bat t ery
st udi es. It is pret t y clear t hat st udi es of this poor caliber on some ot her
subject of medi cal i nt erest and i mpor t ance woul d ei t her not be r epor t ed
or be r epor t ed wi t h many caveats. To my mi nd, giving research on "wom-
en' s t opi cs" abnor mal l at i t ude is pat roni zi ngl y sexist.
In November of 1992 t he Family Violence Prevent i on Fund di d a
survey of all 3 97 emer gency depar t ment s in California hospi t al s. Nur se
managers wer e asked, "Duri ng a typical mont h, appr oxi mat el y how many
pat i ent s have been di agnosed wi t h an injury caused by domest i c vi o-
lence?" The nur ses' est i mat es r anged from t wo per mont h for smal l hos-
pitals t o eight per mont h for t he large hospi t al s. Thi s finding cor r esponds
to Gelles and Straus' s l ow figure for vi ol ence t hat coul d requi re hospi t al -
ization.
Those who di d t he fund survey di d not accept its results; t hey con-
cl uded i nst ead t hat t he nur ses are si mpl y not equi pped t o deal wi t h t he
pr obl em and are vastly under st at i ng it. "The l ow i dent i t y rates r epor t ed
in this survey mi ght be expl ai ned by t he mar ked lack of domest i c vi o-
l ence-speci fi c t rai ni ng. " One may agree t hat nur ses and doct or s do need
t hat ki nd of t rai ni ng. On t he ot her hand, t he l ow rat es of bat t ery t hey
found s ound pl ausi bl e; for unl i ke all t he ot her st udi es on emer gency
r ooms and vi ol ence, this one actually pol l ed a fair cross sect i on of hospi -
tals.
Because many feminist activists and researchers have so great a st ake
in exaggerating t he pr obl em and so little compunct i on in doi ng so, objec-
tive i nformat i on on bat t ery is very har d to come by. The Super Bowl st ory
was a bal d unt r ut h from t he start. The "rule of t humb" st ory is an exampl e
of revisionist hi st ory t hat feminists happi l y fell i nt o believing. It reinforces
their perspect i ve on society, and t hey tell it as a way of wi nni ng convert s
to their angry creed.
As it is t ol d in t he openi ng essay i n one of t he most popul ar t ext books
in women' s st udi es, Women: A Feminist Perspective, "The popul ar expres-
sion ' rul e of t humb' ori gi nat ed from Engl i sh c ommon law, whi ch al l owed
a hus band to beat his wife wi t h a whi p or stick no bi gger in di amet er
t han his t humb. The husband' s prerogat i ve was i ncor por at ed i nt o Amer -
ican law. Several states had st at ut es t hat essentially al l owed a man to beat
his wife wi t hout interference from t he cour t s . "
4 9
The st ory is s uppos ed to br i ng home to st udent s t he realization t hat
they have been bor n i nt o a syst em t hat tolerates vi ol ence against women.
Sheila Kuehl, t he feminist legal activist who had pl ayed a cent ral role i n
204 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
l aunchi ng t he "Abuse Bowl " hoax, appear ed on CNN' s "Sonya Live" four
mont hs after t he i nci dent , hol di ng forth on t he supposed history of t he
rul e a nd accl ai mi ng t he New Femi ni st s for finally st ri ki ng back: "I t hi nk
we' re undoi ng t hous ands and t housands of years of huma n history. You
know t he phr as e ' rul e of t humb' t hat everybody t hi nks is t he st andar d
measur e of everyt hi ng? It was a l aw in Engl and t hat said you coul d beat
your wife wi t h a st i ck as l ong as it was no t hi cker . . . t han your t h u mb . "
5 0
Col umni st s and j our nal i st s wri t i ng about domest i c violence were qui ck
t o pi ck u p on t he anecdot e.
The col l oqui al phr as e "rul e of t humb" is supposedl y derived from
t he anci ent ri ght of a hus band to discipline his wife wi t h a rod "no
t hi cker t han hi s t humb. " (Time magazi ne, Sept ember 5, 1983)
A hus band' s right to beat hi s wife is i ncl uded in Blackstone' s 1768
codification of t he c ommon law. Hus bands had t he right to "physi -
cally chast i se" an er r ant wife so l ong as t he stick was no bigger t han
t hei r t h u mb t h e so-called "rul e of t humb. " (Washington Post, Jan-
uar y 3 , 1989)
Vi ol ence agai nst wome n does not have to be t he rul e of t h u mb a n
i di om from an ol d Engl i sh l aw t hat said a man coul d beat his wife if
t he stick was no t hi cker t han hi s t humb. (Atlanta Constitution, April
22, 1993 )
The "rul e of t humb, " however , t ur ns out to be an excellent exampl e of
what may be called a feminist fi ct i on.
5 1
It is not to be found in Wi l l i am
Blackstone' s treatise on Engl i sh c ommon law. On t he cont rary, British
l aw si nce t he 1700s and our Ameri can laws pr edat i ng t he Revolution
pr ohi bi t wife beat i ng, t hough t here have been peri ods and places in whi ch
t he pr ohi bi t i on was onl y indifferently enforced.
That t he phr as e di d not even ori gi nat e in legal pract i ce coul d have
been ascert ai ned by any fact-checker who t ook t he t roubl e to l ook it up
in t he Oxford Engl i sh Di ct i onary, whi ch not es t hat t he t erm has been
used met aphor i cal l y for at least t hree hundr ed years to refer to any
met hod of meas ur ement or t echni que of est i mat i on derived from experi -
ence r at her t han sci ence.
Accor di ng t o Canadi an folklorist Philip Hi scock, "The real expl anat i on
of ' rul e of t humb' is t hat it deri ves from wood wor ker s . . . who knew
t hei r t r ade so wel l t hey rarely or never fell back on t he use of such t hi ngs
as rul ers. Inst ead, t hey woul d measur e t hi ngs by, for exampl e, t he l engt h
of t hei r t humbs . " Hi scock adds t hat t he phr ase came i nt o met aphori cal
N O B L E L I E S
205
use by t he late sevent eent h cent ur y.
5 2
Hi scock coul d not t rack t he sour ce
of t he idea t hat t he t er m derives from a pri nci pl e governi ng wife beat i ng,
but he believes it is an exampl e of "moder n folklore" and compar es it to
ot her "back-formed expl anat i ons, " such as t he claim t hat asparagus comes
from "sparrow-grass" or t hat "ri ng ar ound t he rosy" is about t he buboni c
pl ague.
We shall see t hat Hi scock' s hunc h was correct, but we mus t begi n by
exonerat i ng Wi l l i am Blackstone ( 172 3 - 80) , t he Engl i shman who codified
cent uri es of di sparat e and i nchoat e legal cust oms and pract i ces i nt o t he
elegant and clearly organi zed t ome known as Commentaries on the Laws of
England. The Commentaries, universally regarded as a classic of legal liter-
at ure, became t he basis for t he devel opment of Ameri can law. The so-
called rul e of t humb as a gui del i ne for wife beat i ng does not occur in
Blackstone' s compendi um, al t hough he does refer to an anci ent l aw t hat
per mi t t ed "domest i c chast i sement ":
The hus band . . . by t he ol d law, mi ght give his wife moder at e cor-
rection. For, as he is to answer for her mi sbehavi our, t he l aw
t hought it reasonabl e to i nt rust hi m wi t h this power of rest rai ni ng
her, by domest i c chast i sement , in t he same moder at i on t hat a man
is al l owed to correct his apprent i ces or chi l dren. . . . But this power
of correct i on was confined wi t hi n reasonabl e bounds and t he hus -
band was pr ohi bi t ed from usi ng any violence to hi s wife. . . . But
with us, in the politer reign of Charles the Second, this power of correc-
tion began to be doubted; and a wife may now have security of the peace
against her husband. . . . Yet [among] t he l ower r ank of peopl e . . .
t he court s of law will still per mi t a hus band to restrain a wife of her
liberty in case of any gross mi sbehavi our [emphasi s a dde d] .
5 3
Blackstone pl ai nl y says t hat c ommon l aw pr ohi bi t ed vi ol ence against
wives, al t hough t he pr ohi bi t i ons went largely unenforced, especially
wher e t he "l ower r ank of peopl e" wer e concer ned.
In Ameri ca, t here have been laws against wife beat i ng since before t he
Revolution. By 1870, it was illegal in al most every state; but even before
t hen, wife-beaters wer e arrest ed and puni s hed for assault and bat t er y.
5 4
The hi st ori an and feminist Elizabeth Pleck observes in a scholarly article
entitled "Wife-Battering in Ni net eent h- Cent ur y America":
It has often been cl ai med t hat wife-beating in ni net eent h- cent ur y
America was legal. . . . Actually, t hough, several states passed stat-
206 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
ut es legally pr ohi bi t i ng wife-beating; and at least one st at ut e even
pr edat es t he Amer i can Revol ut i on. The Massachuset t s Bay Col ony
pr ohi bi t ed wi fe-beat i ng as early as 1655. The edict states: "No man
shall st ri ke hi s wife nor any woma n her hus band on penal t y of such
fine not exceedi ng t en pounds for one offense, or such corporal
puni s hment as t he Count y shall det er mi ne. "
5 5
She poi nt s out t hat puni s hment s for wife-beaters coul d be severe:
accor di ng t o an 1882 Maryl and st at ut e, t he cul pri t coul d receive forty
l ashes at t he whi ppi ng post ; in Del aware, t he number was thirty. In New
Mexi co, fines r angi ng from $255 to $1, 000 were levied, or sent ences of
one t o five years i n pr i son i mpos ed.
5 6
For most of our history, in fact,
wife beat i ng has been consi der ed a sin compar abl e to thievery or adultery.
Religious gr oupsespeci al l y Prot est ant gr oups such as Quaker s, Met h-
odi st s, and Bapt i st spuni shed, s hunned, and excommuni cat ed wife-
beat ers. Hus bands , br ot her s, and nei ghbor s often t ook vengeance against
t he bat t erer. Vigilante part i es somet i mes abduct ed wife-beaters and
whi pped t he m.
5 7
Just how di d t he false account originate, and how di d it achieve au-
t hori t y and currency? As wi t h many myt hs, t here is a small core of fact
s ur r ounded by an accret i on of error. In t he course of renderi ng rulings
on cases before t hem, t wo Sout her n j udges had al l uded to an "anci ent
l aw" accor di ng t o whi ch a ma n coul d beat his wife as l ong as t he i mpl e-
ment was not wi der t han hi s t humb. The j udges, one from Nor t h Carolina
and one from Mississippi, di d not accept t he aut hori t y of t he "ancient
l aw. " The Nor t h Carol i na j udge referred to it as "barbari sm, " and bot h
j udges found t he hus ba nd in t he case in quest i on guilty of wife abus e.
5 8
Nevert hel ess, t hei r rul i ngs seemed to tolerate t he not i on t hat men had a
measur e of l at i t ude i n physi cal l y chastising their wives. Fort unat el y, as
Pleck t akes pai ns t o r emi nd us, t hey wer e not represent at i ve of j udi ci al
opi ni on i n t he rest of t he count r y.
5 9
In 1976, Del Mart i n, a coor di nat or of t he NOW Task Force on Battered
Wome n, came across a reference to t he t wo j udges and their r emar ks .
6 0
Nei t her j udge had used t he phr ase "rule of t humb, " but a t humb had
been ment i oned, and Ms. Mart i n t ook not e of it:
Our law, based upon t he ol d English common- l aw doct ri nes, ex-
plicitly per mi t t ed wife-beating for correct i onal pur poses. However,
cert ai n rest ri ct i ons di d exist. . . . For i nst ance, t he common- l aw doc-
t ri ne had been modi fi ed to al l ow t he hus band "t he right to whi p his
N O B L E L I E S 207
wife, pr ovi ded t hat he used a swi t ch no bigger t han his t humb" a
rule of t humb, so to s peak.
6 1
Ms. Mart i n had not cl ai med t hat t he t er m "rul e of t humb" ori gi nat ed
from c ommon law. Before l ong, however, t he "anci ent l aw" al l uded t o by
t wo obscur e Sout her n j udges was bei ng t reat ed as an unchal l enged pr i n-
ciple of bot h British and Ameri can law, and j ournal i st s and academi cs
alike wer e bandyi ng t he not i on about . Femi ni st Terry Davi dson, in an
article ent i t l ed "Wife Beating: A Recurri ng Phenomenon Thr oughout Hi s-
tory, " claims t hat "one of t he reasons ni net eent h cent ur y British wi ves
were deal t wi t h so harshl y by t hei r hus bands and by t hei r legal syst em
was t he ' rul e of t humb' "
6 2
and castigates Blackstone himself. "Blackstone
saw not hi ng unr easonabl e about t he wife-beating law. In fact, he believed
it to be qui t e mode r a t e . "
6 3
These i nt erpret i ve errors wer e given added aut hori t y by a gr oup of
scholars and lawyers who, in 1982, pr epar ed a report on wife abuse for
t he Uni t ed States Commi ssi on on Civil Rights, Under the Rule of Thumb:
Battered Women and the Administration of JusticeA Report of the United
States Commission on Civil Rights. On t he second page, t hey not e: "Ameri -
can l aw is bui l t upon t he British c ommon l aw t hat condoned wife beat i ng
and even prescri bed t he weapon to be used. Thi s ' rul e of t humb' st i pu-
lated t hat a man coul d onl y beat his wife wi t h a ' rod not t hi cker t han hi s
t humb. ' "
6 4
It went on to speak of Blackstone as t he j uri st who "greatly
influenced t he maki ng of t he l aw in t he Ameri can col oni es [and who]
comment ed on t he ' rul e of t humb, ' " justifying t he rul e by not i ng t hat
"the l aw t hought it reasonabl e to i nt rust [the hus band] wi t h this power
of. . . chast i sement , in t he same moder at i on t hat a ma n is al l owed to
correct his appr ent i ces or chi l dr en. "
6 5
The publ i cat i on of t he r epor t est abl i shed t he feminist fable about t he
origins of t he t er m in popul ar lore, and t he mi sogyny of Blackstone and
"our l aw" as "fact." Mi sst at ement s about t he "rule of t humb" still appear
in t he popul ar press.
The same 1993 Time magazi ne article t hat popul ar i zed t he nonexi st ent
March of Di mes st udy on domest i c vi ol ence and bi r t h defects and re-
por t ed t hat "bet ween 22 per cent and 3 5 per cent of all visits by females to
emergency r ooms are for injuries from domest i c assaul t s" also cited New
York University l aw professor Holly Magui gan: "We talk about t he not i on
of t he rul e of t humb, forgetting t hat it had to do wi t h t he restriction on a
man' s ri ght to use a weapon against hi s wife: he coul dn' t use a r od t hat
was larger t han hi s t h u mb . "
6 6
Professor Magui gan' s law st udent s woul d
do well to check t hei r Blackstone.
208 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
We react t o bat t erers wi t h revul si onfi rst , because of what they do,
whi ch is ugl y and cruel ; and second, because of what t hey are, whi ch is
cowar dl y and often sadistic. As t hose wor ki ng in t he social services and
t he shel t ers wel l know, hel pi ng bat t ered women is as difficult as it is
exigent. Resources are l i mi t ed, and strategies for hel p are often controver-
sial. On a wi der canvas, we need good legislation and good publ i c policy
as wel l as funds ear mar ked t owar d t he pr obl em. But s ound publ i c policy
on bat t ery cannot be ma de wi t hout credi bl e and t rust wort hy information.
In pr omul gat i ng sensat i onal unt r ut hs , t he gender feminists systematically
di mi ni sh publ i c t rust . Expert s concer ned about bat t ery and devot ed to
alleviating it are wor r i ed. As Mi chael Lindsey said to Ken Ringle, "When
peopl e make crazy st at ement s like this, t he credibility of t he whol e cause
can go ri ght out t he wi ndow. "
Chapter 10
Rape Research
I apol ogi ze to t he reader for t he clinical t one of this chapt er. As a cri me
against t he per son, rape is uni quel y horri bl e in its l ong- t er m effects. The
angui sh it bri ngs is often followed by an abi di ng sense of fear and shame.
Discussions of t he dat a on r ape inevitably seem callous. How can one
quantify t he sense of deep violation behi nd t he statistics? Ter ms like
incidence and prevalence are statistical j argon; once we use t hem, we nec-
essarily abst ract oursel ves from t he misery. Yet, it r emai ns clear t hat to
arrive at intelligent policies and strategies to decrease t he occur r ence of
rape, we have no alternative but to gat her and analyze data, and to do so
does not make us callous. Tr ut h is no enemy t o compassi on, and false-
hood is no friend.
Some feminists rout i nel y refer to Ameri can society as a "rape cul t ur e. "
Yet estimates on t he preval ence of r ape vary wildly. Accordi ng t o t he FBI
Uniform Crime Report, t here were 102, 560 r epor t ed rapes or at t empt ed
rapes in 1990.
1
The Bureau of Just i ce Statistics est i mat es t hat 13 0, 000
women wer e vi ct i ms of r ape in 1990.
2
A Harri s pol l sets t he figure at
210 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
3 80, 000 r apes or sexual assaul t s for 1993 .
3
Accordi ng to a st udy by t he
Nat i onal Vi ct i ms Cent er, t here wer e 683 , 000 compl et ed forcible rapes in
1990.
4
The Just i ce Depar t ment says t hat 8 per cent of all Ameri can women
will be vi ct i ms of r ape or at t empt ed r ape in their lifetime. The radical
feminist legal schol ar Cat har i ne MacKi nnon, however, claims t hat "by
conservat i ve definition [rape] happens to al most half of all women at least
once in t hei r l i ves. "
5
Wh o is right? Femi ni st activists and ot hers have plausibly argued t hat
t he relatively l ow figures of t he FBI and t he Bureau of Just i ce Statistics are
not t r ust wor t hy. The FBI survey is based on t he number of cases report ed
t o t he pol i ce, but r ape is a mong t he most under r epor t ed of cri mes. The
Bureau of Just i ce Statistics Nat i onal Cr i me Survey is based on interviews
wi t h 100, 000 r andoml y sel ect ed women. It, t oo, is said to be flawed
because t he wome n wer e never directly quest i oned about rape. Rape was
di scussed onl y if t he woma n happened to br i ng it up in t he course of
answer i ng mor e general quest i ons about cri mi nal victimization. The Jus-
tice Depar t ment has changed its met hod of quest i oni ng to meet this
criticism, so we will know in a year or t wo whet her this has a significant
effect on its number s . Clearly, i ndependent st udi es on t he i nci dence and
preval ence of r ape are badl y needed. Unfort unat el y, research gr oups in-
vestigating i n t hi s area have no c ommon definition of rape, and t he results
so far have l ed t o confusi on and acri mony.
Of t he r ape st udi es by nongover nment gr oups, t he t wo most frequently
cited are t he 1985 Ms. magazi ne r epor t by Mary Koss and t he 1992
Nat i onal Wome n' s St udy by Dr. Dean Kilpatrick of t he Cri me Victims
Research a nd Tr eat ment Cent er at t he Medical School of Sout h Carolina.
In 1982, Mary Koss, t hen a professor of psychol ogy at Kent State Univer-
sity i n Ohi o, publ i s hed an article on r ape in whi ch she expressed t he
or t hodox gender feminist vi ew t hat "rape represent s an ext reme behavi or
but one that is on a continuum with normal male behavior within the culture"
(my emphas i s ) .
6
Some wel l -pl aced feminist activists were i mpressed by
her. As Koss tells it, she recei ved a phone call out of t he bl ue inviting her
t o l unch wi t h Gloria St ei nem.
7
For Koss, t he l unch was a t urni ng poi nt .
Ms. magazi ne had deci ded t o do a nat i onal rape survey on college cam-
puses, and Koss was chosen to di rect it. Koss' s findings woul d become
t he most frequent l y cited research on women' s victimization, not so much
by est abl i shed schol ars in t he field of r ape research as by j ournal i st s,
pol i t i ci ans, and activists.
Koss a nd her associates i nt ervi ewed slightly mor e t han t hree t housand
college wome n, r andoml y selected nat i onwi de.
8
The young women were
asked t en quest i ons about sexual violation. These were followed by sev-
R A P E R E S E A R C H 211
eral quest i ons about t he preci se nat ur e of t he violation. Had t hey been
dri nki ng? Wha t wer e t hei r emot i ons dur i ng and after t he event? Wha t
forms of resistance di d t hey use? How woul d t hey label t he event? Koss
count ed anyone who answer ed affirmatively to any of t he last t hree ques-
tions as havi ng been raped:
8. Have you had sexual i nt ercourse when you di dn' t want to because
a ma n gave you al cohol or drugs?
9. Have you had sexual i nt ercourse when you di dn' t want to because
a man t hreat ened or used some degree of physi cal force (twisting
your ar m, hol di ng you down, etc.) to make you?
10. Have you had sexual acts (anal or oral i nt ercourse or penet r at i on
by objects ot her t han t he peni s) when you di dn' t want to because
a man t hr eat ened or used some degree of physi cal force (twisting
your ar m, hol di ng you down, etc.) to make you?
Koss and her colleagues concl uded t hat 15. 4 per cent of r espondent s
had been raped, and t hat 12. 1 per cent had been vi ct i ms of at t empt ed
r ape.
9
Thus, a total of 27. 5 per cent of t he r espondent s wer e det er mi ned
to have been vi ct i ms of rape or at t empt ed r ape because t hey gave answer s
t hat fit Koss' s criteria for rape (penet rat i on by peni s, finger, or ot her object
under coercive influence such as physi cal force, al cohol , or t hreat s). How-
ever, t hat is not how t he so-called r ape vi ct i ms saw it. Onl y about a
quart er of t he wome n Koss calls r ape vi ct i ms labeled what happened t o
t hem as rape. Accordi ng to Koss, t he answers to t he follow-up quest i ons
revealed t hat "onl y 27 per cent " of t he wome n she count ed as havi ng been
raped labeled t hemsel ves as r ape vi ct i ms.
1 0
Of t he r emai nder , 49 per cent
said it was "mi scommuni cat i on, " 14 per cent said it was a "cri me but not
rape, " and 11 per cent said t hey "don' t feel vi ct i mi zed. "
1 1
In line wi t h her vi ew of r ape as existing on a cont i nuum of mal e sexual
aggression, Koss also asked: "Have you given in to sex pl ay (fondling,
kissing, or pet t i ng, but not i nt ercourse) when you di dn' t want to because
you were over whel med by a man' s cont i nual ar gument s and pressure?"
To this quest i on, 53 . 7 per cent r es ponded affirmatively, and t hey wer e
count ed as havi ng been sexually victimized.
The Koss st udy, released in 1988, became known as t he Ms. Report.
Here is how t he Ms. Foundat i on charact eri zes t he results: "The Ms. pr oj -
ect t he largest scientific investigation ever under t aken on t he subj ect
revealed some di squi et i ng statistics, i ncl udi ng this ast oni shi ng fact: one
in four female r espondent s had an experi ence t hat met t he legal definition
of rape or at t empt ed r a pe . "
1 2
212 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
" One in four" has si nce become t he official figure on women' s rape
vi ct i mi zat i on ci t ed i n women' s st udi es depar t ment s, rape crisis cent ers,
women' s magazi nes, and on pr ot est but t ons and post ers. Susan Faludi
defended it i n a Newsweek st ory on sexual cor r ect ness.
1 3
Naomi Wolf
refers t o it in The Beauty Myth, calculating t hat acquai nt ance rape is "mor e
c ommon t han l eft handedness, al cohol i sm, and heart at t acks. "
1 4
"One in
four" is chant ed i n "Take Back t he Ni ght " processi ons, and it is t he
numbe r given in t he dat e r ape br ochur es handed out at freshman orien-
t at i on at colleges a nd uni versi t i es ar ound t he count r y.
1 5
Politicians, from
Senat or J os eph Biden of Del aware, a Democrat , to Republ i can Congress-
ma n J i m Ramst ad of Mi nnesot a, cite it regularly, and it is t he pri mary
reason for t he Title IV, "Safe Campuses for Wome n" provi si on of t he
Vi ol ence Agai nst Wo me n Act of 1993 , whi ch provi des t went y million
dol l ars t o combat r ape on college campus es .
1 6
Wh e n Nei l Gi l bert , a professor at Berkeley' s School of Social Welfare,
first read t he "one in four" figure in t he school newspaper , he was con-
vi nced it coul d not be accurat e. The results di d not tally wi t h t he findings
of al most all pr evi ous research on rape. Wh e n he read t he st udy he was
abl e t o see wher e t he hi gh figures came from and why Koss' s appr oach
was uns ound.
He not i ced, for exampl e, t hat Koss and her colleagues count ed as
vi ct i ms of r ape any r es pondent who answer ed "yes" to t he quest i on "Have
you had sexual i nt er cour se when you di dn' t want to because a man gave
you al cohol or dr ugs?" That opened t he door wi de to regardi ng as a rape
vi ct i m anyone who regret t ed her liaison of t he previ ous night. If your
dat e mi xes a pi t cher of margari t as and encourages you t o dr i nk wi t h hi m
and you accept a dr i nk, have you been "admi ni st ered" an intoxicant, and
has your j udgme nt been i mpai red? Certainly, if you pass out and are
mol est ed, one woul d call it r ape. But if you dr i nk and, whi l e intoxicated,
engage in sex t hat you later come to regret, have you been raped? Koss
does not addr ess t hese quest i ons specifically, she merel y count s your date
as a rapi st and you as a r ape statistic if you dr ank wi t h your dat e and
regret havi ng had sex wi t h hi m. As Gilbert poi nt s out , t he quest i on, as
Koss pos ed it, is far t oo ambi guous:
Wha t does havi ng sex "because" a man gives you drugs or alcohol
signify? A posi t i ve r esponse does not i ndi cat e whet her duress, intox-
ication, force, or t he t hreat of force wer e present ; whet her t he wom-
an' s j udgme nt or cont r ol wer e subst ant i al l y i mpai red; or whet her
t he ma n purposeful l y got t he woma n dr unk in or der to prevent her
resi st ance t o sexual advances. . . . Whi l e t he i t em coul d have been
R A P E R E S E A R C H 213
clearly wor ded t o denot e "i nt ent i onal i ncapaci t at i on of t he vi ct i m, "
as t he quest i on st ands it woul d requi re a mi nd reader to det ect
whet her any affirmative response cor r esponds to this legal dfinition
of r ape.
1 7
Koss, however, insisted t hat her criteria conformed wi t h t he legal def-
initions of r ape used in some states, and she cited in part i cul ar t he st at ut e
on rape of her own state, Ohi o: "No per son shall engage in sexual conduct
wi t h anot her per son . . . when . . . for t he pur pos e of pr event i ng resis-
tance t he offender subst ant i al l y i mpai rs t he ot her person' s j udgme nt or
cont rol by admi ni st eri ng any dr ug or i nt oxi cant to t he ot her per son"
(Ohi o revised code 1980, 2907. 01A, 2907. 02) .
1 8
Two report ers from t he Bladea small, progressi ve Tol edo, Ohi o,
newspaper t hat has won awar ds for t he excellence of its investigative
art i cl eswere also not convi nced t hat t he "one in four" figure was accu-
rate. They t ook a close l ook at Koss' s st udy and at several ot hers t hat wer e
bei ng cited to s uppor t t he al armi ng t i di ngs of wi despr ead sexual abuse
on college campuses. In a special t hree-part series on rape called "The
Maki ng of an Epi demi c, " publ i shed in Oct ober 1992, t he report ers, Nara
Shoenberg and Sam Roe, revealed t hat Koss was quot i ng t he Ohi o st at ut e
in a very mi sl eadi ng way: she had st opped shor t of ment i oni ng t he qual -
ifying clause of t he st at ut e, whi ch specifically excludes "t he si t uat i on
wher e a per son plies his i nt ended par t ner wi t h dr i nk or dr ugs in hopes
t hat l owered i nhi bi t i on mi ght lead to a l i ai son. "
1 9
Koss now concedes t hat
quest i on eight was badl y wor ded. Indeed, she told t he Blade report ers,
"At t he t i me I vi ewed t he quest i on as legal; I now concede t hat it' s
ambi guous . "
2 0
That concessi on shoul d have been followed by t he admi s-
sion t hat her survey may be i naccurat e by a factor of t wo: for, as Koss
herself t ol d t he Blade, once you r emove t he positive responses to quest i on
eight, t he finding t hat one in four college wome n is a victim of rape or
at t empt ed r ape dr ops to one in ni ne .
2 1
For Gilbert, t he most seri ous i ndi cat i on t hat somet hi ng was basically
awry in t he Ms./Koss st udy was t hat t he majority of wome n she classified
as havi ng been r aped did not believe they had been raped. Of t hose Koss
count s as havi ng been raped, onl y 27 per cent t hought t hey had been; 73
percent di d not say t hat what happened to t hem was rape. In effect, Koss
and her followers pr esent us wi t h a pi ct ur e of confused young wome n
overwhel med by t hreat eni ng mal es who force t hei r at t ent i ons on t hem
dur i ng t he course of a dat e but are unabl e or unwi l l i ng to classify t hei r
experi ence as rape. Does t hat pi ct ur e fit t he average female under gr adu-
ate? For t hat mat t er, does it pl ausi bl y appl y to t he larger communi t y? As
214 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
t he j our nal i st Cat hy Young observes, " Women have sex after initial rel uc-
t ance for a numbe r of reasons . . . fear of bei ng beat en up by their dates
is rarely r epor t ed as one of t he m. "
2 2
Katie Roi phe, a gr aduat e st udent in English at Pri ncet on and aut hor of
The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus, argues al ong simi-
lar lines whe n she cl ai ms t hat Koss had no right to reject t he j udgment of
t he college wome n who di dn' t t hi nk t hey were raped. But Katha Pollitt of
The Nation defends Koss, poi nt i ng out t hat in many cases peopl e are
wr onged wi t hout knowi ng it. Thus we do not say t hat "victims of ot her
i nj ust i cesfraud, mal pract i ce, j ob di scr i mi nat i onhave suffered no
wr ong as l ong as t hey are unawar e of t he l aw. "
2 3
Pollitt' s anal ogy is faulty, however. If Jane has ugly financial dealings
wi t h Tom and an expert expl ai ns to Jane t hat Tom has defrauded her,
t hen J ane usual l y t hanks t he expert for havi ng enl i ght ened her about t he
legal facts. To make her case, Pollitt woul d have to show t hat t he rape
vi ct i ms who wer e unawar e t hat t hey wer e raped woul d accept Koss' s
j udgme nt t hat t hey really were. But t hat has not been shown; Koss di d
not enl i ght en t he wome n she count s as r ape victims, and t hey di d not say
" now t hat you expl ai n it, we can see we were. "
Koss and Pollitt make a t echni cal (and in fact dubi ous) legal poi nt :
wome n are i gnor ant about what count s as rape. Roi phe makes a straight-
forward h u ma n poi nt : t he wome n wer e t here, and t hey know best how
t o j udge what happened to t hem. Since when do feminists consi der "law"
to overri de women' s experi ence?
Koss also found t hat 42 per cent of t hose she count ed as rape victims
went on to have sex wi t h t hei r at t ackers on a later occasion. For victims
of at t empt ed r ape, t he figure for subsequent sex wi t h report ed assailants
was 3 5 per cent . Koss is qui ck t o poi nt out t hat "it is not known if [the
s ubs equent sex] was forced or vol unt ary" and t hat most of t he relation-
shi ps "di d event ual l y br eak up subsequent to t he vi ct i mi zat i on. "
2 4
But of
course, most college rel at i onshi ps br eak up eventually for one reason or
anot her . Yet, i nst ead of t aki ng t hese young women at their wor d, Koss
casts about for expl anat i ons of why so many "raped" women woul d ret urn
to t hei r assailants, i mpl yi ng t hat t hey may have been coerced. She ends
by t reat i ng her subj ect s' rejection of her findings as evidence t hat they
wer e confused and sexually nai ve. Ther e is a mor e respectful expl anat i on.
Since most of t hose Koss count s as r ape victims di d not regard themselves
as havi ng been r aped, why not take this fact and t he fact t hat so many
went back to t hei r par t ner s as reasonabl e i ndi cat i ons t hat they had not
been r aped t o begi n wi t h?
The Tol edo r epor t er s calculated t hat if you eliminate t he affirmative
R A P E R E S E A R C H 215
responses to t he al cohol or dr ugs quest i on, and also subt ract from Koss' s
results t he wome n who di d not t hi nk t hey wer e raped, her one in four
figure for r ape and at t empt ed rape "dr ops to bet ween one in t went y-t wo
and one in t hi r t y- t hr ee. "
2 5
The ot her frequently cited nongover nment rape st udy, t he Nat i onal
Women' s St udy, was conduct ed by Dean Kilpatrick. Fr om an i nt ervi ew
sampl e of 4, 008 women, t he st udy proj ect ed t hat t here wer e 683 , 000
rapes in 1990. As to preval ence, it concl uded t hat "in Ameri ca, one out
of every eight adul t women, or at least 12. 1 mi l l i on Ameri can women,
has been t he victim of forcible r ape somet i me in her l i f et i me. "
2 6
Unl i ke t he Koss report , whi ch tallied r ape at t empt s as well as rapes,
t he Kilpatrick st udy focused exclusively on rape. Int ervi ews wer e con-
duct ed by phone, by female i nt ervi ewers. A woma n who agreed to be-
come par t of t he st udy hear d t he following from t he interviewer: " Wome n
do not always r epor t such experi ences t o pol i ce or di scuss t hem wi t h
family or friends. The per son maki ng t he advances isn' t always a st ranger,
but can be a friend, boyfriend, or even a family member . Such experi ences
can occur anyt i me in a woman' s l i feeven as a chi l d. "
2 7
Poi nt i ng out
that she want s to hear about any such experi ences "regardless of how
l ong ago it happened or who made t he advances, " t he i nt ervi ewer pr o-
ceeds t o ask four quest i ons:
1. Has a man or boy ever made you have sex by usi ng force or t hreat -
eni ng t o har m you or someone close to you? Just so t here is no
mi st ake, by sex we mean put t i ng a peni s in your vagina.
2. Has anyone ever made you have oral sex by force or t hreat of har m?
Just so t here is no mi st ake, by oral sex we mean t hat a man or boy
put his peni s in your mout h or s omebody penet r at ed your vagina
or anus wi t h his mout h or t ongue.
3 . Has anyone ever made you have anal sex by force or t hreat of har m?
4. Has anyone ever put fingers or objects in your vagina or anus
against your will by usi ng force or threat?
Any woma n who answer ed yes t o any one of t he four quest i ons was
classified as a vi ct i m of rape.
This seems to be a fairly st rai ght forward and wel l -desi gned survey t hat
provi des a wi ndow i nt o t he pri vat e hor r or t hat many women, especially
very young women, experi ence. One of t he mor e di st urbi ng findings of
t he survey was t hat 61 per cent of t he victims said t hey were sevent een or
younger when t he r ape occurred.
There is, however, one flaw t hat affects t he significance of Kilpatrick' s
216 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
findings. An affirmative answer to any one of t he first t hree quest i ons
does reasonabl y put one in t he category of rape victim. The fourth is
pr obl emat i c, for it i ncl udes cases in whi ch a boy penet rat ed a girl wi t h
his finger, agai nst her will, in a heavy pet t i ng situation. Certainly t he boy
behaved badl y. But is he a rapist? Probabl y nei t her he nor his date woul d
say so. Yet, t he survey classifies hi m as a rapist and her as a rape victim.
I called Dr. Kilpatrick and asked hi m about t he fourth quest i on.
"Wel l , " he said, "if a woma n is forcibly penet r at ed by an object such as a
br oomst i ck, we woul d call t hat r ape. "
"So woul d I," I said. "But isn' t t here a big difference bet ween bei ng
violated by a br oomst i ck and bei ng violated by a finger?" Dr. Kilpatrick
acknowl edged t hi s: "We s houl d have split out fingers versus objects," he
said. Still, he assur ed me t hat t he quest i on di d not significantly affect t he
out come. But I wonder ed. The st udy had found an epi demi c of rape
among t eenager sj ust t he age gr oup most likely to get i nt o situations
like t he one I have descri bed.
The mor e seri ous wor r y is t hat Kilpatrick' s findings, and many ot her
findings on r ape, vary wi l dl y unl ess t he r espondent s are explicitly asked
whet her t hey have been r aped. In 1993 , Louis Harris and Associates di d
a t el ephone survey and came up wi t h qui t e different results. Harris was
commi ssi oned by t he Commonweal t h Fund to do a st udy of women' s
heal t h. As we shal l see, t hei r hi gh figures on women' s depressi on and
psychol ogi cal abuse by me n caused a st i r .
2 8
But their finding on rape went
al t oget her unnot i ced. Among t he quest i ons asked of its r andom sampl e
popul at i on of 2, 500 wome n was, "In t he last five years, have you been a
vi ct i m of a r ape or sexual assaul t ?" Two per cent of t he r espondent s said
yes; 98 per cent said no. Since at t empt ed r ape count s as sexual assault,
t he combi ned figures for r ape and at t empt ed rape woul d be 1.9 million
over five years or 3 80, 000 for a single year. Since t here are approxi mat el y
t wi ce as ma ny at t empt ed rapes as compl et ed rapes, t he Commonweal t h/
Harri s figure for compl et ed rapes woul d come to approxi mat el y 190, 000.
That is dramat i cal l y l ower t han Kilpatrick' s finding of 683 , 000 completed
forcible rapes.
The Harri s i nt ervi ewer also asked a quest i on about acquai nt ance and
mari t al r ape t hat is wor ded very muc h like Kilpatrick' s and Koss' s: "In
t he past year, di d your par t ner ever try to, or force you to, have sexual
rel at i ons by usi ng physi cal force, such as hol di ng you down, or hi t t i ng
you, or t hr eat eni ng to hi t you, or n o t ? "
2 9
Not a single r espondent of t he
Harri s pol l ' s sampl e answer ed yes.
How to expl ai n t he di screpancy? Tr ue, women are often extremely
rel uct ant to talk about sexual vi ol ence t hat t hey have experi enced. But
R A P E R E S E A R C H 217
t he Harris pol l st ers had asked a lot of ot her awkwar d per sonal quest i ons
to whi ch t he wome n r es ponded wi t h candor: 6 per cent said t hey had
consi dered sui ci de, 5 per cent admi t t ed to usi ng har d dr ugs, 10 per cent
said t hey had been sexually abused whe n t hey were growi ng up. I don' t
have t he answer, t hough it seems obvi ous to me t hat such wi de vari ances
shoul d make us appreci at e t he difficulty of get t i ng reliable figures on t he
risk of r ape from t he research. That t he real risk shoul d be known is
obvi ous. The Blade report ers i nt ervi ewed st udent s on t hei r fears and
found t hem anxi ous and bewi l dered. "It makes a big difference if it' s one
in t hree or one in fifty," said April Groff of t he University of Mi chi gan,
who says she is "very scared. " "I' d have t o say, honest l y, I'd t hi nk about
rape a lot less if I knew t he numbe r was one i n fifty."
3 0
Whe n t he Blade report ers asked Kilpatrick why he had not asked
women whet her t hey had been r aped, he t ol d t hem t here had been no
t i me in t he t hi rt y-fi ve-mi nut e i nt ervi ew. "That was pr obabl y somet hi ng
t hat ended up on t he cut t i ng- r oom f l oor . "
3 1
But Kilpatrick' s excl usi on of
such a quest i on resul t ed in very muc h hi gher figures. Wh e n pr essed
about why he omi t t ed it from a st udy for whi ch he had received a mi l l i on-
dollar federal grant , he repl i ed, "If peopl e t hi nk t hat is a key quest i on, let
t hem get t hei r own grant and do t hei r own s t udy. "
3 2
Kilpatrick had done an earlier st udy in whi ch r espondent s wer e ex-
plicitly asked whet her t hey had been raped. That st udy showed a rela-
tively l ow preval ence of 5 pe r c e nt one in t went yand it got very little
publ i ci t y.
3 3
Kilpatrick subsequent l y abandoned his former met hodol ogy
in favor of t he Ms./Koss met hod, whi ch allows t he surveyor to deci de
whet her a r ape occurred. Like Koss, he used an expanded definition of
rape (bot h i ncl ude penet r at i on by a finger). Kilpatrick' s new appr oach
yielded hi m hi gh number s (one in ei ght ), and citations in maj or news-
papers ar ound t he count ry. His gr aphs wer e r epr oduced in Time magazi ne
under t he headi ng, "Unset t l i ng Report on an Epi demi c of Ra pe . "
3 4
Now
he shares wi t h Koss t he honor of bei ng a pri nci pal expert cited by medi a,
politicians, and activists.
There are many researchers who st udy rape vi ct i mi zat i on, but t hei r
relatively l ow figures generat e no headl i nes. The report ers from t he Blade
interviewed several schol ars whose findings on r ape wer e not sensat i onal
but whose research met hods wer e s ound and wer e not based on cont r o-
versial definitions. Eugene Kani n, a ret i red professor of sociology from
Pur due University and a pi oneer in t he field of acquai nt ance r ape, is upset
by t he i nt rusi on of politics i nt o t he field of i nqui ry: "This is hi ghl y con-
vol ut ed activism rat her t han social science r esear ch. "
3 5
Professor Margaret
Gor don of t he University of Washi ngt on di d a st udy in 1981 t hat came
218 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
up wi t h relatively l ow figures for rape (one in fifty). She tells of t he
negat i ve react i on to her findings: "There was some pr essur eat least I
felt pr es s ur et o have r ape be as preval ent as possible. . . \ I' m a pret t y
st r ong feminist, but one of t he t hi ngs I was fighting was t hat t he really
avid feminists wer e t ryi ng to get me to say t hat t hi ngs were worse t han
t hey really a r e . "
3 6
Dr. Li nda George of Duke University also found rela-
tively l ow rat es of r ape ( one in sevent een), even t hough she asked ques-
t i ons very close t o Kilpatrick' s. She told t he Blade she is concerned t hat
many of her col l eagues t reat t he hi gh number s as if t hey are "cast in
s t one . "
3 7
Dr. Naomi Breslau, di rect or of research in t he psychi at ry de-
par t ment at t he Henr y For d Heal t h Science Cent er in Detroit, who also
found l ow number s , feels t hat it is i mpor t ant to challenge t he popul ar
vi ew t hat hi gher numbe r s are necessarily mor e accurat e. Dr. Breslau sees
t he need for a ne w and mor e objective pr ogr am of research: "It' s really an
open quest i on. . . . We really don' t know a whol e lot about i t . "
3 8
An i nt r epi d few in t he academy have publ i cl y criticized t hose who
have pr ocl ai med a "rape crisis" for i rresponsi bl y exaggerating t he pr obl em
and causi ng needl ess anxiety. Cami l l e Paglia claims t hat t hey have been
especially hyst eri cal about dat e rape: "Dat e rape has swelled i nt o a cata-
st r ophi c cosmi c event , like an ast eroi d t hreat eni ng t he eart h in a fifties
science-fiction film."
39
She bl unt l y rejects t he cont ent i on t hat " ' No' al-
ways means no. . . . ' No' has always been, and always will be, part of t he
danger ous, al l uri ng cour t shi p ri t ual of sex and seduct i on, observable even
in t he ani mal ki ngdom. "
4 0
Paglia' s di smi ssal of dat e r ape hype infuriates campus feminists, for
wh o m t he r ape crisis is very real. On most campuses, dat e-rape gr oups
hol d meet i ngs, mar ches, rallies. Vi ct i ms are "survi vors, " and their friends
are "co-survi vors" who also suffer and need counsel i ng.
4 1
At some rape
awar eness meet i ngs, wome n who have not yet been dat e raped are re-
ferred to as "pot ent i al survi vors. " Thei r mal e classmates are "pot ent i al
r api s t s . "
4 2
Has dat e r ape in fact r eached critical pr opor t i ons on t he college cam-
pus? Havi ng hear d about an out br eak of rape at Col umbi a University,
Peter Hel l man of New York magazi ne deci ded to do a st ory about i t .
4 3
To
hi s surpri se, he found t hat campus pol i ce logs showed no evidence of it
what soever. Onl y t wo r apes wer e r epor t ed to t he Col umbi a campus police
in 1990, and in bot h cases, charges wer e dr opped for lack of evidence.
Hel l man checked t he figures at ot her campuses and found t hat in 1990
fewer t han one t hous and rapes wer e r epor t ed to campus security on
college campus es in the entire country. That wor ks out to fewer t han one-
half of one r ape per campus . Yet despi t e t he existence of a rape crisis
R A P E R E S E A R C H 219
center at St. Luke' s- Roosevel t Hospi t al t wo bl ocks from Col umbi a Uni -
versity, campus feminists pr essur ed t he admi ni st rat i on i nt o installing an
expensive r ape crisis cent er i nsi de t he university. Peter Hel l man descri bes
a typical ni ght at t he cent er in February 1992: "On a recent Sat urday
night, a shift of t hree peer counsel ors sat in t he Rape Crisis Cent er one
a backup to t he ot her t wo. . . . Nobody called; nobody came. As if in a
firehouse, t he t hr ee wome n sat alertly and wai t ed for disaster to strike. It
was easy to forget t hese were t he fading hour s of t he eve of Valentine' s
Day. "
4 5
In The Morning After, Katie Roi phe descri bes t he el aborat e measur es
t aken to pr event sexual assaults at Pri ncet on. Blue lights have been i n-
stalled ar ound t he campus, freshman wome n are i ssued whi st l es at ori -
ent at i on. Ther e are mar ches, r ape counsel i ng sessions, emer gency
t el ephones. But as Roi phe tells it, Pri ncet on is a very safe t own, and
whenever she wal ked across a desert ed golf course to get to classes, she
was mor e afraid of t he wi l d geese t han of a rapist. Roi phe report s t hat
bet ween 1982 and 1993 onl y t wo rapes wer e r epor t ed t o t he campus
police. And, whe n it comes t o vi ol ent at t acks in general , mal e st udent s
are actually mor e likely to be t he vi ct i ms. Roi phe sees t he campus r ape
crisis movement as a phe nome non of privilege: t hese young wome n have
had it all, and whe n t hey find out t hat t he wor l d can be danger ous and
unpredi ct abl e, t hey are out raged:
Many of t hese girls [in rape marches] came to Pri ncet on from Mi l t on
and Exeter. Many of t hei r lives have been full of s ummer s in Nan-
t ucket and horseback-ri di ng l essons. These are wome n who have
gr own up expect i ng fairness, consi derat i on, and pol i t eness.
4 6
The Blade st ory on rape is uni que in cont empor ar y j our nal i sm because
t he aut hor s dar ed t o quest i on t he popul ar feminist statistics on this terri-
bly sensitive pr obl em. But to my mi nd, t he i mpor t ant and i nt ri gui ng st ory
they tell about unrel i abl e advocacy statistics is over shadowed by t he even
mor e i mpor t ant discoveries t hey made about t he moral l y indefensible way
t hat publ i c funds for combat t i ng r ape are bei ng allocated. Schoenber g
and Roe st udi ed Tol edo nei ghbor hoods and calculated t hat wome n in t he
poor er areas wer e nearl y t hi rt y t i mes mor e likely to be r aped t han t hose
in t he weal t hy areas. They also found t hat campus r ape rates wer e t hi rt y
times l ower t han t he rape rates for t he general popul at i on of ei ght een- to
t went y-four-year-ol ds in Tol edo. The at t ent i on and t he money are di spr o-
port i onat el y goi ng to t hose least at risk. Accordi ng to t he Blade report ers:
220 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Across t he nat i on, publ i c universities are spendi ng millions of dol -
lars a year on rapi dl y gr owi ng pr ogr ams to combat rape. Videos,
self-defense classes, and full-time r ape educat ors are commonpl ace.
. . . But t he ne w s pendi ng comes at a t i me when communi t y rape
pr ogr ams al s o dependent on tax dol l ar sar e desperately scram-
bl i ng for money t o hel p popul at i ons at muc h hi gher risk t han col-
lege s t ude nt s .
4 7
One obvi ous r eason for this i nequi t y is t hat feminist advocates come
largely from t he mi ddl e class and so exert great pressure to prot ect their
own. To r ender t hei r cl ai ms pl ausi bl e, t hey dramat i ze t hemsel ves as vic-
t i mssur vi vor s or "pot ent i al survi vors. " Anot her device is to expand t he
definition of r ape (as Koss and Kilpatrick do) . Dr. Andrea Parrot, chair of
t he Cornel l Uni versi t y Coal i t i on Advocat i ng Rape Educat i on and aut hor
of Sexual Assault on Campus, begi ns her dat e rape prevent i on manual wi t h
t he wor ds , "Any sexual i nt ercourse wi t hout mut ual desire is a form of
r ape. Anyone who is psychol ogi cal l y or physically pressured i nt o sexual
cont act on any occasi on is as much a victim as t he per son who is at t acked
in t he st reet s" ( my emphas i s ) .
4 8
By such a definition, privileged young
wome n in our nat i on' s colleges gain mor al pari t y wi t h t he real victims in
t he communi t y at large. Parrot ' s novel concept i on of rape also justifies
t he salaries bei ng pai d t o all t he new per sonnel in t he bur geoni ng college
dat e r ape i ndust r y. After all, it is muc h mor e pl easant to deal wi t h rape
from an office in Pr i ncet on t han on t he streets of downt own Trent on.
Anot her r eason t hat college wome n are getting a lion' s share of publ i c
resources for combat t i ng r ape is t hat collegiate money, t hough originally
publ i c, is al l ocat ed by college officials. As t he Blade poi nt s out:
Publ i c uni versi t i es have mul t i -mi l l i on dollar budget s heavily subsi-
di zed by st at e dol l ars. School officials deci de how t he money is
spent , and are eager t o addr ess t he high-profile issues like rape on
campus . In cont rast , r ape crisis cent er snonpr of i t agencies that
pr ovi de free services in t he c ommuni t ymus t appeal directly to
federal and st at e gover nment s for mone y.
4 9
Schoenber g and Roe descri be typical cases of women in communi t i es
ar ound t he c ount r yi n Madi son, Wi sconsi n, in Col umbus, Ohi o, in
Aust i n, Texas, and i n Newpor t , Kent uckywho have been raped and
have t o wai t mont hs for r ape counsel i ng services. There were t hree rapes
r epor t ed to pol i ce at t he Uni versi t y of Mi nnesot a in 1992; in New York
City t here wer e close t o t hr ee t housand. The University of Mi nnesot a has
R A P E R E S E A R C H 221
a rape crisis hot line, but New York City does not . The Blade report s t hat
the sponsor s of t he Violence Against Wo me n Act of 1993 reflect t he same
unj ust priorities. They poi nt out t hat "if Senat or Biden has his way,
campuses will get at least t went y mi l l i on mor e dollars for r ape educat i on
and pr event i on. " In t he meant i me, Gail Rawlings of t he Pennsyl vani a
Coalition Against Rape compl ai ns t hat t he bill guarant ees not hi ng for
basic services, counsel i ng, and s uppor t gr oups for wome n in t he larger
communi t y: "It' s ridiculous. Thi s bill is s uppos ed to encour age pr osecu-
tion of vi ol ence against women, [and] one of t he mai n keys is to have
suppor t for t he victim. . . . I j ust don' t under s t and why [the money] isn' t
t her e. "
5 0
Because rape is t he most under r epor t ed of cri mes, t he campus activists
tell us we cannot learn t he t rue di mensi ons of campus r ape from pol i ce
logs or hospi t al report s. But as an expl anat i on of why t here are so few
known and pr oven i nci dent s of r ape on campus , t hat won' t do. Under -
report i ng of sexual cri mes is not confi ned t o t he campus, and wher ever
t here is a hi gh level of reported r apes ay in poor ur ban communi t i es
wher e t he funds for combat t i ng r ape are al most nonexi s t ent t he level of
under r epor t ed r ape will be great er still. No mat t er how you l ook at it,
women on campus do not face anywher e near t he same risk of r ape as
women el sewhere. The fact t hat college wome n cont i nue to get a di spr o-
port i onat e and ever-growi ng shar e of t he very scarce publ i c resources
allocated for r ape pr event i on and for aid to r ape vi ct i ms under scor es how
di sproport i onat el y powerful and self-preoccupied t he campus feminists are
despi t e all t hei r vaunt ed concer n for " women" wri t large.
Once again we see what a l ong way t he New Femi ni sm has come from
Seneca Falls. The privileged and pr ot ect ed wome n who l aunched t he
women' s movement , as Elizabeth Cady St ant on and Susan B. Ant hony
t ook pai ns to poi nt out , di d not regard themselves as t he pr i mar y vi ct i ms
of gender i nequi t y: "They had soul s large enough to feel t he wr ongs of
ot hers wi t hout bei ng scarified in t hei r own flesh." They di d not act as if
they had "i n t hei r own experi ence endur ed t he coarser forms of t yr anny
resulting from unj ust laws, or association wi t h i mmor al and uns cr upul ous
me n. "
5 1
Ms. St ant on and Ms. Ant hony concent r at ed t hei r efforts on t he
Hester Vaughns and t he ot her defenseless wome n whos e need for gender
equity was ur gent and unquest i onabl e.
Much of t he unat t ract i ve sel f-preoccupat i on and vi ct i mol ogy t hat we
find on t oday' s campuses have been i rresponsi bl y engender ed by t he
inflated and scarifying "one in four" statistic on campus rape. In s ome
222 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
cases t he campai gn of al ar mi sm arouses exasperat i on of anot her ki nd. In
an article in t he New York Times Magazine, Katie Roi phe quest i oned Koss' s
figures: "If 25 per cent of my wome n friends were really bei ng raped,
woul dn' t I know i t ? "
5 2
She also quest i oned t he feminist perspect i ve on
male/female relations: "These feminists are endorsing their own Utopian
vision of sexual rel at i ons: sex wi t hout struggle, sex wi t hout power , sex
wi t hout per suasi on, sex wi t hout pur sui t . If verbal coercion constitutes
r ape, t hen t he wor d r ape itself expands to i ncl ude any ki nd of sex a
woma n experi ences as negat i ve. "
5 3
The publ i cat i on of Ms. Roi phe' s pi ece i ncensed t he campus feminists.
"The New York Times s houl d be shot , " railed Laurie Fi nk, a professor at
Kenyon Col l ege.
5 4
"Don' t invite [Katie Roi phe] to your school if you can
pr event it," counsel ed Paul i ne Bart of t he University of Il l i noi s.
5 5
Gail
Di nes, a women' s st udi es professor and dat e rape activist from Wheel ock
College, called Roi phe a t rai t or who has sol d out to t he "whi t e mal e
pat r i ar chy. "
5 6
Ot her critics, s uch as Cami l l e Paglia and Berkeley professor of social
welfare Neil Gilbert, have been t arget ed for demonst r at i ons, boycot t s, and
denunci at i ons. Gi l bert began to publ i sh his critical analyses of t he Ms./
Koss st udy in 1990.
5 7
Many feminist activists di d not l ook ki ndl y on
Gilbert' s chal l enge t o t hei r "one in four" figure. A dat e rape cl eari nghouse
in San Franci sco devot es itself to "refuting" Gilbert; it sends out masses
of l i t erat ure at t acki ng hi m. It advert i ses at feminist conferences wi t h green
and or ange fliers bear i ng t he headl i ne STOP IT, BITCH! The wor ds are not
Gilbert' s, but t he tactic is an effective way of dr awi ng at t ent i on to his
wor k. At one demonst r at i on agai nst Gilbert on t he Berkeley campus,
st udent s chant ed, "Cut it out or cut it off," and carried signs that read,
KILL NEIL GILBERT!
5 8
Sheila Kuehl , t he di rect or of t he California Women' s
Law Cent er, confi ded to readers of t he Los Angeles Daily Journal, "I found
myself wi shi ng t hat Gilbert, himself, mi ght be raped and . . . be told, to
his face, it had never ha ppe ne d. "
5 9
The findings bei ng ci t ed i n s uppor t of an "epi demi c" of campus rape
are t he pr oduct s of advocacy research. Those pr omot i ng t he research are
bitterly oppos ed t o seei ng it exposed as i naccurat e. On t he ot her hand,
r ape is i ndeed t he mos t under r epor t ed of cri mes. We need t he t rut h for
pol i cy to be fair and effective. If t he feminist advocat es woul d st op mud-
dyi ng t he wat ers we coul d pr obabl y get at it.
Hi gh r ape numbe r s serve t he gender feminists by pr omot i ng t he belief
t hat Amer i can cul t ur e is sexist and mi sogyni st . But t he common assump-
tion t hat r ape is a mani fest at i on of mi sogyny is open to quest i on. Assume
for t he sake of ar gument t hat Koss and Kilpatrick are ri ght and t hat t he
R A P E R E S E A R C H 223
lower number s of t he FBI, t he Just i ce Depar t ment , t he Harri s pol l , of
Kilpatrick' s earlier st udy, and t he many ot her st udi es ment i oned earlier
are wr ong. Woul d it t hen follow t hat we are a "pat ri archal rape culture"?
Not necessarily. Ameri can society is except i onal l y violent, and t he vi o-
lence is not specifically pat ri archal or misogynist. Accordi ng to Interna-
tional Crime Rates, a report from t he Uni t ed States Depar t ment of Just i ce,
"Cri mes of vi ol ence (homi ci de, r ape, and robbery) are four t o ni ne t i mes
mor e frequent in t he Uni t ed States t han t hey are in Eur ope. The U. S.
cri me rate for rape was . . . r oughl y seven t i mes hi gher t han t he average
for Eur ope . "
6 0
The i nci dence of rape is many t i mes l ower in such coun-
tries as Greece, Port ugal , or J apancount r i es far mor e overtly pat ri archal
t han ours.
It mi ght be said t hat pl aces like Greece, Port ugal , and Japan do not
keep good records on rape. But t he fact is t hat Greece, Port ugal , and
Japan are significantly less vi ol ent t han we are. I have wal ked t hr ough t he
equi val ent of Cent ral Park in Kyoto at ni ght . I felt safe, and I was safe,
not because J apan is a feminist society (it is t he opposi t e), but because
cri me is relatively rare. The i nt ernat i onal st udi es on violence suggest t hat
pat ri archy is not t he pr i mar y cause of rape but t hat rape, al ong wi t h ot her
crimes against t he per son, is caused by what ever it is t hat makes our
society among t he most vi ol ent of t he so-called advanced nat i ons.
But t he suggest i on t hat cri mi nal violence, not pat ri archal mi sogyny, is
t he pr i mar y reason for our relatively hi gh rate of r ape is unwel come to
gender feminists like Susan Fal udi , who insist, in t he face of all evi dence
to t he cont rary, t hat "t he hi ghest rat e of rapes appear s i n cul t ures t hat
have t he hi ghest degree of gender i nequal i t y, wher e sexes are segregat ed
at wor k, t hat have pat ri archal religions, t hat celebrate all-male spor t i ng
and hunt i ng rituals, i.e., a society such as u s . "
6 1
In t he spr i ng of 1992, Peter Jenni ngs host ed an ABC special on t he
subject of rape. Cat hari ne MacKi nnon, Susan Fal udi , Naomi Wolf, and
Mary Koss wer e among t he panel i st s, al ong wi t h J ohn Leo of U.S. News
& World Report. Wh e n MacKi nnon t rot t ed out t he claim t hat 25 per cent
of women are vi ct i ms of rape, Mr. Leo replied, "I don' t believe t hose
statistics. . . . That ' s totally fal se. "
6 2
MacKi nnon count er ed, "That means
you don' t believe women. It's not cooked, it' s i nt ervi ews wi t h women by
peopl e who bel i eved t hem when t hey said it. That ' s t he met hodol ogy. "
6 3
The accusat i on t hat Leo di d not believe " women" silenced hi m, as it was
meant to. But as we have seen, believing what wome n actually say is
precisely not t he met hodol ogy by whi ch s ome feminist advocat es get t hei r
i ncendi ary statistics.
MacKi nnon' s next volley was certainly on target. She poi nt ed out t hat
224 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
t he statistics she had cited "are st art i ng to become nationally accept ed by
t he gover nment . " That claim coul d not be gainsaid, and MacKi nnon may
be par doned for cr owi ng about it. The government , like t he medi a, is
accept i ng t he gender feminist claims and is i nt r oduci ng legislation whose
"whol e pur pos e . . . is to raise t he consci ousness of t he Ameri can pub-
l i c. "
6 4
The wor ds are J os eph Biden' s, and t he bill to whi ch he referred
t he Vi ol ence Agai nst Wo me n Act i nt r oduces t he pri nci pl e t hat violence
agai nst wome n is mu c h like racial violence, calling for civil as well as
cri mi nal r emedi es. Like a l ynchi ng or a cross bur ni ng, an act of violence
by a ma n agai nst a woma n woul d be pr osecut ed as a cri me of gender
bias, under title 3 of t he bill: "State and Federal cri mi nal laws do not
adequat el y pr ot ect agai nst t he bias el ement of gender-mot i vat ed crimes,
whi ch separat es t hese cri mes from acts of r andom violence, nor do t hose
laws adequat el y pr ovi de victims of gender-mot i vat ed cri mes t he oppor -
t uni t y t o vi ndi cat e t hei r i nt er est s. "
6 5
Wher eas ordi nary violence is "ran-
dom, " "vi ol ence agai nst wome n" may be di scri mi nat ory in t he literal sense
in whi ch we speak of a bi got as di scri mi nat i ng against someone because
of race or religion.
Mary Koss and Sarah Buel wer e i nvi t ed to give t est i mony on t he subject
of vi ol ence agai nst wome n before t he House Judi ci ary Commi t t ee. Dean
Kilpatrick' s findings wer e cited. Neil Gilbert was not t here; nor were any
of t he ot her schol ars i nt ervi ewed by t he Tol edo Blade.
The litigation t hat t he bill invites gl addens t he heart s of gender femi-
ni st s. If we consi der t hat a boy get t i ng fresh in t he backseat of a car may
be pr osecut ed bot h as an at t empt ed rapist and as a gender bigot who has
violated hi s dat e' s civil ri ght s, we can see why t he title 3 provi si on is
bei ng hai l ed by radi cal feminists like Cat hari ne MacKi nnon and Andrea
Dwor ki n. Dwor ki n, who was surpri sed and del i ght ed at t he suppor t t he
bill was get t i ng, candi dl y observed t hat t he senat ors "don' t under st and
t he meani ng of t he legislation t hey pa s s . "
6 6
Senat or Biden invites us t o see t he bill' s pot ent i al as an i nst r ument of
mor al educat i on on a nat i onal scale. "I have become convi nced . . . t hat
vi ol ence agai nst wome n reflects as muc h a failure of our nat i on' s collective
mor al i magi nat i on as it does t he failure of our nat i on' s laws and regula-
t i ons . "
6 7
Fair enough, but t hen why not i ncl ude cri mes against the elderly
or chi l dren? Wha t const i t ut i onal or mor al gr ound is t here for singling out
female cr i me vi ct i ms for special t r eat ment under civil rights laws? Can it
be t hat Biden and t he ot her s are buyi ng i nt o t he gender feminist ont ol ogy
of a soci et y di vi ded agai nst itself al ong t he fault line of gender?
Equi t y feminists are as upset as anyone else about t he preval ence of
vi ol ence agai nst women, but t hey are not possessed of t he worl dvi ew that
R A P E R E S E A R C H 225
licenses their overzeal ous sisters to pr esent i nfl ammat ory but i naccurat e
data on mal e abuse. They want social scientists to tell t hem t he objective
t rut h about t he preval ence of rape. And because t hey are not commi t t ed
to t he vi ew t hat me n are arrayed against women, t hey are able t o see
violence against wome n in t he cont ext of what , in our count r y, appear s
to be a general crisis of violence against per sons. By di st i ngui shi ng be-
t ween acts of r a ndom violence and acts of vi ol ence against women, t he
sponsors of t he Vi ol ence Against Wo me n Act believe t hat t hey are show-
ing sensitivity to feminist concer ns. In fact, t hey may be doi ng social
har m by accept i ng a divisive, gender-specific appr oach t o a pr obl em t hat
is not caused by gender bi as, mi sogyny, or "pat r i ar chy"an appr oach
that can obscur e real and ur gent pr obl ems such as lesbian bat t eri ng or
mal e-on-mal e sexual vi ol ence.
6 8
Accordi ng to St ephen Donal dson, pr esi dent of St op Pri son Rape, mor e
t han 290, 000 mal e pri soners are assaul t ed each year. Pri son rape, says
Donal dson in a New York Times opi ni on pi ece, "is an ent r enched t radi -
tion. " Donal dson, who was himself a vi ct i m of pr i son r ape t went y years
ago when he was i ncarcerat ed for ant i war activities, has calculated t hat
t here may be as many as 45, 000 rapes every day in our pr i son popul a-
tion of 1.2 mi l l i on men. The numbe r of rapes is vastly hi gher t han t he
number of vi ct i ms because t he same me n are often at t acked repeat edl y.
Many of t he rapes are "gang bangs" repeat ed day after day. To r epor t
such a r ape is a terribly danger ous t hi ng t o do, so t hese rapes may be
t he most under r epor t ed of all. No one knows how accurat e Donal dson' s
figures are. They seem i ncredi bl e to me. But t he tragic and negl ect ed
atrocities he is concer ned about are not t he ki nd whose st udy at t ract s
grant s from t he For d or Ms. foundat i ons. If he is anywher e near ri ght ,
t he i nci dence of mal e rape woul d be as hi gh or hi gher t han t hat of female
rape.
Equi t y feminists find it reasonabl e to appr oach t he pr obl em of vi ol ence
against wome n by addressi ng t he root causes of t he general rise in vi o-
lence and t he decl i ne in civility. To vi ew rape as a cri me of gender bias
(encouraged by a pat ri archy t hat l ooks wi t h t ol erance on t he vi ct i mi zat i on
of women) is perversel y to mi ss its t rue nat ur e. Rape is per pet r at ed by
criminals, whi ch is t o say, it is per pet r at ed by peopl e who are wont to
gratify t hemsel ves in cri mi nal ways and who care very little about t he
suffering t hey inflict on ot hers.
That most vi ol ence is mal e isn' t news. But very little of it appear s to be
misogynist. Thi s count r y has mor e t han its shar e of vi ol ent mal es; statis-
tically we mus t expect t hem t o gratify t hemsel ves at t he expense of peopl e
weaker t han t hemsel ves, mal e or female; and so t hey do. Gender feminist
226 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
i deol ogues bemus e and al arm t he publ i c wi t h inflated statistics. And they
have ma de no case for t he claim t hat violence against women is sympt om-
atic of a deepl y mi sogyni st cul t ure.
Rape is j ust one variety of cri me against t he per son, and rape of women
is j ust one subvari et y. The real chal l enge we face in our society is how to
reverse t he t i de of vi ol ence. How t o achieve this is a t rue challenge to our
mor al i magi nat i on. It is clear t hat we mus t l earn mor e about why so many
of our mal e chi l dren are so violent. And it is clear we mus t find ways to
educat e all of our chi l dr en to regard violence wi t h abhor r ence and con-
t empt . We mus t once agai n t each decency and consi derat eness. And this,
t oo, mus t become clear: i n any const ruct i ve agenda for t he future, t he
gender feminist' s divisive social phi l osophy has no place.
Chapter 11
The Backlash Myth
When regard for truth has been broken down or even
slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful
S T . AUGUSTINE
A coupl e of years ago, Ameri can publ i shi ng was enl i vened by t he
release of Susan Faludi' s Backlash and Naomi Wol f s The Beauty Myth, t wo
i mpassi oned feminist screeds uncover i ng and denounci ng t he schemes
t hat have pr event ed women from enjoying t he fruits of t he women' s
movement .
1
For our pur poses, what t hese books have in c ommon is mor e
interesting and i mpor t ant t han what di st i ngui shes t hem. Both r epor t ed a
wi despread conspi racy against women. In bot h, t he put at i ve conspi racy
has t he same goal: to pr event t oday' s wome n from maki ng use of t hei r
har d- won f r eedomst o puni s h t hem, in ot her wor ds, for l i berat i ng
themselves. As Ms. Wol f i nforms us: "After t he success of t he women' s
movement ' s second wave, t he beaut y myt h was perfected t o checkmat e
power at every level in i ndi vi dual women' s l i ves. "
2
Conspi racy t heori es are always popul ar , but in this case t he aut hor s,
wri t i ng pri mari l y for mi ddl e-cl ass readers, faced a tricky pr obl em. No
reasonabl e per son in this day and age coul d be expect ed t o believe t hat
somewher e in Ameri ca a gr oup of mal e "el ders" has sat down to pl ot ways
to per pet uat e t he subj ugat i on of women. How, t hen, coul d t hey per suade
228 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
anyone of t he exi st ence of a wi despr ead effort to cont rol women for t he
good of men?
The sol ut i on t hat t hey hi t upon made it possi bl e for t hem to have their
conspi racy whi l e di savowi ng it. Fal udi and Wolf argued t hat t he conspir-
acy agai nst wome n is bei ng carri ed out by mal evol ent but invisible back-
lash forces or beaut y- myt h forces t hat act in purposeful ways. The forces
in quest i on are subt l e, powerful , and i nsi di ousl y efficient, and women are
largely unconsci ous of t hem. Wha t is mor e, t he pr i mar y enforcers of t he
conspi racy are not a gr oup of sequest ered mal es pl ot t i ng and pl anni ng
t hei r next backl ash maneuver s: it is wome n t hemsel ves who "internalize"
t he ai ms of t he backl ash, who, unwi t t i ngl y, do its bi ddi ng. In ot her
wor ds , t he backl ash is Us. Or, as Wol f put s it, "many women internalize
Big Brot her' s eye. "
3
Fal udi ' s scope is wi der t han Wol f s ; she argues t hat t he medi a and t he
political syst em have been co- opt ed by t he backl ash, as well:
The backl ash is not a conspi racy, wi t h a counci l di spat chi ng agent s
from s ome cent ral cont r ol r oom, nor are t he peopl e who serve its
ends often awar e of t hei r role; s ome even consi der t hemsel ves femi-
nists. For t he mos t part , its wor ki ngs are encoded and internalized,
diffuse and chamel eoni c . . . generat ed by a cul t ure machi ne t hat is
always scr oungi ng for a "fresh" angle. Taken as a whol e, however,
t hese codes and cajolings, t hese whi sper s and t hreat s and myt hs,
move over whel mi ngl y in one di rect i on: t hey try to pus h women
back i nt o t hei r "accept abl e" rol es.
4
Wol f focuses mor e nar r owl y on t he "beaut y backl ash, " whi ch pressures
wome n t o diet, dress up, make up, and wor k out in ways t hat are "de-
st royi ng wome n physi cal l y and depl et i ng us psychol ogi cal l y":
5
"The
beaut y backl ash agai nst femi ni sm is no conspi racy, but a million separat e
i ndi vi dual reflexes . . . t hat coalesce i nt o a nat i onal mood wei ghi ng
wome n down; t he backl ash is all t he mor e oppressi ve because t he source
of t he suffocation is so diffuse as t o be al most i nvi si bl e. "
6
Havi ng t hus ski r t ed a claim of out ri ght conspi racy, Fal udi and Wolf
nevert hel ess freely use t he language of subterfuge to arouse anger and
bi t t erness. In t hei r syst ems, t he backl ash and t he beaut y myt h become
mal evol ent personi fi ed forces behi nd pl ot after pl ot against women.
They i nci t e uns cr upul ous st ooges in t he medi a to wri t e articles t hat
make "single and chi l dl ess wome n feel like circus freaks." Cosmet i cs
sal eswomen are backl ash agent s, "t rai ned, " Wol f says, "wi t h t echni ques
aki n to t hose used by professi onal cult convert ers and hypnot i st s. " She
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 229
calls Wei ght Wat cher s a "cul t " and compar es its disciplines to t hose of
t he Unification Chur ch, Scientology, est, and Lifespring. In aerobi cs
classes, "robot i c" wome n do t he "same bounci ng dance . . . pract i ced by
t he Hare Kri shnas for t he same effect."
7
What t he backl ash "want s" is clear to bot h Fal udi and Wolf. By t he
seventies, wome n had been gr ant ed a great deal of equality. The pr i mar y
ai m of t he backl ash is to ret ake lost gr ound, t o put wome n to r out .
8
The
subtitle of Fal udi ' s book is The Undeclared War Against American Women.
Backlash itself may be regarded as a feminist count erat t ack in this s up-
posed war. As Patricia Schroeder not ed in a review of t he book, wome n
are not "riled up enough, " and Fal udi "may be able to do what political
activists have tried to do for year s . "
9
I ndeed, she and Wol f t oget her
succeeded i n movi ng count l ess wome n t o anger and di smay.
Wher e di d Fal udi and Wol f get t he idea t hat masses of seemi ngl y free
women wer e bei ng myst eri ousl y mani pul at ed from wi t hi n? A l ook at t hei r
source of i nspi rat i on illustrates t he wor ki ngs of a l aw of intellectual fash-
ion t hat t he j our nal i st Paul Berman calls "Parisian det er mi ni s m"t hat is,
what ever is t he rage in Paris will be fashionable in Ameri ca fifteen years
l at er.
1 0
Michel Foucaul t , a professor of phi l osophy at t he di st i ngui shed Collge
de France and an i rreverent social t hi nker who felt deepl y al i enat ed from
t he society i n whi ch he lived, i nt r oduced hi s t heory of i nt eri or di sci pl i nes
in 1975. Hi s book Discipline and Punish, wi t h its novel expl anat i on of how
large gr oups of peopl e coul d be cont rol l ed wi t hout t he need of ext eri or
cont rol l ers, t ook intellectual Paris by st or m. Foucaul t had little love for
t he moder n democr at i c state. Like Marx, he was i nt erest ed in t he forces
that keep citizens of democraci es l aw-abi di ng and obedi ent .
Accordi ng to Foucaul t , t he i ndi vi dual subj ect s of cont empor ar y de-
mocraci es are not free at all. Inst ead, democr at i c societies t ur n out t o be
even mor e rigidly aut hori t ari an t han t he t yranni es t hey repl aced. Moder n
citizens find t hemsel ves subj ect to t he rul es (he calls t hem "disciplines")
of moder n bur eaucr at i c i nst i t ut i ons: school s, factories, hospi t al s, t he mi l -
itary, t he pr i sons. In pr emoder n societies, wher e power was overtly au-
thoritarian, enforcement was i nconsi st ent , haphazar d, and inefficient: t he
king' s mi ni ons coul d not be everywhere all t he t i me. In cont empor ar y
societies, cont r ol is pervasive and unceasi ng: t he moder n citizen, havi ng
internalized t he di sci pl i nes of t he i nst i t ut i ons, pol i ces himself. Thi s resul t s
in a "disciplinary society" of "doci l e" subj ect s who keep t hemsel ves i n
line wi t h what is expect ed. Accordi ng to t he phi l osopher Ri chard Rorty,
Foucaul t believed he was exposi ng "a vast organi zat i on of repressi on a nd
i nj ust i ce. "
1 1
He regarded t he mul t i t ude of self-disciplined i ndi vi dual s as
230 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
const i t ut i ng a "mi crofasci sm" t hat is even mor e efficiently const rai ni ng
t han t he macrofasci sm of totalitarian states.
How seri ousl y can one t ake Foucaul t ' s theory? Not very, says Pri ncet on
political phi l osopher Mi chael Wal zer, who characterizes Foucaul t ' s pol i -
tics as "infantile l ef t i sm. "
1 2
Foucaul t was aware t hat he was equat i ng
mode r n democr aci es wi t h repressively brut al syst ems like t he Soviet
pr i son camps in t he Gul ag. In a 1977 interview, he showed some concern
about how hi s ideas mi ght be i nt erpret ed: "I am i ndeed worri ed by a
certain use . . . whi ch consi st s in saying, ' Everyone has their own Gulag,
t he Gul ag is her e at our door , in our cities, our hospi t al s, our pri sons, it's
her e i n our heads. ' "
1 3
But, as Wal zer poi nt s out , so l ong as Foucaul t
rejected t he possi bi l i t y of i ndi vi dual freedom, whi ch is t he mor al basis for
liberal democr acy, it was uncl ear how he coul d sustain t he distinction
bet ween t he real Gul ag and t he one i nsi de t he heads of bourgeoi s citizens.
Foucaul t ' s t heor y has few adher ent s among social phi l osophers, but it
is nonet hel ess hi ghl y popul ar among gender feminist theorists, who find
hi s cri t i que of liberal democr acy useful for their pur poses. Foucaul t has
given t hem an al l - pur pose weapon to be used against t radi t i onal -mi nded
feminists.
Equi t y feminists believe t hat Ameri can women have made great prog-
ress and t hat our syst em of gover nment al l ows t hem to expect more. They
do not believe t hat wome n are "socially subor di nat e. " By contrast, t he
gender feminists believe t hat moder n wome n are still in thrall to patriar-
chy, and Foucaul t hel ps t hem to make their case. Whe n equi t y feminists
poi nt t o t he gai ns ma de by wome n in recent decades, gender feminists
consi der t hem nai ve. Appl yi ng Foucaul t , t hey insist t hat mal e power
remains all-pervasive, onl y now it has become "i nt eri ori zed" and therefore
even mor e efficient; force is no l onger necessary. In effect, t hey have
adopt ed Foucaul t ' s "di scourses" to argue t hat "femininity" itself is really a
di sci pl i ne t hat cont i nues to degr ade and oppr ess women, even t hose in
t he so-called free democraci es. As Sandra Lee Bartky put s it:
No one is mar ched off for electrolysis at t he end of a rifle. . . .
Nevert hel ess . . . t he di sci pl i nary pract i ces of femininity . . . must be
under s t ood as aspect s of a far larger discipline, an oppressi ve and
inegalitarian syst em of sexual subor di nat i on. This syst em ai ms at
t ur ni ng wome n i nt o t he doci l e and compl i ant compani ons of men
j ust as surel y as t he ar my ai ms to t ur n its raw recruits i nt o sol di er s.
1 4
For Bartky, cont empor ar y Ameri can women live in a ki nd of sexual
pr i son, subj ect t o di sci pl i nes t hat or dai n muc h of their daily lives:
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 231
The woma n who checks her make- up half a dozen t i mes a day to
see if her foundat i on has caked or her mascara r un, who worri es
t hat t he wi nd or rai n may spoi l her hai r do, who l ooks frequently t o
see if her st ocki ngs have bagged at t he ankl e, or who, feeling fat,
moni t or s everyt hi ng she eats, has become, j ust as surel y as t he
i nmat e [ under const ant survei l l ance], a self-policing subject, a self
commi t t ed t o a relentless self-surveillance. This self-surveillance is a
form of obedience to patriarchy [my emphas i s ] .
1 5
Cat hari ne MacKi nnon pr esent s her own, sexier versi on of how cont em-
por ar y wome n have "i nt eri ori zed" a self-destructive, self-sustaining, de-
spai ri ng, craven i dent i t y t hat serves men very well and cont i nues to
humi l i at e women:
Sexual desi re in women, at least in this cul t ure, is socially con-
st ruct ed as t hat by whi ch we come to want our own self-annihila-
tion; t hat is, our subor di nat i on is eroticized; . . . we get off on it, to
a degree. Thi s is our st ake in this syst em t hat is not in our interest,
our st ake in this syst em t hat is killing us. I' m saying t hat femininity
as we know it is how we come to want mal e domi nance, whi ch
most emphat i cal l y is not in our i nt er est .
1 6
MacKi nnon rejects "femininity as we know it" because it has come to
mean accept i ng and even desi ri ng mal e domi nat i on. Her mi l i t ant , gyno-
centric femi ni sm woul d t each wome n t o see how deepl y, craftily, and
deceptively t he mal e cul t ure has socialized t hem to compl i ance: "Male
domi nance is per haps t he most pervasive and t enaci ous syst em of power
in history. . . . Its force is exercised as consent , its aut hor i t y as part i ci pa-
t i on. "
1 7
It woul d be a mi st ake to t hi nk t hat t he idea of a t enaci ous i nt ernal i zed
power t hat is keepi ng wome n subj ugat ed is on t he fringe of t he New
Femi ni sm and not at its center. To most feminist l eaders, t he backl ash is
very real. It was t he t heme of a 1992 conference I at t ended at Radcliffe
College called "In t he Eye of t he St orm: Femi ni st Research and Act i on in
t he 90s. " One of t he pur poses of t he conference was t o "expl ore t he
backl ashagai nst t he women' s movement , agai nst women' s research,
women' s st udi es . . . and against publ i c pol i cy equi t y agendas. " The con-
ference was sponsor ed by t he prest i gi ous Nat i onal Counci l for Research
on Wo me n a n umbr el l a organi zat i on t hat represent s mor e t han sevent y
women' s gr oups, i ncl udi ng t he Wellesley College Cent er for Research on
Wome n and t he Ameri can Association of University Wome n. Expenses
232 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
wer e covered by t he For d Foundat i on. Though t he conference featured
ext remi st s like Charl ot t e Bunch ( who referred to Dan Quayl e as a Klans-
man) , it also had Nanner l Keohane, now pr esi dent of Duke University,
who seemed not t o be di st ur bed by all t he backl ash rhet ori c.
The as s umpt i on t hat wome n mus t defend t hemsel ves against an enemy
who is wagi ng an undecl ar ed war against t hem has by now achieved t he
st at us of convent i onal feminist wi sdom. In large part , this has happened
because seemi ngl y reasonabl e and hi ghl y pl aced feminists like Ms. Keo-
hane have not seen fit t o chal l enge it. Whet her t hey have been silent
because t hey agree or because t hey have found it politic to refrain from
criticism, I do not know.
Foucaul t pr omul gat ed hi s doct r i ne of self-surveillance in t he mi dsev-
enties. By t he mi dei ght i es, it had t ur ned up in t he books of feminist
t heori st s; by t he ni net i es, it had become t hemat i c in feminist best-sellers.
Wol f ment i ons Foucaul t in her bi bl i ography. Fal udi offers hi m no ac-
knowl edgment , but her charact eri zat i on of t he backl ash bespeaks his
influence:
The lack of orchest rat i on, t he absence of a single string-puller, onl y
makes it har der to s e e a nd per haps mor e effective. A backl ash
agai nst women' s rights succeeds to t he degree t hat it appears not to
be political, t hat it appear s not to be a struggle at all. It is most
powerful whe n it goes pri vat e, when it l odges inside a woman' s
mi nd and t ur ns her vision i nwar d, unt i l she i magi nes t he pressure
is all i n her head, unt i l she begi ns to enforce t he backl ash t ooon
hersel f.
1 8
Wol f a nd Fal udi t end t o por t r ay t he "di sci pl i ned" and docile women
in t he gri p of t he backl ash as Stepford wi veshel pl ess, possessed, and
robot i c. Wol f somet i mes speaks of wome n as victims of "mass hypnosi s. "
"Thi s is not a conspi racy t heory, " she r emi nds us. "It doesn' t have to
b e . "
1 9
Fal udi expl ai ns how t he backl ash managed to "infiltrate t he
t hought s of wome n, br oadcast i ng on t hese pri vat e channel s its sound-
waves of s hame a nd r epr oach. "
2 0
In addi t i on t o Foucaul di an t heory, Fal udi and Wol f have appr opr i at ed
masses of statistics a nd st udi es t hat "consi st ent l y show" t he worki ngs of
t he backl ash and t he beaut y myt h and their effects on Ameri can women.
But al t hough t hei r books are massively footnoted, reliable statistical evi-
dence for t he backl ash hypot hesi s is in terribly shor t suppl y. Accordi ng
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 233
to Wolf, "Recent research consi st ent l y shows t hat i nsi de t he majority of
t he West ' s cont rol l ed, attractive, successful wor ki ng women, t here is a
secret ' underl i fe' poi soni ng our freedom; infused wi t h not i ons of beaut y,
it is a dar k vei n of self-hatred, physi cal obsessi ons, t error of aging, and
dread of lost cont r ol . "
2 1
The research she cites was done in 1983 at Ol d
Domi ni on University. She claims t hat t he researchers found t hat attractive
women "compar e t hemsel ves onl y to model s, not t o ot her women, " and
feel unat t ract i ve. Thi s ki nd of claim is cent ral to Wol f s cont ent i on t hat
images of beautiful, wi l l owy wome n in fashion magazi nes demoral i ze
real women. In fact, t he st udy she cited suggest ed t he opposi t e. The
Ol d Domi ni on researchers compar ed t he self-reports of t hree gr oups of
college-age women: one gr oup eval uat ed t hemsel ves after l ooki ng at pho-
tos of fashion model s, anot her gr oup after l ooki ng at pi ct ur es of unat t r ac-
tive peers, and a t hi rd gr oup after l ooki ng at pi ct ures of very attractive
peers. The researchers wer e careful not to exaggerate t he significance of
this smal l exper i ment , but t hey (tentatively) concl uded t hat al t hough
reactions to attractive peers negatively i nfl uenced women' s self-evaluation,
exposure to t he model s had no such effect:
Perhaps in t he eyes of most of our subj ect s, peer beaut y qualified as
a mor e appr opr i at e st andar d for social compar i son t han professional
beaut y. . . . Vi ewed in a pract i cal sense, our results further suggest
t hat t humbi ng t hr ough popul ar magazi nes filled wi t h beautiful
model s may have little i mmedi at e effect on t he self-images of mos t
wome n.
2 2
I called t he pri nci pal aut hor of t he st udy, Thomas Cash, a psychol ogi st
at Ol d Domi ni on, a nd asked hi m what he t hought about Ms. Wol f s use
of his research. "It had not hi ng to do wi t h what we found. It made no
sense. Wha t I r epor t ed was j ust t he opposi t e of what Wol f cl ai med. . . .
She gr abbed it, r an wi t h it, and got it backwar d. "
2 3
We have al ready
discussed her sensat i onal di scl osure t hat t he beaut y backl ash is wr eaki ng
havoc wi t h young women by l eadi ng t hem i nt o a l et hal epi demi c of
anorexia wi t h annual fatalities of 150, 000. The act ual fatalities appear to
be consi derabl y fewer t han 100 per year.
Much of t he s uppor t Wol f bri ngs for her beaut y- myt h t heory consists
of merel y labeling an activity i nsi di ous rat her t han showi ng it to be s o
exercising, di et i ng, and buyi ng Lancme pr oduct s at t he cosmet i cs
count er in Bl oomi ngdal e' s all come under attack. Charact eri zi ng Wei ght
Wat cher s as a cul t does not const i t ut e evi dence t hat it is one. In her zeal
234 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
to const r ue every effort of Ameri can wome n to lose wei ght as a sympt om
of a mal e- i nduced anxi et y, she overl ooks t he fact t hat many peopl e
me n as wel l as womens uf f er from obesity and are t hreat ened by dis-
eases t hat do not affect peopl e who are fit. Stressing t he i mpor t ance of
di et and fitness can har dl y be consi der ed as an i nsi di ous at t empt by t he
mal e est abl i shment t o di sempower women. The desire to achieve greater
fitness is per haps t he mai n mot i ve i nspi ri ng bot h men and women to
exercise and t o moni t or t hei r diets.
Wol f recycl ed resul t s from every al armi st -advocacy st udy she coul d get
her hands on. Mary Koss' s resul t s on dat e r ape are dul y report ed: "One
in four wome n r es pondent s had an experi ence t hat met t he Ameri can
legal definition of r ape or at t empt ed r a pe . "
2 4
She does not ment i on t hat
Koss' s defi ni t i on of r ape was cont roversi al . She does not tell us t hat al most
half t he wo me n Koss classified as vi ct i ms dat ed their "rapists" again. Wolf
does somet i mes poi nt t o real pr obl ems, such as t he overwhel mi ng fear of
bei ng "unf emi ni ne, " t he excessive rat e of cosmet i c surgery, and t he hi gh
i nci dence of domest i c vi ol ence. But she errs in systematically ascribing
t hem t o t he same mi sogyni st cause. Good social theorists are painfully
aware of t he compl exi t y of t he phenomena t hey seek to explain, and
honest researchers t end t o be suspi ci ous of single-factor expl anat i ons, no
mat t er how begui l i ng.
Fal udi ' s appr oach is t hat of t he muckr aki ng report er bent on saving
wome n by exposi ng t he lies, hal f-t rut hs, and deceits t hat t he mal e-
or i ent ed medi a have creat ed to demoral i ze wome n and keep t hem out of
t he wor kpl ace. Her readers mi ght nat ural l y assume that she herself has
t aken care t o be t rut hful . However , not a few ast oni shed reviewers dis-
covered t hat Backlash relies for its i mpact on many unt r ut hs s ome far
mor e seri ous t han any it exposes. In her New York Times review, t he
j our nal i st a nd feminist Ellen Goodman gent l y chastised Fal udi for over-
l ooki ng evi dence t hat di d not fit her puzzl e. But Goodman' s t one was
so ent hus i as t i cs he prai sed t he book for its "sharp style" and t hor ough-
nes s t hat few heeded her cr i t i ci sms.
2 5
Wi t hi n weeks Backlash j umpe d to
t he t op of t he best-seller lists, becomi ng t he hot t est feminist book in
decades. Fal udi was in d e ma n d o n t he l ect ure circuit, on talk shows,
in book st ores, and in pr i nt . The mor e seri ous criticism came a few
mont hs later.
In a l et t er to t he New York Times Book Review, Barbara Lovenhei m,
aut hor of Beating the Marriage Odds, r epor t ed t hat she had l ooked i nt o
s ome of Fal udi ' s maj or cl ai ms and found t hem to be erroneous. Her letter
pr esent ed s ome egregi ous exampl es and concl uded t hat Fal udi "skews
dat a, mi squot es pr i mar y sources, and makes seri ous errors of omi ssi on. "
2 6
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 235
Al t hough Lovenhei m is a respect ed and responsi bl e j ournal i st , t he revi ew
edi t ors of t he Times have a pol i cy of fact-checking cont roversi al mat eri al ,
and t hey asked Lovenhei m t o pr ovi de detailed proof t hat her criticisms of
Fal udi wer e wel l - gr ounded. She compl i ed, and t he Times devot ed half a
page to t he publ i cat i on of Lovenhei m' s letter. Her e is a por t i on of Loven-
hei m' s ar gument and findings.
Fal udi had wri t t en: " Wome n under thirty-five now give bi r t h to chil-
dr en wi t h Down s yndr ome at a hi gher rate t han wome n over thirty-
five."
27
That claim fits well wi t h Fal udi ' s cent ral thesis t hat t he backl ash
is part i cul arl y ai med at professionally successful single women. By pr op-
agating false r epor t s t hat wome n over thirty-five are at a hi gher risk of
beari ng a chi l d wi t h bi r t h defects, t he backl ash seeks to di scourage
women and t o har m t hei r careers by causi ng t hem t o wor r y about t hei r
decision t o del ay chi l dbi rt h.
But, says Ms. Lovenhei m, t he depl orabl e t r ut h is t hat age sharply in-
creases a woman' s chance of havi ng a baby wi t h Down syndr ome. The
chances are one in 1,000 under age twenty-five, one i n 400 at thirty-five,
one in 100 at forty, and one i n 3 5 at fort y-four.
2 8
Lovenhei m poi nt s out
that, in maki ng her false claim, Fal udi mi srepresent s her own sour ce,
Working Woman (August 1990). For Working Woman had war ned its
readers t hat a variety of abnormal i t i es are associated wi t h mat er nal age,
among t hem t hat ol der wome n "are mor e likely to concei ve fetuses wi t h
chr omosomal defects such as Down s yndr ome . "
2 9
One of Fal udi ' s mor e sensat i onal cl ai msi t opens her booki s t hat
t here is a concert ed effort under way to demoral i ze successful wome n by
spooki ng t hem about a man short age. Fal udi deni es t hat t here is a short -
age, but Lovenhei m shows t hat t he facts do not s uppor t her. Though
t here is no man short age for wome n in t hei r t went i es and early thirties,
things change by t he t i me wome n reach t hei r mi d thirties. The census dat a
indicate t hat bet ween t he ages of thirty-five and forty-four, t here are 84
single men for every 100 wo me n .
3 0
Ther e are as many as one mi l l i on
mor e single wome n t han single men bet ween ages thirty-five and fifty-
four. Lovenhei m poi nt s out t hat Fal udi made it l ook ot herwi se by leaving
out all di vorced and wi dowed singles.
Fal udi r es ponded to Lovenhei m' s letter t wo weeks later. She said she
"wel comed" at t empt s to correct "mi nor i naccuraci es. " But she coul d not
"hel p wonder i ng at t he possi bl e mot i ves of t he letter wri t er, who is t he
aut hor of a book called Beating the Marriage Odds." She made an at t empt
to expl ai n her bi zarre claim t hat ol der wome n have a l ower i nci dence of
Down' s bi rt hs. The claim was poor l y wor ded, she conceded: she really
meant to say t hat si nce wome n over thirty-five t end to be screened for
236 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
bi r t h defects, ma ny abor t t hei r defective fetuses, l oweri ng their rate of live
bi r t hs t o babi es wi t h t hi s abnormal i t y. She neglected to add t hat this
concessi on under cut s her larger ar gument .
After Lovenhei m' s letter was publ i shed, reviewers in several j our nal s
began t o t ur n u p ot her seri ous errors in Faludi' s ar gument s. She had
cited, for exampl e, a 1986 article in Fortune magazi ne report i ng t hat many
successful wome n wer e finding demandi ng careers unsatisfying and were
"bailing out " t o accommodat e marri age and chi l dren. Accordi ng to Fa-
l udi , "The Fortune st ory left an especially deep and t roubl ed i mpressi on
on young wome n aspi ri ng t o busi ness and management careers. . . . The
year after Fortune l aunched t he ' bailing out ' t rend, t he pr opor t i on of
wome n appl yi ng t o busi ness school s suddenl y began to shr i nkf or t he
first t i me in a decade. "
In a revi ew, Gr et chen Mor genson of Forbes magazi ne called this thesis
"i nt erest i ng but wr ong. " She wr ot e, "There was no shri nkage following
t he Fortune story. Accor di ng to t he Ameri can Assembly of Collegiate
School s of Business, whi ch r epor t s on busi ness school graduat es, t he
pr opor t i on of wome n gr aduat es i ncreased every year from 1967 t hr ough
1989, t he mos t r ecent figures avai l abl e. "
3 1
Mor genson also deflated Fal udi ' s claim t hat in t he eighties, "women
wer e pour i ng i nt o ma ny l ow- pai d female wor k ghet t os. " Uni t ed States
Bureau of Labor statistics, she poi nt ed out , s how t hat "t he percent age of
wome n execut i ves, admi ni st r at or s, and manager s among all managers in
t he Amer i can wor k force has risen from 3 2. 4 per cent in 1983 to 41
per cent i n 1991. " Mor genson j udged Fal udi ' s book "a l abyri nt h of non-
sense followed by ei ght y pages of f oot not es. "
3 2
Time magazi ne, whi ch was pr epar i ng an article on Fal udi , found ot her
gl ari ng i nconsi st enci es, pri mari l y in Faludi' s economi c reckoni ngs, whi ch
appar ent l y l ed t hem to modi fy t he ebul l i ent t one of their story wi t h t he
admoni t i on t hat Fal udi "rightly sl ams j ournal i st s who di st ort data in order
to pr omot e what t hey vi ew as a larger t rut h; but in a number of i nst ances,
she can be accused of t he same t act i cs. "
3 3
Time report er Nancy Gi bbs
l ooked i nt o s ome of Fal udi ' s compl ai nt s about t he way t he medi a have
deal t wi t h t he economi c effects of di vorce on women:
Fal udi demonst r at es t hat t he st udi es on t he i mpact of divorce greatly
exaggerat e t he fall in t he average woman' s living st andar d in t he year
after she leaves her hus band. But she adds t hat five years after
di vorce, mos t women' s st andar d of living has actually i mproved.
She relegates to a foot not e t he fact t hat this is because most have
r emar r i ed.
3 4
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 237
Fal udi is especially critical of anyone in t he medi a who finds fault wi t h
current day-care ar r angement s. She treats a 1984 Newsweek st ory as a
diatribe against day care t hat glorifies wome n who give up careers to raise
their ki ds. But Cat hy Young, t he revi ewer from Reason magazi ne, poi nt s
out t hat Fal udi carefully refrained from ment i oni ng t hat t he aut hor of t he
article called for qual i t y day care and consi dered it to be "a basic family
ne e d. "
3 5
To make her general case for a medi a backl ash, Fal udi assi du-
ously collected medi a stories t hat quest i on t he j oys of single life or t he
wi sdom of a mot her wi t h smal l chi l dren choosi ng to wor k. Young ob-
served t hat Fal udi nowher e ment i ons t he numer ous articles t hat encourage
women in t hese choi ces, nor t hose t hat celebrate "t he new fat herhood,
t he benefits for girls of havi ng wor ki ng mot her s, wome n in busi ness and
nont radi t i onal j obs. " Thr oughout her l ong book, Fal udi gives t he clear
i mpressi on t hat t he slant of coverage in maj or newspaper s and magazi nes
is distinctly antifeminist. Accordi ng to Ms. Young, t he opposi t e is t rue.
In a revi ew for Working Woman magazi ne, Carol Pogash finds t hat
Fal udi "mi sconst r ues statistics t o sui t her vi ew t hat Ameri can wome n are
no l onger very anxi ous to we d . "
3 6
Fal udi i nt erpret s a 1990 Virginia Slims
poll as finding t hat wome n pl aced t he quest for a hus band way at t he
bot t om of t hei r list of concer ns. "Per haps, " says Ms. Pogash, "t hat ' s be-
cause 62 per cent of t he wome n in t he sampl e wer e al ready marri ed, a fact
[Faludi] doesn' t me nt i on. "
3 7
Ms. Pogash not es t hat Fal udi also mi sst at ed
t he results of anot her Virginia Slims pol l as showi ng t hat "70 per cent of
women believed t hey coul d have a ' happy and compl et e life' wi t hout a
weddi ng ring." In fact t he quest i on was, "Do you t hi nk it is possi bl e for a
woman to have a compl et e and happy life if she is si ngl e?"not whet her
t he r espondent herself coul d be happy as a single woman.
Fal udi talks about "t he wages of t he backl ash, " and her most i nsi st ent
t heme is t hat wome n are bei ng severely puni s hed economi cal l y for t he
social and civic progress t hey had made pr i or to t he eighties. How a
feminist reacts t o dat a about gender gaps in salaries and economi c oppor -
tunities is an excellent i ndi cat i on of t he ki nd of feminist she is. In general ,
t he equi t y feminist poi nt s wi t h pr i de to t he many gains wome n have
made t owar d achi evi ng pari t y in t he wor kpl ace. By cont rast , t he gender
feminist makes it a poi nt to di sparage t hese gains and to speak of back-
lash. It di st ur bs her t hat t he publ i c may be lulled i nt o t hi nki ng t hat
women are doi ng wel l and t hat men are al l owi ng it. The gender feminist
insists t hat any so-called progress is illusory.
I felt t he force of this i nsi st ence t wo years ago whe n my st epson,
Tamler, was a j uni or at t he University of Pennsylvania. He had wr i t t en a
t erm paper on Jane Eyre in whi ch he made t he "insensitive" observat i on
238 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
t hat vocat i onal oppor t uni t i es for wome n are wi der t oday t han they were
for J ane Eyre. "No! " wr ot e his i nst ruct or in t he margi n. "Even t oday
wome n onl y make 59 per cent of what me n make! " (I was later to see this
professor on one of t he panel s at t he Hei l br un conference. ) The next
semest er, i n anot her cour se and for anot her English professor, Taml er
"er r ed" agai n by sayi ng of one female charact er t hat she had a mor e
satisfying j ob t han her hus ba nd di d. Again, his teacher expressed her
i rri t at i on i n t he mar gi n: " How woul d you rationalize women earni ng 49
per cent of men' s salaries i n all fields?" As moni t or ed by Pennsylvania' s
Engl i sh depar t ment , t he condi t i on of wome n seemed to have gr own ap-
preci abl y wor se i n less t han a year!
We have all seen t hese angr y figures. But t here is not much t rut h in
t hem. By mos t measur es, t he eighties wer e a t i me of rat her spect acul ar
gai ns by Amer i can wo me n i n educat i on, in wages, and in such tradi-
tionally mal e professi ons as busi ness, law, and medi ci ne. The gender
feminist will have none of this. Accor di ng to Susan Fal udi , t he eighties
wer e t he backl ash decade, in whi ch men successfully ret ract ed many of
t he gai ns wr est ed from t hem in pr ecedi ng decades. This view, i nconven-
iently, does not squar e wi t h t he facts.
Since any cri t i ci sm of Fal udi ' s claim of a wages backl ash is apt to be
const r ued as j us t mor e backl ashi ng, one mus t be grateful to t he edi t ors of
t he New York Times busi ness sect i on for bravi ng t he wr at h of feminist
i deol ogues by pr esent i ng an objective account of t he economi c pi ct ure as
it affects wome n. Surveyi ng several report s by women economi st s on
women' s gai ns i n t he 1980s, New York Times busi ness wri t er Sylvia Nasar
rejected Fal udi ' s thesis. She poi nt ed to masses of empi ri cal dat a showi ng
t hat "Far from l osi ng gr ound, wome n gai ned mor e in t he 1980s t han in
t he ent i re post war era before that. And al most as muc h as bet ween 1890
and 1 9 8 0 . "
3 8
Today mor e t han ever, economi c posi t i on is a function of educat i on.
In 1970, 41 per cent of college st udent s wer e women; in 1979, 50 percent
wer e women; a nd i n 1992, 55 per cent wer e women. In 1970, 5 percent
of l aw degrees wer e gr ant ed t o women. In 1989, t he figure was 41 per-
cent; by 1991 it was 4 3 per cent , and it has since gone up. In 1970,
wome n ear ned 8 per cent of medi cal degrees. This rose to 3 3 per cent in
1989; by 1991 it was 3 6 per cent . The giant strides in educat i on are
reflected in accel erat ed pr ogr ess in t he professions and busi ness. Diane
Ravitch, a fellow at t he Brooki ngs Inst i t ut i on, report s t hat women have
made great advancement s t owar d full equal i t y in every professional field,
and "in some, s uch as phar macy and vet eri nary medi ci ne, women have
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 239
become t he maj ori t y in what was previ ousl y a mal e- domi nat ed profes-
s i on. "
3 9
The New York Times article summar i zed t he research as follows:
A fresh body of r esear chmost l y by a new generat i on of female
economi st s who' ve mi ned a mount ai n of unexpl or ed dat as hows
compel l i ngl y t hat wome n wer e big economi c wi nner s in t he 1980s
expansi on and t hat t hei r gains are likely to keep comi ng in t he
1990s regardl ess of who is in t he Whi t e House. . . . Convent i onal
wi s domens hr i ned in t he best-selling book Backlash: The Unde-
clared War Against American Women, among ot her pl aces has it
t hat wome n made no progress in t he past decade. In fact, wome n
were st uck earni ng ar ound 60 cent s t o t he men' s dol l ar from 1960
t hr ough 1980, but st art ed cat chi ng u p fast as t he economy expanded
dur i ng t he 1980s .
4 0
The Times r epor t s t hat t he pr opor t i on wome n earn of each dol l ar of
men' s wages rose to a record 72 cent s by 1990. But t he Times poi nt s out
that even this figure is mi sl eadi ngl y pessi mi st i c, because it i ncl udes ol der
women who are onl y margi nal l y in t he wor k force, such as "t he mot her
who gr aduat ed from hi gh school , left t he wor k force at t went y and re-
t ur ned to a mi ni mum wage at a local st ore. " Younger women, says t he
Times, "now earn 80 cent s for every dol l ar ear ned by me n of t he same
age, up from 69 cent s in 1980. "
It mi ght be s uppos ed t hat it was not so muc h t hat wome n di d well but
t hat men di d poor l y in t he recent recession. However, Baruch College
economi cs professor J une O' Neill, di rect or of t he Cent er for St udy of
Business and Gover nment , showed t hat even in areas wher e men di d
well, wome n di d bet t er: "At t he upper end, wher e men di d very well,
women went t hr ough t he roof." Accordi ng to Franci ne Blau, a University
of Illinois economi st cited in t he Times story, t he eighties wer e years in
whi ch "everyt hi ng st art ed to come t oget her for women. "
None of t hese facts has made t he slightest i mpressi on on t he backl ash
monger er s. For years, feminist activists have been wear i ng but t ons claim-
ing women earn "59 cent s to a man' s dollar. " Some j ournal i st s have
quest i oned t hi s figure: Fal udi calls t hem "spokesmen" for t he backl ash.
4 1
Accordi ng t o Fal udi , "By 1988, wome n wi t h a college di pl oma coul d still
wear t he famous 59- cent but t ons. They wer e still maki ng 59 cent s to t hei r
mal e count erpart ' s dollar. In fact, t he pay gap for t hem was now a bi t
worse t han five years ear l i er . "
4 2
240 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
The sour ces Fal udi cites do not sust ai n her figure. The actual figure for
1988 is 68 cent s, bot h for all wome n and for women wi t h a college
di pl oma. Thi s is subst ant i al l y hi gher, not lower, t han it was five years
earlier. The mos t r ecent figures, for 1992, are consi derabl y hi gher yet, t he
hi ghest t hey have ever been: 71 cent s for all women and 73 cents for
wome n wi t h a college di pl oma.
4 3
The figure of 59 cent s may be a useful rallying cry for gender feminist
activists, but like ma ny s uch sl ogans it is hi ghl y mi sl eadi ng and now
egregiously out of dat e. The following di agram shows t he dramat i c rise of
t he femal e-t o-mal e, year - r ound, full-time earni ngs ratio, from about 59
cent s t hr oughout t he 1970s t o 71 cent s in 1992 .
4 4
Female-to-Male YRFT Earnings Ratio
75 -|
70 -
65 -
60 -
55 -
50 I I I I I J I I I r ] I I I | I | i i i i I I l I I I
1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990
Source: U. S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P-60.
Evi dent l y t he 59 cent figure is chosen for its pr opaganda val ue rat her
t han for t r ue i nsi ght s i nt o any r emai ni ng di scri mi nat i on.
Wha t of t he r emai ni ng gap bet ween mal e and female earnings? For t he
gender feminists, t he answer is si mpl e: t he wage gap is t he result of
di scri mi nat i on agai nst women. But in fact, seri ous economi cs scholars
who are t rai ned t o i nt er pr et t hese dat a (i ncl udi ng many emi nent female
economi st s) poi nt out t hat mos t of t he differences in earni ngs reflect such
prosai c mat t er s as shor t er wor k weeks and lesser workpl ace experience.
For exampl e, t he average wor k week for full-time, year - r ound females is
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 241
short er t han for mal es. Whe n economi st s compar e men' s and women' s
hourly earni ngs i nst ead of t hei r yearly earni ngs, t he wage gap nar r ows
even mor e .
4 5
Economi st s differ on exactly how much, if any, of t he r emai ni ng gap is
di scri mi nat i on. Most economi st s agree t hat muc h of it si mpl y represent s
t he fact t hat , on average, wome n have accr ued less wor kpl ace experi ence
t han men of t he same age. One recent schol arl y est i mat e shows t hat as of
1987, females who were current l y wor ki ng full-time and year - r ound had,
on average, one- quar t er fewer years of wor k experi ence t han compar abl e
mal es .
4 6
Moreover, a year of average female wor k experi ence generally
represent s fewer hour s t han a year of average mal e wor k experi ence,
because of women' s short er average wor k week.
The experi ence gap is part i cul arl y i mpor t ant in expl ai ni ng t he earni ngs
gap bet ween ol der wome n and men, whi ch is consi derabl y wi der t han
t hat for younger wor ker s ( 67 cent s for ages fifty-five t hr ough sixty-four
vs. 82 cent s for ages twenty-five t hr ough thirty-four). For ol der women,
t he experi ence gap is wi der t han one-quart er, and adds up over t i me t o a
sizable gap in years of experi ence and an even wi der gap i n hour s of
experi ence.
These data are i mpor t ant in under st andi ng t he oft-cited claim of a
"glass ceiling" for women. Pr omot i on in hi gh- power ed professional j obs
often goes to t hose who have put in l ong hour s in eveni ngs and on
weekends. Hus bands may be mor e likely to do so t han wi ves, for a variety
of reasons, i ncl udi ng unequal division of responsibilities at home, in
whi ch case t he source of t he difficulty is at home, not in t he mar ket -
pl ace.
4 7
Obvi ousl y, t he experi ence gap also reflects t he fact t hat many wome n
choose t o move i nt o and out of t he wor k force dur i ng chi l dbeari ng and
chi l d-reari ng years. Thi s r educes t he a mount of experi ence t hey acqui re
in t he wor kpl ace and nat ural l y resul t s in l ower earni ngs, qui t e apart from
any possi bl e di scri mi nat i on. Some evi dence of this is pr ovi ded by dat a on
childless wor ker s, for wh o m t he experi ence gap shoul d be muc h nar-
rower, resul t i ng in a nar r ower earni ngs gap. Thi s, in fact, is t he case: t he
female-to-male ratio of hour l y earni ngs for childless whi t e wor ker s aged
t went y to forty-four was 8 6 - 9 1 per cent , as of 1987.
4 8
The bot t om line is t hat al t hough economi st s still differ on how muc h
di scri mi nat i on r emai ns, virtually all of t hem woul d agree t hat t he 59 cent
figure is hi ghl y mi sl eadi ng. For exampl e, J une O' Neill finds t hat "differ-
ences in earni ngs at t ri but abl e solely to gender are likely to be muc h
smaller t han is commonl y believed, pr obabl y less t han 10 per cent . "
4 9
This cont rast s rat her starkly wi t h t he 41 per cent figure cl ai med by Fal udi .
242 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Thi s is not t o say t hat t here is no r oom for i mpr ovement . An obvi ous
case in poi nt is t he mode r n university' s failure to adjust its t enure system
to t he gr owi ng numbe r of females ent eri ng academi c careers. Since all
ne w professors are r equi r ed to "publ i sh or peri sh" in t he first six years of
t hei r career, t he t enur e cl ock ticks away at exactly t he same rate as young
women' s biological cl ocks .
5 0
Adj ust ment s are called for since this state of
affairs seri ousl y affects equal i t y of oppor t uni t y. It is i mpor t ant to not e,
however , t hat t he sl ow adj ust ment of t he universities to changed ci rcum-
st ances is at least in par t because t hey are publ i c or nonprofi t i nst i t ut i ons
t hat are s omewhat i nsul at ed from t he market . The pri vat e sector, argu-
ably, has been mor e creative wi t h respect to flextime, on-site day care,
and home office opt i ons, and is likely to evolve further, out of economi c
i mperat i ve, r at her t han t hr ough t he ki nd of gover nment i nt rusi on favored
by many of t he gender war r i or s .
5 1
The general l y sober economi cs profession has a few of its own gender
feminists, t oo. One of its mor e pr omi nent exponent s is Ameri can Univer-
sity' s professor of economi cs Barbara Bergmann, who claims "wi despread,
severe, ongoi ng di scr i mi nat i on by empl oyers and fellow wor ker s . "
5 2
Pro-
fessor Ber gmann recent l y sur pr i sed some of her fellow feminist (and non-
feminist) economi st s by opposi ng a l ong-st andi ng pr oposal to i ncl ude t he
val ue of nonmar ket activity, such as housewor k and child care, in t he
official gross domest i c pr oduct figures. Her reason was revealing: "Part of
t he mot i ve [of t he pr oposal ] is to l end some dignity to t he posi t i on of
housewi ves. Wha t I t hi nk femi ni sm is about is getting women off of t he
housewi fe t r ack. "
5 3
Professor Bergmann has pr oposed t hat all candi dat es
for office i n t he Amer i can Economi c Association be quest i oned regardi ng
"t hei r member s hi ps i n feminist and antifeminist or gani zat i ons. "
5 4
She di d
not specify whi ch "ant i femi ni st " member shi ps she was targeting, but
t he t one of her pr oposal is part i cul arl y di st urbi ng because she had re-
cently served as pr esi dent of t he Ameri can Association of University Pro-
fessors.
As Ms. Nasar r emi nds us, wome n have not yet achieved parity. Never-
theless, t he glass is at least t hree-quart ers full and getting fuller. Someone
ought t o i nform t he Uni versi t y of Pennsyl vani a English depar t ment about
t hi s and, mor e crucially, t he many Backlash readers who may have been
di scour aged by mi sl eadi ng statistics.
Accor di ng t o Fal udi and Wolf, t here are t hree ki nds of women to
consi der. The maj ori t y are naifs who are in one way or anot her pawns of
t he pat r i ar chy t hat shapes t hei r mi nds and desires. The sophi st i cat ed
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 243
mi nori t y of aware wome n can be di vi ded i nt o t wo classes: t hose who have
not sold out to t he pat ri archy and t hose who have. Not surpri si ngl y,
Faludi pl aces herself in t he first gr oup, whi l e t hose who disagree wi t h
t hem are consi gned to t he second. Fal udi i ncl udes in t hei r numbe r s uch
dedi cat ed feminists as Betty Fri edan, Ger mai ne Greer, Sylvia Hewl et t ,
Erica Jong, and Susan Brownmi l l er.
Fri edan, who has criticized radical feminists for "wal l owi ng" in vi ct i m-
hood and who even dar ed to suggest t hat feminists wer e wr ong to slight
Girl Scout l eaders and Juni or League member s , is accused of usi ng New
Right rhet ori c and of bei ng par t and parcel of its "profamily" agenda. But
t he quest i on is not why Betty Fri edan may be wr ong but why she is, in
Faludi' s wor ds, "st ompi ng on a movement t hat she di d so muc h to create
and lead. " Fal udi ' s "expl anat i on" is t hat Fri edan is havi ng "t he t an-
t r ums of a fallen l eader who is clearly di st ressed and angry t hat she
wasn' t al l owed to be t he Al pha wolf as l ong as she woul d have l i ked. "
5 5
Accordi ng to Fal udi , Fri edan' s pet t i ness r ender ed her suscept i bl e to
treason.
Sylvia Ann Hewl et t is a former Barnard professor of economi cs who is
known for her wor k on family-policy issues. She had wor ked har d in t he
seventies canvassi ng for t he Equal Rights Amendment . Her shock and
di smay at its defeat moved her to ask, in her book A Lesser Life: The Myth
of Women's Liberation in America, " Why di d women fail to give t he ERA
t he s uppor t necessary for victory?"
The concl usi ons she reached put her hi gh on Faludi' s backl ash bl ack-
list. "In a pr of ound way, " Hewl et t wri t es, "feminists have failed to connect
wi t h t he needs and aspi rat i ons of or di nar y Ameri can wo me n . "
5 6
Accord-
ing to Hewl et t , t he ERA di d not pass because of a wi despr ead defection
of women who no l onger felt well represent ed by t he feminist l eaders
who advocat ed its passage. "It is soberi ng to realize t hat t he ERA was
defeated not by Barry Gol dwat er, Jerry Falwell, or any combi nat i on of
mal e chauvi ni st pi gs, but by wome n who wer e al i enat ed from a feminist
movement t he val ues of whi ch seemed elitist and di sconnect ed from t he
lives of or di nar y pe opl e . "
5 7
Fal udi is, of course, commi t t ed to t he vi ew t hat wome n as well as men
are part i ci pat i ng in and abet t i ng t he backl ash. So Hewl et t ' s cont ent i ons
are in t hat sense not unwel come to Fal udi : bot h agree t hat wome n no less
t han men are responsi bl e for t he defeat of t he ERA. But wher eas Hewl et t
ascribes women' s opposi t i on to t he ERA to their al i enat i on from t he
women' s movement due to its lack of sympat hy for "ordi nary women, "
Faludi insists on seei ng it as a di rect effect of t he backl ash t hat isolated
and di scredi t ed t he l eaders of t he women' s movement . For Fal udi , t here
244 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
is no way t o expl ai n t he phe nome non but to pi t y t he masses of women
who di d not s uppor t t he ERA as craven, frightened victims of t he back-
lash. And si nce Hewl et t cannot concei vabl y be so cavalierly dismissed,
she mus t be an agent of t he backl ash itself. Fal udi avails herself of a
classic t echni que for deal i ng wi t h sophi st i cat ed opponent s: accuse t hem
of havi ng sol d out t o t he enemy. She slyly informs t he reader t hat Hewlett
lives at a "fashi onabl e Manhat t an addr ess" and is a member of an estab-
l i shment t hi nk t ank. She ment i ons t hat publ i sher s vied for Hewlett' s book
whe n t hey found it was critical of feminism and i nsi nuat es t hat she makes
lots of money as an aut hor i t y on family policy, citing a black-tie di nner
Hewl et t s pons or ed on Capi t ol Hill. In short , she implies, Hewl et t is an
oppor t uni st wi t h a subst ant i al pecuni ar y interest in hol di ng and pr omot -
ing t he opi ni ons she expr esses.
5 8
Fal udi deal s wi t h Ger mai ne Greer, Susan Brownmiller, and Erica Jong
in mu c h t he same way. Just as Fri edan is descri bed as havi ng a "t ant r um, "
Greer and Brownmi l l er are said t o be "revisionists" and "r ecant er s. "
5 9
As
for Ms. Jong, Fal udi i nforms us t hat her s uppor t for feminism "had ac-
tually al ways been r at her equi vocal . "
6 0
But t he pl ai n t r ut h is t hat Faludi
has pai nt ed herself i nt o a posi t i on t hat allows no r oom for criticism.
Wol f does not have Fal udi ' s brassy t emper ament . She prefers to say
t hat her critics are mi sgui ded and t o forgive t hem, for t hey know not
what t hey do. After seei ng Wol f i nt ervi ewed on "20/ 20, " Barbara Wal t ers
called her t heor y of t he beaut y myt h "a crock. " Wol f t ook this as addi -
t i onal evi dence of h o w deepl y t he myt h is embedded in t he mi nds of
seemi ngl y free wome n: even Ms. Wal t ers has been bodysnat ched. Wolf
admi t s she finds it t r oubl i ng whe n wome n deny their own oppressi on.
But, she expl ai ns, "Those initial i mpul ses of deni al are underst andabl e:
Peopl e mos t need t he mechani s m of deni al when an intolerable si t uat i on
has been poi nt ed out t o t h e m. "
6 1
However , t he fact t hat mos t wome n reject t he divisive radical feminism
she has been pr omot i ng appear s finally to have i mpressed Ms. Wolf,
whos e ne w book, Fire with Fire,
62
t r umpet s a shift from what she calls
"vi ct i m femi ni sm" t o a ne w "power feminism. " Wol f s power feminism
t ur ns out t o be a versi on of t he classically liberal mai nst r eam feminism
wi t h t he addi t i on of s ome cont empor ar y "feel good" t hemes. To t he
di smay of ma ny wh o admi r ed t he heat ed claims of her first book, Wolf
now seems t o regard Amer i can wome n as i ndi vi dual s who must be en-
cour aged t o t ake charge of t hei r lives rat her t han whi ne about mass
hypnosi s and mal e conspi raci es. The victim feminism whose able spokes-
per son she had hi t her t o been she now regards as "obsolete": "It no longer
mat ches u p wi t h what wome n see happeni ng in their lives. And, if fern-
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 245
i ni sm, l ocked for years in t he siege ment al i t y t hat once was necessary,
fails to see this change, it may fail to embr ace this new era' s oppor t uni -
t i es . "
6 3
The new Wol f calls for a femi ni sm t hat "is t ol erant about ot her wom-
en' s choices about equal i t y and appear ance, " a femi ni sm t hat "does not
attack men on t he basis of gender , " one t hat "knows t hat maki ng social
change does not cont radi ct t he pri nci pl e t hat girls j ust want to have
f un. "
6 4
Wh e n I read this, I felt like calling Ms. Wol f to tell her, "All is for-
given!" But I pr obabl y woul d have been unabl e to refrain from addi ng,
"Well, al most all: was t he siege ment al i t y to whi ch you so cleverly .con-
t ri but ed in The Beauty Myth really necessary?" In t he end I' m i ncl i ned t o
chalk up her earlier ext r emi sm to t he effective i ndoct ri nat i on she got in
women' s st udi es at Yale.
Her former allies are not so forgiving. After all, it was onl y j ust yester-
day t hat t hey had been cheeri ng Wol f s descri pt i ons of how wome n are
in mass hypnosi s and in thrall t o t he men who exploit t hem. On t he
academi c feminist e-mail net wor k, one now sees Wol f reviled and at-
tacked. A typical react i on comes from e-mailer Suzanna Wal t ers, a soci-
ology professor at Geor get own University: "Wol f s book is t rash and
backl ash and everyt hi ng nast y (i ncl udi ng homophobi c and r aci st ) . "
6 5
Get used to this, Ms. Wolf. You' ll soon be finding out how it feels to
be called antifeminist si mpl y because you refuse to regard me n as t he
enemy and wome n as their hapl ess victims. You speak of "t he pri nci pl e
that girls j ust want to have fun." That will doubl y offend your erst whi l e
sisters in ar ms. First, t hey prefer all female Ameri cans above t he age of
fourteen to be referred to as "women. " Second, t hey find t he idea t hat
women want t o have fun, frivolous and ret rograde. You' ll be moni t or ed
for mor e s uch breaches of doct ri ne. And, in part i cul ar, Susan Fal udi will
now classify you as j ust anot her backl asher.
Barbara Wal t er s had found Naomi Wol f s beaut y- myt h thesis about t he
secret mi sery of professional wome n offensive and absur d. Kat hl een Gilles
Seidel, a best-selling wri t er and avid reader of r omance novels, was of-
fended by Amer i can University feminist schol ar Kay Mussell' s analysis of
women who enjoy readi ng r omance novel s. Ms. Mussell descri bes ro-
mance readers as unha ppy wome n seeki ng to escape from their own
"powerl essness, from meani ngl essness, and from lack of self-esteem and
i dent i t y. "
6 6
Seidel finds t hat arrogant l y wr ong:
I am a r omance reader, and I st rongl y object to anyone descri bi ng
my life in t hose t erms. I have my moment s of dissatisfaction, of
246 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
course, but I have power and meani ng, I do not lack self-esteem or
i dent i t y. Gr ant ed not all wome n have living r oom wi ndow treat-
ment s t hat t hey like as muc h as I like mi ne, or a mot her such as
mi ne or wor k t hat t hey feel about as I feel about mi ne, but I do
t hi nk it is possi bl e for wome n to find cont ent ment , fulfillment,
peace, and happi ness wi t hi n our cul t ure, and I believe t hat a great
ma ny of t hem are doi ng a good j ob of i t .
6 7
It isn' t har d to i magi ne how t he feminist Foucaul di ans woul d go about
expl ai ni ng Ms. Seidel' s ent husi asm for her wi ndow t r eat ment sor her
sangui ne vi ew about t he lives of ot her Ameri can women. For t hem it is a
t enet of faith t hat t he life of wome n under pat ri archy is one of qui et
desperat i on. But whe n asked, t he majority of wome n seem t o agree wi t h
Ms. Seidel.
Occasi onal l y a st udy desi gned to document t he woes of Ameri can
wome n i nadvert ent l y t ur ns u p dat a t hat suggest most Ameri can women
are enj oyi ng life. An i nt erest i ng case in poi nt is t he al ready-ment i oned
st udy on women' s ills commi ssi oned by t he Commonweal t h Fund in
1992 and carri ed out by Louis Harri s and Associates.
The Harri s pol l st ers asked a series of quest i ons of a r andom sampl e of
2, 500 wome n and 1,000 me n about their physical and ment al well-
bei ng.
6 8
Wh e n asked how t hey had felt in t he past week, t he r espondent s
answer ed as follows:
SOME OF MOST OF
NEVER RARELY THE TIME THE TIME
1. I felt Men: 48 25 22 5
depr essed. Wome n: 3 6 29 29 5
2. My sl eep Men: 40 21 28 11
was restless. Wome n: 29 22 3 6 12
3 . I enj oyed Men: 1 2 13 83
life. Wome n: 1 2 15 82
4. I had cryi ng Men: 88 6 5

spells. Wome n: 63 19 16 2
5. I felt sad. Men: 41 29 28 2
Wome n: 3 3 27 3 5 4
6. I felt t hat Men: 61 22 14 2
peopl e Wome n: 61 22 14 2
di sl i ked me.
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 247
A large majority of wome n (82 per cent ) cl ai med t hey "enjoyed life
most of t he t i me. " The same smal l pr opor t i on (5 per cent of me n and
women) said t hey had been depr essed most of t hat week. That a lot of
Ameri can wome n are enjoying life may not be newswor t hy. But her e is
t he ast oni shi ng way t he Commonweal t h Fund and Harri s and Associates
summar i zed t he resul t s of t he quest i onnai r e in t hei r press release: "Survey
results i ndi cat e t hat depressi on and l ow self-esteem are pervasive pr ob-
l ems for Amer i can women. Fort y per cent of t he wome n surveyed r epor t
bei ng severely depressed in t he past week, compar ed wi t h 26 per cent of
me n . "
6 9
Thi s concl usi on was s omehow arri ved at by t he way t he Harri s pol l
i nt erpret ed t he responses to t he six quest i ons. The survey' s r epor t r epr e-
sent ed this resul t gr aphi cal l y:
7 0
Women and Depression
Younger Women Are More Depressed than Older Women
Total Women 18-44 45-64 65 and Older
Age
* Derived from ranking responses to six statements regarding symptoms of depression.
Humphr ey Taylor, pr esi dent of Louis Harri s and Associates, an-
nounced at t he news conference t hat t he results on women' s depressi on
surpri sed hi m t he mos t .
7 1
He said t hat t he survey can "accurately be
proj ect ed to t he Ameri can female popul at i on [of 94. 6 mi l l i on]. Thi s is far
and away t he mos t compr ehensi ve survey ever done on women' s
heal t h. "
7 2
248 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Fol l owi ng t he pr ess conference and t he news release on Jul y 14, 1993 ,
t he bl eak news about t he ment al condi t i on of Ameri can women went out
over t he Reut ers news wi r e under t he headl i ne SURVEY SHOWS 4 OF 10
WOMEN DEPRESSED:
A survey called t he most compr ehensi ve ever done on women' s
heal t h has f ound a large n u mb e r 4 out of 10suffered "severe
depr essi on. " . . . The st udy was called "i mpor t ant " by U.S. Health
and Hu ma n Services Secretary Donna Shalala who at t ended t he
[press] conference. "For t oo l ong heal t h care [and] heal t h research
has been addr essed from one poi nt of view, t he whi t e mal e poi nt of
vi e w. "
7 3
The next day t hese stories appear ed in news stories ar ound t he coun-
try:
4 in t en wo me n pol l ed suffer severe depressi on. (Orange County
Register)
4 out of 10 wo me n depr essed, survey finds. (Baltimore Sun)
In a given week, 40 per cent of women, compar ed to 26 percent of
men, exper i enced "severe depressi on. " (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
40 per cent of wome n compar ed to 26 per cent of men experi enced
"severe depr essi on" i n t he pr evi ous week. (Newark Star-Ledger)
St udy: 40 per cent of wome n feel severe depressi on. (Boston Herald)
The Harri s pol l conduct ed for t he New York-based charitable orga-
ni zat i on [the Commonweal t h Fund] . . . found 40 per cent of t he
wo me n had suffered severe depressi on recently. (WCBS-AM news-
r adi o, New Yo r k )
7 4
These news paper s a nd radi o st at i on wer e relying on Reuters, and Reu-
ters had relied on a special "Survey Hi ghl i ght s" pr epar ed by t he Com-
monweal t h Fund. No one seems to have l ooked at t he actual survey
resul t s. But I di d, a nd I was unabl e to fat hom how t hose who i nt erpret ed
t hem coul d possi bl y have come up wi t h t he finding about women' s
depressi on.
I called t he Commonweal t h Fund and was put t hr ough to Mary J ohn-
son, t he same pol i t e pr ogr am assistant I had spoken to when I quest i oned
t he i ncl usi on of heat ed exchanges and i nsul t s bet ween coupl es as in-
st ances of "psychol ogi cal abuse" of women. Thi s t i me I asked her how
t hey had arri ved at t he statistic t hat 40 per cent of women were severely
depr essed. Wha t about t he 82 per cent of women who said t hey enjoyed
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 249
life most of t he time? "We pul l ed out certain findings t hat seemed sur-
pri si ng, " Ms. J ohns on r esponded. "We are not saying t hey are clinically
depressed. "
I told her t hat "severe depr essi on" certainly s ounded like t he real t hi ng
aft er all, this was a women' s heal t h survey. I asked her again why t he
report pai d no at t ent i on to t he st r ong posi t i ve responses suggest i ng t hat
most wome n wer e, overall, fairly happy. Ms. J ohns on assured me again
t hat t he 40 per cent figure was reliable, t he pr oduct of a di agnost i c met hod
t hat had been devel oped by t he Cent er for Epi demi ol ogi c St udi es (CES)
and adapt ed by a t eam of "consul t ant s" who had r educed t he CES ques-
t i onnai re from t went y quest i ons t o six. I asked her for mor e details. She
told me she had not been ar ound when t he survey was devel oped and
put me on to her supervi sor, Evelyn Wal z, a pr ogr am coordi nat or, who
suggest ed t hat I addr ess any further quest i ons to t he Harri s poll.
I called Harri s and Associates and r eached Liz Cooner , a vice pr esi dent ,
who t ol d me t hat a Lois Hoeffler had been i n charge of t he women' s
heal t h survey but had since left to at t end gr aduat e school in sociology.
Ms. Cooner offered to answer my quest i ons in her stead.
I asked her how t he Harri s peopl e had come up wi t h 40 per cent of
women severely depr essed and told her t hat t he responses suggest ed t he
opposi t e. She i mmedi at el y r ebuked me for usi ng t he t er m "severe depr es-
si on. " She said t hat was st r ong l anguage and i nappr opr i at e for t he find-
ings. Wh e n I told her t hat I was onl y quot i ng t he report , she said, "I have
not seen it r epor t ed as ' severe depressi on. ' " I referred her to page 3 of t he
report , and t o t he "Hi ghl i ght s" and t he gr aph. She agreed t hat if t he r epor t
had i ndeed used t he t er m "severe depressi on, " it was i nappr opr i at e. She
said she di d not know what I needed t he i nformat i on for, but si nce I had
so many quest i ons about t he validity of t he concl usi ons, I shoul d pr oba-
bly "just not reference it" in what ever I was wri t i ng.
I r emi nded her of all t he j ournal i st s who had al ready "referenced it,"
not to ment i on Donna Shalala. Since she herself agreed t hat t he an-
nounced finding was i ncorrect , I asked her whet her she mi ght now wi sh
to disassociate t he Harris pol l from this claim. She said she was in no
posi t i on to do that, but I was free to wri t e t o Humphr e y Taylor and ask
hi m to reconsi der. It seemed to me, however, t hat havi ng been appr i sed
of their error, Harri s and Associates shoul d now be t aki ng t he initiative
in correct i ng it and maki ng t he correct i on publ i c, not me.
There was, moreover, anot her sect i on of t he Harri s quest i onnai re,
whi ch never made it i nt o t he chart s or newspaper stories. The 2, 500
women and 1,000 men wer e asked: "All t hi ngs consi dered, how satisfied
are you wi t h your life t hese days?" Here are t he percent age results:
250 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
MEN WOMEN
55
3 8
4
2
1
very satisfied
s omewhat satisfied
not very satisfied
not satisfied at all
54
40
4
2
1 not sur e
If we proj ect from t hese responses, we shoul d concl ude t hat 94 percent
of wome n ( and 93 per cent of men) are at least somewhat cont ent wi t h
t hei r lives, a finding t hat har dl y squares wi t h t he headl i ne-grabbi ng figure
of 40 per cent severely depr essed. I ndeed, ot her polls, surveys, and st udi es
suggest hi gh levels of satisfaction among Ameri can women and men. The
Gal l up pol l organi zat i on peri odi cal l y takes a "Satisfaction wi t h U.S. Per-
sonal Life" sur vey i n whi ch it asks, "In general, are you satisfied or
dissatisfied wi t h t he way t hi ngs are goi ng in your own personal life?" In
Mar ch of 1992, 78 per cent of wome n and 80 per cent of men r esponded
t hat t hey wer e sat i sfi ed.
7 5
In 1993 , t he San Francisco Chronicle di d a survey
on t he life satisfaction of "baby boomer s " (ages thirty t hr ough forty-seven)
living i n t he Bay area and found t hat "baby boomer women are happi er
and mor e sexual l y satisfied t han boomer me n . "
7 6
It is pr obabl y i mpossi bl e t o get accurat e figures on somet hi ng as am-
bi guous as life satisfaction. Depressi on, on t he ot her hand, is a fairly well-
defined di sorder. If t he gui del i nes and definitions laid down by t he Amer-
ican Psychi at ri c Associ at i on are followed, t here are several quest i ons
pol l st ers coul d ask t hat woul d give t hem a fairly good idea of t he preva-
l ence of depr essi on. Her e are t wo used by t he Ameri can Psychiatric As-
soci at i on (in conj unct i on wi t h several ot hers):
Have you been in a depr essed mood most of t he day, nearly every
day?
Do you have a mar kedl y di mi ni shed interest or pl easure in all, or
al most all, activities mos t of t he day, nearl y every da y?
7 7
Psychiatrists ask s uch quest i ons t o arrive at a di agnosi s of depressi on, and
epi demi ol ogi st s use t hem t o get an idea of its preval ence in t he popul a-
tion. Accor di ng to t he Nat i onal Inst i t ut e of Ment al Heal t h' s Psychiatric
Disorders in America, t he yearly preval ence of depressi on is 2. 2 percent
for me n and 5. 0 per cent for women; t he lifetime rate is 3. 6 percent for
men and 8. 7 per cent for wo me n .
7 8
I deci ded to check out t he CES survey
t hat Mary J ohns on had t ol d me t he Harri s researchers had adapt ed. I
called t he NI MH a nd was put in t ouch wi t h Karen Bourdon, t he psychol -
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 251
ogist in charge of researchi ng s ympt oms of communi t y distress. Wha t di d
they t hi nk of t he way t he Harri s pol l had used t hei r scale? She said
i mmedi at el y, "We wi sh t hey woul d not do this. They shoul d know bet t er. "
She expl ai ned t hat t he survey i nst r ument was never i nt ended as a
measure of depressi on: if all t went y quest i ons are asked and carefully
i nt erpret ed, it can be helpful in measur i ng s ympt oms of distress in a
communi t y but not in di agnosi ng a medi cal illness. She added t hat in
some of her ot her st udi es she had found a similar percent age of me n and
women showi ng signs of affective distress: wome n have mor e s ympt oms
of depressi on; men, of antisocial behavi or and al cohol i sm.
7 9
In informal conversat i ons wi t h several psychi at ri st s, I qui ckl y l earned
t hat t hey consi dered a 40 per cent depressi on finding (not to speak of
"severe depressi on") pr epost er ous, because t he responses to t he six ques-
tions t he Harri s pollsters had selected from t he CES' s t went y di d not
show depressi on. They showed onl y t hat some wome n (and men) had
felt "bl ue" dur i ng t he week in quest i on. They wer e at a loss to under s t and
how Harri s and Associates had come u p wi t h such a bi zarre result.
Faludi' s Backlash appear ed before Harri s and Associates publ i shed t hei r
figures on women' s depressi on, but she, t oo, found significantly hi gher
rates of depressi on among wome nma r r i e d women, t hat i s :
8 0
"Marri ed
women have mor e ner vous br eakdowns , ner vousness, heart pal pi t at i ons,
and inertia . . . i nsomni a, t rembl i ng hands , di zzy spells, ni ght mar es, hy-
pochondr i a, passivity, agoraphobi a . . . wi ves have t he l owest self-esteem,
felt t he least attractive, r epor t ed t he mos t l onel i ness. "
8 1
Her finding
echoed feminist sociologist Jessie Bernard' s 1972 war ni ng t hat "marri age
may be hazar dous to women' s heal t h. " Yet in Psychiatric Disorders in
America, we read, "The st rong prot ect i ve effect of marri age against affec-
tive di sorders is confi rmed in muc h of t he epi demi ol ogi c l i t er at ur e. "
8 2
Here are t he findings of a maj or Nat i onal Inst i t ut e of Ment al Heal t h
St udy:
8 3
MAJOR DEPRESSION
ANNUAL RATE PER 100
mar r i ed (no divorce) 1.5
2. 4
4. 1
5. 8
5. 1
never mar r i ed
di vorced once
di vorced twice
cohabi t i ng
In a 1989 revi ew of t he l i t erat ure on mari t al happi ness in Psychological
Bulletin, t he aut hor s concl ude, "For bot h sexes t he mar r i ed state (vs.
252 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
unmar r i ed) was associ at ed wi t h favorable well-being, but t he favorable
out comes pr oved st r onger for wome n t han me n . "
8 4
The day after I t al ked to Mary J ohns on and Liz Cooner, I received a
call from Lois Hoeffler, t he pr i nci pal investigator who had left Harris and
Associates to pur s ue a gr aduat e degree in sociology. She was cont act i ng
me at t he behest of Harri s and Associates to expl ai n t he 40 per cent finding.
Ms. Hoeffler was char mi ng, candi d, and very sure of herself. Whe n I
asked her how she had selected t he six quest i ons from t he NIMH/ CES
di agnost i c quest i onnai r e, she said, "We pi cked t hem out arbitrarily." She
t ol d me t hat a foot not e on page 185 of t he Harris poll' s full report
"expl ai ns t hat t he findings wer e not meant as an i ndi cat i on of clinical
depr essi on. "
I t ol d her t hat t he foot not e she al l uded to was nowher e in t he Com-
monweal t h Fund report . Nowher e was t here any publ i c ment i on t hat
"severe depr essi on" was not meant literally. She agreed t hat t he actual
r esponses wer e not hel pful for det er mi ni ng t he preval ence of clinical
depr essi on, but t hey di d s how t hat mor e women are depressed t han men.
"If you are i nt erest ed i n gender differences, you can use these findings."
I asked her about t he i deas t hat gui ded her in desi gni ng and i nt erpret -
i ng t he quest i onnai r e. She t ol d me she was very concer ned t hat t he Harris
pol l st udy not be j us t anot her st udy reflecting "whi t e mal e nor ms " of
research. She want ed to avoi d t he usual "phal l ocent ri c" bias. She said: "I
am not really i nt o phal l ocent r i c t heory. So muc h of psychol ogy is based
on t he fact t hat me n are repressi ng women. I can' t handl e it. Most of t he
mai nst r eam t heori es are based on whi t e mal e nor ms . "
She had wr i t t en her mast er' s thesis i n Hunt er College' s Social Research
Pr ogr am. Her t opi c was "feminist social t heori es of t he self," and her
research anal yzed t he ideas of Carol Gilligan. She finds Gilligan i nade-
quat e because "Gilligan is still gr ounded in mal e psychological t heory. "
Ms. Hoeffler t ol d me t hat t he radical feminist t heol ogi an Mary Daly was a
mor e di rect i nfl uence on her wor k. Anot her influence was Women's Ways
of Knowing, t he book t hat i nt r oduced t he dubi ous epistemological distinc-
t i on bet ween "connect ed knower s " ( women) and "separate knower s"
( men) .
Ms. Hoeffler t ol d me t hat her wor k as a pr i mar y investigator for Harris
and Associates pr ovi ded her wi t h a uni que oppor t uni t y to i mpl ement her
ideas. "It' s not everyone who can appl y what t hey wr ot e in their master' s
thesis. I was l ucky. " I asked her whet her her i nput had been an i mpor t ant
factor in t he final pr oduct , to whi ch she repl i ed, "I got in some stuff, but
less t han I mi ght have. " " How open was Harri s and Associates presi dent
Humphr e y Tayl or t o her i deas?" I asked.
T H E B A C K L A S H M Y T H 253
Humphr ey was at t uned to feminist t hi ngs when I was t here. In t he
course of this proj ect he became mor e aware. . . . But I do not try to
reeducat e men. I speak in t hei r l anguage. You have to speak in mal e
l anguage. You say: we shoul d do this survey because it' s a hot t opi c
and will make money, not we shoul d do this because it' s t he ri ght
t hi ng to do.
I asked her if t here are ot her pol l i ng organi zat i ons i n whi ch feminist
activists are influential. She said: " Oh yes. Greenberg-Lake. " The reader
will r emember t hat t he AAUW used Greenberg-Lake as its pol l i ng agency
in st udyi ng t he self-esteem of adol escent s. It came up wi t h t he dr amat i c
and i naccurat e figure t hat schoolgirls experi ence a "3 1 poi nt dr op i n self-
est eem. "
Hoeffler went on t o say t hat wi t h t he i ncrease in t he numbe r of femi-
nists who are doi ng research, she expect s mor e pol l s and surveys to reflect
t he new consci ousness. "We are hi t t i ng t he peak moment . A researcher' s
politics are always in t he research. We [feminist pollsters] bal ance it out . "
Since she consi ders most research politically bi ased against women, she
saw little reason to apol ogi ze for her feminist bias.
Then she br ought up Foucaul t . She had found most mal e researchers
to be ext remel y unenl i ght ened. Foucaul t had hel ped her t o see why "t hose
who are subj ugat ed and margi nal are posi t i oned to see t he si t uat i on mor e
clearly." "Foucaul t is great, " she concl uded, and affirmed t hat hi s t heori es
had "i nfl uenced my part i ci pat i on at Harri s whi l e I was t her e. "
I had l ooked i nt o t wo areas of t he women' s heal t h s ur veyt hos e on
psychol ogi cal abuse and depressi on. Both revealed severe flaws and a
pr onounced ideological slant. Ther e may well be pr obl ems wi t h ot her
part s of t he survey. Di d t he Commonweal t h Fu n d o n e of t he ol dest
foundat i ons i n Ameri ca, wi t h an endowment of $3 40 mi l l i onknow t hat
a st udy commi ssi oned from a di st i ngui shed, l ong-est abl i shed pol l st er
woul d use a gynocent ri c researcher who sought to avoi d "phal l ocent ri c"
met hods?
But per haps t he Commonweal t h Fund is not merel y si nned against.
Ellen Fut t er, pr esi dent of Barnard College, is chair of t he Commonweal t h
Fund' s Commi ssi on on Women' s Heal t h, whi ch sponsor ed t he Harri s
survey. She is among t he many academi c admi ni st rat ors who t ake pai ns
to deny t he exi st ence of political correct ness on America' s campuses. On
t he cont rary, as she sees it, t hose who claim t here is a pr obl em are doi ng
har m. In a recent i nt ervi ew wi t h Anna Qui ndl en for Mirabella, Fut t er said
t hat t he "PC" debat e had given t he publ i c a "skewed" pi ct ur e of t he
academy.
8 5
"Because of t hese charact eri zat i ons, some very . . . t hought ful
254 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
efforts t o br oaden t he pr esent at i on of intellectual ideas . . . have been
mi scast . " Presi dent Fut t er s houl d t ake a close l ook at t he "t hought ful
efforts" t hat went i nt o t he women' s heal t h survey, commi ssi oned under
her wa t c h.
8 6
Hoeffler had successfully seen to it t hat t he Harris r epor t was not j ust
anot her st udy appl yi ng "whi t e mal e nor ms " of research. Donna Shalala
spot t ed t hi s feature of t he r epor t and commended it as a di st i ngui shi ng
vi rt ue. One mus t hope t hat her comment t hat "whi t e mal e" research has
prevai l ed "for t oo l ong" does not represent a consi dered j udgment . For
unl i ke Ms. Hoeffler, an ideological Ms. Shalala woul d be no bit player in
t he mi sandr i st game t hat t he gender feminist zealots are playing. The
professi onal i sm of Amer i can research is an enor mous and preci ous na-
t i onal resource. And Ms. Shalala heads a depar t ment whose outlays are
al most doubl e t hat of t he Depar t ment of Defense.
Robert Reich, t he U.S secret ary of labor, wr ot e a bl ur b for Backlash
descri bi ng it as "spel l bi ndi ng and frightening . . . a wake- up call to t he
me n as wel l as t he wome n who are st ruggl i ng to bui l d a gender-respectful
soci et y. "
8 7
One can onl y hope, again, t hat Reich was too spel l bound to
have read Backlash wi t h a di scri mi nat i ng mi nd. Wha t is mor e al armi ng
t han anyt hi ng Fal udi has to say about an undecl ar ed war against Ameri -
can wome n is t he credul i t y it has met in hi gh publ i c officials on whose
j udgme nt we ought t o be abl e t o rely.
Chapter 12
The Gender Wardens
Censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.
P H I L KERBY, Los Angeles Times
editorial wri t er, on a post car d to
Nat Hent off
1
Question: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Feminist answer: That's not funny.
It is somet i mes said t hat feminists don' t have a sense of humor . Yet,
t here are some si t uat i ons, not funny to most women, t hat gender feminists
seem t o find very amusi ng.
About a t hous and feminists wer e pr esent at Manhat t an' s 92 nd Street Y
on Mot her' s Day 1992 to hear a debat e bet ween Susan Fal udi and Playboy
col umni st Asa Baber. Baber opened hi s talk by observi ng t hat on Mot her' s
Day, t he phone lines t hr oughout t he Uni t ed States are j a mme d because
everyone is t ryi ng t o call home to talk to t hei r mot her s. On Fat her' s Day,
t he lines are free. "We have to ask why t here is so muc h less i nt erest i n
fathers," said Baber.
2
The assembl ed women, most of t hem fans of Ms. Fal udi , found t hi s
upr oar i ous. "It br ought down t he house, " said Baber. "At first, I di dn' t get
it. I t hought my fly was open. " But t hen he caught on and said, "If you
t hi nk t hat is funny, you are goi ng t o t hi nk t hi s is a l augh riot: I t hi nk t he
256 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
fact t hat our fathers are so muc h out of t he l oop is a major tragedy in our
cul t ur e. "
Baber had t aken anot her mi sst ep, but this t i me he di dn' t tickle anyone' s
funny bone. An out r aged audi ence hi ssed and booed hi m. Later, when he
was asked whet her t hi s was because his heckl ers believed t hat men were
useless, irrelevant, and pot ent i al l y danger ous, Baber answered, "You got
i t . "
3
To t hem he appear ed to be j ust anot her pat ri arch exacting homage.
The j eeri ng, hoot i ng at mos pher e in whi ch Baber found himself was
familiar t o me. I had encount er ed it in t he "safe spaces" wher e gender
feminists gat her to tell one anot her put - down stories descri bi ng how a
sister had r out ed s ome mal e who di dn' t have a clue at how offensive he
was (recall t he "Shut up, you fucker" wi t h whi ch one part i san had
squel ched an unsuspect i ng mal e st udent critic in a feminist classroom).
I'd hear d it i n t he appreci at i ve l aught er of t he audi ence when feminist
academi cs r epor t ed t o t hem on how t hey had pl ayed on t he liberal guilt
of t he faculty t o get t hei r proj ect s appr oved. Baber was in t he camp of t he
enemy, and anyt hi ng he had to say was regarded as offensive or, if he
wer e l ucky, l aughabl e.
The deri si on of t he wome n who wer e hoot i ng at Baber was safely
di rect ed at "men. " One mus t wonder what Baber' s audi ence woul d make
of t he mi l l i ons of wome n who still observe t he ameni t i es of Father' s Day.
So i nt ent are gender feminists on condemni ng t he "pat ri archy" that they
rarely let on how t hey feel about wome n who "go al ong. " Nevertheless, it
is not har d t o see t hat i n j eer i ng at Baber, t hey were also j eeri ng at most
Amer i can women.
That is t he corrosi ve par adox of gender feminism' s mi sandri st stance:
no gr oup of wome n can wage war on men wi t hout at t he same time
deni grat i ng t he wome n who respect t hose men. It is j ust not possible to
i ncr i mi nat e me n wi t hout i mpl yi ng t hat large number s of women are fools
or wor se. Ot her gr oups have had t hei r official enemi eswor ker s against
capitalists, whi t es agai nst bl acks, Hi ndus against Mus l i ms and for a
whi l e s uch enmi t i es may be stable. But when women set themselves
agai nst men, t hey si mul t aneousl y set t hemsel ves against ot her women in
a gr oup ant agoni sm t hat is unt enabl e from t he outset. In t he end, t he
gender feminist is al ways forced to s how her di sappoi nt ment and annoy-
ance wi t h t he wome n who are to be found in t he camp of t he enemy.
Mi sandr y moves on to mi sogyny.
Betty Fr i edan once t ol d Si mone de Beauvoir t hat she believed women
shoul d have t he choi ce t o stay home to raise t hei r chi l dren if that is what
t hey wi sh t o do. Beauvoir answer ed: "No, we don' t believe t hat any
woma n s houl d have this choi ce. No woma n shoul d be aut hori zed to stay
T H E G E N D E R W A R D E N S 257
at home to raise her chi l dren. Society shoul d be totally different. Wo me n
shoul d not have t hat choi ce, precisely because if t here is such a choi ce,
too many wome n will make t hat one . "
4
De Beauvoir t hought this drast i c pol i cy was needed to pr event wome n
from l eadi ng bl i ght ed convent i onal lives. Though she does not spell it
out , she mus t have been aware t hat her "totally different" society woul d
requi re a legion of Big Sisters endowed by t he state wi t h t he power t o
prohi bi t any woma n who want s to mar r y and stay home wi t h chi l dren
from carryi ng out her pl ans. She bet rays t he pat r oni zi ng at t i t ude typical
of many gender feminists t owar d "uni ni t i at ed" women.
An illiberal aut hori t ari ani sm is implicit in t he doct r i ne t hat wome n are
socialized to want t he t hi ngs t he gender feminist believes t hey should not
want. For t hose who believe t hat what wome n want and hope for is
"const rai ned" or "coerced" by t hei r upbr i ngi ng in t he pat ri archy are l ed
to dismiss t he val ues and aspi rat i ons of most women. The next st ep may
not be inevitable, but it is al most irresistible: to regard wome n as badl y
br ought - up chi l dren whose harmful desires and i mmat ur e choi ces mus t
be di scount ed.
Gender feminists, such as Sandra Lee Bartky, argue for a "feminist
reconst ruct i on of self and society [that] mus t go far beyond anyt hi ng now
cont empl at ed in t he t heory or politics of t he mai nst r eam women' s move-
ment . "
5
Bartky, who wri t es on "t he phenomenol ogy of feminist con-
sci ousness, " is concer ned wi t h what a pr oper feminist consci ousness
shoul d be like. In her book Femininity and Domination, she says, "A
t hor ough over haul of desire is clearly on t he feminist agenda: t he fantasy
t hat we are over whel med by Rhett Butler shoul d be t raded in for one in
whi ch we seize st at e power and reeducat e hi m. "
6
Bartky, however, does
not advocat e any aut hori t ari an measur es to pr ot ect wome n from i ncorrect
values and preferences shaped by "t he mast ers of pat ri archal society. " She
poi nt s out t hat at pr esent we do not know how t o "decol oni ze t he i magi -
nat i on. "
7
She caut i ons t hat "overhaul i ng" desires and "t radi ng i n" popul ar
fantasies may have t o wai t for t he day when feminist t heori st s devel op an
"adequat e t heor y of sexuality. " In her apocal ypt i c feminist vision, wome n
as well as me n may one day be radically reconst ruct ed. We will have
l earned to prefer t he "right" way t o live.
Al t hough t hey may disagree politically about what measur es to t ake
wi t h wome n who make t he wr ong choi ces, de Beauvoir and her latter-
day descendant s shar e a c ommon post ur e: t hey condescend t o, pat r oni ze,
and pi t y t he beni ght ed females who, because t hey have been "socialized"
in t he sex/ gender syst em, cannot hel p want i ng t he wr ong t hi ngs in life.
Their di sdai n for t he hapl ess vi ct i ms of pat ri archy is rarely acknowl edged.
258 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
Wh e n feminists talk of a new society and of how peopl e mus t be changed,
t hey i nvari abl y have in mi nd men who exploit and abuse women. But it
is not difficult t o see t hat t hey regard most women as men' s dupes.
Consi der how Naomi Wol f (in t he Beauty Myth) regards t he eight
mi l l i on Amer i can wome n member s of Wei ght Wat cher s as cultists in
need of depr ogr ammi ng. Most gender feminists may not be ready to
advocat e coerci on of wome n of l ow feminist consci ousness, but they are
very muc h in favor of a massi ve and concert ed effort to give t he desires,
aspi rat i ons, and val ues of Ameri can women a t hor ough makeover. As t he
feminist phi l osopher Alison Jaggar put s it, "If i ndi vi dual desires and in-
terests are socially const i t ut ed . . . , t he ul t i mat e aut hori t y of i ndi vi dual
j udgme nt comes i nt o quest i on. Perhaps peopl e may be mi st aken about
t r ut h, moral i t y or even t hei r own interests; per haps they may be system-
atically sel f-decei ved. "
8
Not e t hat Jaggar explicitly i mpugns t he traditional
liberal pr i nci pl e t hat t he many i ndi vi dual j udgment s and preferences are
t he ul t i mat e aut hor i t y. I find t hat a chilling doct ri ne: when t he peopl e are
systematically self-deceived, t he ul t i mat e aut hori t y is pr esumed to be
vest ed in a vanguar d t hat unmas ks their self-deception. As Ms. Jaggar
says, "Cert ai n historical ci rcumst ances al l ow specific gr oups of women to
t i anscend at least partially t he per cept i ons and theoretical const ruct s of
mal e domi na nc e . "
9
It is t hese wome n of hi gh feminist consci ousness who
"i nspi re and gui de wome n in a struggle for social change. "
Respect for peopl e' s preferences is generally t hought to be fundament al
for democr acy. But i deol ogues find ways of denyi ng this pri nci pl e. The
gender feminist who cl ai ms to represent t he t rue interests of women is
convi nced t hat she pr of oundl y under s t ands their si t uat i on and so is in an
except i onal posi t i on to know t hei r t rue interests. In practice, this means
she is pr epar ed to di smi ss popul ar preferences in an illiberal way. To
justify t hi s, feminist phi l osopher Marilyn Fr i edman argues that popul ar
preferences are often "i naut hent i c" and t hat even liberals are aware of
this:
Liberal feminists can easily j oi n wi t h ot her feminists in recognizing
t hat political democr acy by itself is insufficient to ensure t hat pref-
erences are formed wi t hout coerci on, const rai nt , undue restriction
of opt i ons, and so forth. Social, cul t ural , and economi c condi t i ons
are as i mpor t ant as political condi t i ons, if not mor e so, in ensuri ng
t hat preferences are, in some i mpor t ant sense, aut hent i c.
1 0
Fr i edman is qui t e wr ong in her assumpt i ons: anyone, liberal or conser-
vative, who believes in democr acy will sense danger in t hem. Wh o will
T H E G E N D E R W A R D E N S 259
"ensure" t hat preferences are "aut hent i c"? Wha t addi t i ons to political
democracy does Fr i edman have in mi nd? A const i t ut i onal a me ndme nt t o
provi de r eeducat i on camps for me n and wome n of false consci ousness?
Is she pr epar ed to go t he aut hori t ari an r out e i ndi cat ed by de Beauvoir?
The feminist who t hi nks t hat democr acy is insufficient believes t hat
seemingly free and enl i ght ened Ameri can wome n have val ues and desi res
that, unbeknowns t t o t hem, are bei ng mani pul at ed by a syst em i nt ent on
keepi ng wome n subj ugat ed t o men. Romance, a major cause of defection
from t he gynocent ri c enclave, is ever a st i cki ng poi nt wi t h gender femi-
nists. Gloria St ei nem, wri t i ng on t he subject, engages in this ki nd of
debunki ng "critique": "Romance itself serves a larger political pur pos e by
offering at least a t empor ar y r ewar d for gender roles and t hr eat eni ng
rebels wi t h l onel i ness and rejection. . . . It privatizes our hopes and di s-
tracts us from maki ng societal changes. The Roman ' bread and ci rcuses'
way of keepi ng t he masses happy. . . . mi ght now be upda t e d. "
1 1
Jaggar,
t oo, sees in r omance a di st ract i on from sexual politics: "The i deol ogy of
r omant i c love has now become so pervasi ve t hat most wome n i n cont em-
porary capi t al i sm pr obabl y believe t hat t hey mar r y for love rat her t han
for economi c s uppor t . "
1 2
For her aut hori t ari an di sdai n, de Beauvoir deserves our liberal censur e.
But t he less aut hori t ari an feminists also deserve it. No intelligent a nd
liberal pe r s onno one who has read and appreci at ed t he l i mpi d political
prose of George Orwel l or who has l earned from t he savage hi st ory of
t went i et h-cent ury t ot al i t ar i ani smcan accept t he idea of a social agenda
to "overhaul " t he desires of large number s of peopl e to make t hem mor e
"aut hent i c. "
In her defense, t he gender feminist replies t hat effective t eachers or
political l eaders mus t always try to hel p ot her s over come beni ght edness.
Whe n wome n are caught in a syst em desi gned t o per pet uat e mal e domi -
nat i on, t hey mus t be enl i ght ened. Ther e is not hi ng intrinsically illiberal
about seeki ng t o make t hem consci ous of t hei r subj ugat i on. It is t he very
essence of a liberal educat i on to open mi nds and enl i ght en consci ousness.
If t hat entails "reeducat i ng" t hem and overhaul i ng t hei r desi res, so be it.
This ar gument coul d easily be made in an earlier era whe n classically
liberal pri nci pl es wer e bei ng appl i ed to me n but not t o women. In t he
ni net eent h cent ury, t he pr oposi t i on t hat all men are creat ed equal was
t aken to mean "all mal es. " Wo me n di d not have t he ri ght s t hat me n had,
and, what is mor e, t hey wer e bei ng t aught t hat t hei r subor di nat e st at us
was fitting and nat ural . Femi ni st phi l osopher s like J ohn St uart Mill and
Harriet Taylor rightly feared t hat such t eachi ng was hel pi ng t o per pet uat e
inequities. Under t he ci rcumst ances, political democr acy appl i ed onl y
260 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
mi ni mal l y t o women. Because t hey di d not vote, their preferences were
not in pl ay, and t he quest i on of how aut hent i c their preferences were was
of i mpor t ance i nas much as it affected t hei r ability to agitate for t he rights
t hat wer e bei ng wi t hhel d from t hem.
But wome n are no l onger di senfranchi sed, and their preferences are
bei ng t aken i nt o account . Nor are t hey now t aught t hat t hey are subor di -
nat e or t hat a subor di nat e rol e for t hem is fitting and pr oper . Have any
wome n in hi st ory been bet t er i nformed, mor e aware of their rights and
opt i ons? Since wome n t oday can no l onger be regarded as t he victims of
an undemocr at i c i ndoct r i nat i on, we mus t regard their preferences as "au-
t hent i c. " Any ot her at t i t ude t owar d Ameri can women is unaccept abl y
pat r oni zi ng and pr of oundl y illiberal.
Gender feminists are especially di sapprovi ng of t he lives of traditionally
religious wome n s uch as evangelical Chri st i an women, Catholic women,
or Or t hodox Jewi sh women, wh o m t hey see as bei ng condi t i oned for
hi ghl y rest ri ct ed rol es. Surely, t hey say, it is evi dent t hat such women are
subj ugat ed, and t he choi ces t hey make i naut hent i c. As Gloria St ei nem
expl ai ns it, t he appeal of religious fundament al i sm for women is t hat "t he
pr omi s e is safety in r et ur n for obedi ence, respectability in r et ur n for self-
respect and f r eedoma sad bar gai n. "
1 3
That is a har sh j udgme nt t o make about millions of Ameri can women.
Ms. St ei nem is of course free t o disagree wi t h convent i onal l y religious
wome n on any numbe r of issues, but she is not moral l y free to cast
aspersi ons on t hei r aut onomy and self-respect. The New Femi ni sm is
s uppos ed t o be about si st erhood. Wh y are its most pr omi nent pract i t i on-
ers so condescendi ng?
St ei nem herself knows a t hi ng or t wo about how to recruit adher ent s
t o a cause by pr omi ses of "safety" and "self-respect." The feminist or t ho-
doxy she por t r ays pr omi ses safety in a si st erhood t hat will offer unhappy
or i nsecure wome n a venue wher e t hey can bui l d self-esteem and attain
an aut hent i ci t y enj oyed by no ot her gr oup of wome n.
1 4
The t radi t i onal l y rel i gi ous wome n of t oday, be t hey Prot est ant Chri s-
t i ans, Or t hodox Jews, or observant Cat hol i csemphat i cal l y do not t hi nk
of t hemsel ves as subj ugat ed, l acki ng in self-respect, or unfree. Indeed,
t hey very pr oper l y r esent bei ng descri bed t hat way. For t hey are perfectly
aware t hat t hey have all t he rights t hat men have. If t hey choose to lead
t he lives t hey do, t hat is t hei r affair.
Of course t her e are feminists who di sapprove of t he way these women
live, and s ome may even t hi nk of t hem as pitiable. These feminists are
T H E G E N D E R W A R D E N S 261
perfectly at liberty to try to per suade t hem to change their way of life. For
their part , t radi t i onal women mi ght try to per suade t he feminists of t he
meri t s of t he religious way of life. Mostly, however, gender feminists are
cont ent to di smi ss and even j eer at t he religious women wi t hout engagi ng
or confront i ng t hem in a respectful di al ogue, and it is not surpri si ng t hat
the latter have gr own increasingly i mpat i ent wi t h their feminist critics.
Several years ago, Liz Harri s wr ot e an ext raordi nary and much- t al ked-
about article for t he New Yorker on t he ul t r aor t hodox Hasi di c wome n of
Brooklyn, New Yor k.
1 5
She had expect ed to find oppr essed wo me n
"self-effacing dr udges" wor n down by a family syst em t hat exalted men
and deni grat ed women. Inst ead, she was i mpr essed by t hei r st r ong mar-
riages, t hei r large, t hri vi ng families, and t hei r "remarkabl y energetic, mu-
tually suppor t i ve communi t y of women, an al most Amazoni an society. "
"Most of t he [Hasidic] women sped ar ound like intergalactic missiles, and
t he greater majority of t hose I was to encount er seemed . . . to be as
occupi ed wi t h wor t hy proj ect s as El eanor Roosevelt, as hospi t abl e as
Wel come Wagoneer s . "
1 6
My relatives on my husband' s si de are Jewi sh, and most are Or t hodox.
Ms. Harris' s descri pt i on fits t hem to a T. At family gat heri ngs, I somet i mes
tell my sister-in-law, my nieces, and t hei r friends about t he feminist
theorists who pi t y t hem and woul d liberate t hem from t hei r "gender ed
families." They are mor e amus ed t han offended. It mi ght surpri se Gloria
St ei nem to hear t hey have a rat her shr ewd under st andi ng of her ki nd of
feminism. They si mpl y want no par t of it. They believe t hey have made
an aut onomous choice: t hey also believe t hei r way of life offers t hem such
basic advant ages as communi t y, grace, dignity, and spirituality. They see
t he pat ri archal aspect s of t hei r t radi t i on as generally beni gn. Some of
t hem find aspect s of Judai sm insensitive to i mpor t ant concer ns of women,
but t hey are even mor e put off by t he gender feminist' s rejection of
traditional religion.
But of course it is not onl y religious wome n who reject t he gender
feminist perspect i ve. A clear majority of secular Ameri can wome n enjoy
many aspect s of "la diffrence." Many want t hi ngs t hat gender feminists
are trying t o free t hem from, be it convent i onal marri ages and families, or
fashions and ma ke up t hat somet i mes r ender t hem "sex objects. " Such
feminists are uncomfort abl y aware t hat t hey are not reachi ng t hese
women; but i nst ead of aski ng t hemsel ves wher e t hey may be goi ng wr ong,
t hey fall back on t he quest i on-beggi ng t heory of false consci ousness to
explain t he mass indifference of t he wome n t hey want to save.
262 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
For t he gender feminists do want to save womenf r om themselves.
False consci ousness is said to be endemi c in t he pat ri archy. And every
feminist has her t heory. Femi ni st s who specialize in t he t heory of feminist
consci ousness talk about mechani sms by whi ch "pat ri archy i nvades t he
i nt i mat e recesses of personal i t y wher e it may mai m and cripple t he spirit
f or ever . "
1 7
However , a gr owi ng numbe r of women are quest i oni ng
whet her gender femi ni sm, wi t h its insistence t hat personal rel at i onshi ps
be const r ued i n t er ms of political power , has t aken muc h of t he j oy out
of male/female i nt i macy, mai mi ng and cri ppl i ng t he spirit of some of its
devot ees forever.
A few years ago, an op- ed pi ece I wr ot e for t he Chronicle of Higher
Education ar oused a st or m of pr ot est because it defended t he "many
wome n [who] cont i nue to s woon at t he sight of Rhett Butler carrying
Scarlett O' Hara u p t he stairs t o a fate undr eamt of in feminist phi l oso-
p h y . "
1 8
The Society for Wo me n in Phi l osophy (SWIP), an organization
wi t hi n t he Amer i can Phi l osophi cal Association, arranged for a publ i c
debat e bet ween Mari l yn Fr i edman, a phi l osopher from t he University of
Was hi ngt on, a nd me. Ms. Fr i edman i nformed t he overflow audi ence t hat
she was s t unned by my flippant react i on to Rhett' s rape of Scarlettfor
r ape she consi der ed it t o be. "The name of Richard Speck, to take one
exampl e, can r emi nd us t hat real r ape is not t he pl easurabl e fantasy
i nt i mat ed i n Gone with the Wind. To put t he poi nt graphically: woul d
' many wome n' still s woon over Butler' s rape of O' Hara if t hey knew t hat
he ur i nat ed on h e r ? "
1 9
Lest readers wonder how t hey coul d have mi ssed
t hat l uri d scene in Gone with the Wind, I hast en to say t hat Ms. Fri edman
ma de u p t hi s det ai l pr esumabl y to bol st er her poi nt . In my rejoinder, I
told t he audi ence about a recent pol l t aken by Harri et Taylor, t he feminist
aut hor of Scarlett's Women: "Gone with the Wind" and Its Female Fans.
20
Ms. Taylor di d not pr et end t hat her survey was scientific, but what she
found has t he ri ng of t r ut h. She asked GWTW fans what t hey t hought
had happened whe n Scarlett was carried up t he stairs. The overwhel mi ng
maj ori t y of t he four hundr e d r espondent s i ndi cat ed t hat t hey di d not
t hi nk Rhet t r aped Scarlett, t hough t here was some "mut ual l y pl easurabl e
r ough s e x. "
2 1
Al most all r epor t ed t hat t hey found t he scene "erotically
exciting. " As one r es pondent put it:
Scarlett' s st ory is t hat of a woma n who has had lousy sex from t wo
i ncompet ent hus bands (a "boy" and an "old man, " as Rhett r emi nds
her) [who] kne w not hi ng about women. At last she finds out what
T H E G E N D E R W A R D E N S 263
good sex feels like, even if (or pr obabl y because) her first experi ence
takes pl ace in mut ual i nebri at i on and a spirit of vengeful anger .
2 2
The idea of "mut ual l y pl easurabl e r ough sex" is not hi gh on t he gender
feminist list of ent er t ai nment s. All t he same, if t he New Femi ni st phi l os-
opher s wer e honest about t aki ng wome n seriously, t hey woul d be payi ng
at t ent i on t o what , in most women' s mi nds , is a f undament al di st i nct i on:
Scarlett was ravi shed, not r aped. The next mor ni ng finds her relishing t he
memor y. Ms. Fr i edman' s i nsi st ence t hat Scarlett was r aped was j ust an-
ot her exampl e of how gender feminists, est ranged from t he wome n t hey
claim to represent , t end to vi ew male/female relations as vi ol ent or hu-
miliating to women.
Fr i edman, like Bartky, takes comfort in t he idea t hat women' s desi res
and aspi rat i ons will change in t i me. Younger women, she says, are al ready
less i ncl i ned to be t aken in by t he Rhet t Butler myst i que, and hi s fasci-
nat i on shoul d cont i nue to di mi ni sh. That is, unl ess peopl e like me give
younger wome n t he idea t hat t here is not hi ng wr ong wi t h t aki ng pl easur e
in Scarlett' s enr apt ur ed submi ssi on.
"How sad it woul d be, " she wri t es, "if Sommer s' s wri t i ngs act ed as an
obstacle to change, bol st eri ng t hose who i nt erpret t he sexual domi nat i on
of women as pl easurabl e, and i nt i mi dat i ng t hose who speak out agai nst
such domi nat i on. "
2 3
Ms. Fr i edman consi ders Sandra Bartky to be one of her ment or s and
Bartky is, i ndeed, of t he opi ni on t hat active measur es shoul d be t aken to
prevent t he spr ead of "harmful " wri t i ngs. In 1990 I was commi ssi oned by
t he Atlantic t o do a pi ece on campus feminism. Wh e n Sandra Bartky
somehow l earned of this, she wr ot e to t he edi t ors, pl eadi ng wi t h t hem
not to publ i sh it. She told t hem t hat I was a di sreput abl e phi l osopher and
"a right-wing i deol ogue. " The Chronicle of Higher Education found out
about t he flap, and called Ms. Bartky t o ask her why she had wr i t t en
t he letter. At first she deni ed havi ng asked t hem to suppr ess my pi ece,
claiming t hat she had onl y r equest ed t hat my article be accompani ed
by anot her giving a different poi nt of view. But whe n t he Chronicle re-
port er poi nt ed out t hat he had a copy of t he letter and t hat it cont ai ned
no such request , she defiantly admi t t ed havi ng tried to st op t he pi ece: "I
woul dn' t want a nut case who t hi nks t here wasn' t a Hol ocaust t o wri t e
about t he Hol ocaust . Edi t ors exercise di scret i on. By not aski ng s omeone
to wri t e a pi ece, t hat ' s not censorshi p, that' s di scr et i on. "
2 4
Inadvert ent l y, Bartky got her way. By t he t i me t he whol e mat t er was
sort ed out , t he Atlantic had gone on t o ot her issues. Edi t or Mi chael Curt i s
told t he Chronicle t hat he was embar r assed t hat t he pi ece had not been
264 W H O S T O L E F E M I N I S M ?
publ i shed. The Chronicle r epor t er asked what he t hought of Bartky' s let-
ter. "It seemed to confi rm some of t he dar ker aspect s of Ms. Sommers' s
article, whi ch poi nt ed out t he ext raordi nary l engt hs some of t he women
wer e pr epar ed t o go to shape all di scussi on in whi ch t hey had an interest, "
he r epl i ed.
2 5
Rhet t Butler cont i nues t o pi que t he gender feminists. Naomi Wolf, at
least in her earlier i ncarnat i on, was fond of expl ai ni ng to t he publ i c how
wome n cooper at e i n t hei r own degradat i on. Whe n asked why women
enj oyed t he "rape scene" in Gone with the Wind, Ms. Wolf answered that
t hey had been "t rai ned" to accept t hat ki nd of t reat ment and so grew to
like it: "It' s not sur pr i si ng t hat , after decades of bei ng exposed to a cul t ure
t hat