Christina Hoff Sommers believes that the heart of feminism on college campuses is the dissemination of false information.
Sommers, a resident scholar of feminism at the American Enterprise Institute, spoke to a packed, mostly male audience Wednesday night in McGuinn 121. The event, a talk titled “What Has Gone Wrong With Feminism,” was hosted by the Boston College Republicans and Eagles for Israel.
Sommers began her talk by jokingly declaring the room a “safe space” and describing herself as a “white, Jewish, cisgender, neurotypical woman with a non-gender conforming dog.”
The bulk of Sommers’s discussion centered around her critiques of intersectional feminism, a brand of feminism that aims for inclusion of minority women, and the advent of microaggressions, or small-scale comments or jokes that are based in gender or racial inequality.
Sommers is an equity feminist, a brand of feminism rooted in enlightenment ideals that aims for the moral, legal, and social equality of the sexes. Equity feminism is credited with inspiring the first wave of feminism that led to women’s suffrage.
Sommers described equity feminism as “offering no prescriptions, but it promises you the freedom to forge your own destiny.”
In recent years, the tide of public favor has shifted from equity feminism toward intersectional feminism, something Sommers characterized as “safe space, check your privilege, shut-the-f-up feminism.”
Intersectional feminism, pioneered by Patricia Hill Collins at the University of Maryland, College Park, arose out of concerns that traditional feminism held the experience of white women to be emblematic of all women, something Sommers conceded was a legitimate concern.
Where Collins and Sommers differ is in the mode of rectifying these wrongs. Collins introduced intersectional feminism, while Sommers contends that equity feminism does not need to be overthrown but rather reformed.
Throughout the talk, Sommers expressed concern over the divisive nature of intersectional feminism, at times stating that it encourages paranoia and neurosis.
“There is a problem with defining what is a marginalized group,” Sommers explained. “It seems that everyone who is not a neurotypical white man has some grievance that fits into this axis of oppression.”
The axis Sommers mentions is the root of her concerns with intersectional feminism. Within intersectional feminism, America is depicted as a system of domination and privilege, thinly veiled by the idea of freedom.
Sommers disagrees with this fundamental idea, insisting that even members of the same minority group are not all like-minded, thus requiring more subdivisions.
“My problem with intersectionality is that it fights sexism, racism, classism by labeling everyone into gender, race, and class,” she said. “It reinforces what it is trying to eradicate.”
Intersectional feminism centers on the importance of discussing shared life experience of minority groups. Sommers contends that this discussion often occurs at the expense of evaluative reason and factual statements.
“You have to evaluate different life experiences by how close they are to reality,” Sommers said. “[Intersectional feminism] is sort of a conspiracy theory because there is no way to prove it wrong. If you question it you just don’t understand the theory.”
Sommers explained similar concerns that the increase in reporting microaggressions stifles free speech on college campuses, which she likened to police states. Although Sommers did agree that bigotry can exist on small scales, she is troubled about the urgency of reporting these statements to university authorities.
“I don’t see them as protection,” Sommers said with regard to bias response groups on college campuses. “I see them as enabling spies and busybodies … they keep multiplying, like the number of oppressed groups.”
Rather than report offensive comments, Sommers advocates for forging friendships and the liberal tradition of equity feminism to fight bigotry. Tolerant, free speech, to Sommers, is a more effective solution than monitoring what others say.
Sommers also expressed her doubts concerning the accuracy of reports about sexual assaults on college campuses. In particular, she contended that the statistic of 1 in 4 women being assaulted during their time in college is somewhere closer to 1 in 50. She did not provide data to back up this claim.
Sommers stated that if common belief on this issue was true, “it would mean that our campuses are more dangerous than war-torn Congo.”
After touching on a variety of topics, Sommers returned to her theme of the importance of equity feminism and left the audience with a charge to make positive change.
“Fight for what is yours, the right to speak and express … take back reason, take back freedom, take back feminism, and—dare I say it—make feminism great again,” she said.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor