Responding to an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post
Yesterday I read with disgust Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers’s opinion piece in The Washington Post on elitism in “Big Feminism.” (I refuse to link to it because I don’t want it to get more hits than it deserves.) Her tired attacks on the feminist movement are just the same old arguments the right wing always puts forth to discredit the admirable work of women who dare to speak out for equality. The difference — beginning with the very title of her piece, “How to make feminism great again,” is that Hoff Sommers attempts to cloak her arguments as helpful advice to how to make feminism more relatable to the concerns of everyday Americans. But what she really wants is to undermine the realities of the continuing inequalities that are based on an inseparable web of race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and, yes, gender and gender identity that continue to persist in this country.
As someone who considers themselves a feminist, who has studied feminist theory, who has been active in issues around gender inequality, who sits on the board of a women’s organization and who has financially and otherwise supported many of the organizations that Hoff Sommers is directing her ire towards, I would argue that no one group or set of group defines the feminist movement in 2016, or ever. Second wave feminism started at the most personal level, with women starting consciousness-raising groups, many local organizations and publications spring up across the country, and encompassing a diverse set of voices. Some organizations, like the National Organization for Women, are still important voices for women’s equality today. But just as many Third Wave feminists and feminists today, NOW and other established feminist groups recognize the intersectionality of race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, and more, as an inseparable part of women’s identities and embrace broad social justice platforms.
Like most things in this country, it is true that middle to upper class white women are more likely to lead these organizations, but there are so many more avenues today for feminist activism and feminist thought, and they all play a vital role in achieving a common cause of social, economic and political equality for all women.
Because no matter what Hoff Sommers says while shilling for the right wing American Enterprise Institute, there is still an institutionalized sexism, racism, classism, etc. in this country. Her claim that the U.S. is not a patriarchal society is immediately undermined by all the ways in which she attempts to claim that feminism focuses on the concerns of elite women. She acknowledges there are too few women at the highest echelons of government, business and academia — but then claims it’s because women don’t want those jobs as much as men, rather than acknowledging that the deck has always been stacked against women. She says men do the most dangerous work and have been surpassed by women in likelihood of attending college — with no mention of the fact that many of those dangerous professions have put up as many roadblocks to women as have those “elite” jobs, or that women are more likely to attend college because they are more qualified than their male classmates. Hoff Sommers wants us to see men as victims while decrying the victimization of women by feminists.
Maybe it is time that instead of blaming feminism as though these men’s rightful spots at college are being taken by women who don’t deserve them as much, we should ask how can we fix the problems in our education system that are failing far too many students, especially those who already start with the most disadvantages, and which is allowing boys to spurn academic success? How can we create a culture that abandons traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity, of the idea of male roles and female roles, which hold us back and instead create a culture where education and hard work are both truly universally available and universally valued?
The answer actually lies in embracing intersectional feminist values in our politics, our government, our schools and our homes. We can look to the work of feminist political theorist Susan Moller Okin and realize we need to re-imagine what a just society looks like without our inherent biases around gender (and race, and religion, etc.) and then implement the policy changes needed. The bright spot is that young people, more than at any other time in our history, either consciously or unconsciously support a feminist agenda. According to the exit polls, voters under the age of 40 overwhelmingly chose Hillary Clinton — who ran on a progressive, feminist agenda — over Donald Trump. And young voters support feminist issues — women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, reducing economic inequality, environmental justice, and more.