52 of 68 people found the following review helpful
interesting, thought provoking book with some flaws
, February 1, 2002
This review is from: Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women (Paperback)
"Why are certain feminists so eager to put men in a bad light"? This is one of the first questions asked by Christina Hoff Sommers, philosophy professor & equity-feminist (as she calls herself) in the preface of the book "Who stole feminism?". Sommers makes many interesting points in her book, mainly that gender-feminists are different from equity-feminists: the latter are more mainstream, don't hate men, believe women have come a long way, & oppose the "male hegemony" talk that gender-feminists believe in.
So far, so good....Sommers continues by putting in the spotlight certain studies & reports, all produced by gender-feminists, & proves (or attempts to prove) their fallacy. Good examples of biased studies are the March of Dimes study, the "women self-esteem" study, the depression study & some others, which all prove to have fatal flaws in their reasoning. One valid point that Sommers makes is that radical feminism is a little bit like religion- it tends to accept no criticism, & it tends to see all things through a specific, coloured lense. This is the lense through science itself is seen, as is literature, & even art (which thrives, necessarily, through freedom of expression & cannot & should not be stifled, whatever the reason).
Sommers mentions linguistic reform (a funny example is the ludicrous word "ovular" in place of "seminar"), women's studies classes, & - most importantly- the dangerous idea that western civilization itself, & scientific thinking has something inherently "masculine" about it, whereas "feminine" thinking is "emotional" & "connected". What certain gender-feminists propose, in a word, is that there is a "female way of knowing" which seems dangerously close to phallocentric beliefs: "women think differently, are made for different roles, so they should stay home & raise the kids" etc. So, Christina Hoff Sommers has a point: every social movement has to be able to take criticism, both from within & (most importantly) from outside. On the other hand, Sommers mostly mentions only extreme cases of gender-feminism, & I'm sure there are voices of dissent within the feminist movement, which she fails to aknowledge (except in cases such as Camille Paglia's opinions, which are hardly orthodox feminist opinions).
My major complaint with the book is this: at some point, Sommers mentions how Susan Faludi (a good example of her own definition of gender-feminim) has "painted herself into a position that allows no room for criticism". But how guilty is Sommers of the same sin? Her whole book is full of evidence of one, & only one central thesis. Yes, she says she's a feminist, but she never talks about real problems of real women: she mostly points out how far women have come. It's not enough to just mention that equity feminists have different, more mainstream opinions. She should be able to point out how equity feminists go about achieving change, what their activities & plans are when it comes to fighting for even more equality for women. Unfortunately, Sommers never really gets into this issue.
Also, parts of her own statistics & arguments are flawed, as flawed as some of the gender-feminists' reasoning. For example, she mentions "probably 100 women dying from anorexia a year in the US" (as opposed to the much higher numbers that Naomi Wolf had cited in the Beauty Myth- numbers that she later admitted were wrong): 100 women is definitely not the correct number either though, since most women who die of anorexia complications have a different etiology in their death certificates. So, sadly, Sommers also "overlooks evidence that does not fit her puzzle", as she accuses most gender-feminists of doing.
"Who stole feminism" is a well-written, well-researched book, which, yes, has a political goal, & no, does not present the whole picture. I refuse to accept that gender-feminists (as Sommers calls them) have black & white ways of thinking, as I also refuse to accept that the same is true for any group of people. I'm sure there are different ways of thinking within the feminist movement, & I'm also sure that there must also be extreme, radical feminists who tend to alienate maistream women: but these radical feminists do not represent today's women's movement, as Sommers seems to imply, nor do they have nearly as much power as she shows them to. The book is interesting but in parts exaggerated, probably to prove a point & to leave no room for doubt. Sadly, this is exactly what the author accuses the gender-feminists of doing, & she falls into the same trap herself.
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