On Wednesday evening, Eagles for Israel and Boston College Republicans co-hosted Christina Hoff Sommers, former philosophy professor at Clark University, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and self-proclaimed “factual feminist reporting for duty.”
Notably, the talk was not in conjunction with the #WhyFeminism 2017 events occurring on campus this past week. According to Amirah Orozco, MCAS '19, a staff member at the Boston College Women’s Center, “We had no way of knowing Christina Hoff Sommers was coming before recently.”
The objective of the #WhyFeminism campaign was to encourage dialogue on campus about the importance and implications of feminism. While the two events were mutually exclusive and both the Women’s Center and Sommers hold different views on feminism, particularly regarding rape culture, Orozco acknowledged that Sommers' talk “got people thinking,” and in fact contributed to (rather than detracted from) the goal of the campaign.
Facing a predominantly male audience, Sommers approached the podium to express her views on contemporary feminism. She opened her lecture "Where Feminism Went Wrong" with the claim that today’s notion of feminism is “worrisome on college campuses.”
The core of the talk’s message drew upon Sommers’ distinction between “equity feminism” and “intersectional feminism,” the former of which she defended and the latter she strongly criticized.
Equity feminism is a cast of liberal feminism that affirms the rights of both men and women to “forge your own identity” and pursue “life, liberty, and happiness,” as Sommers put it. This view is often faulted for treating affluent, white women as representative of all women, without accounting for varying social identities or societal oppression. Sommers reaffirmed that equity feminism fosters equality across all sectors of society, no matter one's gender, sexuality, race, or class, thus deeming it more valuable than a mere “relic of a bygone age”—a frequent criticism of the concept.
Contrary to this is the newer intersectional (“gender”) feminism that has emerged in recent years. The theory was first conceived by civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw in the late 1980s, and it was later instigated by Patricia Hill Collins, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. Intersectional feminism considers how overlapping identities such as race, sex, class, and religion influence systems of power, oppression, or discrimination. In other words, it is the recognition that people will be treated differently based on their varying identities—some more advantageously and others more unfavorably.
Sommers maintained her defense of equity feminism, rendering the notion of “marginalized groups,” the crux of intersectional feminism, as difficult to define. She further reiterated that by identifying divisions in race, sexuality, etc. we are in fact reinforcing what feminism is trying to combat.
The second major theme of the lecture revolved around microaggressions, which are subtle, casual remarks that are either offensive to or reinforce a stereotype of a marginalized member of society.
According to Sommers, more than 200 colleges have established combat bias response teams to report microaggressions to university authorities.
Admittedly “macro-annoyed with microaggressions,” Sommers criticized the term, both in its inability to present a coherent definition and in its inadequate evidence. While Sommers conceded that there certainly exist subtle forms of bigotry, she condemned the efforts to combat them as “threatening [to] free speech.” Instead, Sommers chooses to opt for normal human interaction and friendship as the primary form of correction.
“This is a surveillance system that will drive people apart,” she argued.
Sommers commented on various other topics, including the gender wage gap, the validity of sexual assault statistics, and rape culture on college campuses, concluding with a contentious Q&A session.
“What we need,” she said, “is a moderate form of feminism that doesn’t drive people away.”
It seems that some of Sommers’ past lectures have done the opposite, as she recounts 30 women and a therapy dog fleeing a panel discussion she participated in at UMass Amherst last spring (of which British media personality, Milo Yiannopoulous, and Canadian-American actor, Steven Crowder, were a part).
Sommers’ final message vouched for the importance of a kind of intellectual diversity on campus—that is, being receptive to different perspectives. She hopes this will promote open and constructive conversation and “make feminism great again.”
Such sentiments were echoed by Boston College Republicans President Mariella Rutigliano, MCAS '17, when she commented that, “We live in the most free and tolerant society ever created. To further break down the barriers of race, sex, ethnicity, etc., we need to stop categorizing ourselves by our race, sex, and ethnicity and begin to accept one another as individuals.”