Lately, there’s a lot of talk among feminists about the need to keep women safe. The rape culture is allegedly inescapable, and trigger warnings are appended to college syllabi to protect sensitive souls from reminders of any past cause of pain, from “neuro-atypical shaming” to mention of “how much a person weighs.” But it turns out that if you dare to debunk feminist myths, you’re the one that really needs protection.
For years now, Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys, has been promoting what she calls, in the title of her latest book, Freedom Feminism. This view, she writes, “stands for the moral, social, and legal equality of the sexes,” but also for women’s freedom—including the freedom to embrace traditional femininity. “Efforts to obliterate gender roles can be just as intolerant as the efforts to maintain them,” she writes, and “theories of universal patriarchal oppression or the inherent evils of capitalism are not in [freedom feminism’s] founding tablets.” Above all, Sommers’s approach is moored in reality, not utopian notions of social justice.
Sommers’s efforts to spread her gospel have annoyed many academic feminists for years, but recently the response to her has gone from confrontational to hostile. “I have never stopped going to campuses, and I’ve been going to law schools. But I have rarely faced protests,” she tells The Weekly Standard. “I used to face vigorous debate, and the young women would come ready to argue—and that was fine, that’s what I was there for. But this is different, and it only started happening this year.”
At Sommers’s speech in April at Georgetown University, multiple undercover policemen were placed in the audience. At Oberlin, also in April, uniformed police officers never let her out of their sight and after her speech escorted her in a police car from the campus to a dinner. In May, she was the guest of honor at a Washington, D.C., meetup of “Gamergate” supporters—video gamers concerned about radical feminism’s influence in the video game industry (more on that later). In response, Salon and Daily Beast columnist Arthur Chu started a social media campaign to pressure the bar where the gamers were meeting to drop the event and sent emails to the venue accusing them of hosting a “right-wing hate group.” Despite the pressure, the owner of the bar, Local 16, emailed Sommers to tell her they “would never keep any group out. This is America.” A bomb threat soon followed, necessitating a heavy police presence and a tour of Local 16 by bomb-sniffing dogs.
Through all this, Sommers says, “I didn’t feel threatened. I’d never known feminists to be violent.” Her calm in the face of feminist extremism is in marked contrast to the fury of her critics. “I am a threat to their health, to their mental well-being. That attitude is new,” she says. “Before, they might have thought, ‘Oh, her views on feminism are reactionary.’ But now it’s that her views are a threat.”
Indeed, an inability to distinguish between threats and disagreements seems to be a hallmark of this contemporary feminism. Sommers is scary precisely because she doesn’t shy away from heightening the contradictions. Where op-ed writers have patiently picked apart the discredited “wage gap” statistics feminists insist on recycling, Sommers shows up in the proverbial lion’s den, calmly points her finger at the scolds-in-training, and challenges them to prove their commitment to female equality by changing their major to the lucrative and male-dominated field of petroleum engineering.
These days, campus feminists make no attempt to debate Sommers on substance. Instead, she routinely faces attempts to shun her, silence her, or distort her message. After her Georgetown speech, there were demands that the student group that had hosted her remove the protesters from video of the event. A university administrator warned that if the upset students weren’t edited out, “Georgetown [would] need to step in.”
Got that? Protesters showed up at a public event to draw attention to their message—but then realized that footage showing ostensible adults holding signs saying “Trigger Warning: Antifeminist” was an embarrassment to the students and bad PR for the school, so they wanted it censored. Another embarrassment is young feminists’ ignorance. When Sommers joked at Oberlin that the Junior Anti-Sex League had occupied campus feminism, a voice from her audience yelled, “What the hell is that?”