Christina Hoff Sommers 1950-
American nonfiction writer.
The following entry provides criticism on Sommers's career through 2002.
Sommers attracted wide attention with her controversial Who Stole Feminism? (1994), an indictment of the contemporary feminist movement, and The War against Boys (2000), a polemical critique of feminist influence on the American educational system. A teacher of ethics, history, and feminist theory, Sommers has also compiled two volumes of readings on ethics. While many feminists regard Sommers as a right-wing reactionary, she identifies herself as a liberal feminist. Sommers criticizes what she calls “gender” feminism, which, in her view, portrays women as powerless victims of sexism. She advocates instead a form of “equity” feminism that harkens back to the “first wave” feminism of the nineteenth century. Sommers complains that “American feminism is currently dominated by a group of women who seek to persuade the public that American women are not the free creatures we think we are.”
Sommers was born in Petaluma, California, in 1950. She received a B.A. in philosophy from New York University in 1971 and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Brandeis University in 1979. In 1981 she married Fred Sommers, a professor, with whom she has two sons. From 1980 to 1997 she served as a professor of philosophy at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, during which time she was appointed to a government advisory committee on cultural diversity requirements in the college-accrediting process. Since 1997 she has worked as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. With the popular success of Who Stole Feminism? and The War against Boys, Sommers became well-known as a public speaker and a frequent guest on such television talk shows as Nightline, 20/20, The Oprah Winfrey Show, 60 Minutes, Donahue, and Crossfire.
In Who Stole Feminism? Sommers criticizes what she views as the dominant discourse of the feminist movement that emerged in the 1960s and then developed a strong presence in both academia and the popular media during the 1980s and '90s. Sommers refers to this brand of feminism as “gender feminism” which she says portrays women as powerless victims of a patriarchal society. Sommers examines academic and popular-press feminist tracts and points out what she calls “feminist fictions”—myths based on unreliable or nonexistent evidence, put forth by feminists and disseminated by the media. She focuses her critique on such feminist issues as anorexia, domestic violence, rape, and self-esteem, arguing that these concerns have been overblown by feminist writers who misrepresent the facts. Sommers argues against viewing women as victims and is particularly harsh in her criticism of academic feminists, whom she accuses of formulating and purveying fallacious views regarding women's status in today's society. She advocates instead of “gender feminism” a return to “equity feminism,” which focuses on equal opportunity and legal protection for women. Sommers associates “equity feminism” with nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and early post-World War II feminists such as Betty Friedan. Sommers ultimately draws a distinction between the “good old feminism” she advocates and the “bad new feminism” put forth by academic feminists. In The War against Boys Sommers reexamines current attitudes about the quality of public education for boys compared to girls. She begins The War against Boys with the statement, “It's a bad time to be a boy in America.” Sommers asserts that feminist influences, in the process of seeking to redress supposed inequalities against girls, have turned the tide of the American education system against boys. She argues that the notion that the education system is biased in favor of boys and against girls is entirely inaccurate and that, in fact, the reverse has become true.
As an author of polemical tracts highly critical of feminism, Sommers has received both widespread praise and harsh criticism. Many reviewers found that Who Stole Feminism? convincingly rebuts widely disseminated theories put forth by feminists about ongoing gender inequalities in American culture. These critics applauded Sommers's meticulous investigative reporting and her presentation of specific evidence to refute commonly-held feminist beliefs about the status of women. Others, however, criticized Sommers for oversimplifying the wide variety of viewpoints encompassed by feminism. These critics asserted that Sommers overgeneralizes and inaccurately presents feminism as a unified discourse. Sommers has also been censured for quoting many prominent feminist scholars out of context and distorting their ideas in order to make them appear ridiculous. Further, many reviewers criticized Sommers for failing to examine current trends in feminism in a broader social, cultural, and historical context. Many reviewers applauded Sommers's statistical evidence and overall argument in The War against Boys, but some felt that Sommers merely exacerbates the gender war in evaluating education. These critics asserted that greater attention should be paid to the needs of both boys and girls in education, and that Sommers's polemic fails to provide a constructive solution to the problems facing all children.