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Feminist academic Christina Hoff Sommers is attracting attention for speaking out against untruths in the gender equality debate, writes Peter Lloyd
For a lot of men, there are two dirty f-words in the English language: the four-letter one we hear at football matches and, at the risk of having faecal matter posted through my letterbox, the term ‘feminist’.
I don’t say this because men oppose equality – not at all. But, rather, because feminism often goes hand-in-hand with toxic and misleading anti-men sentiments.
American writer Andrea Dworkin once said she wanted ‘to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp with a high-heel shoved in his mouth, like an apple in the mouth of a pig’, while author Sally Miller Gearhart suggested (in all seriousness) that ‘the proportion of men be reduced to, and maintained at, 10 per cent of the human race’.
Even Jilly Cooper, queen of the bonkbuster, famously asserted that ‘the male is a domestic animal which, if treated with fairness, can be trained to do most things.’
Sadly, these cheery soundbytes can’t simply be written-off as historic gaffes. Only last month Jessica Valenti wrote an article for The Guardian entitled ‘Feminists don’t hate men… but it wouldn’t matter even if we did’.
Hence why, as far as I’m concerned, men who support feminism are like turkeys voting for Christmas.
Fortunately, one woman – Christina Hoff Sommers – is doing the movement some serious justice with her own brand of sensible suffrage.
The 64-year-old academic is the star of hit YouTube series The Factual Feminist, which doesn’t just stick up for men, but also calls-out the sisterhood on false stats, cruel comments and double-standards. You know, the stuff that alienates men from the gender equality debate in the first place.
Since it began a year ago, the channel has racked up millions of views across the globe – and rugby-tackled some heavy-duty issues along the way, too, including the wage gap myth, ‘GamerGate’ and recent Rolling Stone debacle.
Fans will already know Sommers from her two ‘meninist’ books, which she released back in the nineties and noughties (The War against Boys explains why the school system is allowing young men to fail, whilst her other offering, Who Stole Feminism?, looks at fact rather than distorted folklore). Now she has migrated her message online where it’s courting a whole new audience.
So why, in an age of trendy man-bashing, has she decided to swim upstream on our behalf?
“It’s not so much that I speak out in favour of men, but rather in favour of truth. And we are drowning in untruths about gender right now,” she tells me from her office in Washington, where she doubles as a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
“Women’s groups and the media tend to exaggerate women’s vulnerability and ignore the problems faced by men. If the reverse were true — if hundreds of advocacy groups, scholars, journalists and politicians were routinely repeating false statistics that put women in a bad light, or understated their special vulnerabilities, I would be protesting that.”
Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t always been easy.
When Who Stole Feminism? first appeared in 1994 I received fan letters from some well-known feminists, but – for the most part – the establishment was unhappy with my plea for moderation. I found myself excommunicated from the church of feminism.
“Some called me a backlasher, a traitor to my gender, anti-woman. One angry critic referred to Margaret Thatcher and me as ‘those two female impersonators’.
“Sadly, nothing has changed in recent years. In the early 1990s, I – along with several other feminist scholars (Wendy Kaminer, Daphne Patai, Camille Paglia, Mary Lefkowitz, Katie Roiphe, to name only a few) – went to battle against hard-line, sex-panicked conspiracy feminists like Andrea Dworkin. My side won the arguments, but their side quietly assumed all of the assistant professorships. So colleges are now full of gender scholars who instruct students on the ravages of the capitalist, heterero-patriachal system and its ‘rape culture’. Everywhere we hear about ‘micro-aggressions’, ‘trigger-warnings’, and the toxicity of masculinity. It’s as if George Orwell’s Junior Anti-sex League has occupied feminism.”
And, clearly, she has struck a chord.
“When we started [doing The Factual Feminist], our goal was to someday have 10,000 views per episode. After all, academic think-tank videos have a limited appeal. But, to our surprise, the series has a large and devoted following. And this keeps growing every day.
“We’ve now had more than two million total views so far, [which proves] there’s a large, untapped audience who support the idea of equality — but realise something has gone badly wrong with feminism.”