Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, visited campus on Feb. 9 to discuss the decline of what she refers to as “campus feminism.” Hoff Sommers is an associate of Milo Yiannopoulos, the infamous speaker who visited the University in February 2016, leaving campus strewn with openly racist, homophobic, and transphobic remarks in the aftermath of his detestable storm.
The conversation began with Tom Ciccotta ’17 introducing the speaker with an address attacking Professor of Economics Marcellus Andrews, who recently encouraged marginalized minority students to stand up to the oppression that speakers like Yiannopoulos have brought to campus through the use of “a steep and lasting price.” It is unclear whether Andrews meant to encourage the use of violence.
Hoff Sommers responded to the comments made by Andrews by claiming that college campuses, especially at liberal arts institutions like the University, are “not a safe space for speech and free expression” for conservative students like Ciccotta to express their political opinions. If so, they bear the burden of risking either physical attack or psychological abuse. Quite ironically, Hoff Sommers referenced at several points throughout the talk that safe spaces are useless outlets for students to hide from the real world, and that reality does not provide resources like these for free expression.
The discussion drifted from the uselessness of safe spaces and trigger warnings and eventually landed on sexual assault and statistics regarding assault and rape on college campuses. Rather than fighting the legitimacy of rape accusations like Yiannopoulos, Hoff Sommers focused on the numbers. She disputed with members in the audience that sexual assault occurs at a rate of one in 50 women, rather than the widely researched and corroborated rate of one in five women. To me, her argumentative stance regarding the number of women who are assaulted seemed to be not only factually inaccurate but hopelessly defensive, given that she is a self-identified feminist and openly agreed that sexual assault is real (a stance some conservatives do not share with her). As a philosophy major, I had a hard time understanding her confusion of objective fact with subjective opinion, given that she holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and should understand the difference.
Perhaps the most troubling moment of the talk occurred when Hoff Sommers exclaimed to members of the audience that they are not oppressed in any way. Many female attendees in the audience attempted to explain to the speaker that women’s oppression could exist independently of privileges that they may have. Hoff Sommers refused to grasp the concept. She claimed throughout the talk that intersectional feminism paints an “unreal picture of the United States,” portraying it as a “matrix of domination and oppression,” and claimed that in reality, the United States is “a matrix of freedom and opportunity.” Perhaps Hoff Sommers misunderstands the ultimate objective of intersectional feminism, which emphasizes different circumstances of privilege. These include gender and socioeconomic class, which Hoff Sommers addressed directly by stating that women of the University are not oppressed.
Perhaps before labeling herself as a “factual feminist,” Hoff Sommers should introduce herself to the prospect of supporting women rather than criticizing their reactions to oppression.