Great interview with my two favourite feminists, Camille Paglia & Christina Hoff Sommers, from 'Think Tank With Ben Wattenberg', November 4, 1994
MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. There are many feminists and scholars who contend that America is still a patriarchal place where women are victims and adversaries of men. We will hear that point of view in a future program. But for the next half-hour we will hear a different idea from two prominent and controversial feminists: Camille Paglia and Christina Sommers.
The topic before this house: Has feminism gone too far?
Joining us on this special edition of Think Tank are two authors who have made themselves unpopular with much of the modern feminist movement. Camille Paglia is professor of humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and best-selling author most recently of "Vamps and Tramps." Her criticisms of modern feminism caused one author to refer to her as the spokeswoman for the anti-feminist backlash.
Our other guest, Christina Sommers, is an associate professor of philosophy at Clark University. In her recent book, "Who Stole Feminism," she accuses activist women of betraying the women's movement. She wrote the book, she says, because she is a feminist who does not like what feminism has become.
Christina Sommers, what has feminism become?
MS. SOMMERS: The orthodox feminists are so carried away with victimology, with a rhetoric of male-bashing that it's full of female chauvinists, if you will. Also, women are quite eager to censor, to silence. And what concerns me most as a philosopher is it's become very anti-intellectual, and I think it poses a serious risk to young women in the universities. Women's studies classes are increasingly a kind of initiation into the most radical wing, the most intolerant wing, of the feminist movement. And I consider myself a whistle-blower. I'm from inside the campus. I teach philosophy. I've seen what's been going on.
MR. WATTENBERG: Camille, what has feminism become?
MS. PAGLIA: Well, I have been an ardent feminist since the rebirth of the current feminist movement. I'm on the record as being -- as rebelling against my gender-role, as being an open lesbian and so on. In the early 1960s I was researching Amelia Earhart, who for me symbolized the great period of feminism of the '20s and '30s just after women won the right to vote. When this phase of feminism kicked back in the late '60s, it was very positive at first. Women drew the line against men and demanded equal rights. I am an equal opportunity feminist. But very soon it degenerated into a kind of totalitarian "group think" that we are only now rectifying 20 years later.
MR. WATTENBERG: Is this the distinction between equity feminism and gender feminism? Is that what we're talking about?
MS. SOMMERS: That's right. Yes.
MR. WATTENBERG: Could you sort of explain that so that we get our terms right?
MS. SOMMERS: An equity feminist -- and Camille and I both are equity feminists --is you want for women what you want for everyone: fair treatment, no discrimination. A gender feminist, on the other hand, is someone like the current leaders in the feminist movement: Patricia Ireland and Gloria Steinem and Susan Faludi and Eleanor Smeal. They believe that women are trapped in what they call a sex-gender system, a patriarchal hegemony; that contemporary American women are in the thrall to men, to male culture. And it's so silly. It has no basis in American reality. No women have ever had more opportunities, more freedom, and more equality than contemporary American women. And at that moment the movement becomes more bitter and more angry. Why are they so angry?
MS. PAGLIA: Mmm-hmm. (In agreement.) This is correct. In other words, I think that the current feminist movement has taken credit for a lot of the enormous changes in women's lives that my generation of the '60s wrought. There were women in the mid '60s when I was in college who did not go onto become feminists. They were baudy and feisty and robust. Barbra Streisand is a kind of example of a kind of pre-feminist woman that changed the modern world and so on.
Now, I think that again what we need to do now is to get rid of the totalitarians, get rid of the Kremlin mentality --
MR. WATTENBERG: Now, hang on, when you say --
MS. PAGLIA: Wait -- and here are the aims of my program. We've got to get back to a pro-art, pro-beauty, pro-men kind of feminism. And --
MS. SOMMERS: I think she's right to call it a kind of totalitarianism. Many young women on campuses combine two very dangerous things: moral fervor and misinformation. On the campuses they're fed a kind of catechism of oppression. They're taught "one in four of you have been victims of rape or attempted rape; you're earning 59 cents on the dollar; you're suffering a massive loss of self-esteem; that you're battered especially on Super Bowl Sunday." All of these things are myths, grotesque exaggerations.
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, why don't you go through some of those myths with some specificity?
MS. SOMMERS: Well, for example, a few years ago feminist activists held a news conference and announced that on Super Bowl Sunday battery against women increases 40 percent. And, in fact, NBC was moved to use a public service announcement to, you know, encourage men "remain calm during the game." Well --
MR. WATTENBERG: How can you remain calm during the Super Bowl! (Laughter.)
MS. SOMMERS: Well, they might explode like mad linemen and attack their wives and so forth. The New York Times began to refer to it as the "day of dread." One reporter, Ken Ringle at the Washington Post, did something very unusual in this roiling sea of media credulity. He checked the facts -- and within a few hours discovered that it was a hoax. No such research, no -- there's no data about a 40-percent increase. And this is just one of so many myths. You'll hear --
MR. WATTENBERG: Give me some others.
MS. SOMMERS: According to the March of Dimes, battery is the leading cause of birth defects. Patricia Ireland repeats this. It was in Time magazine. It was in newspapers across the country. I called the March of Dimes and they said, "We've never seen this research before." This is preposterous. There's no such research. And yet this is being taught to young women in the colleges. They're basically learning that they live in a kind of violent -- almost a Bosnian rape camp.
Now, naturally, the more sensitive young women --
MR. WATTENBERG: What about rape? Is that exaggerated by the modern feminists?
MS. SOMMERS: Completely. This idea of one in four girls victims of rape or attempted rape? That's preposterous! And there's also a kind of gentrification of rape. You're much more likely to be a victim of rape or attempted rape if you're in a high crime neighborhood. The chances of being raped at Princeton are remote. Katie Roiphe talked about being at Princeton. She said she was more afraid -- she would walk across a dark golf course and was more afraid of being attacked by wild geese than by a rapist. And yet the young women at Princeton have more programs and whistles are given out and blue lights. There's more services to protect these young women from rape than for women in, you know, downtown Newark.
MR. WATTENBERG: Where do you come out on this?
MS. PAGLIA: Well, one of the things that got me pilloried from coast to coast was when I wrote a piece on date rape for Newsday in January of 1991. It got picked up by the wire services, and the torrent of abuse that poured in! I want women to fend for themselves. That essay that I wrote on rape begins with the line "Rape is an outrage that cannot be tolerated in civilized society." I absolutely abhor this broadening of the idea of rape, which is an atrocity, to those things that go wrong on a date --acquaintances, you know, little things, miscommunications -- on pampered elite college campuses.
MS. SOMMERS: I interviewed a young women at the University of Pennsylvania who came in in a short skirt and she was in the Women's Center, and I think she thought I was one of the sisterhood. And she said, "Oh, I just suffered a mini-rape." And I said, "What happened?" And she said, "A boy walked by me and said, `Nice legs'." You know? And this young woman considers this a form of rape!
MS. PAGLIA: That's right.
MR. WATTENBERG: What role in the development of this kind of thought that the idea of sexual harassment and whole Anita Hill thing have? Was that sort of a --
MS. PAGLIA: That's fairly recent, actually. It was in the late '80s that started. I mean, that was a late phase. I think probably the backlash against the excesses of sexual harassment have -- you know, have really finally weakened the hold of PC. I believe, for example, in moderate sexual harassment guidelines. I lobbied for their adoption at my university in 1986. But I put into my proposal a strict penalty for false accusation. I don't like the situation where the word of any woman is weighed above the testimony of any man. And I was the only leading feminist that went out against Anita Hill. I think that that whole case was a pile of crap.
MR. WATTENBERG: Why?
MS. PAGLIA: Well, I think it was absurd. First of all, again, totalitarian regime, okay, is where 10 years after the fact you're nominated now for a top position in your country and you are being asked to reconstruct lunch conversations that you had with someone who never uttered a peep. Okay? This is to Anita Hill: "All right, when he started to talk again about this pornographic films at lunch in the government cafeteria, what did you do?" "I tried to change the subject." Excuse me! I mean, that is ridiculous. I mean, so many of these cases --
MS. SOMMERS: He never touched her.
MS. PAGLIA: He never touched her. Okay? That was such a trumped-up case by the feminist establishment.
MR. WATTENBERG: Do you sign onto that?
MS. SOMMERS: Well, I've changed. I mean, initially I was just carried away with the media and thought, "Oh, Saint Anita." And later I thought about it and actually learned from some experts on sexual harassment that her behavior was completely untypical. She did not act -- the career lechers --usually a woman is repulsed and will not follow him from place to place, and usually there are many women who will come forward who have had the same experience. These things were not true in his case. It now seems to me quite likely that he was innocent of these charges.
MS. PAGLIA: Completely innocent. And I must say, as a teacher of 23 years, if someone offends you by speech, we must train women to defend themselves by speech. You cannot be always running to tribunals. Okay? Running to parent figures, authority figures, after the fact because you want to preserve your perfect, decorous, middle-class persona.
MR. WATTENBERG: This is Catherine MacKinnon, who says speech is rape?
MS. PAGLIA: Yes, I'm on the opposite wing. Catherine McKinnon is the anti-porn wing of feminism. I am on the radically pro-porn wing. I'm more radical than Christina. I --
MR. WATTENBERG: Are you pro-pornography?
MS. SOMMERS: For adults. I'm trying to be very careful about it for -- you know, in our society -- for children. But I'm horrified at the puritanism and the sex phobia of feminism. How did that happen? I mean, feminism -- it used to be fun to be a feminist, and it used to have a lot of -- it attracted all sorts of lively women. Now you ask a group of young women on the college campus, "How many of you are feminists?" Very few will raise their hands because young women don't want to be associated with it anymore because they know it means male-bashing, it means being a victim, and it means being bitter and angry. And young women are not naturally bitter and angry.
MS. PAGLIA: We had a case at Penn State where an English instructor who was assigned to teach in an arts building where there had been a print of Goya's "Naked Maja," a great classic artwork, on the wall for 40 years. All right? She demanded it be taken down because she felt sexually harassed by it, because the students in the classroom were looking at it instead of her. Okay? Now, this is ridiculous. This is part of the puritanism of our culture. I want a kind of feminism that is pro-beauty, pro-sensuality. That is not embarrassed and upset by a spectacle of the beauty of the human body!
MR. WATTENBERG: What about this argument that came up recently that girls in elementary and high school are neglected by their teachers? Is that -- have either of you --
MS. PAGLIA: A bunch of crap.
MS. SOMMERS: It's a hoax.
MS. PAGLIA: A bunch of crap.
MS. SOMMERS: I mean, it's all -- it's really an incredible case of just junk science. The American Association of University Women hastily threw together a survey of 3,000 children and asked them about their sense of well-being and their self-esteem, and they never published it. It hasn't been replicated by scholars. Adolescents don't see significant differences -- the majority don't see significant differences -- between levels of self-esteem between young men and young women. Yet the AAUW said it was true. It's an advocacy group. Their membership was drying up. They were losing, you know, several thousand members a year. They needed an issue. They brought in a new group and they got on the gender-bias bandwagon and basically struck gold. They now -- you can call an 800 number. They have short-changing girls mugs and t-shirts. (Laughter.) And they were so positively reviewed in the media that they can use --
MS. PAGLIA: Oh, the media was utterly credulous. I couldn't believe it when MacNeil/Lehrer totally -- they fell for it like suckers that night.
MS. SOMMERS: Well, they would ask young men, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And boys would say things like rock star or sports star. And girls would say lawyer and doctor. So they declared a glamor gap and said that there's a glamor gap, that girls don't dream their dreams. Well, most children don't have the talent to be rock stars. The sensible ones know this. So the way I would interpret those findings is that girls mature earlier and boys suffer a reality gap.
MS. PAGLIA: Right.
MS. SOMMERS: But this was the kind of question that was asked. Yet not one journalist that I'm aware of, except the Sacramento Bee, because they wrote to me and said, "We question this" -- they didn't do what Ken Ringle did at the Washington Post. They didn't send away for the data. They relied on the glossy brochures.
MR. WATTENBERG: Let me --
MS. PAGLIA: And the question of attention in the classroom, too. As experienced teachers, this idea that you measure how much attention the teacher is paying to the boys and girls to determine how much that the student is valued, and it was discovered that the teacher was making more remarks to the boys. You're keeping them in line! The boys you have to say, "Shut up, be quiet! Do this thing. Are you doing your homework?" Like this. The girls, they do their homework. They're very mature. And girls at that age are rather sensitive, and I as a teacher am very aware -- as a teacher of freshmen, all right -- that the girls are sitting there pleading with you with their eyes, "Don't embarrass me in front of the entire class." Okay? I'm very aware that I seem to be talking often to the boys. But that is just because they're so -- their egos are completely -- I mean, they're so unconflicted. They love attention. They're like yapping puppies. You know what I mean? They don't care about making fools of themselves once they start.
MR. WATTENBERG: The boys?
MS. PAGLIA: The boys make fools of themselves, blah, blah, blah, blah! The most intelligent students hang back. I was very silent in class, myself. And so I like to just take notes. All right?
MR. WATTENBERG: That sounds like you're anti-male now. You're saying, "Now I'm offended."
MS. PAGLIA: No, no!
MS. SOMMERS: But they can be immature.
MS. PAGLIA: The boys are immature.
MS. SOMMERS: The AAUW would ask children: "I'm good at a lot of things." And you could say, all the time, some of the time, usually, but you know -- and a lot of little boys, the 11 to -- would say, "All the time, I'm good at everything all the time." And girls, being a little more reflective, will give a more nuanced answer. The AAUW counted everything except "always true" meaning that they were suffering from a dangerous lack of self-esteem. They declared an American tragedy. American girls don't believe in themselves.
MS. PAGLIA: Right, and the girls' are doing better in school.
MS. SOMMERS: Girls are getting better grades.
MS. PAGLIA: Right.
MS. SOMMERS: More go to college.
MS. PAGLIA: Right.
MS. SOMMERS: More boys drop out. More boys are getting into drugs and alcohol.
MR. WATTENBERG: And most of the teachers are women in any event --
MS. SOMMERS: Yes. And to add to that, it's supposed to be unconscious --
MR. WATTENBERG: -- a point you made, I guess, in that.
MS. SOMMERS: Yeah.
MR. WATTENBERG: The -- what about the argument -- you hear less about it now, and perhaps the data has changed, but that women only make 59 cents for every dollar that --
MS. PAGLIA: First of all, what was omitted from that is what kind of jobs are women gravitating toward? I mean, Warren Farrell, in his book, "The Myth of Male Power," has a lot of statistics that show men are taking the dangerous, dirty jobs like roofing, the kind of gritty things that pay more -- commissioned sales that are very unstable.
It appears that a lot of women -- where the real biases occur, those barriers must be removed. But this is an inadequate kind of a figure. It doesn't allow for the fact that most women, in fact, in my experience, too, like nice clean, safe offices, nice predictable hours and so on. And they don't want to knock themselves out in that kind of way. After reading Warren Farrell's book, every time I pass men doing that roofing tar, breathing those toxic fumes and so on, I have a renewed respect for the kind of sacrifices that men have made.
MR. WATTENBERG: That 59-cent number --
MS. SOMMERS: It hasn't been for --
MR. WATTENBERG: -- is now 71, but even that was --
MR. SOMMERS: It's now 71 cents, and that is not correct because you have to control for age, length of time in the work place. And if you look at younger women now, the age -- the wage gap is closed. It's now -- when they have children, it's 90 cents. But if they don't have children, it's now closer to what --
MS. PAGLIA: It would be outrageous if people were doing exactly the same thing and being paid a different wage. Okay? But that is not at all the basis for this figure.
MR. WATTENBERG: Legalized abortion has come to be viewed as the central issue of the feminist movement. Is that an appropriate spot for it to be?
MS. SOMMERS: It's an important issue. I believe in choice, but I think there's an obsession with feminists with that issue, which is -- and it's also very -- it leaves a lot of women out of the movement. There should be a place in women's studies, there should be a place in women's scholarship for traditionally religious women. There are Christian -- conservative Christian women who are scholars, Orthodox Jewish women who are scholars, Islamic women who are scholars. Why isn't there any place for them in women's studies? Because there's a litmus test --
MS. PAGLIA: Yes.
MS. SOMMERS: -- and you have to be pro-choice or you need not apply.
MS. PAGLIA: I'm radically pro-choice, unrestricted right to abortion. However, I have respect for the pro-life side, and I am disgusted by the kind of rhetoric that I get. I support the abortion rights groups with money and so on, but I cannot stand the kind of stuff that comes in my mailbox, which stereotypes all pro-life people as being fanatics, misogynists, and so on, radical and far right and so on. I mean, it is-
MS. SOMMERS: It is so condescending and so elitist.
MS. PAGLIA: It's condescending. It's insulting. It's elitist. It's anti-intellectual. It's a deformed --
MS. SOMMERS: It's very anti-intellectual. The arguments on abortion philosophically -- and I teach applied ethics -- if you really understand the issues, you have to have some questions, especially about second trimester abortions where you are quite likely dealing with an individual.
MR. WATTENBERG: What is your view today? How would the average American woman, if we could ever distill such a body, how does she view this new feminism?
MS. SOMMERS: Well, the average American women, first of all, is rather fond of men. Okay? She has a husband or a father or a brother or -- you know? So the male-bashing is out of control right now. And if you look at a lot of the statistics that I deconstruct in my book - you know, that men are responsible for birth defects, that men -- Naomi Wolff has a factoid she has since corrected, but she says 150,000 girls die every year starving themselves to death from anorexia. This was in Gloria Steinem's book. It got into Ann Lander's column. It's in women's studies textbooks. The correct figure, according to the Center for Disease Control, is closer to 100 deaths a year, not 150,000.
MS. PAGLIA: Three-thousand times exaggerated or something.
MS. SOMMERS: It's, you know -- so Naomi Wolff put is this way. She said 'it's a holocaust against women's bodies. We're being starved, not by nature, but by men.' And --
MS. PAGLIA: They want to blame the media for anorexia, when in point of fact anorexia plays white middle-class households. It is a response to something incestuous going on within these nuclear families.
MS. SOMMERS: Mainly upper-middle-class --
MS. PAGLIA: Yes, right.
MS. SOMMERS: -- overachieving white girls.
MS. PAGLIA: Yeah.
MS. SOMMERS: And by the way, if 150,000 of these girls where dying, you would need -- it would be -- you would need to have ambulances on hand at places where they gather like Wellesley College graduation and like you do at major sporting events. (Laughter.) But why didn't anyone -- it's funny, but no one caught the error.
MS. PAGLIA: No one caught it. The media was totally servile! Every word that came out of Gloria Steinem's mouth or Patricia Ireland's mouth is treated as gospel truth. For 20 years the major media, when they want "what is the women's view?" they turn to NOW. Okay? NOW does not speak for American women. It does not speak even for all feminists.
MR. WATTENBERG: NOW is the National Organization --
MS. PAGLIA: The National Organization for Women, which Betty Friedan founded, but which soon expelled even her! Okay? They've been taken over by a certain kind of ideology. I'm in constant war with them as a dissident feminist and so on. And it's taken me a long time, you know, to fight my way into the public eye.
MR. WATTENBERG: All right, let me ask this question: What are the policy implications of this idea of feminine dictumhood?
MS. SOMMERS: It's a disaster. These women are -- I will give them one thing. They're brilliant work-shoppers, networkers, organizers, moving in, taking over infrastructure. They're busybodies. There has never been a more effective army of busybodies. And they know how to work the system. So they will hastily throw together a study designed to show women are medically neglected or women have a massive loss of self-esteem -- one in four. And then they move to key senators. Senator Biden seems to be especially vulnerable.
MS. PAGLIA: Oh! What a weak link. What a weak link.
MS. SOMMERS: Patricia Schroeder, Senator Kennedy. But it's Republicans, too. They're quite carried away. Congressman Ramstad from Minneapolis.
MR. WATTENBERG: Yeah, they're afraid of the TV commercials running against them, which is --
MS. SOMMERS: That's right.
MS. PAGLIA: Yeah, that's right.
MS. SOMMERS: And then we're getting -- we now have a gender-bias bill that went through Congress that's going to provide millions of dollars for gender-bias workshops. What the politicians don't realize is that feminism is a multi-million dollar industry. The gender-bias industry is thriving. They're the work-shoppers and the networkers out there.
MS. PAGLIA: The bureaucrats are really profitting --
MS. SOMMERS: Consultants and bureaucrats.
MS. PAGLIA: It's a tremendous waste of money.
MS. SOMMERS: And it's not based on truth.
MS. PAGLIA: It should go into education. That money should go directly into education to improve the system.
MS. SOMMERS: I spoke to a teacher yesterday who taught in Brooklyn, and there were no books to teach English.
MS. PAGLIA: Oh, pathetic!
MS. SOMMERS: And yet there's going to be $5 million now, plus a lot more from the education bill, for workshops on gender-bias in the classroom, which is a non-problem compared to far more serious problems. So I consider many feminists to be opportunists. They move in on real problems. There is a problem of violence in our schools. They'll turn it into a problem of sexual harassment --
MS. PAGLIA: Yes.
MS. SOMMERS: -- which is nothing compared to the problem of violence and instability. They'll move into under-performance of our kids.
MS. PAGLIA: All this money should be going into keeping public libraries open so that the poor can go in and take out a book the way my immigrant parents were able to and the way I was able to. It's outrageous that we have the closing-down of public libraries, and the conditions of inner-city schools is disgraceful. And all this money wasted going to bureaucrats?
MR. WATTENBERG: Camille, let me ask you this: Does the case you make undermine traditional family values? Would a conservative listening to what you are talking about in terms of sensuality and sexuality and pornography and so on, would they say you are undermining and corroding family values in America?
MS. PAGLIA: Probably they would, but my argument in all my books is rather large. I say that Western culture was formed as two great traditions -- the Judeo-Christian and the Greco-Roman -- and they have contributed to each other and they're in conflict with each other. And my libertarian theory is of a public sphere/private sphere: Government must remain out of the private sphere for abortion and drug use and sodomy and so on. The public sphere is shared by both traditions. I have respect for the Judeo-Christian side. I'm calling in "The Activism in Feminism" for a renewed respect for religion, even though I'm an atheist. So I think that there is much in my thinking that I think would reassure people of traditional family values.
MR. WATTENBERG: Let me ask you this question to close of both of you: What should the 1990s equity feminist believe in and believe remains to be done for women?
MS. SOMMERS: The first thing, I think we have to save young women from the feminists. That's at the top of my agenda. And I say that as a very committed feminist philosopher. I went into philosophy. It was a field traditionally dominated by males. I got my job as a professor to encourage more young women to enter this field, to be analytic thinkers, to be logicians and metaphyscians. And, instead, in feminist philosophy classes you'll often have young women sitting around honoring emotions and denigrating the great thinkers instead of, you know, studying them, mastering them and benefitting from them.
MR. WATTENBERG: So you --
MS. SOMMERS: That's one thing. The other thing, more traditional feminist issue, is probably the double-shift. As women, we're doing a lot of things men traditionally did; they're not doing what we traditionally did. And so women do bear more responsibility at home. But if we're going to solve that problem, I think we have to approach men as friends --
MS. PAGLIA: We have to -- yes --
MS. SOMMERS: -- in a spirit of respect instead of calling them proto-rapists and harassers and --
MS. PAGLIA: The time for hostility to men is past. There was that moment. I was part of it. I have punched men, kicked men, hit them over the head with umbrellas. Okay? I am openly confrontational with men. As an open lesbian, I have been -- you know, I express my anger to men directly. I don't get in a group and whine about men. So, oddly, I give men a break and admit the greatness of male, you know, achievements and so on. What we have to do now is get over that anger toward men, and we have to bring the sexes back together.
Reconciliation between the sexes is the first order of business.