Stan Oakes founded Christian Leadership Ministries in 1980 to network Christian academics and encourage them in the unique contribution they can make in the university.
Christina Hoff Sommers, the author of the feature article in this Real Issue, represents one side of a vigorous debate among feminists over the future of feminism. Professor Sommers thinks of herself as a conservative, part of the old-style, traditional feminism which she calls "equity feminism." In her book, Who Stole Feminism?, she argues that a new wave of activists, which she labels "gender feminists," have hijacked the cause and are wreaking havoc upon it with their bizarre, radical ideas.
According to Sommers, the gender feminists knowingly employ flawed research and are driven by their Marxist ideology to unsubstantiated hyperbole. She is repelled by some of the tactics and notions of these extremists which includes ideas such as dating is prostitution or marriage is rape, and lesbians make better parents than heterosexuals.
Granting that her work is well-reasoned and important, nonetheless, she never really questions the assumptions of the earlier feminists which she postures as the founding mothers of feminism. But as Professor Carol Iannone of New York University has pointed out, what Sommers calls conservative has all the earmarks of its own brand of radicalism.
Ms. Betty Friedan is touted as the "godmother" of equity feminism. She is conservative in that she does not believe that motherhood ought to be outlawed as Simone de Beauvoir thought. Ms. de Beauvoir was Jean Paul Sartre's paramour and Sartre was the famous French existentialist who had his own views on motherhood. He believed that the unborn baby in the womb was something like a blister that ought to be lanced.
The question, according to Professor Iannone, is whether or not Friedan, as an equity feminist, is actually a conservative with any sense of permanent values? To answer this, one need only to highlight her unusual theory of housewives. Friedan writes, "It is urgent to understand how the very condition of being a housewife can create a sense of emptiness, nonexistence, nothingness, in women. There are aspects of the housewife role that make it almost impossible for a woman of adult intelligence to retain a sense of human identity, the firm core of self or 'I' without which a human being, man or woman, is not truly alive." In other words, the housewife cannot be fully human.
For those women who actually enjoy being housewives and mothers, Ms. Friedan compares their perilous existence to a Nazi concentration camp: "In a sense that is not as farfetched as it sounds, since the women who 'adjust' as housewives, who grow up wanting to be 'just a housewife,' are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps-and the millions more who refused to believe that the concentration camps existed."
As Iannone points out, this feminist conservative has some extreme solutions for reducing the number of housewives. "A massive attempt must be made by educators and parents-and ministers, magazine editors . . . guidance counselors-to stop the early-marriage movement, stop girls from growing up wanting to be just a housewife."
So while Sommers is accurate in her assessment of "gender feminists" as those who are degrading the academy and fomenting cultural suicide, she fails to note that her own conservative camp has destructive and radical schemes of its own. Such so-called "conservative" views of housewives, as those held by Betty Friedan, result, unintentionally perhaps, in the culture of violence and death troubling our society, especially our inner cities. If that role is undermined, as it has been by much of feminism, both conservative and radical, then too many men will be beasts and too many women will be barren and abused as the consequence.