Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Feminist Professors Don’t Get the Facts Straight

From the woman the feminists love to hate, Christina Hoff Sommers, an article that begins with an e-mail she sent to Berkeley feminist professor Nancy K.D. Lemon pointing out factual errors in her (unfortunately) widely used textbook:

Lemon’s Domestic Violence Law is organized as a conventional law-school casebook — a collection of judicial opinions, statutes, and articles selected, edited, and commented upon by the author. The first selection, written by Cheryl Ward Smith (no institutional affiliation is given), offers students a historical perspective on domestic-violence law. According to Ward:
The history of women’s abuse began over 2,700 years ago in the year 753 BC. It was during the reign of Romulus of Rome that wife abuse was accepted and condoned under the Laws of Chastisement. ... The laws permitted a man to beat his wife with a rod or switch so long as its circumference was no greater than the girth of the base of the man’s right thumb. The law became commonly know as ‘The Rule of Thumb.’ These laws established a tradition which was perpetuated in English Common Law in most of Europe.
Where to begin? How about with the fact that Romulus of Rome never existed. He is a figure in Roman mythology — the son of Mars, nursed by a wolf. Problem 2: The phrase “rule of thumb” did not originate with any law about wife beating, nor has anyone ever been able to locate any such law. It is now widely regarded as a myth, even among feminist professors.

A few pages later, in a selection by Joan Zorza, a domestic-violence expert, students read, “The March of Dimes found that women battered during pregnancy have more than twice the rate of miscarriages and give birth to more babies with more defects than women who may suffer from any immunizable illness or disease.” Not true. When I recently read Zorza’s assertion to Richard P. Leavitt, director of science information at the March of Dimes, he replied, “That is a total error on the part of the author. There was no such study.” The myth started in the early 1990s, he explained, and resurfaces every few years.

Zorza also informs readers that “between 20 and 35 percent of women seeking medical care in emergency rooms in America are there because of domestic violence.” Studies by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, indicate that the figure is closer to 1 percent.

Feminist misinformation is pervasive. In their eye-opening book, Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women’s Studies (Lexington Books, 2003), the professors Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge describe the “sea of propaganda” that overwhelms the contemporary feminist classroom. The formidable Christine Rosen (formerly Stolba), in her 2002 report on the five leading women’s-studies textbooks, found them rife with falsehoods, half-truths, and “deliberately misleading sisterly sophistries.”

Consider The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World (2008), by the feminist scholar Joni Seager, chair of the Hunter College geography department. Now in its fourth edition, Seager’s atlas was named “reference book of the year” by the American Library Association when it was published. “Nobody should be without this book,” says the feminist icon Gloria Steinem. “A wealth of fascinating information,” enthuses The Washington Post. Fascinating, maybe. But the information is misleading and, at least in one instance, flat-out false.

One color-coded map illustrates how women are kept “in their place” by restrictions on their mobility, dress, and behavior. Somehow the United States comes out looking as bad in this respect as Somalia, Uganda, Yemen, Niger, and Libya. All are coded with the same shade of green to indicate places where “patriarchal assumptions” operate in “potent combination with fundamentalist religious interpretations.” Seager’s logic? She notes that in parts of Uganda, a man can claim an unmarried woman as his wife by raping her. The United States gets the same low rating on Seager’s charts because, she notes, “State legislators enacted 301 anti-abortion measures between 1995 and 2001.” Never mind that the Ugandan practice is barbaric, that U.S. abortion law is exceptionally liberal among the nations of the world, and that the activism and controversy surrounding the issue of abortion in the United States is a sign of a vigorous free democracy working out its disagreements.

On another map, the United States gets the same rating for domestic violence as Uganda and Haiti. Seager backs up that verdict with that erroneous and ubiquitous emergency-room factoid: “22 percent-35 percent of women who visit a hospital emergency room do so because of domestic violence.”

The critical work of 21st-century feminism will be to help women in the developing world, especially in Muslim societies, in their struggle for basic rights. False depictions of the United States as an oppressive “patriarchy” are a ludicrous distraction. If American women are as oppressed as Ugandan women, then American feminists would be right to focus on their domestic travails and let the Ugandan women fend for themselves.

All books have mistakes, so why pick on the feminists? My complaint with feminist research is not so much that the authors make mistakes; it is that the mistakes are impervious to reasoned criticism. They do not get corrected. The authors are passionately committed to the proposition that American women are oppressed and under siege. The scholars seize and hold on for dear life to any piece of data that appears to corroborate their dire worldview. At the same time, any critic who attempts to correct the false assumptions is dismissed as a backlasher and an anti-feminist crank.
Bottom line: feminist professors are to be treated with extreme skepticism, the skepticism that should always prevail when people start with a conclusion (women as an oppressed class) and then try to find statistics to support it.

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1 Comments:

Blogger James Pawlak said...

Women studies, Black studies and such are all matters of fiction developed to support persons who would otherwise be asking "Fries with that sir/madam?".

7:03 AM  

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