How does Steinem represent modern feminism’s worst features? Let me count the ways.
Dogmatic denial of sex differences. There is a perfectly legitimate argument (to which I myself am sympathetic) that male/female differences are culturally influenced and less important than individual differences. There is certainly widespread support for the loosening of traditional gender-based restrictions. But Steinem takes the anti-difference view to fanatical extremes of what dissident feminists Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge have dubbed “biodenial.” In 1997, interviewed for John Stossel’s ABC News special, “Boys and Girls Are Different: Men, Women and the Sex Difference,” Steinem derided scientific research on sex differences in brain functioning as “anti-American crazy thinking.” She also suggested that upper-body strength tests requiring firefighters to lift heavy loads were sexist. What about situations when firefighters have to carry injured or unconscious people out of burning buildings? Steinem insisted, with a straight face, that it was better to drag them, since “there’s less smoke down there.” While I thought the ABC special leaned too much toward generalizations about difference, Steinem made the worst possible spokesperson for the skeptics.
Fixation on male villainy. Like many in the sisterhood, Steinem does not let her belief in absolute equality interfere with a focus on men as perpetrators of violence and evil. In theory, she blames “the patriarchy,” asserting that it has robbed men as well as women of full humanity; she has even said (rightly) that we won’t have real equality until we recognize men’s capacity for care and nurture just as we have recognized women’s capacity for strength and achievement. Alas, actual, unreconstructed men usually appear in Steinem’s writings as dangerous brutes.
In her 1992 book, Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Steinem writes, “The most dangerous situation for a woman is not an unknown man in the street, or even the enemy in wartime, but a husband or lover in the isolation of their own home.” She has also touted the long-discredited notion of a long prehistoric period of peaceful, benevolent, egalitarian “gynocentric” societies later displaced by violent, oppressive male rule.
Junk scholarship. Steinem’s talk of peace-loving prehistoric matriarchies is just one example of her penchant for peddling pseudo-scholarly nonsense — often on college campuses, where she is a popular speaker. Thus, in a 1993 speech at Salem State College, Steinem rehashed not only the matriarchy theory but the myth that the witch-hunts in Europe were an effort to exterminate still-existing pagan religion and killed as many as nine million women. She also spun a fanciful “revisionist” history of Joan of Arc as a pagan worshipper who led French armies to victory but was executed as a witch once the war was won because she had grown too powerful. (In fact, Joan, by all available evidence a devout Catholic, was executed for heresy after being taken prisoner in the still-ongoing war.) While Steinem is not an academic, equally shoddy pseudo-scholarship is all too common in women’s studies classrooms.
Misinformation. Steinem’s dissemination of faux facts is not limited to distant history. In Revolution from Within, she asserts that 150,000 women and girls in the United States die from anorexia every year — multiplying the actual number by about 1,000. (As Christina Hoff Sommers documented in her 1994 book, Who Stole Feminism?, the claim of a 150,000 death toll was based on a feminist professor’s mangling of a statistic referring to anorexia sufferers.) The same book discusses an alleged crisis in girls’ self-esteem based on a single shoddy study from the American Association of University Women.
There’s plenty more, but she concludes:
Steinem is an undeniably talented and charismatic woman; her message is often couched in appealing terms of female empowerment, freedom, and basic fairness. But in practice, her advocacy promotes far less positive values. This is a Medal of Freedom recipient who has backed attacked [sic] on free speech and colluded in the imprisonment of innocent people.
We subscribed to Ms. Magazine for a while. I can’t remember a single redeeming article, but they did perform a public service with their No Comment section at the back of the magazine. Sexually suggestive and degrading—or just plain sexist—advertisements, thusly:
Of course, sometimes you just have to lighten up: