Hillary Rodham Clinton as Feminist Heroine

The American Enterprise, July 2000 | Go to article overview
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Hillary Rodham Clinton as Feminist Heroine


Hillary Clinton has obviously become a female icon, of a very controversial sort. Our final panel considers what type of example she sets for women. Participants include:

* Christina Hoff Sommers, Brady Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Who Stole Feminism?

* Karen Burstein, former New York state senator, New York Family Court Judge, New York City Auditor General, and chair of the State Consumer Protection Board under Marlo Cuomo

* Phyllis Schlafly, author of 16 books, columnist and radio commentator, and president of Eagle Forum

* Laura Ingraham, MSNBC host and author of the book The Hillary Trap: Looking for Power in All the Wrong Places

* Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique

* Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS: A few years ago, I attended a feminist conference in New York City that included a session entitled "Anger and Struggle." The moderator, literature professor Jane Marcus, introduced herself as "an expert on anger." She urged the assembled women to "use your rage in your writing!" The other panelists were a Harvard University instructor described as "angry and struggling"; Catharine Stimpson, until recently director of the MacArthur Fellows program, introduced as "enraged and engaged"; and Brenda Silver of Dartmouth ("angry since 1972"). Each speaker recited a tale of outrage, and warnings of male backlash to come.

I believe Hillary Rodham Clinton would have been very much at home at that "anger and struggle" gathering. Why do I believe that, and why is that worrisome?

Feminists can be roughly divided into two camps: equity feminists and gender feminists. Equity feminists want fair treatment for women and no discrimination. From the point of view of equity feminists (and I count myself among them) most of the major battles in the U.S. have been won. Women are not merely doing as well as men in this society, in many ways they are now doing better.

But gender feminists are not celebrating. Gender feminists see women as a subordinate class, routinely tyrannized and victimized by men. Many live in a chronically offended state.

Why do I count the First Lady with the gender feminists? After all, she never speaks these days as a professed feminist. She is a careful politician; so you will not hear her mention "patriarchal hegemony" or the "gender system." But you will find her practicing what the gender feminists preach. Like other gender feminists, she constantly exaggerates women's victim status and routinely backs up her claims with misleading or false statistics. I will give a couple examples.

Here is a passage from a speech Mrs. Clinton gave about a year ago on "Pay Equity Day": "We know that women who walk into the grocery store are not asked to pay 25 percent less for milk. They're not asked by their landlords to pay 25 percent less for rent. And they should no longer be asked to try to make their ends meet.... It is not just a gap in wages, it's a gap in our nation's principles and promises."

I have rarely heard the wage gap presented in a more artful and inflammatory way. Mrs. Clinton is saying that women are being cheated out of 25 percent of their wages. How true is that?

Most economists who have studied the gap will tell you that it has little to do with discrimination. Wage differences between males and female are mainly the effect of characteristically different priorities that men and women express in their work and home lives. Women devote more time to children than men do. They are far more likely than men to drop out of the workplace, or cut down on work once they have a family. This results in lower earnings. Moreover, women and men follow different career paths. College women, for example, are far more likely to pursue degrees in fields like psychology and journalism than in more lucrative fields such as engineering and computer science.

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