that a feminist heroine like Carol Gilligan or Catherine MacKinnon
had been silenced by federal officials at a government-sponsored
conference, simply for airing her feminist views. Then imagine MacKinnon
or Gilligan being put upon by a group of paid government consultants
and told by a man to "shut the f*ck up, bitch" while the
rest of the crowd laughed at her derisively. Now imagine our feminist
heroine, having been publicly silenced and insulted, finally leaving
the conference, while the federal officials running the show did
nothing to challenge or chastise the man who had hurled the insult.
none of this happened to Catherine MacKinnon or Carol Gilligan.
Just imagine the media firestorm if it did. But this did happen
to the famous critic of feminism, Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident
scholar at the American
Enterprise Institute. Sommers was delivering an invited speech
at a conference on "Boy Talk" (a program sponsored by
the Center for Substance Abuse and Prevention (CSAP) of the Department
of Health and Human Services) when CSAP official Linda Bass summarily
interrupted, and commanded Sommers to end her talk. Minutes later,
as Sommers was forced by a hostile crowd to defend her claim that
scientific studies ought to be used to help evaluate the effectiveness
of government drug-prevention programs, Professor Jay Wade, of Fordham
University's Department of Psychology an expert on "listening
skills" ordered Sommers to "shut the f*ck up, bitch,"
to the laughter of the others in attendance. Having been muzzled
by Bass and put upon by the crowd in a manner well outside the bounds
of civilized discourse (and with not a move made by those running
the conference to chastise Professor Wade) Sommers had little choice
but to leave effectively ejected from a government conference,
simply for airing her views.
I called Professor
Jay Wade for a comment on his insulting remarks to Sommers at the
conference. It turns out that Wade had himself gone back to HHS
and asked them to tell him, using the tape, exactly what he had
said to Sommers at the conference. So Wade's remarks to me reflected
the official transcript, which does not include the word "bitch."
Wade said he remembers saying "Shut the f*ck up," to Sommers,
but was unsure about whether he said "bitch." "I
could have said 'bitch.' I probably thought it," Wade told
me. Sommers says that Wade did in fact say "bitch," and
careful listening to the tape reveals that the word was uttered,
although almost drowned out by the derisive laughter of the crowd.
Wade was apologetic for his remarks, which he acknowledged to be
thoroughly unprofessional although he's made no move to apologize
to Sommers herself and spent most of our call taking potshots at
her. According to Wade, Sommers roused the anger of the people in
the crowd especially minorities, many of whom, according
to Wade, had no advanced degrees by insisting that scientific
research was needed to validate the effectiveness of government
programs. That hardly seems a crime. But Wade also said that what
was really bothering Sommers was that she had been left feeling
"insulted" and "flustered" by HHS officials,
who had refused to let her finish her presentation. So why exactly
had Sommers been silenced by HHS officials to begin with?
I called Alvera
Stern, acting director of the Division of Prevention Application
and Education at HHS, for comments on what had happened to Sommers.
Readers of National Review Online will know that I'm a fan of Sommers
and her work, so I thought it was particularly important that I
have a taped copy of the session, so as to fairly establish the
truth of what happened. To her credit, Stern was kind enough to
provide me with both a transcript of the session and a copy of the
tape. Unfortunately, Stern's explanation for what happened simply
doesn't hold up.
me that Sommers's talk had been cut off because she'd run overtime.
But it's obvious from the tape that Sommers was silenced at the
moment she began to raise questions about "Girl Power"
the female counterpart of the "Boy Talk" drug-prevention
program that was the subject of the conference. And even Jay Wade
hardly a Sommers fan told me that it was Sommers's
attempt to discuss Girl Power that had led to her being silenced.
The tape makes it clear that Linda Bass, the HHS official who shut
Sommers off, said nothing at all about Sommers's time being up.
Bass simply insisted that any discussion of "Girl Power"
was out of bounds although it would seem to be impossible
to properly evaluate a proposal to create a "Boy Talk"
counterpart to "Girl Power" without considering the effectiveness
of the Girl Power program itself.
So what exactly
is "Girl Power," and why were HHS officials so determined
to prevent anyone from raising questions about it? The Girl Power
program was a cornerstone of Clinton HHS secretary Donna Shalala's
pro-androgyny feminist agenda, and a favorite of Hillary Clinton's.
It's obvious from the transcript that the officials who run "Girl
Power" were unwilling to allow any questions about the efficacy
of the program to be raised. Sommers's daring to imply that overcoming
femininity in girls and masculinity in boys might not be the most
effective way to fight teenage drug abuse is the real reason she
was put upon and effectively ejected by this crowd of HHS consultants
questionable premise of the Girl Power program is that making girls
less traditionally feminine will somehow cause them to be less likely
to smoke, take drugs, or get pregnant. Of course, most people would
expect the opposite effect. Isn't it precisely because girls are
nowadays less bound by traditional codes of feminine behavior that
we are seeing increases in smoking, drug-taking, and premarital
sex among girls? Given the exceedingly debatable assumption upon
which it rests, Christina Hoff Sommers can certainly be forgiven
for asking to see some empirical research confirming that the Girl
Power program actually succeeds in reducing substance abuse by making
girls less traditionally feminine.
But of course
it would be naive to think that reducing drug abuse is the real
purpose of either the Girl Power or Boy Talk programs. A careful
reading of the reams of slick, expensive pamphlets put out by HHS
under the heading of Girl Power makes it clear that the problem
of drug abuse is just a convenient bureaucratic excuse for housing
these programs in the Center for Substance Abuse and Prevention
division of HHS. The obvious purpose of Girl Power and Boy Talk
is feminist social engineering.
does encouraging girls to shoot, hunt, or play the drums, instead
of sew and dance make them less likely to smoke or get pregnant?
The Girl Power pamphlets cite statistics in which female athletes
get pregnant at lower rates than non-athletes, but that could easily
be a "selection effect," rather than actually caused by
going out for the team. This is obviously something that needs to
be carefully researched. And doesn't Girl Power's own resort to
statistics validate Sommers's point that real empirical studies
are needed to show that the Girl Power program actually reduces
The truth is,
Health and Human Services' Girl Power and Boy Talk programs are
simply government-funded attempts to promote the training for sexual
androgyny mandated by feminist Carol Gilligan and her followers.
Studies by Gilligan, and such groups as the American Association
of University women studies that describe alleged "crises"
of sexual identity among American girls and boys are the
only "evidence" that HHS officials will allow to be invoked
in assessments of these programs. Of course, in a series of brilliant
studies, psychologist Judith Kleinfeld as well as Sommers
herself, in her extraordinary book, The
War Against Boys have already thoroughly debunked
Gilligan's notion of a "girl crisis." That is why Sommers
was cut off by HHS officials as soon as she was about to raise questions
about the shaky empirical foundations of the Girl Power and Boy
Do Girl Power
and Boy Talk really reduce teen drug use? It doesn't matter. Is
there really a "girl crisis" or a "boy crisis?"
It doesn't matter. Ultimately, the Clinton holdovers at HHS aren't
interested in these questions, because the real rationale for their
pet programs never really had anything to do with teen substance
abuse or even educational competence to begin with.
All of these rationales are simply bureaucratic window dressing
for channeling literally millions of government dollars into a misguided
and chimerical attempt to break American girls of their femininity
and American boys of their masculinity. Christina Hoff Sommers understood
this, and that is why she was silenced, insulted, and ejected from
a conference before she could speak the truth. Will the Bush administration
acquiesce in this outrage?