Forbes – Studying the History of Feminism Might Save Feminists from Themselves

9 Jun

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The advance of women’s rights is one of Western Civilization’s greatest triumphs. Yet, in many developing countries, women are still treated like second-class citizens. So why do so many tenured feminist intellectuals holed up in our universities choose to rail against the supposed American patriarchy rather than seek to help their sisters in places where women don’t even enjoy the most basic civil rights?

Christina Hoff Sommers, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Freedom Feminism—Its Surprising History and Why it Matters Today, explains why as my guest on this week’s RealClear Radio Hour.

In her book, Sommers meticulously describes the two rival camps of feminism, which are often in conflict, but drive progress when pulling in the same direction. The first, “Egalitarian Feminism,” traces its roots back to a controversial 18th century writer, philosopher, and scandalizer of high society named Mary Wollstoncraft, who believed that, “Men and women were essentially the same in their spirits and souls, deserving of the same rights.”

Wollstoncraft’s ideas were centuries ahead of her time. “She was also unbelievably adventurous and lived one of the most exciting lives of her century,” says Sommers. “She had lovers and was running around writing books and being a reporter,” behaviors frowned upon by contemporaries. “It took 100 years for her reputation to be resurrected.” Today her writings are considered a foundational part of the feminist cannon.

Sommers contrasts Wollstonecraft with Hannah More, whom she calls the founder of “Maternal Feminism.” More evangelized for a different-but-equal concept of empowered femininity. “Hannah met women where they were. She believed there was a feminine nature and that women were caring and nurturing, different from men but deserving of equality.” Unlike Wollstonecraft, More was tremendously popular in her time. Her books outsold those of Jane Austen and Thomas Paine, and she was widely admired as an advocate of education and work opportunities for women. Today, however, she is not only forgotten, but denigrated as an apologist for the patriarchy.

To read the rest of the column click here.

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