Thanks to some links by Jay, I’ve found some of the original writings of Christina Hoff Sommers, and while it’s interesting reading, it does tend to raise some questions in my mind. For example, just clicking around the AEI website, I came across one of her articles entitled “The Gender-Equity Hammer Comes Out.” She’s making the argument that it will be harmful to apply Title IX standards to academic science because, well, look what it’s done to sports.
Although Title IX has contributed to the progress of women’s athletics, it has done serious harm to men’s sports. Over the years, judges, federal officials, and college administrators have interpreted it to mean that women are entitled to “statistical proportionality.” That is to say, if a college’s student body is 60 percent female, then 60 percent of the athletes should be female–even if far fewer women than men are interested in playing sports at that college. But many athletic directors have been unable to attract the same proportions of women as men. So, to avoid government harassment, loss of funding, and lawsuits, educational institutions have eliminated men’s teams–in effect, reducing men’s participation to the level of women’s interest. That kind of regulatory calibration–call it reductio ad feminem–would wreak havoc in fields that drive the economy such as math, physics and computer science.
I don’t have time right now to address the larger context in which this quote appears, but I would like to look at some of the assumptions she’s making in her choice of example. The big one, of course, is the assumption that this is an example of Title IX having a bad impact on something. Our institutions of higher education should be focused primarily on men’s sports, regardless of the degree to which this interests the female members of the student population. This elevation of men’s interests above women’s interests is the correct emphasis, and by cutting back on programs designed to benefit male athletes, and diverting the money into other things (like, oh, I don’t know, education?) Title IX is doing something wrong and harmful.
To me, this argument seems both to reinforce and to depend on sexist standards. The men’s athletic program at most institutions is already getting preferential treatment and funding over “lesser” concerns like academic facilities and teaching staff. I notice, too, that the justification for ignoring women’s interests is that women aren’t really as keen as the men on participating in the female equivalent of men’s sports (e.g. women’s basketball, women’s softball, etc.) And maybe they aren’t. Maybe they’re interested in other things. How hard did these institutions look into what women are interested in, before giving up? Who knows, maybe women who attend colleges and universities are more interested in education than in playing games.
Anyway, I’ll keep reading Sommers, but so far she’s not making a terribly good impression. We’ll see what else she has to say.