If you were around for the so-called Culture Wars of the mid-1990s, you probably remember Christina Hoff Sommers — her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? was a centerpiece of right-wing attacks on mainstream feminist theory and organizing at the time. Recently Sommers has re-emerged as the “mom” — that’s literally what they call her — of #GamerGate, that weird movement of video game fans obsessed with “ethics in gaming journalism” and what they see as feminist attacks on their hobby.
I haven’t paid more than desultory attention to Sommers since the nineties, so when I somehow wound up at her Twitter feed on Saturday I was surprised to see her supportively retweeting this:
Joanna Williams @jowilliams293
If universities are really in the grip of a rape culture, why did Rolling Stone need to invent their story on the topic?
10:53 AM – 6 Dec 2014
I know that “I was surprised to see” so well. I too remember her from the culture wars of the mid-nineties and I too find her new persona quite astonishing.
The assertions in this tweet — that Rolling Stone “invented” its recent story on an alleged gang rape and that this supposed invention single-handedly discredits broader “rape culture” arguments — struck me as even more ridiculous than I’d remembered Sommers being back in the day, so I fired off a quick tweet expressing my surprise.
Too quick, as it turned out, because when I went back to Sommers’ timeline, I saw that it was stuffed with even weirder stuff, much of it in Sommers’ own words. Mildly embarrassed by my ignorance of her current mindset, I deleted the tweet, but as I did so I noticed that several people had already responded to it, so I figured I should explain:
Angus Johnston @studentactivism
Deleted my CH Sommers tweet. I hadn’t realized quite how deep down the rape denialist well she’d fallen.
11:20 AM – 6 Dec 2014
It’s easy to guess what happened next.
This second tweet wasn’t directed to her, as you can see — I didn’t include her screen name in it, didn’t @ her on it. It was a heads-up to my own Twitter folks about why the previous tweet had disappeared. But she found it anyway, and RTed it, along with a followup declaring that “Much of the data on sexual violence is flawed. Victims need good research & smart policies—not hype.”
Sommers only has about 32,000 followers, but those two tweets unleashed a flood of responses — all, sadly, while I was on my way to my kid’s birthday party. A few of the tweets were over-the-top repulsive. Most, though, just took issue — often abusively — with my charge that Sommers is a “rape denialist.” It’s those that I wished I’d had time and space to reply to as they came in, and those that I’d like to respond to today. Because I do consider Sommers a rape denialist, and I think it’s important to say exactly what I mean.
So. Why do I say it, and what do I mean?
I mean this: Christina Hoff Sommers, in her many recent public statements about rape and sexual assault in America, understates the prevalence of rape in this country in ways that are unsupported by the evidence. She analogizes America’s rape crisis to entirely invented “crises” of the past while wildly overstating the evidence for the existence of an epidemic of false rape claims. To read her writing, watch her videos, and follow her on Twitter is to be given a wholly unrealistic impression of the scale and seriousness of rape in America. And that’s the case — and this is crucial — even if you agree with her contention that rape reporting data is seriously flawed.
Then he goes into detail. Go there and read the whole thing.