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Funding feminism 

Jewish World Review May 24, 2001 / 2 Sivan 5761 

By Evan Gahr 

Funding feminism 

-- CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS told us "Who Stole Feminism." But, who funds feminism? Often times, the taxpayers. Perhaps the most resilient feminist boondoggle is the Women's Education Equity Act. A sop to feminists, WEEA, which was passed in 1974, has cost the taxpayer about $100 million. 

Administered by the U. S. Department of Education, this remarkably resilient feminist boondoggle even has its own "resource center" in Newton, Mass. The Department of Education, through WEEA, funds the resource center, as well as financing projects of people who pledge to promote "education equity for girls and women." The annual budget: $3 million. 

Grants are awarded to individuals, educational institutions, and community groups; the awards range from $75,000 to $150,000; the average is $125,000. Grantees have used WEEA money to do important things: One issued harsh criticism of the use of such nefarious terms as "housewife" and "ladies," while another blamed the 1999 Columbine High School massacre on "homophobia." 

One project led to a series of "checklists" to be used in "counteracting race and sex bias in educational material." One checklist item proscribed such beastly acts of stereotyping as "depicting dogs as masculine, cats as feminine."

 Like a number of other government programs, WEEA allows an ideological clique that purports to speak "for women" to turn sacred cows into cash cows--indefinitely. Grants often beget more grants: Researchers churn out reports that claim to "document" sexism in the public schools. This "discovery" clearly calls for yet another grant to study the "problem." 

In the early 1990s, for example, Nan Stein, director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, and other like-minded academics documented--or overstated, if you believe critics--widespread sexual harassment in public schools. Obviously, further study was mandated. Thus, in 1995, Stein received another WEEA grant ($90,929) to investigate "sexual harassment and gender violence in schools." Unlike most other academic research--even the innumerable studies funded by other branches of the federal government--WEEA publications are not consigned to sit on shelves collecting dust. The Education Department invests considerable time and money to ensure that the research reaches as wide an audience as possible. 

Grants, of course, are only half the story. The other half is the WEEA Resource Center in Newton, Mass. The center, which received a contract of $800,000 from the federal government last year and has an $850,000 contract for fiscal 2001, is working with public schools and states to promote "gender equity." 

The WEEA website features a list of fifty "women of achievement" that includes such names as Anita Hill, Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood, Rachel Carson of Silent Spring fame, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

 Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman justice of the United States Supreme Court, is not listed. When it is mentioned that the "women of achievement" seem to come from the same side of the political spectrum, Flansburg sputters, "I wouldn't say they are liberal. They have done important things." She explains that the list is compiled informally based on suggestions from "people in the [gender equity] field." "Would you like to recommend Sandra Day O'Connor?" Flansburg asks. 

Most intriguing listee: Rigoberta Menchu, who is described as a "Writer, Noble Peace Prize winner, Guatemalan Indian activist, indigenous people activist." And novelist? The website neglects to mention that Menchu fabricated parts of her celebrated memoir, I, Rigoberta Menchu. 

Anthropologist David Stoll exposed the truth gap in his 1998 book on Menchu. Menchu later conceded that she had conflated stories of some Guatemalan victims of the civil war with her own. 

Why does the WEEA Resource center omit this pertinent bit of information? Flansburg says that "some of what Menchu claimed didn't happen. But she didn 't lie about it." Instead, contends Flansburg, Menchu told her story in the "Latin American oral tradition" which makes no claim to total veracity. Does that mean the fabrications are irrelevant? "I don't want to argue," says Flansburg. "You've got a different agenda." 

Nobody typifies the WEEA grantee better than the late American University professor Myra Sadker. Sadker published Sexism in Schools and Society in 1973. This book described many of the "problems" WEEA was later created to fix. No wonder that Sadker (often working with her husband, David, also an American University professor) became arguably the most influential and longstanding of WEEA's grantees. It was the Sadkers who popularized the notion that schools and teachers discriminate against girls. 

In 1977-1978, WEEA funded a Sadker project, titled "Content Analysis of Sex Bias in Teacher Education Textbooks," for which the Sadkers analyzed twenty-four of the most commonly used teacher education textbooks. The grant was $50,000. David Sadker says he and his wife worked year round on the project, and that the WEEA money only covered their summer salaries. Overhead and salaries for researchers quickly gobbled up the rest, he says. The Sadkers co-directed a WEEA project on "equity and education reform." Their advanced assertions of the 1970s and '80s became the conventional wisdom of the '90s--thanks to taxpayer funding. 

David Sadker says WEEA helped put equity education on the front burner and that this ultimately benefits school- children of both genders. "It was useful in alerting people to the inequities," such as the under-representation of women in textbooks and the dearth of female school superintendents, he said. "The amount of money given to gender equity is infinitesimal. [WEEA] has been a lighting rod politically. We're just getting out basic information. Some people find it threatening." 

Note to taxpayers: be afraid, be very afraid. 

JWR contributor Evan Gahr is a Washington-based investigative reporter.  To comment click here. or 

JWR Home: 2001, Evan Gahr. 

This piece originally appeared in The Woman's Quarterly


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