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UN Feminist Threat
July 22, 2002
UN Feminist Threat
by Christina Hoff Sommers
For more than two decades, the United States Senate has wisely resisted
signing on to the United Nations' Treaty for the Rights of Women. But
every few years, feminist groups pressure politicians to reconsider it.
Now, once again, the treaty is back. Senators Joseph Biden and Barbara
Boxer, with the help of Clinton administration holdovers in the State
Department, are pushing for ratification of "The Convention on the
Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women" (CEDAW). The
Bush administration and the Senate Republicans oppose CEDAW and seem
to be prepared to fight it; but fears of offending female voters are running
high. Unless there is a concerted and sustained effort to stop it,
ratification is likely. That would do serious harm to the United States
and to women around the world, who need effective policies, not the bitter
gender politics of this misguided treaty.
First, a bit of background. American women have been the beneficiaries of
two major waves of feminism. In the First Wave, initiated by the great
foremothers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, women won basic
political and legal rights, including the right to vote. The Second Wave,
which came in the sixties and early seventies, advanced women economically
and socially. Employers could no longer legally restrict a job to one sex.
A company could no longer refuse to hire a woman because she had children.
Such laws have been critical to the well-being and success of American
women and most of the reforms of the First and Second Waves are
appropriate and necessary for women everywhere.
With this historical progress, American women have achieved virtual
equality with men. There are still some unresolved equity issues, but
overall, we are now among the freest and most liberated women in the
world. In some ways, we are not merely doing as well as men - we are doing
better. We live longer, we are better educated, we have more choices on
how to lead our lives. By any reasonable measure, equity feminism is the
great American success story.
When I lecture about the history of the women's movement on college
campuses, students often ask what's next for the Third Wave. My answer is
always the same; we have to help women in other parts of the world secure
the freedoms we take for granted here. There are countries, especially in
Africa and Asia, where women have not yet had their Elizabeth Cady Stanton
and Susan B. Anthony; as for second wave reforms, they are light-years
away from them.
American women have much to tell the women of the world. We can and should
help women everywhere to achieve the kind of equity we have here. But
joining the CEDAW convention is the wrong way to do that. There are many
reasons for opposing ratification of this treaty. I will focus here on two
or three that I regard as decisive.
The CEDAW convention was formulated in the 1970s and it promotes several
reforms that we now know to be harmful. These programs looked promising,
exciting and progressive in 1975, but since then we have come to realize
that they undermine economic prosperity. Article 11, for example, calls
for governments to set wages so that jobs of "equal value" (e.g. firemen
and kindergarten teachers) are granted "equal remuneration." This is the
policy we call "comparable worth." Americans have rightly rejected
comparable worth as an unjust and unworkable socialist policy. Why should
we be advocating it for women elsewhere?
Article 11 also demands that governments guarantee "maternity leave with
pay" and to provide a "network of childcare facilities." All very salutary,
except that experience shows that such programs tend to burden a
country's economy to everyone's detriment. American women have benefited
from a free, open and economically dynamic society: shouldn't we be
promoting policies that bring these advantages to needy women everywhere?
In any case, advocating paid maternity leave, government subsidized day
care, and comparable worth has little effect on the condition of women
living in countries that practice genital mutilation, honor killings, or
sanctioned rape and domestic violence.
The treaty shows the influence of feminist ideology. It opposes
"discrimination," which is fine. But then we read Article 1 which defines
discrimination as "any distinction...on the basis of sex" in "any...
field." Article 5 calls on all governments to "modify the social and
cultural patterns of conduct of men and women with a view to achieving the
elimination of...all...practices which are based on...stereotyped roles
for men and women." What exactly do these provisions entail? Of course,
some gender stereotypes are destructive and prejudicial and we must call
disparaging attention to them. But, many male/female stereotypes (what the
French call la difference) are descriptively true.
In the 1970s, when the treaty was formulated, many feminists believed that
truly liberated men and women would become more and more alike - that a
gender-just society would eventually become androgynous. Gender was
supposedly an artificial social construction that gave men the advantage.
Well, today only the small, isolated cadres of campus ideologues in
Women's Studies and postmodernism believe that.
Research in neuroscience, endocrinology, and psychology over the past 40
years provides evidence of a biological basis for many sex differences in
aptitudes and preferences. Males have better spatial reasoning skills,
females better verbal skills. Males are greater risk-takers, females are
more nurturing. (There are exceptions, but these are the rules.) As the
Rutgers University anthropologist Lionel Tiger has said, "Biology is not
destiny, but it is good statistical probability." Unfortunately, CEDAW
provisions are premised on the false assumption that all gender differences
are socially constructed and should be targeted for elimination.
Of course, in recognizing the obvious differences between men and women,
I am not suggesting that women should be prevented from pursuing their
goals in any field they choose; what I am suggesting is that we should not
expect or aim for parity in all fields. More women than men will continue
to want to stay at home with small children and pursue careers in fields like
early childhood education or psychology; men will continue to be heavily
represented in what Camille Paglia aptly calls the "people-free zones" -
helicopter maintenance, air conditioner repair, hydraulic engineering.
A few years ago I took part in a television debate with celebrity lawyer,
Gloria Allred. Ms. Allred was representing a 14-year-old girl who was
suing the Boy Scouts of America for excluding girls. Allred characterized
same-sex scout troops as a form of "gender apartheid." She spoke of the
need to "socialize" boys to play with dolls so they could be more
nurturing and less fractious. CEDAW will give all the Ms. Allreds in this
country a treaty of their own to create mischief.
Consider, for example, how hard-liners could deploy Article 10 of the
Treaty: It calls for the "elimination of any stereotyped concepts of the
roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms of education...in
particular, by the revision of textbooks and school programs." Our
textbooks and school materials cannot endure any more political
corrections. The New York Times recently ran a story about how the
politics of textbook revisions is now out of control: great works of
literature have been routinely scanned for insensitivity and altered by
censors. Now after some intense lobbying, this practice is being
eliminated. The CEDAW Treaty demands this kind of textual revision, a
demand that is inconsistent with American civil liberties.
Can there be anyone in the United States, apart from a small coterie of
orthodox feminists, who would favor empowering a committee of foreign
bureaucrats to oversee American social mores to eliminate "gender
stereotypes" - or to intrude into public education by distorting the
textbooks our children read?
The Treaty could do us harm by promoting male/female resentments and
divisions at a time when the country badly needs social unity. Most
American women feel blessed to live in a country where, for the most part,
the men are fair-minded, decent and supportive of women in their quest for
equality. We are proud and grateful to be part of a society that has
afforded us unprecedented freedoms and opportunities. But this very
favorable view of American men and of American society is not shared by
the hard-line feminists in our universities. These activist/scholars tend
to take a dim view of American society, routinely referring to it as a
"patriarchy," a "male hegemony," a culture that keeps women "socially
subordinate." One leading textbook in women's studies refers to an
epidemic of "gender terrorism" carried out by American men. Another
designates the United States a "Rape Culture." Now, Bosnia, for a time,
truly was a rape culture. Afghanistan, under the Taliban, routinely practiced
gender terrorism. To apply such terms to the United States is ludicrous.
Those who call America a sexist society sincerely believe we are in a
gender war. In all wars, the first casualty is truth. Too much of what we
hear from contemporary women's organizations is outrageously false. Too
much of what passes as gender scholarship is ideology and factually wrong:
American men are depicted as violent predators and American women their
hapless victims. If I were to reduce the the philosophy of academic feminism
to a single maxim, it be this one: Women are from Venus, Men are from Hell.
For the past decade, moderate feminist academics like myself, and a
growing number of dissidents scholars such as Camille Paglia (University
of the Arts), Daphne Patai (University Of Massachusetts), Betsy
Fox-Genovese (Emory), Noretta Koertge (University of Indiana), Judith
Kleinfeld (University of Alaska), Jennifer Braceras (Harvard Law) - to
name only a few - have been hard at work correcting the ms./information,
challenging the naive hostility to the free market system, and calling for
an end to the male bashing-rhetoric that is standard fare at most of our
colleges and universities. We have made slow but steady progress in
opening up the national discussion on gender to diverse perspectives; but
thinking on these matters on campus and in the major feminist
organizations remains dismayingly rigid and intolerant. For the time
being, the organized women's movement in this country is dominated by
ideological gender theorists and by well-intentioned, but misinformed, and
badly advised women's groups that take what these theorists say seriously.
Now what does this have to do with CEDAW? If the United States signs the
Treaty, it would dramatically increase the power of the misguided gender
scholars. The treaty calls for the elimination of sexism. Reasonable
people believe that American society has already achieved this goal in
most of the ways that count. If you compare the United States with the
rest of the world, it is a shining example of gender equity.
Unfortunately, many campus feminists do not agree with that. They believe
that American women live in a male supremacist society; and they can cite
twenty years of feminist "scholarship" to persuade themselves and us that
they are right. What they actually cite is a body of statistically
challenged gender ideology.
So far, 169 countries have ratified CEDAW, including such bastions of
liberty as China, Iraq, The Congo, Cuba, Libya, and Saudi Arabia.
Countries like Iraq and the Congo have no problem signing on to a document
they have no intention of following. When the Senate last considered
ratification in 1994, four senators, including Nancy Kassebaum, Republican
of Kansas, warned of the risk of "cheapening the coin" of human rights.
The United Nations has a sorry history of using its human rights doctrines
and commissions for scoring points against Western democracies - all the
while carefully refraining from censuring countries that notoriously abuse
the rights of their citizens. Last year, in a fit of anger, the U.N expelled
the U.S., the world's most powerful democracy, from its Commission on
Human Rights. The UN's 2001 Conference against Racism in Durban,
South Africa turned into a shameful anti-Semitic condemnation of Israel.
There is every reason to expect CEDAW would be used in a political
way as well.
This treaty in conjunction with the counterfeit feminist "research" would
be a most toxic combination. If CEDAW is ratified, expect more rancor,
more lawsuits, and more divisiveness. Gender bureaucrats from the United
Nations will join the feminist ideologues and the United States will be
subject to a relentless legal assault for alleged violations of the treaty.
At a July hearing on CEDAW, Senator Biden read solemnly (and at great
length) from the Declaration of Independence. He suggested CEDAW is its
moral equivalent. It is not. As Christopher DeMuth of the American
Enterprise Institute has pointed out, the signers of the Declaration of
Independence "took responsibly for realizing its aspirations...CEDAW, in
contrast, is, like the old Soviet constitution, a long list of policy
promises drafted by people who, for the most part, have no intention to
take responsibility for achieving those promises."
Oppressed women everywhere need our help. But we are morally bound to
assist them in ways that reflect ideals of fairness and common sense that
have lifted American women to an unprecedented level of freedom.
CEDAW is not the way.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident Scholar at the American Enterprise
She is the author of Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys.
© 2002 FrontPageMagazine.com
FrontPageMagazine Home: http://www.frontpagemagazine.com/
CEDAW Vote Delayed by Anonymous Republican Senator
[FMF is urging that it be rescheduled for 25 July 2002]
Feminist Daily News Wire, 19 Jul 02
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Another Take on CEDAW
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by Ramesh Ponnuru -- National Review, 17 Jun 02
IWF Leader Warned Senate of the Perils of CEDAW
Independent Women's Forum [IWF], 13 Jun 02
Should the U.S. ratify a feminist convention?
by Ramesh Ponnuru -- National Review, 10 Jun 02
Goodbye Mother's Day - hello immorality
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by David M. Bresnahan -- InvestigativeJournal.com, 03 Jun 02
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Feminist Daily News Wire, 03 Jun 02
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by Peggy Simpson -- WEnews, 14 May 02
[Senator] Boxer Calls for CEDAW Ratification
Feminist Daily News Wire, 12 Feb 02
CEDAW: The United Nations
U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women, July 2002
CEDAW: Feminist Majority Foundation
Members of the ABA are mobilizing grassroots support to persuade
the U. S. Senate to ratify the United Nations CEDAW [treaty]
Treaty for the Rights of Women [CEDAW.org]
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JUNE is Domestic Violence Against Men Awareness Month