Awhile ago, a colleague dropped by my office to tell me about a book she’d just seen in the library, prominently displayed on the “new books” shelf. And boy, was I interested; I went right over to the library and checked it out. The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know—and Men Can’t Say is written by Suzanne Venker, with the help of (if in name only) her aunt, Phyllis Schlafly, the famous conservative politician who gained fame by speaking and writing about the perils of working mothers while simultaneously raising her own brood with the help of nannies.
Just reading the first chapters had me seeing red. Titled “Brainwashed”—as in, American women have been brainwashed by feminists—the opening salvo provides such gems as these:
· “Feminists [have] spent decades trying to convince women that America needs to accommodate them so women can be unshackled, presumably happy.”
· Feminists have control of the media, academia, and the publishing industry.
· “Feminists have manipulated human nature to their advantage.”
· Feminists have “undermined the value of motherhood.”
And so on. The opening complaints are so full of generalizations and straw man (or woman?) arguments that the arguments become almost laughable.
Except I’m not laughing, if only because one of my colleagues at the university ordered this for students, thinking it was something students at George Fox University needed to read. And another colleague in the library featured it as one of its most important new books, giving it display room not afforded most of the other newly-acquired texts. At a college founded by Quakers—who valued the role of women in leadership, and as equal partners in all endeavors—someone thought it a good idea to purchase propaganda about what “feminists” are really like.
I want to support academic freedom, which allows me to write and research on ideas that interest me, even when those ideas don’t agree with others in my college community. I would love to shrug this off, to admit that this book has its place on our library shelves because of the academic freedom I also cherish. But I know our young women and men receive enough messages from other places about what women and men are “supposed” to be. And I also know they receive negative (and erroneous) messages about feminism from a number of outlets, despite their every day interactions with Christian feminists who serve as their faculty members, their administrators, their spiritual life staff, their friends. I guess I’m angry about this book because someone on our campus—someone who works alongside Christian feminists in a common enterprise—decided to reinforce the negative message that feminism is evil, and that those who embrace feminist ideologies are to be feared, even despised.