Remember that popular TV game show, To Tell the Truth? That was the program that would put three petite women on the stage — one a real-life alligator wrestler and the two others impostors. The contestants would then try to outwit the celebrity guests.
It’s now 2004 and Americans are the guests on a remake of To Tell the Truth. The object of the game is to answer the question, What is the real face of feminism?
Many people think of feminism as a movement that promotes gender equality and opportunity. And for many years, I counted myself in that group. To deny women the opportunity to get a good education and pursue a career — that seemed abhorrent and contrary to the American Dream.
Then the voices of the skeptics demanded a hearing.
As early as 1972, Phyllis Schlafly posed this question: "The claim that American women are downtrodden and unfairly treated is the fraud of the century…Why should we lower ourselves to u2018equal rights’ when we already have the status of special privilege?" That editorial launched the movement that eventually defeated the Equal Rights Amendment.
But I still counted myself a true believer.
In a 1992 article in the Washington Post, Sally Quinn compared the leaders of NOW to the apparatchiks of the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union. She concluded, "many women have come to see the feminist movement as anti-male, anti-child, anti-family, anti-feminine."
That broadside made me blink.
Two years later Christina Hoff Sommers released her stunning expose’, Who Stole Feminism? Ms. Sommers methodically dissected and debunked the feminist claims about domestic violence, rape, and women’s health.
That was more than I could ignore, so I began to do my own research. I went to my local library, combed through government reports, and surfed the internet. I soon learned that Schlafly, Quinn, and Sommers were right: the feminist claims were actually Ms.-Information.
Around that time, millions of women began to reach the same conclusion. In 1992, a Gallup poll found that 33% of American women considered themselves to be feminist. But seven years later, the Gallup poll reported that number had plummeted to 26%. And one CBS poll noted that 22% of women said that being called a feminist would be an "insult."
But substitute the word "women" for "feminist," and you come up with a very different story. A 1998 Pew survey found that 67% of females (and 66% of males) were favorable to the "women’s movement."
So a large majority of American women do not consider themselves to be feminists, but still support the women’s movement. An obvious and startling conclusion emerges: Women no longer believe that feminism represents their interests or needs.
A recent article in the National Review paints a similar picture of waning feminist influence. Feminist thinking holds that a bride taking her husband’s last name "signifies the loss of her very existence as a person under the law," as former NOW-head Patricia Ireland once put it. But alas, most women have a mind of their own. According to marriage records in Massachusetts, the percentage of surname keepers dropped from 23% in 1990 to 17% in 2000.
What’s more, a growing number of women’s organizations have set out to counter the feminist agenda, including the Concerned Women for America, Independent Women’s Forum, Women’s Freedom Network, and the Clare Booth Luce Foundation. And several women’s websites now feature anti-feminist commentary, such as ifeminists.net and ladiesagainstfeminism.com.
But there are still a substantial number of persons in our society who cling to the belief that feminism is about promoting equality, fairness, and gender enlightenment.
So guest celebrity, our time is up. Which face of feminism is real, and which is the impostor? Is feminism about promoting equality of rights and responsibilities? Or does it aim to foment gender discord and marital break-down?
The modern rendition of To Tell the Truth is no mere game show. It’s not about a few hundred dollars in funny money. It’s a real life drama that spells enormous consequences for our culture, our families, and our children.
Carey Roberts [send him mail] is a researcher and consultant who tracks gender bias in the mainstream media.