Full Interview with Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers

[Full Transcript Below]

Interview with Christina Hoff Sommers

January 23, 2015

Conducted by Joshua Altman


JA: Dr. Sommers, thank you so much for sitting down with me today. My first question is about a phrase you often use, “equity feminism.” To distill it, the idea is that the metric of equality between men and women is determined by opportunity, freedoms, and choice. There are some women who may critique this theory along the lines that it encourages women to become more like men or it may squander certain uniquely feminine characteristics or attitudes. How would you respond to such critics?

CHS: That’s an interesting criticism that I don’t usually get. I measure society by how well it accommodates the desires and wishes of people. Do they have the right to pursue happiness in the way that they define it? It is perfectly suited for a woman who is conventionally feminine and wants a conventionally female lifestyle as a full-time stay at home mother. This choice is equity feminism, or what I now call “freedom feminism,” and this is the freedom to pursue happiness as you define it. Here’s the truth: according to the best research we have from the Pew Research Center and Catherine Hakim from the London School of Economics suggests that a majority of women are divided between the workplace and home. Once they have children, most of them, more than 60%, actually prefer to work part-time. I am not saying they are because they can’t, but if they could, they actually would. About 20% of women want to be full-time careerists. They are determined as anyone. About 20% of women want to be full-time homemakers. However, the 60% in the middle, according to Catherine Hakim behave a little bit more like the stay at home mothers than the full-time careerists. That is where women are. I begin with human reality, and I am not trying to rewrite the rules of human behavior because there is a limit. You can try, and I try, to open people’s minds to consider all sorts of ways of being, but in the end, freedom feminism defers to human choice.

JA: Speaking of questions of choice and freedom, a topical issue for the Buckley Program and certainly now in the world is the question of freedom of speech. The Buckley Program’s mission is to increase intellectual diversity on Yale’s campus and by extension to ensure the right of free speech. As you have previously extensively talked about, on college campuses and across the country, we’ve seen the squandering of free speech in many regards, whether it is rescinding speaker invitations, whether it is pushing a liberal agenda in academic departments, and oftentimes free speech comes under fire. How do you think we can best defend freedom of speech on college campuses? What is an effective way to do so beyond educating students?

CHS: American campuses have been defined as islands of repression in a sea of freedom, and I think students should liberate their islands! (Laughs) We live in a country that ensures you the right to free expression and that extends to the campus. Even a private campus, if you look at their declarations of who they are, they almost always say that the campus is a place where all can be spoken, defended, and debated, but they don’t mean it. They have speech codes even in public universities. This right is absolutely legal, and every time a student brings a case to the courts, they win. Courts are on the side of freedoms. University deans are not. They are driven by university lawyers and some unfortunate combination of risk aversion and political correctness, and students are paying a heavy price. Also terrible is the lack of intellectual diversity on college campuses. People always say that they seek diversity, people from different ethnic backgrounds, and of course at a school like Yale, they want geographic diversity, but intellectual diversity that is the critical realm where you want differences of opinion. We just don’t have it. To me, it looks as though universities, not all departments of course and varying from school to school, students can go for four years and never hear from a serious Conservative intellectual. I have argued with my colleagues, and they will say, “Wait a minute, people hear right-wing views all the time, they listen to Rush Limbaugh or the mass media.” That is not good enough. Rush Limbaugh is basically an entertainer, not a scholar. There are intellectuals who are Conservatives, and there would be more if our graduate schools were more welcoming. People are beginning to realize, I’ve seen some papers recently about how fields are suffering, like social science and psychology because they [examine] the psychology of liberals. Most Americans aren’t that liberal. We have to do all we can to restore the basic principle of liberty. And one more thing, students should be very worried about this if they are serious about wanting to develop their ideas. The great defender and proponent of free speech is John Stuart Mill, one of my favorite philosophers, and Mill warned that you don’t know your own opinion unless you know that of the person who opposes you. In fact, I think he said you should know his opinion almost better or better than your own. Your position, if it is defensible, will become stronger

JA: So would say that the academy is probably one of the best places for this sort of discourse.

CHS: It is the place, and if you look at the courts, the Supreme Court has ruled time and again that of all places, it is probably the university where it is most important to have radical freedom and to test your ideas. It is sad that students will go to college and repeat these clichés and stock opinions.

JA: How can a student concerned with intellectual diversity shift this tide besides opening a forum? It seems like opening a forum might be the first step, but beyond that?

CHS: What you’re doing here, with the Buckley Program, is very good. But things like the Buckley Program and institutions like Princeton [with professors] like Robert George are the monasteries in Ireland that kept civilization alive. These are keeping Conservatism alive, but it is not enough. It is not exposing students from all different perspectives, from different points of view. I think the next step is a free speech movement. I am from the Sixties, and we wouldn’t put up with anything! (Laughs). It is unbelievable what people would say and what they would do, but it was exciting, and it was intellectually open. That is how it has to be. You need a free speech movement. The group that I like very much is FIRE, The Foundation for Individual Rights and Education. Go to their website, send them as much money as you can (Laughs). They are fighting the battle, with lawyers, and they send letters to deans when there has been repression, a lack of due process, or the lack of freedom of speech. I wish I could say the ACLU, but they have abandoned the academy to correctness because they have become politically correct.

JA: My last question is how do you think we can get more Conservatives in academia. It seems like a self-perpetuating problem without Conservatives in academia at present. How do we allow students who want to pursue a career in academia, but may view that their Conservative viewpoints would be shut down? What would you encourage these students to do?

CHS: That’s such a difficult questions. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and fighting for so long, even when I was very liberal and when I started, I was a defender of free speech, a fundamentalist I guess. I would say that for students who are more Conservative, there are a lot of opportunities, if you are very bright, very good, and very interested, and if you want to be a historian, there are think tanks, and there are institutes. Trends change, and though this might be a bit of an overstatement, a lot of students are getting degrees and they only know fads, which come and go, like post-modernism, as it falls down, breathing its last breath. What use is a professor if [a fad] is all that he or she knows? Someone who is classically educated in the conventional sense, there will be a place for you.