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The bigots who claim sexism doesn't exist

by ELIZABETH SCHULTE | June 22, 2001 | Page 9

"ARE YOU tired of male-bashing and victimology?" asked an ad, headlined "Take Back the Campus," which appeared in university newspapers last month.

"Have you been misled by factually challenged teachers?"

The ad--sponsored by the right-wing Independent Women's Forum (IWF)-- charges that university feminists are "a kind of cult" that cooks up facts about the frequency of campus rapes and women's low wages.

The Columbia Daily Spectator refused to run the ad; the Yale Daily News published it.

Women's rights activists at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) organized protests when the ad ran in the Daily Bruin, demanding that the paper issue an apology and a retraction.

This prompted others to argue that the feminists were impinging on the IWF's right to "free speech."

It was a replay of the controversy that followed the publication of bigot David Horowitz's ads denouncing the idea of reparations for Blacks for the crime of slavery.

"The UCLA protesters insist on regarding women as a gender in peril and bristle when anyone suggests otherwise," concluded columnist Cathy Young in the Boston Globe.

"As a result, what may be truly imperiled is the free exchange of ideas."

But the mainstream media's focus on free speech has shifted attention away from what is at the heart of the ad--an attack on anyone who takes a stand against sexism or violence against women.

Among the "10 most common feminist myths" the IWF's ad claims to debunk is that one in four women in college are the victims of rape or attempted rape.

Indeed, studies exist showing varying statistics--in 1998, the Centers for Disease Control said that one in five women are raped or are targets of attempted rape during their lifetimes.

Most of the IWF's numbers are rehashed from a 1995 book by Christina Hoff Sommers called Who Stole Feminism?

On the other hand, there's the reality that many women are too afraid or ashamed to report attacks to authorities.

Still, when it comes to uncovering the "truth" about anything, I'd tend to trust the WWF over the IWF.

The IWF is in the business of denying that sexism exists.

Conservative groups like the IWF have spent the last decade trying to prove that "political correctness" (PC) and women's "whiny over-sensitivity" to sexism is poisoning our universities, the media, the entertainment industry and governmental policy.

Maybe they didn't hear about the Dartmouth College fraternity whose newsletter named women that members had had sex with--and that promised ''patented date rape techniques'' in a future edition.

Perhaps they didn't follow recent high-profile cases of vicious sexual harassment--for example, at Mitsubishi Motors--over just the last couple of years.

Maybe they didn't know that 85 percent of counties in the U.S. don't have abortion providers.

Or that women on average earn just 75 cents to every dollar a man makes--a figure from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that the IWF still manages to take issue with.

And maybe they don't find it disturbing that advertisers see women's body parts as the best way to sell beer, movies and magazines.

The anti-PC crusaders' ultimate goal is to discredit the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s--and roll back its gains, such as access to abortion.

They want to stamp out the idea that women's equality is something worth fighting for.

The fact that George W. Bush now occupies the White House--and began his four years by announcing anti-women policies like restricting the abortion drug RU-486--has made the right wing more confident to spout its sexist ideas.

Plus, there's Lynne Cheney--the wife of the vice president, who just happens to be a former board and now member-emerita of the IWF.

The UCLA activists did the right thing when they protested the IWF's sexist ad.

This is the only way to expose the bigots for what they are--and challenge sexism head-on.

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