Feminism versus the Facts

Christy Henrich was a gymnast whose whole life was wrapped up in the sport. So wrapped up that when she missed making the Olympic team by a fraction of a point, Christy developed anorexia. Over the next few years, she literally starved herself to death. The tragedy of a death like Christy's is even darker, however, when it becomes ammunition for ideological causes. Anorexia is being used by some feminists to claim that all women are oppressed by a male culture that glorifies thin women and is literally killing them. But the facts supporting that extremist claim are often totally cooked. For example, Gloria Steinem's book Revolution From Within claims that 150,000 women die from anorexia each year. Another book called Fasting Girls cites the same number, noting that feminists depict anorexia as "an inevitable consequence of a misogynistic society that demeans women . . . by objectifying their bodies." But is this statistic correct? One hundred and fifty thousand deaths is more than three times the number of fatalities from car accidents every year. Philosophy professor Christina Hoff Sommers tracked down the statistic in its original source and found that it was a blatant misquotation: The original study stated that 150,000 women suffer from anorexia, not die from it. Studies on actual deaths place them at 50 to 100 annually. Of course, each of those deaths is a tragedy for the person and the family involved. Still, the numbers give no support to the extreme feminist portrayal of anorexia as a widespread and lethal symptom of male oppression. Consider another example of cooked statistics: spouse abuse. A year ago the president of the National Organization for Women claimed that battery of women is the number-one cause of birth defects. Again, Christina Sommers checked the original source. And again, she discovered a misquotation: It came from a speech by a nurse stating that fewer women are screened for domestic battery than are screened for birth defects. The speaker said nothing about battery causing birth defects. Yet that fake statistic has been repeated in newspapers and magazines around the country. These examples and many more are related in Christina Sommers's new book, Who Stole Feminism? It uncovers a host of mistakes, misquotations, and misleading studies cited by extreme feminists in their apocalyptic vision of male oppressors and female victims. The danger in extremist ideologies is that they separate the world into evil oppressors and innocent victims. As Christians we should be the first to point out that men have abused their strengths and privileges. We call that sin. But sin is not an exclusively male preserve. It is endemic to the human heart, afflicting both sexes—though temptation may come to men and women in different forms. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. So you and I should be skeptical about any philosophy that draws that line between groups of people. The book of Proverbs says, "The first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward and questions him." Any time we encounter an ideology that contradicts the biblical worldview, let's make sure we're the ones asking tough questions.


Chuck Colson


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