WASHINGTON – The modern woman is plagued by stereotypes imposed by a male-dominated society, which keeps her relegated to rearing children, keeping home and working in low-paying, menial jobs.
That is the universal claim found in women's studies textbooks on college campuses today, according to a critical analysis by the Independent Women's Forum, a women's group that has often tangled with the traditional feminist establishment.
The treatise, set forth by Christine Stolba, a senior fellow at IWF, has already drawn fire from scholars who see Stolba as an "ultra-conservative" with an ax to grind against traditional feminists.
"[The study] presents a distorted picture of the now well-established field of women’s studies. It represents only the clearly biased opinion of one individual's reading of a set of syllabi and a few textbooks," said Debra Humphreys, a spokeswoman for the American Association of University Women.
"I think it's outrageous. It's irresponsible," said Magdalena Garcia-Pinto, president of the National Women's Studies Association, which says there are 750 respected women's studies programs in higher education.
Stolba reviewed five of the most popular introductory textbooks and over 30 course syllabi from major colleges and universities across the country.
She said many of the textbooks ignore the advances women have made in order to push an anti-male, liberal agenda that is rooted more in the stone age of gender relations than in 21st-century culture.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged in women's studies textbooks that women have been and continue to be the victims of oppression," wrote Stolba. "Women's studies textbooks support a large number of factual inaccuracies. Many of these are deliberately misleading sisterly sophistries."
Stolba quoted numerous cases of "mythmaking" found in the textbooks, including the following posits:
— "Wife battering emerges from institutional arrangements that isolate women in the home and give men authority over them;"
— "The same social conventions that hindered the acquisition of learning by women in earlier centuries still limit our educational opportunities;"
— "Heterosexuality is maintained by social control;"
— "The institution of marriage and the role of ‘wife’ are intimately connected with the subordination of the women in society in general;"
— "Daughters often find ourselves in league with our mothers against the foreign male element represented by the father;"
— "Women who take traditional gender norms at face value and become full-time homemakers are rewarded by being the most economically and psychologically vulnerable of all women;" and
— "Despite the strong claims of neutrality and objectivity by scientists, the fact is that science is closely tied to the centers of power in this society and interwoven with capitalist and patriarchal institutions."
Stolba said plenty of studies exist that would disprove these myths or offer another point of view, but the authors ignored them, leaving a dangerously one-sided worldview for impressionable students.
"I think the harm is it starts women, especially freshman students, off on the wrong foot and really encourages this sense of grievance and victimology that will not help them as they go through the rest of their education," she said.
Christina Hoff Summers, author of Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys, agreed.
"Women's studies is dominated by the more eccentric wing, the radical feminist, what I call gender feminists. There are some exceptions, but as a rule, they tend to teach young women they are captive to a patriarchal, sex hegemony — all that nonsense," she said.
University of Massachusetts professor Daphne Patai, author of Heterophobia, who describes herself as a liberal Democrat and "former radical of the 1960s," has experienced her own oppression by women's studies professors, whose programs she criticized for having an anti-heterosexual bent.
"I think there is no question that there is tremendous antagonism towards heterosexuality. The IWF writer did the right thing, she took them at their own words," Patai said. "My review of women['s] studies writing is they're tremendously antagonistic against heterosexuality — it's become an unobjected statement to a great deal of academic feminists. There are writers that have written about this at length. They see heterosexuality as the lynchpin of oppression."
Critics say Stolba and the IWF are out of touch with the issues and true goals of women's studies programs, which look at the origins of gender bias and discuss issues currently confronting minority female groups.
"Those people are insane," Jacque Kahn, the assistant director of the women's studies program at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, said of the IWF. "[They are] conservative, white, upper-middle-class women who indeed have a lot of successes. But in our classes, we teach about women of color, women from different countries and backgrounds, who have a long, long way to go."
Stolba said that some textbooks were "slightly less biased than others" and she did not want to portray all women’s studies classrooms as breeding grounds for brainwashing.
"But eventually someone is going to say the empress has no clothes," she said. "I don't hate the field, but there are some serious scholarly flaws associated with it."