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Controversial feminist critic discusses trigger warnings, free speech amidst opposition on campus

Feminist critic and scholar Christina Hoff Sommers argued that feminism on college campuses has led to intolerance and censorship at an event entitled “Victims, Victims Everywhere: Trigger Warnings, Liberty, and the Academy” on Tuesday night.

The speech was organized by the Columbia American Enterprise Institute Executive Council and co-sponsored by the Columbia Libertarians, the Columbia Political Union, and the Columbia College Republicans. A critic of modern feminism, Sommers is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and author of “Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women” and “The War Against Boys.”

Although there were no protesters at the event, Sommers’ invitation to campus was met with opposition on a campus that has recently been debating issues of free speech, with event organizers taking to social media to report that flyers advertising the event were torn down.

During her speech, Sommers said that the destruction of the flyers was evidence of the rise of intolerance on college campuses.

"You're convinced critics have nothing to offer, so fine. Get a speaker disinvited. And if that fails, tear down their posters or screech obscenities throughout their talk,” Sommers said.

Sommers criticized the rise of safe spaces and trigger warnings on college campuses, saying that they draw away from critical inquiry and campus-wide discourse.

“Trigger warnings, microaggression monitoring, privilege checking—these aren't really about protecting vulnerable and marginalized people. These are not about social justice,” Sommers said. “They are illiberal means of preventing the free exchange of ideas.”

Sommers went on to differentiate between universities that “worry about protecting feelings” and universities that “grapple with the truth.” As an example of a “truth-seeking university” and a leader in the movement to promote freedom of speech on campus, she cited the University of Chicago, which sent a letter to incoming students last summer opposing safe spaces and trigger warnings.  

Sommers also referenced “anonymous reports” of professors’ potentially offensive comments in classes at Columbia as an example of censorship. Columbia faculty have raised complaints that anonymous critiques on CourseWorks could affect their careers by accusing them of racism or sexism.

“[An anonymous report] initiates so much self-censorship, and it’s just going to push people inside. This is not healthy, and it’s not conducive to humanity, and it’s against the spirit of democracy, so it’s all wrong,” Sommers said. “I don’t mean to be negative or sarcastic, but it must be stopped.”

At the root of this rise in censorship is intersectional feminism, according to Sommers. Though Sommers is a proponent of equity feminism, which she describes as complete equality for men and women, she advocates against intersectional feminism, which she calls a Marx-affiliated “cult posing as a college major” that “sanctions bullying and ostracism.” According to Sommers, feminism on college campuses has turned into censorship and authoritarianism.

In the question and answer session that followed her speech, audience members asked questions on topics ranging from the presidential election to government-sanctioned paternity leave. Sommers broadened her argument against intersectional feminism to extend beyond college campuses and into current politics and international affairs.

Several audience members challenged Sommers on her positions, though she did not respond to every question posed.

One audience member asked if her “reductive” tone was shutting down conversation. When another audience member called Sommers out for not responding to the second half of the question, she said, “You don’t need to decide what I address.”

Sommers ended her speech with advice to college students, telling them to “take back feminism.”

“Fight for what is rightfully yours: the freedom to speak, to think, to grow,” Sommers said. “Take back freedom. Take back reason and kindness and toughness and humor.”

cara.maines@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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