When Life Gives You A Sommers, Make Sommers-ade

August 14, 2009, 1:21 am

Today, when I was in between sessions of my advanced oral history institute, I received an email from someone identifying herself as Christina Hoff Sommers’ assistant, Kimberly Hudson. The e-mail pointed me to this story at the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Christina Hoff Sommers thought you might find this exchange interesting,” it said.

Well first of all, I’ve got to say that what I actually find interesting is that, when I look at the address list, the Tenured Radical has ascended to the lofty bloggy ranks of Feministe, which is also on the list, as is Bitch Ph.D., and Ann Althouse. Either my status is rising (“Hello, Huffington Post! R U redy 2 sho me the luv?”) or Sommers has the compulsive need to be in touch with everyone who has written anything critical about her, no matter how unimportant they are.

Whatever, you know? I’ll go with the the first theory and take recognition where I can get it.

The Chronicle story, if you didn’t bother to click the link, is that publication’s attempt to get “both sides of the story” on the dispute between Sommers and Nancy K.D. Lemon about whether Lemon is a scholar or a left-wing, loose-with-the-facts, hijacking, so-called feminist who “stole” feminism from the right-wingers like Sommers who really know what to do with it.

I’m voting that Lemon is a great feminist scholar whose work has been repeatedly vetted by experts in her field, but do look at the evidence and see what you think. I wouldn’t want to, you know, state that Lemon is a highly regarded legal scholar as if it was a true fact, and then have Sommers go around the country giving speeches about me. Although maybe I should rethink that, if it would make me more famous…..Anyway, to recap, for those who have joined us late: Sommers’ claim against Lemon was the subject of this July 1 post by yours truly, and the attack follows a now familiar strategy (familiar, in fact, with some variations, since the McCarthy era):

1. I have found a so-called fact in your work that I dispute.
2. This fact calls the veracity of your work into question, regardless of your belief that it is true and your good faith effort to demonstrate that.
3. You either knowingly lied or you are stupid: your explanations and disputation of my criticism are worthless.
4. You are a fraud, and your work is not only without value, but absolutely wrong in all its particulars, a danger to your students and a danger to the United States of America.

In other words, lob as many accusations as possible, hope some of them hit, and obscure the whole point of what someone is writing about by insisting that something minor that is a reasonably disputable fact or interpretation makes that person into an egg-sucking liar.

Now if Sommers were still in the academy, this would be what we call uncollegial behavior. (Note how she has carefullly chosen disputable facts as the basis of her attack on Lemon, so that she cannot be sued for libeling Lemon, or slandering her in the many well-paid talks Sommers has given around the country where the faithful gather to hear the Word.) But because she is nobody’s colleague, and is paid by the American Enterprise Institute to create diversions so that important social and economic issues are not addressed, we might just want to call it self-promoting.

Sommers’ criticism of Lemon is that references to “the rule of Romulus’ repeat the factual error that there was such a person as Romulus; and that there is no record of the “the rule of thumb” in English law. Read the exchange to get the gist of the argument about these two (not terribly important) citations in a very, very long legal textbook about domestic violence.

A third criticism is that one of Lemon’s authors referred to a March of Dimes study about battered women that Sommers said in the last round doesn’t exist. The study does exist and was funded by the March of Fucking Dimes, although Sommers still claims the current Director of Dimes knows nothing about it. But Sommers says the semantic difference of whether it is a March o’ Dimes study, or a study funded by the March (and for all I know, the funder owns the research whether it remembers having funded it or not) is absolutely crucial to the credibility of Lemon’s whole textbook.

And my question is: why? Why, even if these assertions are true, would it destroy the credibility of the whole book until and unless someone did much more research to show that there were systemic flaws of argument and fact throughout?

Sommers has restated her position in this second piece — not answered Lemon, although Lemon has done her the courtesy of responding to the original critique. But I would like to ask Christina Hoff Sommers a question and have her really answer it:

What the hell do the the question of whether either Romulus or the rule of thumb are “real”, have to do, today, with the critical fact under discussion: that men continue to rape, beat and kill women and children as if they owned them? Nancy Lemon is trying to do something to change that by working to get the legal system to respond to the idea that women have a right to health and safety — what are you doing?

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