New Study Finds Myths, Misrepresentations in Women’s Studies Textbooks

By Glenn Sacks

A new study by the Independent Women’s Forum has concluded that Women’s Studies textbooks "ignore facts in favor of myths," "mistake ideology for scholarship," and encourage students to "embrace aggrievement, not knowledge." The study, Lying in a Room of One’s Own: How Women’s Studies Textbooks Miseducate Students, examined the five most popular Women Studies’ textbooks in the United States.

The study’s author, scholar Christine Stolba, used the textbooks because she sought to examine academic feminism’s mainstream, instead of its oft-criticized fringe. She divided her study into three main categories, "Errors of Interpretation," "Errors of Fact," and "Sins of Omission."

The "Errors of Interpretation" occur in large part because the textbooks construe every study, statistic, or piece of evidence to mean that women are miserable and oppressed, and that men are privileged oppressors. Among the "truths" that the textbooks tell us are: women are under siege from virtually all sectors of society; little has changed for women in the past three decades; believing that women have achieved equality is "modern sexism"; and most women are not naturally attracted to men but are the victims of "compulsory heterosexuality" maintained through (male) "social control."

The textbooks also depict motherhood as a "burden for women, something to be overcome" and portray women who choose to remain home with their young children as dupes who buy into oppressive traditional female roles. In addition, bad fathers are described as the rule rather than the exception, the prevalence of sexual abuse and molestation are wildly exaggerated, and students are told that fathers represent a "foreign male element" that mothers and daughters must often unite against.

Among the many "Errors of Fact" Stolba cites are the belief that the government has ignored women’s health needs at the expense of men’s, and that the gender wage gap is a direct result of discrimination.

The women’s health claim was made famous in 1990 by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who generated national headlines when she cited the fact that women-specific health research comprised only 14% of the budget of the National Institute of Health (NIH) and labeled it "blatant discrimination." However, only 6.5% of the NIH’s budget went to male-specific research—the vast majority of the NIH’s research was (and is) addressed to health issues affecting both sexes. Since 1990 the disparity favoring female-specific NIH research has grown even wider.

The claim that men are paid more than women for the same job has been refuted by studies by liberal, dissident feminist, and conservative organizations, all of whom have found that single men do not earn more than single women. The gender wage gap is caused by the career sacrifices that mothers make for their children, and the personal sacrifices fathers make (longer work weeks, more consecutive years of service, more hazardous jobs, etc.) in order to earn the money to support those children. Surveys which take these factors into consideration have shown that, for the same job, women earn within 2% of what men do.

In "Sins of Omission" Stolba notes that the textbooks airbrush all heroines to remove their flaws. For example, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, is extolled, but her well-documented racism is not mentioned. Similarly, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is praised uncritically without noting her administration’s corruption.

Powerful or heroic women who happened to hold conservative beliefs, such as Florence Nightingale, Golda Meir, and Margaret Thatcher, are either ignored or are portrayed as sellouts who "turned from other women." The power wielded by first ladies is praised in the wives of Democratic presidents and ignored in the wives of Republican presidents. Feminist dissidents, an increasingly numerous and vocal group, are dismissed briefly, if they are mentioned at all.

Alice Graves, a UCLA graduate familiar with Women’s Studies, agrees with Stolba’s depiction. She says:

"Much of what is taught in Women’s Studies panders to us and insults our intelligence. I want to learn the truth about both women and men, the good and the bad. I want all women’s voices to be heard, not just those who toe the party line. Do my professors believe that I can’t be trusted to think for myself?"

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