Crying wolf
Feminist sexual-harassment hysteria

Tulane Public Relations

New students check their ID cards at Tulane University

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) issued two reports in the early Nineties that were harmfully wrong. AAUW researchers claimed to show how “our gender biased” classrooms were damaging the self-esteem of the nation’s girls and holding them back academically. That was simply not true. At the time AAUW released those studies, girls were rapidly moving ahead of boys academically. The defective but influential research of the AAUW promoted a specious “shortchanged girl” crisis that diverted the attention of educators away from the genuine needs of male students. As dozens of recent news stories report, it is boys, not girls, who are on the wrong side of the educational gender gap. Today, our colleges are nearly 57-percent female. And that gap keeps growing.

Now, instead of acknowledging they were mistaken about girls being shortchanged and celebrating the remarkable success of today’s university women, the AAUW has just released another flawed and misleading study claiming to show a “chilly climate” for women on campus.

"Unfortunately for the AAUW’s case, it is not possible to fix the blame for the excessive sexual exhibitionism on men alone."--Christina Hoff Sommers

In this new study, “Drawing the Line: Sexual Harassment On Campus,” the AAUW finds that nearly two thirds of American college students are victims of sexual harassment. It used Harris Interactive, a well-regarded polling company, to conduct an online survey of 2036 randomly selected college students. But then the AAUW staff took over the task of interpreting and dramatizing the responses. For starters, they defined "sexual harassment" in a way that differs markedly from the commonly accepted legal definition. The Department of Education, for example, defines sexual harassment as conduct “so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it affects a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity, or creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment.” The AAUW staff used what they characterized as their own “intentionally broad” definition. By their standard, any student surveyed who felt deeply offended by a peer’s “comments, jokes, gestures, and looks” counted as a victim. When they discovered that by their novel criteria a large majority of students qualified as harassment casualties, they might have realized that something was amiss. Instead, they described the survey as “ground-breaking,” and launched a national campus “action project.”

One finding of the study is extremely awkward for the hard-line feminists at the AAUW: Equal numbers of males and females reported having been “harassed” in the past year. Moreover, in what appear to be genuine cases of harassment, more men than women were victims. To the question: “Were you asked to do something sexual in exchange for a better grade, class notes, etc.?” eight percent of males and five percent of females said "yes."

It could not have been easy to construe such findings as evidence of a “chilly climate” for women students, but the AAUW was equal to the challenge. Its staff explains that while harassment afflicts both sexes, women are more likely to become upset. According to the AAUW press release, “Because our research shows that sexual harassment takes an especially high toll on women, we are concerned that sexual harassment may make it harder for them to get the education they need to take care of themselves and their families in the future.” Actually, the responses revealed that most women in the survey did not feel that harassment was exacting any kind of toll on their education. Though some were angered or embarrassed by a particular incident, only two percent said that they often worried about harassment.

The AAUW study did not in fact uncover an epidemic of harassment. But it did inadvertently highlight a very unpleasant and troubling feature of contemporary campus life. There is a lot of raunchiness and in-your-face sexuality everywhere a student turns. Unfortunately for the AAUW’s case, it is not possible to fix the blame for the excessive sexual exhibitionism on men alone. Many women are conspicuous contributors, particularly on “V-Day.” February 14th is now celebrated on most American campuses, not as Valentine’s Day, but as V-day (short for “Vagina Day” or for “Violence Against Women Day”). V-Day--usually organized by a small minority of ideologically driven women faculty and impressionable and confused female students--has become an annual occasion to deplore all the horrible things men do to women while at the same time celebrating the wonders of female sexual anatomy. For a two- or three-week period, campuses are festooned with close-up images of a specific female body part. Frequently there are sexually suggestive T-shirts, anatomically correct lollipops, obscene chants and sex toy workshops.

If the AAUW were serious about improving the climate on campus, it could start by looking for ways to reason with the V-Day enthusiasts to discourage their antics. But that is not about to happen any time soon.

Campuses need effective policies against genuine harassment. They do not need the divisive gender politics of the AAUW spin sisters. The AAUW’s statistically challenged, chronically mistaken, and relentlessly male-averse “studies” should not be taken seriously.

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author


Christina Hoff
  • Christina Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor who taught ethics, is probably best known for her critique of late-twentieth-century feminism. She is also known for her extensive writings, among them Who Stole Feminism? (Touchstone Books, 1995), The War Against Boys (Touchstone Books, 2001), One Nation Under Therapy (St. Martin's Press, 2005), and The Science on Women and Science (AEI Press, 2009). Her textbook, Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, a bestseller in college ethics, is currently in its ninth edition. Her new book Freedom Feminism—Its Surprising History and Why it Matters Today will be published in spring 2013 by AEI Press. A new and revised version of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Are Harming our Young Men will be out in August 2013 (Simon and Schuster).

    Follow Christina Hoff Sommers on Twitter.
  • Phone: 2028627180
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Caroline Kitchens
    Phone: 2028625820

What's new on AEI

image Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011
image Net neutrality rundown: What the NPRM means for you
image The Schuette decision
image Snatching failure from victory in Afghanistan
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.