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National NOW Times >> Summer 2002 >> Article

Attacks on Campus Feminism Spread Misinformation, Propaganda

by Lisa Bennett, Communications Director

Because rape and sexual harassment can damage a young woman's life at worst and limit her opportunities at best, students on college campuses have been educating their peers about the impact of violence against women. At schools across the country, feminist activists are speaking out about date rape, the use of Rohypnol (the "date rape drug"), women's health and safety on campus, and the typically weak response of college officials to the issue.

Is campus feminism under attack? The Independent Women's Forum wants young activists like this to stop speaking out. Characteristically, anti-women's-rights groups have responded with an attack on what they call "victimology" feminism by spreading misinformation to college students. The so-called Independent Women's Forum (IWF) is leading the way, thanks to funding from the top conservative foundations in the country.

"Take Back the Campus" is an IWF propaganda campaign initiated last spring and designed to halt progress toward preventing and punishing violence and to discourage young women from identifying as feminists. The campaign even calls campus feminism "kind of a cult."

The campaign's first move was to place ads in college newspapers, challenging what the IWF calls the "myths" of feminism by criticizing statistics on domestic violence and rape, downplaying pay inequity between the sexes, minimizing the problem of sexual harassment in schools, and more. With questionable statistics and heated rhetoric, the advertisement targets students it says need "deprogramming."

Next up was the release of their own "study" and supportive opinion pieces in national newspapers arguing that women's sexual freedom and empowerment are making it difficult to find a mate. The IWF-commissioned "survey" claimed that "Marriage is a major life goal for the majority of today's college women, and most would like to meet a spouse while at college," and that casual "hooking up" is getting in the way of meeting that spouse while still in school.

For Valentine's Day, the campaign asked students to reject Eve Ensler's play "The Vagina Monologues," which addresses how women feel about sex, love, men, other women, rape, war, gynecological exams and, of course, their vaginas. "The Vagina Monologues" has become an important tool in recent years for educating students about violence against women and the play's popularity on college campuses is clearly irking the IWF.

The IWF is spreading its tirades against feminism to the national media through a set-up no progressive group could get away with. Writing in Working for Change, feminist journalist Laura Flanders revealed that the same far-right foundations that created and continue to fund the IWF are footing the bill for something called the Collegiate Network.

The Collegiate Network trains and supports conservative college journalists, providing them as free interns to publications like USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, where they have the opportunity to write opinion pieces promoting right-wing values. Two Collegiate Network interns wrote strikingly similar pieces for USA Today and the Daily Standard criticizing the Vagina Monologues and promoting the IWF's new web site targeted at young women. To the average reader, these writers appear to be eager interns getting a big break, rather than the well-funded propagandists that they are.

For women's history month, the IWF released a report claiming that women's studies textbooks "miseducate" students. The author reviewed five popular textbooks from introductory women's studies courses and found fault with everything from the books' "bloated statistics on 'battered wives'" to "graphic photos of women performing do-it-yourself pelvic exams." She concluded that women's studies classes are "narrow intellectual prisons presided over by matriarchs of mediocrity."

NOW's Action Vice President, Olga Vives, warns: "With lots of money behind it, the IWF is not likely to stop until women's studies departments are dismantled, young women stop working toward equality and justice, and survivors of violence go back to keeping silent."

To clear up the misinformation that the anti-feminist IWF is distributing on campuses, NOW is compiling the best information available on domestic violence, rape and date rape. Government and health organizations have released a number of new studies in the last few years and the numbers speak for themselves—violence against women, particularly young women, continues to be a serious problem.

Go to NOW.org's Violence Against Women section to find our first report on the truth about violence against women, or send a self-addressed stamped legal-sized envelope to NOW Violence Report, 733 15th St. NW, Suite 240, Washington, DC 20005, to receive a copy.

More reports will follow, so periodically check the web address above for updates. Together we can help feminists on campus set the record straight.


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