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National Review Wages a Lonely War on the "War on Women"

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News

Last year, to counter the notion that the GOP was waging a "war on women," National Review ran a piece titled "The War on Men," by editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez, who wrote, "I am deeply offended by what is being said about men," and went on to cite men like Rick Santorum, noted enemy of contraceptives. Despite the magazine’s best efforts, neither the concept nor the piece itself—which Timothy Noah, writing for The New Republic, ably dismantled—caught on with the general public. And then Todd Akin lost. And Richard Mourdock. And Tom Smith. And Obama won women by eighteen points. At which point, many conservatives decided to avoid the gender wars altogether.

But not the aforementioned conservative publication. Thursday night, National Review Online, in partnership with the nonprofit Independent Women’s Forum (known for objecting to college productions of The Vagina Monologues and trying to discredit stats about violence against women), hosted a debate on the topic: “Is there a war on women? Or is it a war on men?” Moderated by NRO editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg, it featured Christina Hoff Sommers, author of the 2000 book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men; Fox News pundit Kirsten Powers; Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum; and Judy Bachrach, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair.

In her opening remarks, Schaeffer laid out the panel’s assessment of gender relations today: “Women are doing pretty well.” Yet the tone of the debate was hardly optimistic: It would seem that women doing well is a cause for concern. To hear Sommers tell it, boys are powerless against the oppressive women’s movement, which is apparently in the business of feminizing schools and excluding men from higher education.

“The powerful women’s lobby is fighting a war of attrition against men,” Sommers said. “Boys’ educational needs have been ignored. They’re noisier, rowdier, harder to manage. Today, in our risk-averse classrooms, boys are finding themselves unwelcome.”

There may be some truth to Sommers’s claim that girls are earning higher grades in high school and even catching up to men in graduate school enrollment. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story: High school boys still get higher SAT scores, participate more actively in class discussions, and study science, technology, engineering and math at much higher rates than girls. When I asked her after the debate why she was concerned by the prospect of women outnumbering men in college, but not by women’s underrepresentation in science and math, Sommers brushed me off, blaming the disparity on biological differences in men and women’s interests and IQ.

As evidence of this supposed classroom prejudice against boys, Sommers told the audience that schools are replacing boys’ favorite game, “tag,” with a more female-friendly alternative called “circle of friends.” Sommers has been winding people up with this story for more than a decade: It shows up in The War Against Boys; in her 2005 book One Nation Under Therapy; in an interview that year on “The Daily Show”; and in a Q&A last week with NRO. So what schools, exactly, have outlawed tag? When Jon Stewart asked her, Sommers awkwardly backtracked: “Well, this is recommended in a book called Quit It, which is an anti-bullying curriculum.” In other words: “circle of friends” might be a real thing somewhere; it might not. Tag is not under threat. And neither, contrary to Sommers's claims, are American men.

Alice Robb is an intern at The New Republic. Follow her @AliceLRobb.