Kate Kennedy of the Independent Women's Forum

(WOMENSENEWS)–The full-page advertisement minces few words. “Combat the Radical Feminist Assault on Truth,” reads the banner headline. “Are you tired of male bashing and victimology?” asks a sub-headline.

The ad goes on to list “the 10 most common feminist myths,” challenging, among other things, statistics on college rapes, domestic violence and women’s pay inequity.

The conservative Independent Women’s Forum placed the ad in three college newspapers last month, as part of a campaign called “Take Back the Campus,” aimed at spreading its views among university students. A description posted on the group’s Web site said the ad provided “information, guidance and support for students seeking an alternative to the rigid feminist orthodoxy that is part of today’s campus atmosphere.”

The Washington-based Independent Women’s Forum was formed by a group of Republican women in 1992 in the aftermath of the contentious Senate hearings on Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment. Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is a former board member and now is listed as a member-emerita.

Mrs. Cheney had no comment on the ad campaign, said spokeswoman Margita Thompson. She said Mrs. Cheney was busy writing a book on education reform and had not been involved in this women’s forum project.

“This was a test run for us to figure out the type of reaction we would receive,” said Kate Kennedy, campus projects manager for the Independent Women’s Forum. She said the organization was planning similar college advertising during the next school year.

Ad Sparks Debate and Protest at UCLA

The limited run at the end of this school year sparked debate and protest on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles, where the student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, published the ad on April 18. The ad also ran in the Dartmouth Review and the Yale Daily, though Kennedy said she had received only “muted” response from those two campuses.

The Columbia University Spectator rejected the advertisement. The Harvard Crimson wanted to edit the copy and add material and the Independent Women’s Forum dropped its effort to publish its ad there, she said.

“When we saw the ad we were all pretty surprised, shocked at the extreme nature of it,” said Christie Scott, a UCLA senior majoring in women’s studies and American literature and culture. “This ad is generic in a sense, basically making vague accusations. … It’s just sort of hateful.”

Scott, a co-chair of the university’s Clothesline Project, a group aimed at raising awareness of violence against women, helped spearhead the protest. She and other students formed the Coalition for the Fair Representation of Women, which has demanded an apology from the Daily Bruin for running the ad. The group also staged a small protest outside the newspaper’s offices on May 18 and is circulating a petition on campus denouncing the newspaper’s decision to accept the ad.

Scott said she believed the Independent Women’s Forum advertisement violated guidelines in the university policy governing student media advertising. “The ad is very exaggerated. A lot of the facts are slanderous or demeaning,” she said.

But the newspaper’s editors have stood firm in their decision to run the ad and have not issued an apology.

“I asserted our advertising policy. We keep the gate wide open,” said Guy Levy, assistant director of business of student media at UCLA.

Newspaper Cites First Amendment, Prints Arguments on Both Sides

The Daily Bruin published several articles about the controversy and printed letters and opinion pieces on both sides of the argument. In one letter, Barrie Levy, an adjunct faculty member in the social welfare and women’s studies departments, wrote, “This ad is a nasty attack on women that would never be permitted if taken out to attack African American or Asian studies.”

In the advertisement, the Independent Women’s Forum criticized women’s studies programs, calling them “an old-girl network that is far more elitist, narrow and closed than any of the old-boy networks they rail against.”

Other “feminist myths” listed in the advertisement: “Women have been shortchanged in medical research” and that schools are gender-biased and “breeding grounds for sexual harassment.”

The ad also refers to campus feminism as “a kind of cult,” going on to say, “Students are inculcated with bizarre conspiracy theories about the ‘capitalist patriarchal hegemony.'” The ad asks readers to inform the Independent Women’s Forum about any items of what it calls “Ms.Information” in classes, textbooks or other literature.

“We will print it on our campus web site, correct it with accurate information and politely inform the source of the mistake,” the ad states.

Kennedy, the women’s forum’s campus projects manager, defended the advertisement in an opinion piece carried by the Daily Bruin on May 22. She wrote that the campus newspaper had a First Amendment right to run the advertisement, adding that the Independent Women’s Forum supported “open debate and dialogue.” She also said statements contained in the ad were supported by citations that could be found on the Independent Women’s Forum’s Web site.

Women’s Forum Cites ‘New Intolerance’ on College Campuses

In a telephone interview, Kennedy said the ad was placed after the controversy that erupted last February when conservative author David Horowitz began taking out college newspaper ads that questioned the validity of slavery reparations. The ad, “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea–and Racist Too,” caused a furor on some campuses, particularly at the University of California at Berkeley, where the student newspaper, the Daily Californian, subsequently published a front-page apology for running it.

“We thought Horowitz did a fantastic job, regardless of his issue, uncovering a new intolerance on college campuses,” Kennedy said. “We wanted to know: Was it just that subject?”

Editors at the Harvard Crimson, she said, had sought to make changes to the text, add citations and delete entire sentences. One proposed deletion referred to a statistic that 30 percent of all emergency room visits by women were the result of injuries from domestic violence. The women’s forum copy said, “This incendiary statistic is promoted by gender feminists whose primary goal seems to be to impugn men.” The Independent Women’s Forum refused to remove that reference and sentence, Kennedy said.

The Crimson editors also had asked to include citations supporting other statements in the advertisement, she said. After a lengthy “back and forth,” the women’s forum decided to drop the effort because it was so close to the end of the semester, Kennedy explained.

Text of Independent Women’s Forum’s Ten Most Common Feminist Myths:

If you believe two or more of these untruths, you may need deprogramming:

  1. Myth: One in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape.
  2. Myth: Women earn 75 cents for every dollar a man earns.
  3. Myth: Thirty percent of emergency room visits by women each year are the result of injuries from domestic violence.
  4. Myth: The phrase “rule of thumb” originated in a man’s right to beat his wife provided the stick was no wider than his thumb.
  5. Myth: Women have been shortchanged in medical research.
  6. Myth: Girls have been shortchanged in our gender-biased schools.
  7. Myth: “Our schools are training grounds for sexual harassment … boys are rarely punished while girls are taught that it is their role to tolerate this humiliating conduct.” –National Organization for Women, “Issue Report: Sexual Harassment,” April 1998.
  8. Myth: Girls suffer a dramatic loss of self-esteem during adolescence.
  9. Myth: Gender is a social construction.
  10. Myth: Women’s Studies Departments empowered women and gave them a voice in the academy.

Vera Haller is a free-lance writer in New York

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