[AAUW Lashes Out at Christina Hoff-Sommers ]

American Association of University Women Memorandum
To: Branch and State Presidents, Communication Chairs, and Initiative Chairs

From: AAUW Media Relations

Re: Responding to Who Stole Feminism? by Christina Hoff Sommers

Date: March 1995

The following comments are in response to Christina Hoff Sommers' criticisms of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and its research on the status of girls and boys in public schools. Listed below are three main themes AAUW expounds when responding to Sommers' charges:

* The women's movement has achieved a great deal and has much to be proud of, but we cannot afford to rest on our laurels and ignore the many challenges ahead. A woman still makes only 73 cents to a man's dollar, Congress is only 10 percent female, and while women are 45 percent of the workforce, they are still underrepresented in traditionally high-paying male fields such as science, engineering, physics, and computer science. AAUW research clearly shows that schoolgirls are not receiving the same quality of education as boys. Our goal is to make sure that every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, because when we shortchange girls, we shortchange America.

* The AAUW Report: How Schools Shortchange Girls and our surveys are based on solid research and methodology. The AAUW Report examined more than 1,300 studies on girls and education. In all our research, we worked with the best universities, the best scholars, and the best survey research experts in the country. We are proud of our work and the positive impact it has had. The research findings have been embraced by the general public because the findings have resonated with parents, teachers, and policymakers. AAUW has worked in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association of State Boards of Education, and the National Education Association along with the Girl Scouts, the YWCA, Girls, Inc., and numerous other education, women, and service organizations.

For more than 100 years AAUW has sponsored research and given fellowships to women to complete their higher education. Today we give annually $2.5 million in grants to women to complete their dissertation or conduct thesis research. We give fellowships to teachers trying to learn new and better ways to teach both girls and boys. Our 1,750 branches have worked in partnership with parents, teachers, school boards, policymakers, the Girl Scouts, the YWCA, and other community groups to broaden the educational and career horizons for women and girls. We sponsor math camps, mentoring programs, and science fairs.

* Unfortunately, Who Stole Feminism? is not about making positive societal change or changing behavior to create a more equitable society for women and girls. Rather, AAUW perceives the book to be an attack on scholars, women's organizations, and higher education. Contrary to what Sommers contends, there is nothing in any of our research about terms she uses--domination, subjugation, victimization, or oppression. Anyone who has read The AAUW Report will know that none of this is in our research. Ours is not a radical agenda despite Sommers' characterization of AAUW. We are about positive societal change. What does Sommers have to offer women and girls of America?

Our research looks for solutions and is based on facts, not anecdotes or soundbites. The important thing to remember is that this debate is not about AAUW; it's about the children in this country. What is important is that our daughters and sons reach their full potential. Now let's talk about the facts.

Note: Chapters 7, "The Self-Esteem Study" (pages 137-154), and Chapter 8, "The Wellesley Report: Gender at Risk" (pages 155-187), of Who Stole Feminism? are devoted to attacking AAUW.

(See attached fact sheet on erroneous charges) American Association of University Women


Charge: The Gender Equity in Education Act is a $360 million bill that will establish a permanent and well-funded gender equity bureaucracy.

Response: False and misleading. The House Gender Equity in Education Act (GEEA) and the Senate Gender Equity in Education Package (GEEP) introduced two different versions of gender equity legislation. Ultimately and to varying degrees, the language in both the Senate and House versions of the gender equity legislation was incorporated into the 1994 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a $12 billion education bill that is reauthorized every 5 years.

The only money earmarked for gender equity under ESEA is for the Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) Program, which researches and develops model programs that promote gender equity in education. For fiscal year 1995, $3.9 million was appropriated for WEEA. As part of ESEA, WEEA is reauthorized every five years. The WEEA program was a major part of the Gender Equity in Education legislation. The $3.9 million appropriation represents a modest increase over the fiscal year 1994 appropriation of $2 million but a sharp drop from its historic high of $10 million appropriated in fiscal year 1980. The initial request for reauthorizing WEEA ranged from $110 million in the House to $30 million in the Senate.

Not all elements of the original House version of GEEA promoted gender equity. When Sommers quotes a $360 million price tag for GEEA, she is citing two programs that were introduced as part of the original House bill, but not enacted. In addition to the initial House request for $110 million for WEEA, Sommers is including $250 million that was earmarked for a coordinated school-based health services program for low-income children. While the goal of providing low-income children with greater access to health, social, and education services is laudable, this program was never drafted with the intention of advancing equity for girls in schools. The Senate version did not include money for this program. In the end, instead of a specific allocation of $250 million, Congress voted to allow school districts to use up to 5 percent of their ESEA funds to provide these services at a site on or near school grounds for low-income boys and girls.

The recently reauthorized ESEA includes several gender equity provisions. Teacher training, recruitment of female math and science teachers, and support of sexual harassment prevention programs are allowable uses of funds for gender equity. However, these gender equity provisions are part of large, pre-existing programs that have much broader purposes such as violence prevention, professional development, and low-income students. School program administrators will decide whether any fraction of that money will actually be spent on addressing the unique needs of girls within those programs. In other words, no new money was specifically allocated for the above mentioned gender equity provisions under ESEA.

Finally, the original House and Senate versions of the Gender Equity in Education legislation called for an Office of Gender Equity to coordinate federal efforts for gender equity in education and to provide accountability for the more effective and efficient use of government resources. The sponsors of the legislation envisioned an office with a staff of one. Ultimately no such office was created, but an assistant to the Secretary of Education was created. In our opinion, neither the proposed legislation nor the resulting legislation reflect Sommers' factually inaccurate and grossly exaggerated descriptions.

Charge: Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America (the AAUW poll on girls' self-esteem, interest in math and science and career aspirations) and its self-esteem index are based on only a few questions, and AAUW withheld data on responses by relying on the extremes.

Response: False. There were a total of 92 questions; 26 were on self-esteem alone. The self-esteem index was comprised of six indices or factors which included a general sense of individual self-esteem, feelings of importance within the family, academic confidence, feelings of isolation, expressions of verbalization or voice, and feelings of acceptance by peers. The self-esteem index was cross-referenced against several batteries of questions such as school subjects, career goals, and gender differences.

No conclusions were drawn on one or two questions. Rather the analysis looked at multiple patterns across multiple indicators for repeated conclusions and used multiple methodologies. Nor were any conclusions drawn solely on the end points of the response questions. All responses were used. Each response was weighted from 5 for "always true" to 1 for "always false." All responses were statistically combined, averaged, and verified. The "always true" responses reported and clearly marked in the Executive Summary were simply used to illustrate the issues, not to draw conclusions. It is common industry practice to illustrate by highlighting the end points in responses. The differences in gender response reported were all statistically significant. Multiple measures, methods, and analyses all came to the same conclusions. There is a margin of error of plus or minus one percentage point.

The poll is the first nationwide study of its kind. It is stratified by region, with an unprecedented number of children surveyed. It is oversampled for girls of color and has control groups of boys. It is also unique because of the unusually young ages of the sample, ages 9-15. The data hold up. All conclusions were approved by a team of academic advisers. Our survey research expert, Celinda Lake, says that of all the surveys she has worked on, the AAUW poll is one of the studies she is most proud of.

Charge: The self-esteem poll did not report on black males.

Response: Out of 3,000 children surveyed, only 600 were boys. The number of 600 was large enough in terms of validity to enable us to report male data as an aggregate. The sample size by race was too small to ethically report on black males or Hispanic males. Any reputable pollster would advise against reporting out data that did not have a large enough sample. Even an article Sommers cites acknowledges that fact (Science News, 3/23/1991).

While the sample size of African American males did not allow reporting out their high level of self-esteem, similar findings on African American girls were reported. The survey shows that family and community reinforcement sustain high levels of personal importance for black girls while they experience a drop in confidence about their academic achievement.

Charge: The results of the self-esteem poll undermine either the link the AAUW claims between self-esteem and academic performance or the methodology of self-reporting.

Response: False and misleading. AAUW does not claim a causal relationship between self-esteem and academic performance. The survey found a circular relationship between enjoyment of math and science and self-esteem. Students who like math and science possess significantly greater self-esteem. Students with high self-esteem like math and science more.

While Sommers ridicules self-reporting in her book as a valid methodology to assess self-esteem, she embraces it for surveys on rape and perceptions of gender bias. Surveys are a viable and useful instrument to measure self-esteem. Indeed, AAUW wanted to hear directly from girls and boys about their perceptions.

Charge: AAUW actually discovered a "reality gap," not a "glamour gap."

Response: False. The charge is based on a difference in her interpretation of the data, not the data itself. It is true that girls are more realistic about their career goals, but we are concerned that girls' aspirations are not as high as boys'. Should we be content that girls have faced facts and have resigned themselves to low-level traditional careers? This is one small piece of the data that Sommers distorted to support her argument.

Charge: AAUW deliberately tried to prevent Sommers from getting our full data on the self-esteem survey.

Response: False. We have met her request for the data. In fact, Sommers got the full data after writing a letter requesting it as everyone else did who received it. The materials are copyrighted, and we have a right to control their dissemination in the same way that others control the dissemination of their copyrighted materials. Many researchers do not release their data at all. In fact we are unusual because we do release the data. Nearly 100 scholars, individuals, and organizations nationwide have the full data. The full data is available to the public at cost by contacting AAUW.

Charge: AAUW conducts advocacy research. It is biased and designed to support predetermined conclusions.

Response: Absolutely false. There were no predetermined conclusions in any research or surveys commissioned by AAUW. We had no idea what the poll would find and were fully prepared to report out whatever findings there were. Sommers' charge of "advocacy research" seems to assert that all 1,331 studies synthesized in The AAUW Report were biased. Some of the studies reported on data from the U.S. Department of Education, National Science Foundation, Educational Testing Service, and U.S. Department of Health and Family Services, to name just a few. The sexual harassment survey (Hostile Hallways) was the first nationwide scientific study ever conducted on sexual harassment in school. The survey was commissioned to verify whether sexual harassment was a problem in schools as suggested by anecdotal reports in The AAUW Report.

Even the article Sommers cites to argue her case (Science News, Vol. 139, No. 12) quotes experts who acknowledge the decline of girls' self-esteem, the higher levels of black girls' self-esteem, and the multiple indicators to measure self-esteem.

Charge: Sommers questions the credibility and expertise of AAUW's researchers and claims we ignored the views of many experts who disagreed with us.

Response: False. We had a team of experts recognized in their field on each study. Carol Gilligan of Harvard University, Nancy Goldberger of the Fielding Institute, and Janie Victoria Ward of Simmons College advised on Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America. The AAUW Report: How Schools Shortchange Girls was researched by the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women. Sommers ignores two other major contributors to the report, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Association of State Boards of Education. Advisers on Hostile Hallways included Angela Ginorio of Northwest Center for Research on Women at University of Washington, Eleanor Linn of University of Michigan, and Saundra Nettles of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University.

One of the experts who we are criticized for not citing published his article (Education Digest 12/92) nearly two years AFTER we released our poll (1/91). A higher education survey (UCLA Annual Survey on College Freshman[sic]) that Sommers claims we ignored in The AAUW Report (that was restricted to K-12 research) was reported in January 1994, against nearly two years after the release of the report (2/92). Moreover, the UCLA survey shows that although freshman women express impressive career goals, the courses and majors planned did not support those goals.

Charge: AAUW was embarrassed to report in Hostile Hallways that boys were being sexually harassed.

Response: Absolutely false. The findings of harassment of males were not only reported in every press release, but were highlighted with a separate section in the survey report and in a fact sheet solely devoted to harassment of males. Virtually every media account reported on the male data.

Charge: The AAUW Report relies heavily on the work of the Sadkers. Response: This is an exaggeration. The AAUW Report covered 1,331 studies, of which the Sadkers were one. Of the 357 footnotes cited, six are for the Sadker research. The press coverage focused a great deal on the Sadker research, but the report covered much more than teacher-student interaction. A simply review of footnotes or annotated bibliography would have revealed that fact.

Charge: Elementary school teacher Lori Lowe called the NBC Dateline television news magazine a sham and derided the program's content and integrity.

Response: False. Lowe denies making those comments. She believes the program was accurate and believes that gender bias is a problem in schools. We spoke with Lowe and she steadfastly supports the Sadkers' work. Lowe does not ever recall speaking with Sommers and is certain that if she spoke with her, Sommers never identified herself as an author writing a book, nor were Lowe's remarks accurately reflected in the book.

Charge: Women and girls are not being discriminated against. Women have made dramatic education progress. More women go to college, more women graduate, and more women have master's degrees.

Response: Yes, there has been much progress and we applaud women's achievement in higher education, but we have not eliminated bias against women and girls. Although our critics can trot out numbers that they use to claim equality has been achieved, other statistics reveal that more needs to be done.

While some say that women earn the majority of pharmacology and veterinary degrees, men still receive the lion's share of professional degrees. Men receive 70 percent of natural science and engineering bachelor's degrees and 80 percent of natural science and engineering doctoral degrees. And men earn 84 percent of physics degrees. In the highest-paid specialty of surgical medicine, women are only 14 percent of surgical students.

Charge: Boys are the weaker sex due to drop outs, grades, and drug abuse. Test score differentials are minor in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the International Assessment of Educational Progress (IAEP).

Response: Engaging in who is worse off is not a constructive discussion and will not help our children. Boys do drop out more, but they are more likely to return to school or get their GEDs. When girls drop out they stay out. And the cycle of poverty is greatly influenced by the educational attainment of the mother. Childhood poverty is almost inescapable in single-parent families headed by women without a high school diploma. Girls do get better grades, but boys score better on tests. Boys have outscored girls on both the verbal and math SAT since 1972. Boys score an average of 50 points higher on the math SAT. Scholarships based on SATs go to boys over equally qualified or more qualified girls.

Charge: The Seventeen magazine survey on sexual harassment done by Wellesley and NOW was connected with AAUW. Response: False and misleading. AAUW had no involvement with the Seventeen magazine survey. AAUW had commissioned its own survey, Hostile Hallways, with Louis Harris & Associates. Hostile Hallways is the first nationwide scientific study on school-based sexual harassment.

Charge: We will not debate her. On ABC's Lifetime Magazine, she was admonished by Anne Bryant and AAUW's public relations director to prevent its airing.

Response: We tried debating her but, in our opinion, she brought the art of debating to its lowest denominator. When she was not flinging wild accusations, she resorted to dueling over semantics. She started with one question and ended with another. After much badgering and wild accusations of AAUW harboring "nuclear weapons" and engaging in mafia-like tactics to silence her, Anne did tell her that she had enough of Sommers' criticisms. AAUW's media relations manager did not ask the producers not to air the segment, but did call to express concern about the assurances given about the show's format which were not honored. We were told there would be a moderator, and found, upon arrival, that Anne was to face Sommers across a table with no moderator present. This same TV magazine also broke an embargo airdate with the Sadkers after promising to honor it. Full transcript of the debate is available.

It is our perception that very few scholars will engage Sommers in debate. The Media Relations Office of AAUW can refer you to a series of letters published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the American Philosophy Association, and the Humanist that show to what depths Sommers will stoop. It is our opinion that she is not credible in the academic world, she has not done original research on education issues, and all her writings seem to debase and characterize others' research. She is simplistic in her analysis.

Charge: AAUW had numerous press conferences.

Response: We had one press conference each on the self-esteem poll, The AAUW Report, and the sexual harassment survey. For The AAUW Report, a California branch held a press conference on the same day. The huge response that the research receives is because the data has resonated with girls, parents, teachers, and the public, which keeps the story alive.

Charge: AAUW held a wine and cheese party for the Council on Foundations in Miami to influence them on a "federal level."

Response: False. We were not there nor have we been able to identify a single AAUW member or staffer who attended said event. We know absolutely nothing about it. AAUW did not host, hold, or sponsor any such event.

Charge: The AAUW Report denigrates vertical approaches to subjects like math and science and is prejudiced against those subjects. Response: False. The report presents Peggy McIntosh's typology and vertical thinking construct as one kind of curriculum approach. The AAUW Report stresses the importance of further study into gender differences in math and science confidence and achievement so that the gender gaps can be eliminated. AAUW sponsors, conducts, funds, and supports numerous national and local programs to encourage girls in math and science.

Numerous other unfounded charges, mischaracterizations, and misquotes abound in Who Stole Feminism? from the "rule of thumb" passages, to the story of the "Naked Maja," to the Russian feminist meeting. A collection of articles rebutting many of Sommers' accusations can be found in the 1994 newsletter of Teachers for a Democratic Culture.

[AAUW Lashes Out at Christina Hoff-Sommers ]