Christina Hoff Sommers vs. Girls of America

Linda Purrington (
Fri, 15 Jan 1999 14:58:34 -0800

Here's my letter to the New York Times re Christina Hoff Sommers' trash
piece about Davis. v. Monroe.

January 15, 1999

To the Editor
The New York Times

Christina Hoff Sommers (NYT 1/9/99)is flat out wrong: Children need both
guidance and federal sexual harassment laws, in exactly the same way
children need both guidance and federal laws against racist harassment.
The Sommers article was dirt flung against the Davis v. Monroe County
Board of Education lawsuit heard before the Supreme Court Tuesday.
In fact, there's good reason to call out the National Guard to enforce
laws against sexual harassment, instead of the disgraceful blather by
certain Supreme Court Justices about sexual harassment being normal
sexual experimentation. It's not, and there is no problem figuring out
the difference--unless you have no idea what normal sexual behavior
might look like between people who respect each other. A boy who likes a
girl does not experiment with her by calling her bitch and whore and
grabbing her breasts--unless he's not getting quite the role modeling he

And when he gets to school with those role models intact, then it
becomes the school's job to step in and ask him to leave, because the
school is charged with providing a good education and the environment in
which children can profit from that education. Otherwise the parents who
have provided good role modeling are penalized--their children can't get
the education they are there for.

No amount of scurrilous trivialization will change that basic school
responsibility. If the schools can't do that, they are incompetent, and
no amount of whining will change that. But it is worse than that, of course.

First, because the AAUW study on sexual harassment in the schools points
out that 20 percent of that harassment is done by teachers. That's a
heck of a role model; parents who bring their kids up right might well
be furious if a teacher role models that kind of behavior in school.

And second, the AAUW found that nearly all sexual harassment in schools
is done in public places within the school--that is, under the
supervision of a teacher, administrator, etc. So that is clearly why we
need some kind of change at the school level--teachers are ignoring and
refusing to respond to these behaviors at school, and are thus building
up acceptance of such behavior.

And third, when serious sexual harassment (and don't trivialize rape on
a playground with sticks or threats of murder to ex-girlfriends as
normal experimentation) is brought to the attention of school adults and
officials, schools are being encouraged by the current backlash against
women's human and civil rights to ignore and even retaliate against the
girls who are asking for help.

Sommers tosses off the usual silliness about the Jonathan Prevette
incident, in which a little boy who kissed a girl was suspended, hoping
that it still has some trivialization value. Frankly, it just shows how
trivial Sommers is. She also says, "The fear of ruinous lawsuits forces
schools to treat normal boys as sexist culprits." You know something?
Ignoring calls for help on school playgrounds and in school
classrooms--as was done in the Sonoma County cases--makes normal boys
into sexist culprits. Our sons as well as our daughters deserve better
when they go off to school every day. If you can't look to moral
guidance from teachers, whom in society can you trust? At that point,
you call out the National Guard. Teachers should bring respect and honor
into our schools.

Linda Purrington
Title IX Advocates
(one of the many groups signing on to
Davis. v. Monroe's amicus curiae brief)

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