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Fraud of the century

Feminism is back in vogue. Or at least it’s back in the headlines.

Ever since Sarah Palin’s rise to fame, the meaning of feminism – or what it means to be female and powerful – has been debated in the blogosphere and newspapers throughout the country. In November 2010, the Wall Street Journal – whose pages attract feminists like bees to honey – published two op-eds by feminists Erica Jong and daughter Molly Jong-Fast and soon afterward apprised us of a new book by feminist Stephanie Coontz, titled “A Strange Stirring: The Feminist Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.” Fortunately, WSJ contributor Melanie Kirkpatrick admits in her review that Coontz offers “an unpersuasive vision of a utopian feminist future.”

This is an apt observation. A feminist future is precisely what American women don’t need, particularly in light of a new study by Dr. Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the London School of Economics. In “Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine,” Hakim highlights a dozen feminist myths that have persisted for decades. “New feminist myths are constantly being created, seeking to portray women as universal victims.”

To support her claim, Hakim analyzes myths that have “no solid basis in social science research – yet are popular, widely believed, and constantly reiterated in the media.” Indeed, op-eds like those by Ms. Jong and her daughter are routinely published. And books like “A Strange Stirring” – which lament the same tired notion that women are second-class citizens in need of special attention and support – are a dime a dozen.

Then there are the lesser-known publications, such as Maria Shriver’s 2009 document “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything.” This report claims government policies and laws “continue to rely on an outdated model of the American family” and must be restructured to accommodate women, who now make up half the American workforce.

To drive home the point that change is necessary, “The Shriver Report” makes the following claim: “Mothers are the primary breadwinner or co-breadwinner in two-thirds of American families. Three-quarters of Americans view this as a positive development for society.”

This is an excellent example of the kind of myths to which Dr. Catherine Hakim refers. It just isn’t true that most Americans view dual-income families as a good thing for society. According to the nonpartisan polling agency Public Agenda, 70 percent of parents with children under age five agree that “having a parent at home is best,” and a full 72 percent of parents – including the majority of low-income parents! – believe parents, not the government, are responsible for their children’s care.

Yet the myths persist, and Dr. Hakim debunks them one by one: 1) Equal opportunities policies have failed, 2) European gender equality policies are effective, 3) Occupational segregation is noxious, 4) Scandinavian policies deliver gender equality, 5) Social and economic development promotes gender equality, 6) Higher female employment promotes gender equality, 7) Women’s access to higher education changes everything, 8) Men and women do not differ in careerist attitudes, lifestyles and goals, 9) Women prefer to earn their own living and hate financial dependence on men, 10) Family-friendly policies are essential to break the glass ceiling, 11) Family-friendly policies make companies profitable and 12) Women have a different, cooperative, managerial style.

As an example, consider myth No. 12. In More magazine (October 2010), Nancy Pelosi mocks men as being incapable of consensus building and claim it takes a woman’s unique managerial style to get things done.

Or consider myth No. 8. In December, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke to a large group of women about why she thinks there are so few women at the top. Her conclusion is not that women and men are different with respect to life goals but that discrimination persists as long as women refuse to act like men and be more demanding.

Feminist myths are embedded in our culture to such a degree that people don’t even recognize them as such. Because of this, Americans of all stripes – men, women, liberals, conservatives – continue to believe feminism is, or once was, a good thing. They think women owe their feminist sisters a debt of gratitude and are thus reluctant to eschew feminism.

In the meantime, the truth lies buried: Feminism has never been about equal rights for women. It’s about power for the female left.

That’s what makes feminism the fraud of the century.

Suzanne Venker is co-author of the forthcoming book “The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – and Men Can’t Say” (WND Books). Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.