To the Editor:

I appreciate the thoughtful and measured tone of most of the book reviews in MP (notably those by Henry Gonshak, Alan Weltzien, and Will Rawn). Some questions, however, remain for me: Is there an editorial policy that privileges authors of a neo-conservative bent? If so, why? Work such as Shaw's on (yawn) yet another Hawthorne-Melville New Critical reading is less interesting, for its familiarity, than many critiques of American literature recently published by major academic presses. I would prefer to read Prof. Weltzien's insightful assessment of recent books by such major Americanist theoreticians as Paul Lauter and Walter Benn Michaels, or on the multicultural contexts of traditional classics, or on critiques of new issues in such areas as African American or Native American writing (e.g., recent books by Gaters, Dyson, Appiah, Hooks, Vizenor, TuSmith, Wong, etc.).

On the review of Hoff Sommers, my concern is more substantive: While Prof. Rawn's critical voice is judicious, I wonder at his assertion that "Her reasoning is lucid, the documentation impressive"(30-1). Compared to what? Not if her work is read in light of the cumulative accomplishments of the last 20 years of feminist theory and criticism. Hoff Sommers' treatment ignores or makes light of the theories of such foremost feminist critics as Gilligan, Chodorow, DeLauretis, and Butler; their claims are more complex than "intellectual differences between women and men"(31). In the case of Hoff Sommers' treatment of AAUW, isn't Rawn a bit unnerved by her cavalier dismissal and selective citation of concurring "experts" to indict an organization with over 100 years of distinguished public service and intervention in social legislation? Certainly the critics of Hoff Sommers that I have read have been more pointed in commenting on the emperor's (lack of) clothes in her book.

Consider Nina Auerbach, a distinguished feminist scholar at the University of Pennsylvania: "Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women is so overwrought and underargued that it is unlikely to amuse or persuade.... Ms. Sommer's attacks are so indiscriminate that hers is a book only for the already disaffected." (Sunday New York Times Book Review, June 12, 1994).

Consider also Carol Sternhell for The Women's Review of Books, a national monthly large-circulation tabloid: "Christina Hoff Sommers' Who Stole Feminism? is a well-known right-wing attack on feminism and secondarily on women's studies, financed by several conservative foundations, including the Olin mean-spirited and dishonest it's easy to dismiss (Vol. XII, December 1994, p. 3).

And Susan Faludi, author of the national bestseller Backlash: "If you look closely at (Sommers') sources, you find she is not doing original research.... She claims, for example, that the feminists are foisting upon the US a massive $360 million bureaucracy that will place gender equity and sex harassment police in every high school and college. In fact, the program, the Gender Equity on Education Act, is slated to cost $5 million, features a bureaucracy of one, and has no provisions for such gender police. Where did she get this idea?...from reading an opinion column by a conservative male pundit (Ms., March/April 1995, 37-8).

Reviewing fringe perspective scholarship is useful, but it requires placement in critical context by experts in the fields. Further, attention to such work shouldn't take the place of reports on important mainstream work of vital interest to the intellectual community. Despite the well-meaning efforts of reviewers, Montana Professor does Montana's academics a disservice if does not foreground books that acknowledge the terms of national debates on cultural scholarship and the kinds of texts at the center of that dialogue--and our own.

Julia Watson
Director of Women's Studies
University of Montana-Missoula

Dear Ms. Watson:

Book-review editing might be simpler if books, authors, and reviewers came bar-coded to indicate their politics. Then scanners could authoritatively announce which ones were "neoconservative," "paleoconservative," "liberal," "post-Marxist," "victim feminist," "power feminist," "radical," etc. Editors could pick and choose to get the mix desired.

I find such labels a bit too slippery (subjective, relative, and politicized) to use without explanations, misgivings, and apologies. Suffice it to say that an impartial scrutiny of the last four or five issues of The Montana Professor will reveal that books with many different social and political points of view have been reviewed, and by reviewers who brought to this task a variety of social and political commitments and values (as well as subtle and flexible minds of their own).

No book has been turned down for review because of its politics and no review has been edited to protect or advance a political agenda. This is the reviewing policy of The Montana Professor, and will remain so as long as I am allowed to serve as its Book-Review Editor.

The Montana Professor reviewed Christina Hoff Sommers' Who Stole Feminism? because it was one of the most widely reviewed and controversial non-fiction books of 1994, and a best-seller in several major markets. It said provocative and important things about the misuse of data and about the education of women. Even feminists unwilling to embrace Sommers' scathing indictment of "gender feminism," such as Deidre English, extolled the book for "its critical reporting."

To what extent the book is "original" research I leave to annual-review committees. But the knowledge-making enterprise depends not only on those who generate new claims but on those who check those claims, so that the rest of us don't go around believing in and espousing crap.

Anyone concerned about the intellectual diversity of The Montana Professor should think of writing for it.

Paul Trout
Book-Review Editor


In my essay, "Second Thoughts on Sexual Harassment" (The Montana Professor 4.2, Spring 1994), I inadvertently omitted quotation marks from material in the second full paragraph on page 17, which was taken from the statement on sexual harassment by the National Association of Scholars.

Paul Trout

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