Reflections on the ‘Women in the World Summit’
Making a spectacle of American self-absorption

Tina Brown and Angelina Jolie at the Women in the World Summit, March 8, 2012


Americans are debating whether Catholic (and other) institutions should be required to pay for their employees’ and students’ birth-control pills, and what if any procedures women might be required to go through before obtaining an abortion. This is called democracy. The Burmese freedom fighters are risking their lives, and suffering grievously, to win this form of government for themselves. For American women on one side of our democratic debates to compare their circumstances to those of the Burmese freedom fighters is insulting and embarrassing.

Rush Limbaugh’s crude attack on Sandra Fluke is another matter. Vulgar misogyny is a blight on American politics and culture, and the Women’s Summit could have confronted it squarely and responsibly. But doing so would have acknowledged the arguments of Peggy Noonan and others that casual misogyny is at least as prevalent on the American left as on the right. Noonan, needless to say, was not on the program; the issue was just part of the partisan script.

Women in the World 2012 juxtaposed brave, calm, fiercely determined women and men who are fighting female subjugation in some of the most benighted parts of the world with a disconcerting spectacle of American self-absorption. Women at the pinnacle of American politics — women of great accomplishment, accustomed to thinking and speaking with care and precision — indulged in loose and thoughtless rhetoric. The audience, attending a sumptuous conference at one of the world’s premier cultural venues, gloried in fantasies of male oppression and American nightmare.

Tina Brown and her associates have now launched the Women in the World Foundation that will bring together “courageous women of impact” and connect them with philanthropists, journalists, and each other. Despite the antics of this year’s conference, the foundation has great potential. Equity feminism did succeed in liberating women in the United States, and we are now in a position to support fledgling women’s movements throughout the world. We have a vast army of female lawyers, editors, journalists, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists who have made it to the top. American women have clout, connections, and the know-how to change the world for the better. But doing so will require a new attitude of seriousness, realism, gratitude, and, as Sheryl Sandberg put it at the previous summit, responsibility.

— Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Her books include Who Stole Feminism and The War against Boys.