John Leo
David Horowitz's ad in college newspapers arguing against reparations for slavery was bound to provoke imitators with the same goal: showing how hostile to free speech our campus culture has become. So the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) sent college newspapers an ad debunking "the 10 most common feminist myths," many of them false or wildly exaggerated feminist statistics allegedly showing how relentlessly men oppress women. The ad called campus feminism "a kind of cult," and asked, "Are you tired of male-bashing and victimology? ... Have you been misled by factually challenged professors?"

The Yale Daily News ran the ad. Unsurprisingly, so did conservative papers at Northwestern and Dartmouth. The Columbia Spectator refused to, on grounds that it doesn't accept political ads, though it published a Ralph Nader campaign ad last fall. The Harvard Crimson said no, dithered for two weeks over the ad's "unnecessarily incendiary" language, then brightly said yes as the academic year was ending. ("They were just running out the clock," said Kate Kennedy of IWF.)

But the most revealing reaction was at UCLA, where the Daily Bruin ran the ad and campus feminists responded with outrage of the sort that greeted Horowitz. Two feminist groups demanded that the Bruin issue an apology and a retraction, then promise never to accept similar ads in the future. Christie Scott of the UCLA Clothesline Project said: "I think it was a violent ad, a very hostile ad. It breeds a very bad attitude toward women."

This language reflects two lines of thought on how to achieve censorship without seeming to violate the First Amendment. One is to depict ordinary argument as violent behavior, which should be forbidden or punished like any other act of violence, not protected as speech. Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, writes: "Once words we don't like have been equated with acts of violence, there's no place left for free speech."

The other line of attack is to suppress speech under sexual harassment doctrine on grounds that a hostile environment is being created. Campus codes of behavior seem to invite this strategy. UCLA feminists discovered that the guidelines for student publications forbid any ad that "stereotypes ... persons of a particular gender." Since the IWF ad makes the case that sexual differences between males and females are real, not "constructed," as campus orthodoxy now insists, the ad presumably could have been banned as harming women by promoting a stereotype.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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