The Network of enlightened Women (NeW) is an organization for conservative women college students. It has an increasing number of chapters on college campuses across the country. Its president, Karin Agness, who has an article on campus feminism in a forthcoming issue of the NAS journal Academic Questions, founded NeW in 2004 as a book club at the University of Virginia.
NAS and NeW have much in common. We are both concerned about the campus hookup culture and the influence of feminism in higher education. We take a traditional view on sexuality, foster debate on controversial topics, and uphold equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcomes. Our shared goals led us to one another and we are beginning to work together in various ways.
Most people who see the NeW acronym wonder why the e isn’t capitalized (I did). The leaders wanted the organization to stand in contrast to the feminist National Organization for Women (NOW), whose all-caps acronym looks somewhat angry. The enlightened women decline to adopt the raised-fist strategies of feminists. Their approach, as executive director Holly Carter put it, is to “challenge the negative stuff on campus in a positive way.” One way they are doing this is by putting on their second annual “Gentlemen’s Showcase” locally at Arizona State University and nationally through a Facebook online forum. Those who nominate someone for the showcase must describe a “gentlemanly act” he has done. The ten most nominated ASU men were honored at the evening showcase on March 2. Blayne Bennett, president of the ASU chapter, graciously agreed to an interview with the National Association of Scholars to tell us more about what NeW is doing. Blayne is a senior and finance major at ASU. When she graduates, she hopes to work in economic and regulatory policy analysis. To learn more about the Network of enlightened Women, visit www.enlightenedwomen.org.
NAS: How did you get involved with NeW? What specifically attracted you to the organization?
Bennett: I became involved with NeW at Arizona State University as a freshman. I knew that I wanted to join a club for women, so I started my search. Somewhat of a blessing in disguise, I wasn’t accepted as a volunteer for the Violence Free Crisis Line, an organization I had been involved with in high school. One afternoon I passed a table for NeW, and after a three-minute conversation I knew it was perfect. NeW was everything I wanted: a club for women to discuss important issues without the precursor of hating men. I had no idea the doors that NeW would open for me.
NAS: NeW’s mission is to “foster the education and leadership skills of conservative university women.” Are liberal university women allowed in?
Bennett: At ASU we have had several liberal women attend our meetings in the past. We encourage respectful discussion and debate. Having to defend your personal beliefs is the best way to cement your ideology with a logical foundation.
NAS: The NeW website says, “NeW is also devoted to expanding the intellectual diversity on college campuses.” What does “intellectual diversity” mean to you?
Bennett: I believe intellectual diversity is the discussion of opposing beliefs, values and opinions. A university education is often dogmatic with theories taught and accepted as truths. NeW seeks to challenge this system by discussing issues that have more than one perspective. Discussing diverse viewpoints not only helps people become more well-rounded, it also requires them to justify their own views.
NAS: You appear in the promo video for the showcase, and at one point you say, “hopefully we’ll have a culture shift” as a result of getting people to think about chivalry. What kind of culture shift do you seek?
Bennett: I am seeking to change the framework in which people think of relationships, starting with the college culture. When we were shooting the video and asking if students thought chivalry was dead, we received a resounding “YES!” from the women, and the men seemed to be confused as to what even characterized chivalrous behavior. The current framework is not generating healthy relationships. I believe that chivalry provides the positive framework to maximize the overall happiness of men and women.
NAS: How does promoting gentlemanliness advance the goals of NeW? In other words, why are you looking for gentlemen? How does it challenge the dominant mindset among college students which has been instilled by feminism? What is that dominant mindset?
Bennett: The radical feminist movement has vilified men. The Vagina Monologues is a play with a viciously anti-male agenda that is shown on college campuses across the nation. The play portrays all men as evil, except one: Bob, whose only redeeming quality is that “he liked to look at it.” By promoting gentlemanly behavior, NeW hopes to expose how relationships have deteriorated as a result of the feminist movement. Men have been told to that chivalrous acts are demeaning to women and that they should respect women’s independence. Women are told we should want to be independent and self-sufficient. But the responses I hear from women reveal something completely different: women want to be treated like ladies. Encouraging gentlemanly behavior promotes respect and reverence between the sexes.
NAS: Dictionary.com defines a gentleman, in one sense, as “a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well-mannered man.” Is this how you define a gentleman?
Bennett: I believe a gentleman is driven to be successful but is not self-serving; he is confident but not conceited. A gentleman understands how his actions impact others and holds fellow human beings in the highest regard.
NAS: One Facebook reader (male) recently challenged NeW’s initiative, saying, “You have this vision of an ideal man that does not exist,” and claiming that women are not attracted to “good guys.” Is there some truth to what he says?
Bennett: Challenges like the one you mentioned reinforce my commitment to this movement. I have the privilege of reading every single nomination submitted, and I always catch myself with a huge grin as I read about these phenomenal men. There are hundreds of great men at ASU alone, and hundreds of women that appreciate their kindness. This gives me faith that what our small group of women is doing at ASU strikes a nerve with the greater population. Chivalry is not dead; it’s just dormant.
NAS: Does NeW at ASU ever come under attack by others on campus or in the media? What is it about the enlightened women that irks them?
Bennett: NeW challenges the politically correct ideology prevalent on college campuses, and criticizes the radical feminists’ quest for power. Feminists have used legislation and policy to further their agenda and the result is not equality of opportunity but equality of outcome—essentially a quota system—which is harmful to both men and women. Radical feminists promote policies that are biased to favor women. Opposing these goals is not the most popular stance to take, and NeW has been criticized for being “anti-woman.” Enlightened women understand that to be “pro-woman” it is not necessary to be “anti-man.”
NAS: You have brought Christina Hoff Sommers, a member of NAS’s Board of Advisors, to campus to speak about “the underlying radical feminist agenda of the Vagina Monologues,” and your website says the event sparked some good debate. Did her talk and the conversations it inspired cause ASU students to look more critically on the play?
Bennett: The Vagina Monologues aims to be much more than an entertaining play. Eve Ensler, the creator of the Vagina Monologues, proclaims it to be “the Bible for a new generation of women.” Cast members of the Vagina Monologues came to the event and challenged Dr. Sommers during the question and answer period. Dr. Sommers handled the questions extremely well and countered with sound logic, causing students and even some of the cast members to concede that the message of the Monologues does not speak for every woman.
NAS: A prevalent idea taught in college today is that much of life is socially constructed, including truth, meaning, and gender. In other words, truth and meaning are relative to each person’s own conclusions, and inherent maleness and femaleness do not exist. Do you agree?
Bennett: I believe there are inherent masculine and feminine qualities; our bodies are so biologically and chemically different! While I completely agree that environment and culture play a huge role in human development, there are some things I believe to be innate. For example, humans around the world smile to express happiness, despite cultural differences. I believe there are inherent masculine and feminine traits, and I embrace my femininity.