Friday, November 24, 2006

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Karin L. Agness wanted to meet other conservative women with whom she could discuss important political and social issues — but found that the other campus women’s organizations were for what she called traditional feminists.

After enjoying the company of other right-leaning women during a summer internship on Capitol Hill, she decided to start her own group at the University of Virginia, inviting fellow female conservatives and calling it Network of enlightened Women, or NeW.

“I really enjoyed and found it refreshing, especially in a college atmosphere, to be surrounded by conservative young women and be able to discuss the issues,” Miss Agness said.

Miss Agness, who graduated from U.Va. in May and is now in law school there, started NeW in fall 2004 as a book club, reading Danielle Crittenden’s “What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman.”

The following winter, members countered the campus production of “The Vagina Monologues” — playwright Eve Ensler’s play about female sexuality — by hosting a talk by Christina Hoff Sommers, a vocal critic of the play and author of “Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women.”

Miss Sommers, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative public-policy group, said that NeW meets the needs of many students alienated by campus feminism, which she says is dominated by hard-liners.

“To go into a typical women’s studies center on campus is to enter the world of really extreme feminism, including male-bashing, and they’re hostile to many of the things young women want,” including a traditional marriage and being stay-at-home mothers, Miss Sommers said.

A student at the College of William& Mary heard about the group and started the second chapter that school year. Now, NeW has 15 chapters nationwide, including at Ohio State University, Arizona State University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

As word has spread, Miss Agness has helped new chapters get organized by sending them the organization’s charter, logo and other templates.

Drake University NeW founder Danielle Sturgis said she was disheartened by “the radical feminists that dominated discourse” on her campus, so she started her chapter about a year ago.

“The important thing is to reform and reclaim feminism,” Miss Sturgis said. “Feminism is a good idea; equal rights is a great idea. What we’re seeing is anti-male, anti-family, anti-American women. My question is ‘What about the rest of us, the moderate females?’ ”

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, dismisses that portrayal of campus feminists and questions whether NeW members truly want women and men to have equal rights.

“Our primary weapon to counter their propaganda is the weapon of reality. We have the facts on our side,” Mrs. Gandy said. “It’s not a feminist plot that there’s a wage gap; in reality, there’s a wage gap. It’s not a feminist plot that there is violence against women.”

Some NeW leaders have drawn on internship experiences in Washington to bring conservative ideas to their chapters.

Miss Agness, for example, worked at anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and Miss Sturgis at the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, a leadership-training group for conservative women.

Though NeW is independent from and not funded by such organizations, Miss Agness said some local chapters have chosen to use those groups’ ideas to help assert conservatism on university campuses.

“They encourage campus activism and encourage groups to use their ideas. They’re happy about it, and we’re happy about it,” Miss Agness said. “We’re all part of a larger mission.”

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