The True Heirs of Suffragists

<p>Over the past year, the theme of women in the conservative movement has taken off. After decades of bubbling below the surface, the media has finally noticed that conservative women are out there.</p>

<p>Shockingly, very little research has been conducted on conservative women. In her book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Righting-Feminism-Conservative-American-Politics/dp/0195331818"><em>Righting Feminism</em></a>, Ronnee Schreiber explains the dearth of research on conservative women. Aside from a blip in the early 1980s after the ERA failed, gender studies have completely ignored women on the right. In a twisted form of elitist misogyny, they viewed women on the right as extensions of conservative males. They established an academic rationale that all conservative women were barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.</p>

<p>How things have changed! Rather than waiting and complaining for the rules to be changed to "level the playing field," conservative women are plowing through, determined to make a difference and protect the America that they love.</p>

<p>Recently, the <em>Washington Post</em> published an <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/29/AR2010042903222.html?hpid=moreheadlines">article</a> covering the sudden rise in female candidates running as Republicans.</p>
<blockquote>So far this year, 239 women are candidates for the House and 31 for the Senate, according to data from the Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics. Among them, a record 107 Republican women have filed to run for a House seat, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee -- surpassing a previous GOP high of 91 in 1994 and a sharp increase from the 65 who ran in 2008. And those numbers could grow. In each year that Rutgers has been keeping track, the final tally has exceeded the late April figure by more than 20.</blockquote>
<p>There are any number of reasons for that. The anti-incumbent movement has a largely female face. Women are the main holders of the <a href="http://www.catalyst.org/publication/256/buying-power">purse strings</a> for America's families. Doesn't it make sense that fiscal issues would drive us to the streets? the The rise of Sarah Palin can't be discounted. Love her or hate her, she is the first identifiable conservative woman to make a splash in politics.</p>

<p>A figurehead always has to emerge on the national scene in order to legitimize movements and encourage support. It took a Sarah Palin-type to burst onto the national scene and show the average housewife in Kansas or Tennessee that she could run for office.</p>

<p>Hanna Rosin at <em>Slate</em> also wrote this week on the female face of Tea Parties, <a href="http://www.slate.com/id/2253645/pagenum/all/#p2">"Is the Tea Party a Feminist Movement?"</a> She captures a snapshot of a movement that fulfills what feminism has always lacked--mainstream support from women:
<blockquote>If the Tea Party has any legitimate national leadership, it is dominated by women. Of the eight board members of the Tea Party Patriots who serve as national coordinators for the movement, six are women. Fifteen of the 25 state coordinators are women. One of the three main sponsors of the Tax Day Tea Party that launched the movement is a group called Smart Girl Politics. The site started out as a mommy blog and has turned into a mobilizing campaign that trains future activists and candidates. Despite its explosive growth over the last year, it is still operated like a feminist cooperative, with three stay-at-home moms taking turns raising babies and answering e-mails and phone calls. Spokeswoman Rebecca Wales describes it as a group made up of "a lot of mama bears worried about their families." The Tea Party, she says, is a natural home for women because "for a long time people have seen the parties as good-ole'-boy, male-run institutions. In the Tea Party, women have finally found their voice."</blockquote></p>
<p>Despite their best attempts, feminism never really caught on in Main Street. Even though Hollywood took it up, and women's magazines became more sympathetic, the movement still remained ensconced in highly educated/urban circles.</p>

<p><strong>Oddly, the Tea Party movement has done what feminism spent millions of dollars and countless public awareness campaigns trying to accomplish. They got women involved in politics in greater numbers than ever before.</strong></p>

<p>While I dislike the Marxist overtones of feminists complaining about the patriarchy and encouraging the destruction of our Judeo-Christian society, their navel-gazing was the biggest turn-off for me. The endless questions about "is this feminist or feminist enough?," the ever-changing definitions of what feminism is and the groupthink mentality that any deviation from the Democratic party is bad for women drove me to openly become an anti-feminist.</p>

<p>The women profiled by Rosin have done more in one year than fifty years of feminism ever accomplished. They haven't written countless books, hosted conferences, created academic departments or built cushy government jobs for themselves. Instead they built grassroots movements from scratch from their kitchen tables and motivated their friends and neighbors to get involved with local politics. The women involved with the Tea Party saw a need and did something about it within their communities and states. They empowered masses of women.</p>

<p>Isn't that what motivated the early leaders of the women's movement? Isn't that what the early suffragists did?  Wasn't their goal to inspire women to improve their lives and lives of their families through education, the workforce and public policy?</p>

<p>Compare their goals to feminism, which emerged as an outgrowth of the socialist movments in the 1960s. From the beginning the movement sought to re-structure society on a fundamental level.</p>

<p>I've developed a theory that the concept of first and second wave feminism is actually inaccurate. If you look at history, there are only tenuous ties from the 1960s radical women's liberation movement to the suffragists who marched for equal rights in the 1920s. In the late 1960s, when two early feminists visited Alice Paul in her Washington, D.C. home (which is now the <a href="http://www.sewallbelmont.org/">Sewall-Belmont House</a> and Museum on the Hill), she was disgusted and slammed the door on them. To her, the women in the 60s did not represent what she and so many other women had struggled to attain.</p>

<p><strong>When your movement's historians are also the evangelists and spokespeople, they get to decide how the story is told. However, there is plenty of room for alternative theories in women's history if they're allowed.</strong></p>

<p>Evidence shows that the women in the Tea Party have much more in common with the suffragists than feminists. They're pragmatists. They're fighting to preserve liberty and ensure equality for their children. They aren't bucking patriarchal symbols of oppression or arguing that marriage and tradition are harmful to women. They aren't oppressed (unless by taxes), and they aren't victims.</p>

<p>Suffragists campaigned for civil and fiscal changes in American policy. They wanted the franchise, property rights, access to jobs and education and changes in custody laws. Birth control was an issue for some, but it was highly contentious.</p>

<p>Tea Party women are Americans. They view themselves in the same light as early suffragists. They see that something is wrong in America that needs to be fixed. Feminists view the picture differently. They believe that America is evil and needs to be fundamentally changed.</p>

<p>Perhaps, the Tea Party movement has learned invaluable lessons that neither the suffragists nor feminists have been capable of learning.</p>

<p>A common complaint is that women need to all get along and vote as one bloc. That won't happen nor will it ever. Men have never voted just to show solidarity with other men. Why should women? Votes are determined by positions on policy, personal belief systems and experience. Gender is far too broad a category to determine an election or build a party.</p>

<p>That hasn't stopped women from trying.</p>

<p>The fight for Twentieth Amendment was marked by dissensions and splintering. While the suffragists were far more accepting of women with dissenting views than feminists, they still had the objective to unite all women to change the world. It's not possible and won't ever happen. Wedge issues will always emerge.</p>

<p>As Rosen notes:
<p style="padding-left: 30px;">Like many activists I talked to, Kling thinks social issues such as  abortion are just wedges to drive women apart. (Varley, who is Catholic  and pro-life, said the same thing: "We would be stupid to bring up  abortion at a meeting.")</p>
<p>Since the emergence of women's liberation, abortion has been their rallying cry. However, it turns off the majority of women in this country. (See polls on <a href="http://www.cosmopolitanconservative.com/2010/03/16/a-prolife-rebellion/">pro-life Americans</a> and views on <a href="http://iac.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&amp;item=1602">feminism</a>). Tea parties have been successful because they rally around fiscal issues. While groups like <a href="http://www.smartgirlpolitics.org/">Smart Girl Politics</a> are more conservative, their sheer growth shows that the field is wide open for conservative or moderate women who want to enact positive change in their communities.</p>

<p>Now, they've been liberated from the prison of the feminist movement to accomplish their goals.</p>

Comments

In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.