Conservative Feminism: Understanding the Mama Grizzlies

BlogHer Original Post

Without the Democratic or Republican parties realizing it, women on the right changed dramatically over the last thirty years.

Many feminists on the left must be asking themselves, "How did we get here? When did conservatives start embracing the word "feminism" with enthusiasm?

Unfortunately, when put to the test, feminists didn't open their arms to their conservative sisters or engage in a lively debate. Rather they borrowed a few phrases and attacks from their patriarchal foes, and the leading matriarchs completely dismissed the notion that conservative voices were needed in the sorority. The feminist spokeswomen -- Gloria Steinem, Jessica Valenti, Amanda Marcotte and others -- were vocal in their frequent attacks of Mama Grizzlies.

Montana, one of two grizzly bears at the San Diego Zoo, explores his enclosure on March 19, 2009. (UPI Photo/Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo) Photo via Newscom Photo via Newscom

These reactions radically differed from the platitudes that feminist writers and speakers had offered for decades. Given the quotes below, shouldn't conservative women fit in somewhere?

  • My definition of feminism is simply that women are people, in the fullest sense of the word, who must be free to move in society with all the privileges and opportunities and responsibilities that are their human and American right." -Betty Friedan, It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement, 1976
  • Feminism's agenda is basic: It asks that women not be forced to 'choose' between public justice and private happiness. It asks that women be free to define themselves -- instead of having their identity defined for them, time and again, by their culture and their man."-Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, 1991
  • Feminism is no longer a group of organizations or leaders...It's the way we talk about and treat one another. It's who makes the money and who makes the compromises and who makes the dinner. It's a state of mind. It's the way we live now."-Anna Quindlen, New York Times, 1994
  • By feminists, we mean each and every politically and socially conscious woman or man who works for equality. In reality, there is no formal alliance of women we can call “the feminists.”-Jennifer Baumgardener and Amy Richards, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future, 2000

What a difference! Contrast those quotes with articles attacking women who identify as conservative feminists. This group is not speaking for all women. They merely women who are willing to side with the Democratic Party and progressive politics.

Somewhere, feminists took conservative women completely out of the equation and decided to marginalize them.

Academia and liberal women discounted the power of conservative women, and we have never been examined as a separate voting bloc. Despite the millions of dollars funneled into gender studies programs, PACS and advocacy groups, virtually no research has been done on conservative women.  Since about 1985, only a handful of academic studies and about two dozen books were published that focused on the role and existence of conservative women. Contrast this to the thousands of books and articles published examining every facet of liberal feminism.

In her book, Righting Feminism, political science professor, Ronnee Schreiber explains:

Inattention to comparably sized and situated feminist organizations, such as the National Organization for Women, would be untenable; yet almost no scholarship exists on national conservative women’s organizations. An examination of these national political actors is long overdue.

We were relegated to Pink Elephants and told to stuff envelopes, phone bank and occasionally throw fundraisers. Both sides neglected to notice that conservative women—like the rest of society—were changing.

Few women and men would argue that 100% of feminism is wrong. Once abortion and marriage issues are separated, most women agree with the concepts of equality in the workplace, sexual harassment laws, Title IX, equal pay laws, and the changes in divorce and custody laws that the feminist movement worked to enact over the last few decades.

Regardless of political philosophy, we are products of the society in which we live. The role of women, even conservative, religious women, has dramatically changed in the last few decades.

Yet a movement was bubbling below the surface.

A few women such as Elizabeth Dole, Sandra Day O’Connor, Kay Bailey Hutcheson and even Phylis Schafly blazed a lonely trail. While we shared some political views, few could relate to these women.

The moment was right when John McCain plucked an obscure governor from Alaska to serve as his running mate.

To the left, it was political pandering and sexism. To women on the right, someone finally noticed that we existed. Here was a strong, independent woman who had worked hard to achieve her goals, maintained an equal partnership with her husband, balanced family life and lived on a budget.

Mama Grizzlies started long before anyone heard of Sarah Palin. It just took the emergence of a woman who identified with the majority of women in this country for the media to notice.

Until Palin, women had only a few types in the political world with which to identify -- the Gloria Steinems or the Phylis Schaflys. Palin presented a third way -- a way that resounded with scores of women in this country. Slates' Hanna Rosin is correct when she explains that Palin succeeded because she was the first. There was no checklist for a female conservative that exists on the left:

Part of the reason Palin has gone so far is that she is rising in what is essentially a feminist vacuum. There are no landmines to step on, no correct, accepted way to be a pro-life, Glenn Beck-loving barracuda. So she just made one up. Her left equivalent doesn’t have that luxury. But maybe the left could give her—whoever she is—some breathing room.

Palin, Michele Bachmann and the slate of conservative women running this year represent a never-before-seen alternative. Their politics align more with the center-right tone of America, yet they present themselves as strong, independent women, who successfully balance careers and families. They're attractive and have not eschewed makeup nor men. You can imagine seeing them at the grocery store or calling them up for the PTA. How many feminist icons can the average woman identify with? Hillary Clinton made it very clear early on that she would never bake cookies.

For the first time in decades, fresh blood has infused the feminist movement. If we could actually move beyond our reproductive organs, women are poised to have candid debates about their perspectives on the economy, health care, national defense and education. Both sides of feminism -- liberal and conservative -- have valid and interesting points that all American women deserve to hear. As Laura Brod explains at Hot Air this week:

Women’s issues are everyone’s issues. Everyone’s issues are women’s issues. If feminists truly want to promote women in politics and bring a feminine touch to state capitols and to Washington DC, they should understand that not all women think alike -- that is something they should cherish, not lament. Then, women candidates will have succeeded and the country will win by having women of all political viewpoints at the table.

Those of us on the right are waiting. Will liberal feminists join us for the discussion?

Adrienne Royer also writes at CosmopolitanConservative.com.

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