Who's Saving Feminism? Conservative Women.
A fissure is growing within the feminist movement, and it is oddly coming from the leftists over partisan issues.
At the center of the debate is a bitter fight over the ownership of "feminism." The intriguing part? Who's siding with whom.
While the women's liberation movement grew out of socialist-left movements in the 1960s (and claimed the mantle of suffragism), it wasn't until Gloria Steinem took over the reins of NOW that the movement became so entrenched with the Democratic Party. Republicans, wanting nothing to do with those bra-burning broads, let them claim the title. For the next four decades, no one challenged them.
Until now. Arguably, we've entered the fourth wave of feminism since conservative women are adopting the label.
Two weeks ago, I attended Smart Girl Summit, the conservative women's conference sponsored by the grassroots organization Smart Girl Politics. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by like-minded women, many of whom were also eager to claim the feminist label.
Based on definitions explained by second and third wave feminists, we embody the feminist spirit. We attended the conference to mobilize for the 2010 election, educate ourselves on subjects like precinct-walking and voter fraud, discuss relevant issues and hear from female Members of Congress.
Intellectually, honest feminists should applaud us.
A few have have. Slate recently asked prominent women in this field to discuss "Who owns feminism?" Most agreed that there was no feminist sorority president who bestows membership into the club. If the point of feminism is to empower women to make the best decisions for their own lives, why should dividing lines be drawn over one or two policy points?
But are these attacks backfiring? In clinging to the Democratic Party, which has thrown the entire movement under the bus so many times that they look like battered wives returning to abuser husbands, aren't they losing credibility in the eyes of the American women? Sadly, the Democratic-partisan feminists have provided several recent examples:
1. Less than 24 hours after recordings of a Jerry Brown staffer calling Meg Whitman a "whore" and Brown agreeing, the National Organization of Women endorsed Brown in the California gubernatorial race. Even though Whitman is pro-choice and completely embodies everything that feminism advocated, she had the scarlet R attached to her.
2. Recently, Jessica Valenti wrote an op-ed in The Nation. Timed at the peak of the coverage of Smart Girl Summit, Valenti opines:
Feminism isn't simply about being a woman in a position of power. It's battling systemic inequities; it's a social justice movement that believes sexism, racism and classism exist and interconnect, and that they should be consistently challenged. What's most important to remember as we fight back against conservative appropriation is that the battle over who "owns" the movement is not just about feminists; feminism's future affects all American women. And if we let the lie of conservative feminism stand—if real feminists don't lay claim to the movement and outline their vision for the future -- all of us will suffer.
Isn't that exactly what conservative women are doing? We may not engage in "social justice," but research shows that conservatives donate much more of their income to nonprofits and social causes and volunteer more (also see Aurthur C. Brooks' Who Really Cares). More conservative women have run for positions of power this cycle. The Tea Party is largely female and has taken on classism within DC and the Republican Party and fought the charges of racism waged against us. Many of us have encountered sexism and are fighting it on the local and state level. I agree that feminism's future affects all Americans, but Valenti is on the losing and hypocritical side if it's up to her and her cronies to decide who the "real feminists" are.
3. EMILY's List picked a fight last week with conservative women when they sent a wide-eyed intern to infiltrate Smart Girl Summit. Not only is it reprehensible that such an organization with their resources, clout and history within the Beltway would resort to the intern trick (if things go badly, blame it on the intern and distance the organization from the situation), but they disingenuously attended the event by going undercover. Liberal women were in attendance, and media outlets like Slate covered it. It showed that EMILY's List had something to hide by using such amateurish and sneaky tactics to try to play gotcha.
Smith, who is a fireball, responded that as a young, black woman who is establishing a career before marriage, she is the epitome of the feminist movement.
While conservative blogger Jenny Erickson engaged them, I was left thinking, "That's it? That's the best attack that EMILY's List can do? They take on a talented and articulate young woman who has done more at 27 than most people have by 50 because she isn't toeing the line?" Granted, their "spying" was better than the Ewok video, but it this was still a sad response from a supposedly powerful entity.
Truthfully, conservative women may be the saving grace of feminism. Without us, the movement seems doomed to irrelevancy. We're the first group of people in nearly two decades to bring meaningful energy and debate to the movement. Without us, feminism was left pondering if Lady Gaga or Bridget Jones were feminists and waiting for the latest handout from Democrats. (Liberal feminists were once again sold out when health care was passed and the legislation didn't stipulate that abortions were funded.)
Conservative women are a large and diverse group. We make up approximately 36% of the electorate and are offering real solutions to real problems that all women face.
As I said at the panel that I moderated at SGS, women are pragmatists. Since the 1980s, the majority of women voters went with Democrats because they promised to answer problems that plagued America. Those "answers" have failed and bankrupted this country, and women know that they've failed. For the first time ever, the generation in power is leaving the nation in worse shape for their children than they entered it. Women see that and feel that, which is why much of the Tea Party movement is female.
Conservatism (and hopefully the Republican Party) have alternative answers. Answers that empower communities, put more money in your pocketbook and reduce corruption in Washington by limiting its power. Women are anxious to hear these alternatives, and I hope that conservative men and women are ready to present them.