by Deb Saxe
The definition of feminism is a belief in the equality of the sexes, making feminism an attractive and viable idea with broad appeal. Simply put, feminism is for everyone. Much has been said about feminism since the birth of the American women’s rights movement nearly 170-years ago at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. In our current “woke af” culture, there is increasing debate over whether or not conservatism has a place within feminism. Conservatives who express feminist belief or believe in any feminist theories are generally received with the stern skepticism. The tolerant side of the political spectrum would rather one think that the two are incompatible: “No real feminist could ever be conservative!” This sentiment is typically asserted as a fact of life (and prone to immediate acceptance by the gullible audience). Taking a moment to peel back the many layers of conservative thought, equality remains one of its core fundamental values. Yet, throughout the mainstream media and Tumblr posts alike, the GOP is made out to be a real-life “He Man Woman Haters Club.” Republican policies are anti-feminist. Republican politicians and pundits promote misogynist rhetoric and commit sexist action and behavior. It seems impossible for many liberal feminists to reconcile the concept of conservative feminism as they continue to accept generalizations and stereotypes as universal truths and thus contribute to crippling political polarization. That’s exactly the problem. As feminists, we all believe in the equality of men and women, but the insistence of pitting political ideologies against each other rather than admitting and accepting co-existence is counterproductive towards achieving and securing such equality. How exactly then, can the “He Man Woman Haters Club” be compatible with Club Feminism?
Feminism as it has developed is complex and especially remarkable for its boundless subcultures and diversity. One can be overwhelmed by how many ways one can identify as a feminist; liberal or radical, choice or lifestyle, intersectional or postmodern, ecological or global, equity or individualist, among others. Conservatism finds its place within feminism by its conviction of equality, but it does so differently than the liberal ideology by almost exclusively focusing on achieving and securing fundamental political and economic equality. It supports the recognition and empowerment of women in society and politics. It celebrates the freedom of women to make their own intellectual choices within the framework of a democratic, free-market society. It doesn’t belittle women for opting for motherhood and domesticity over a career, as it affirms that there is nothing inherently anti-feminist about marriage and cultivating a domestic lifestyle (especially if the woman chooses that lifestyle). It manages a balance between traditional values and equality while upholding equal opportunity. Conservative feminism doesn’t guarantee for equal outcomes because opportunity, like all things, is what you make of it. Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway made an appearance at the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference in February and articulated the essence of conservative feminism, “I look at myself as proud of my choices and not a victim of my circumstances”. Conway also encouraged women to use the quote “I’ll have what he’s having” when considering their own wants. Conservative feminism recognizes that men and women must receive the same standards of equality and justice. Women have and still do suffer injustice and discrimination all over the world. As Katherine Kersten pointed out, these problems are best “addressed by building on—rather than repudiating—the ideals and institutions of Western culture.”
This brief overview of basic conservative theory offers just a glimpse into conservative feminism, but demonstrates how the belief of equality is what fuels feminism, both conservative and liberal, ultimately giving it its strength. Yet, instead of accepting any manifestations of middle ground and developing collaborative efforts, liberal feminists typically shut down dialogue and dismiss conservative feminism from the movement completely. The hypocrisy cannot be more obvious. Equality asserts the notion that all people possess equality of rights, status and access to opportunity. Thus, equality celebrates diversity and does not discriminate against any one group. Liberal feminists discriminate against their conservative peers by denying them the status of feminist and access to participate in the mainstream movement, ultimately rejecting the fundamental feminist doctrine of equality. It continues to baffle me how so many in the feminist movement are reluctant, if not resistant, to a unified feminist front because of differing values and methods. Possessing unrealized potential, unification could very well transform society and culture, but one will never truly know unless Club Feminism is open to all. Let us in…we could surprise you.