HPRgument Blog, The Other Half — June 27, 2010 12:41 am

Conservative Feminism: Oxymoron?


One of the many trends in this midterm election cycle, recognized and promoted by those whose job it is to recognize and promote trends, is that 2010 appears to be the “Year of the Woman.”  Sharron Angle won her primary for the Nevada Senate race.  Nikki Haley, with headline-making help from Sarah Palin, won her runoff primary for South Carolina Governor Tuesday.  Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman won primaries in CA, the former for Senate and the latter for governor.  All are women.

All are also Republicans, which is perhaps the greater surprise.

The narrative falls apart when you look at actual numbers, but regardless, the success of GOP women in headline-topping races has motivated some interesting commentary on feminism.

Sam Bennett of the Women’s Campaign Forum (an organization impressively non-partisan in its support of women candidates) wrote for Huffington Post that “Sarah Palin is not a feminist. In fact, the fabricated term ‘conservative feminist’ is an oxymoron.”  She then added, “Sarah Palin calling herself a conservative feminist is like BP calling themselves a corporate environmentalist. You don’t get to just pick up that word and use it the way you want it.”  Barrett’s chief objection: Palin and the GOP’s new alpha women are all, except Whitman, staunchly pro-life.

But is it fair for Bennett to claim the term feminism for her own and say that anyone who disagrees cannot “pick up that word and use it” to advocate a different opinion?  That’s an exclusive definition of a broad term, and it begs the question, can you be a feminist and be pro-life?

Moderate liberal assumptions say that abortion may be morally difficult, but it is not the place of the government to outlaw it. The pro-life position, according to the center-left, is an assault on women’s freedom, and therefore those concerned about women’s equality must be pro-choice.

But does this justify saying, as a matter of definition, that feminism requires a pro-choice stance?  To many, the answer is obviously and passionately yes.  But Sarah Palin and her pro-life message resonate with many American women in a way that liberal feminists find incomprehensible.

Comprehend it.  Internal contradictions aside, conservative feminism is not particularly new, and it is a mistake to call it an oxymoron.  It is deeply religious, of course, and it views the anti-abortion fight as one of female empowerment. The argument is simply that as women – as the motherly and feminine forces guiding our nation’s ethical compass – it is a feminine duty to defend life at its earliest stages.  Women are empowered by the defense itself.  This cultural theory may be out of date in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but it is at the heart of Palin’s sizeable and passionate following. And it is, in its own way, a feminist argument.

It may be a horribly misguided feminist argument.  I don’t mean to advocate that conservative feminists are right or wrong. My point is not at all about which side is right or wrong.

My point is that the logic of conservative feminism is plain and obvious for anyone who cares to try to comprehend.  It’s not new or complicated, and it shouldn’t be baffling.  Therefore, it is a colossal mistake for Bennett to simply dismiss the self-described pro-life feminists as an oxymoron, because that’s no way for her to argue her liberal position.  Conservative feminism cannot be dismissively defined away.

What Bennett should have written was, “We congratulate the women who have won these high-profile primaries in races across the country.  We hope that their obvious and sincere commitment to women’s freedom and equality will force them to re-evaluate their pro-life views.”

It’s not as strong a statement.  The rhetoric doesn’t pop.  And it’s probably not very good for fundraising.  But by dropping the exclusive definition, Bennett could make one small step toward an understanding and a conversation between two hostile camps.

Both sides want to empower women, if in radically different ways.

In the broadest sense, both sides are feminists.

End note: I slipped it in as the hyperlink on “deeply religious,” but the Newsweek Article “Saint Sarah” deserves a second look if you have the time.  Palin herself panned it, but it is an insightful look into her world.

  • http://womenandpolitics.org Lauren

    Allan – first, thank you for writing about this issue. As a feminist, I do find it heartening that powerful women are now fighting over the right to use this word. That said, I do agree with Sam.

    And WCF actually did say almost exactly what you suggested: “Though some of these women don’t share WCF’s views on reproductive health choices, I am encouraged. This sudden deluge of victories has forced the country to stand up and take notice of women’s political power.

    That said, I want to ask these candidates one question: If elected, what will you do to advance women’s rights? ”


    I would say that in general, the women’s community is excited about the fact that any women are rising to power in politics. However, we also know that feminism has been a movement of pro-choice progressives, and largely look at with disdain by social conservatives.

  • Allan Bradley

    Lauren, you’re right, and it may have been wrong of me to omit that the overall message from WCF was admirably inclusive of the Republican feminist viewpoint.

    But if that was the overall message, why begin with such a divisive statement out of tune from the WCF’s true belief?

    Overall, the WCF does well on this issue. But for WCF, supporters, and liberal feminists, the point is to avoid an easy and cavalier dismissal of conservative feminism. Such dismissals move the conversation nowhere.

  • http://classic.buzzflash.com/?time=12 Kevin Schmidt

    Conservatives want to outlaw ALL abortion, even in cases of rape, incest and when the pregnancy poses a clear danger to the woman’s health and life.

    That is most certainly NOT feminism.

    But besides this one issue, there is also the issue of equality on the job, in the schools, in sports, etc. Conservatives in general do not want equality of the sexes, just as they do not want equality of race, religion or anything that is not lily white upper 1% plutocracy.

  • Buzo01

    jah conservative= taliban femnist:D 

  • Valerie

     Feminism is about women taking their own God given power. It is not about taking the views of  some women who are in power and taking them as truth. You are not listening to both sides. I can tell that from your comments. Maybe you should ask many conservatives about their personal views about abortion, before making a stereotypical generalization about all conservatives. Stop relying on other people’s opinions and do your own research.
    On equality;I believe we are are  born equal, but do not have the right to equal outcomes. It is what one does with one’s life that makes one’s outcomes.  One has to accept the consequences of all one’s actions.
    BTW I’m living on less than 4oK a year with my family plus student loans. I’ve noticed that  many of the protesters that speak for the 1% are either teachers that are the money elite because of their retirement pensions; or college kids from schools like Columbia and Harvard. These kids are the 1%. They have the best education that money can buy.

  • famous feminists

    Its all about the Feminism that’s all unique challenges,and clear danger to the woman’s health and life ..i say this as a conservative process,but we can cope up with the situations for a good cause for

  • famous feminists

    Its all about the Feminism that’s all unique challenges,and clear danger to the woman’s health and life ..i say this as a conservative process,but we can cope up with the situations for a good cause for

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