A New Feminism for A New Republican

16Jan09

By Colleen

currently listening: A Public Affair, Jessica Simpson

This media’s treatment of Palin was unabashedly insulting to the core values and belief systems conservative women hold close to their hearts and espouse in their daily lives, not to mention it was terribly inaccurate in its presentation and discussion of conservative feminist theory.

Feminism has become a movement narrowly defined by a woman’s stance on abortion rights. The National Organization for Women is no longer, and maybe has never been, a vehicle of promoting all women’s well-being, but the well-being of women who ascribe to a liberal agenda. Madeleine Albright once stated that there is a place in Hell reserved for women who don’t help other women, as cited by Sarah Palin on the campaign trail at a political rally held Monday, Oct. 6 in Florida.

That dramatic, controversial, and pointed statement of Albright’s says a mouthful about the divisive nature of feminism today.

Let me clear the air by stating assertively and accurately, that anti-abortion and pro-life women (whichever term you prefer, one may theoretically argue they’re not the same), can be and are in fact, feminists.

Simply because the left-wing of United States politics chooses to ignore this quintessential fact does not mean it ceases to be true. In fact, the members of their ranks are beginning to come out of the dark ages and realize change is upon us as exhibited by Shelly Mandell, the president of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW, who just yesterday endorsed GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Mandell stated, “ She cares about our children and she cares about women’s lives. She’s an athlete and she knows what Title Nine did for girls like her. This is what a feminist looks like.” And I agree.

Feminism is amongst contemporary academia’s most complex and paradoxical disciplines. The predominant question vexing political scientists and social behaviorists alike is, how many Americans can embrace feminist ideals and concepts and consistently resist self-identification as a feminist?

My answer, as a third wave and conservative feminist, would be that the contemporary feminist movement does not embrace all women and does not represent the needs, beliefs, and values of all women.

Plain and simple.

Conservative women are considered undesirable additions to the feminist movement in the eyes of many liberal feminists. They espouse the equality of all women while simultaneously condemning those who choose — YES CHOOSE — to embrace traditional lifestyle choices, complete with a pro-life position.

The tension between conservative and liberal feminism is an exemplary display of how complex the nature of feminist theory is in general. However conservative feminism is the discourse of hope, while liberal feminism has become too radical and too concentrated on victimization and pessimistic, angry rhetoric.

Liberal feminism, as it stands today, would have women believe that we are second class citizens, placed in a tier below our male counterparts as far as active citizenship is concerned. To this I respond, ladies, you will be victims so long as you perceive yourself as such.

This definition is particularly appropriate to the conservative feminist discourse on enhancing deliberative democracy. Conservative feminists seek to enhance deliberative democracy by encouraging women to use their social experiences in the private sphere that are associated with nurturing, in a way that influences citizens in the public sphere to think more collectively (As explained by Jane Mansbridge in “Feminism and Democracy”).

In this sense, conservative feminism is more inclusive than liberal feminism. By virtue of the fact that conservative feminism acknowledges women’s socialization in child-rearing and the tendency of women to create their identity through relationships with others, conservative feminists are especially concerned with transforming the individualistic “I” into the collective “we.” They emphasize conflict resolutions that “accommodate diverse and often suppressed desires” (See Mansbridge).

Liberal feminist discourse on deliberative democracy is, by contrast, more pessimistic.

Deliberation, liberal feminists say, is merely an illusion of participation which conceals the pervasive influence males exert over politics in the public sphere. Where deliberative democracy is concerned, liberal feminists criticize conservative feminism for its inability to see that “the very capacity to identify with others can easily be manipulated to the disadvantage of women” (See Mansbridge).

In my opinion, this type of thinking is flawed and destructive when applied to the concept of deliberation in the United States which is a “melting-pot” and a diverse nation. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison stated that it is the responsibility of the majority to check societal or political factions that are “adversed…to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” The liberal feminists’ perception of deliberative democracy is insulting to the intelligence of women, who are assumed to be so ignorant and so unimportant that their political conversation is only an illusion of participation.

Abortion is considered an untouchable subject. Nobody wants to talk about it, lest we fall into religious discourse which we all know is out-of-bounds, as exemplified by John McCain’s unwillingness to criticize Barack Obama for having consented to place his spiritual education in the hands of a man such as Rev. Wright for 20 plus years.

Fine! I can make the case for conservative pro-life feminists without espousing religious beliefs. Conservative feminists’ pro-life affiliation is construed by many liberal feminists to be superficial and see them as nothing more than “bible-thumpers” masquerading as a feminist, advocating women’s right while simultaneously accosting them by voicing her anti-choice opinions.

However, many conservative feminists take a consistent pro-life stance with regards not only to abortion but the death penalty as well. Advocacy of nonviolent social positions of conservative feminists stems largely from maternal feminism which places an emphasis on compassionate and non-confrontational relationships.

According to the conservative feminist, the lack of financial and emotional resources available to pregnant women considering abortion is inexcusable. Abandonment, they advance, is a powerful form of coercion and coercion is oppression. The law, Feminists for Life states, should hold those who deprive women of the resources they need during times of crisis as accountable as women the law restrains in the form of abortion restrictions in the states.

Conservative feminism’s adaptation of a pro-life position is partially rooted in “social feminism” as well as maternal feminism. According to conservative feminists, children are the core of feminist theory, thus their devotion to protection of fetal rights is not surprising. Conservative feminists have called for more thorough and sophisticated feminist studies in the discipline of child development, not only biologically speaking but psychologically as well, to determine the impact of various methods of parenting.

Maternal feminist thought prevents women from succumbing to victimization feminism that is often associated with the second wave. The conservative maternal feminist is an active citizen who recognizes that good has been done by maternal practices throughout history that could not have been accomplished if the maternal figure were a destructive force. She acts as a governmental watchdog, reminding legislators that the public policy they create has the potential to protect or inflict harm on their constituents. Elshtain assesses Ruddick’s maternalist theory positively stating that, “Maternal thinking…is a rejection of amoral statecraft and an affirmation of the dignity of the human person” (See Sarah Ruddick).

Thus I present to you, the conservative feminist. No bible thumping or moral pretentiousness required.

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2 Responses to “A New Feminism for A New Republican”

  1. Colleen, very well written blog. It tackles a very interesting topic, and one that frankly is in need of being rethought, particularly from the Conservative woman’s point of view. I think you are on to something. Nice work!

  2. Wow! Wonderfully put. Dignity and respect for women is something that cannot be politicized regardless of the abortion/right to life issue. What the feminists did to Palin during the campaign was reprehensible, and lost them oodles of respect built up over the years.

    Sarah Palin, in our view, is the epitome of what a right-thinking feminist woman should be. In spite of everything the pres did, and didn’t do she stayed strong.

    A big pat on the back for the author here for strongly stating her position on the matter, and do it so well.


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