Why you should care
Because “women’s issues” are about more than reproductive rights.
Lauren Claffey is a managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies. She previously served in the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration and as an adviser to Republican members of Congress.
This past weekend, hundreds of thousands of women marched in the cold in Washington, D.C., and across the country. Their purported aim was to champion equal rights for women, but once again, the movement failed to unite. They have managed to outwardly alienate not only Jewish women — some of the Women’s March leaders were revealed to have anti-Semitic ties — but also conservative ones. They argue that women’s causes — such as abortion, contraception, paid family leave and economic equality — demand liberal solutions.
Women’s movements should empower and celebrate all women, meaning conservative feminists also deserve a voice in the conversation.
For many progressive women, the notion of a “conservative feminist” is laughable. I know this from experience, as I have literally been laughed at for saying I identify as one. It’s inconceivable to progressives that people who believe in gender equality could possibly exist in the old White man’s Republican Party. Conservative women are usually confused by the notion, often believing feminism is reserved for man-hating Democrats who judge them for their religious convictions, traditional family values or limited government views.
But a political party is not one size fits all. With each election cycle, political parties’ platforms change, and parties evolve to reflect the ideals of the people within them.
We have to move past the idea that the only women’s issues that matter are abortion and contraception.
Feminism, however, doesn’t. Feminism, by definition, is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” To believe women are equal to men is not politics. It is a truth and a deep conviction that does not waver during any given election cycle.
It may come as a surprise to some, but women are not a homogeneous mass of single-issue voters, pledging their support to a candidate solely based on their stance on equal pay issues or which party is better addressing the #MeToo movement.
We also have to move past the idea that the only women’s issues that matter are abortion and contraception and see the whole female experience as it is in today’s society. For crying out loud, the Supreme Court has ruled on Roe v. Wade — it’s settled law. Which means I don’t have to vote under the singular prism of abortion rights in order to consider myself a feminist.
But you wouldn’t get that listening to the leaders of the Women’s March or the Democratic Party. The 2020 campaign for president will be historic for women, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Sen. Kamala Harris of California all in the race. While I’m proud to live in a time where we may see our first female president, I’m insulted when I’m told that I’m anti-woman because I won’t vote for one of them. Just because we share a gender doesn’t mean we share the same political beliefs, and that shouldn’t make me any less of a feminist.
Contrary to what many say, just because conservative and progressive women don’t always agree on the journey, we often do support the same destination for women and for our country as a whole.
The feminist movement needs to accept that there are going to be disagreements among women about how to achieve true equality. Our gender should not be something that divides us, but something that unites us across party lines.
For example, all feminists agree that women need to be better represented in the boardrooms of America. We need more female CEOs, more female politicians, more women in senior leadership positions across the country. But conservative feminists do not believe that government mandates are the way to achieve this goal, such as with California’s new law mandating that every company must appoint two women to its board of directors.
Conservative women believe that you don’t have to mandate outcomes to achieve equality, but you do need to mandate opportunity and allow for women to choose their own path, whether it’s to lead a Fortune 500 company or be a stay-at-home mom.
Equal opportunity policies include paid family leave; transparency in corporate pay practices; pushing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for all children; and government-encouraged (but not mandated) training on unconscious bias and sexual harassment.
As feminists, we need to think creatively about how best to help women succeed and create economic opportunities that give people more choices, more opportunities and more resources so they can build the lives and work situations that meet their needs.
Margaret Thatcher once said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” We need to be the problem solvers for our future daughters and granddaughters, and it’s our time to step up and ensure that both conservative and liberal feminists have a seat at the table and can work together to find solutions.
Women should not be hijacked for a political agenda. Feminists, in all their variety, deserve to be heard.
Read more by Lauren Claffey: We should certify journalists amid cyberwar with Russia.