The Issues With Conservative Feminists

by Gwen Berumen

If there’s one thing I love to hate, it’s right-wingers trying to make women sound delusional. Apparently, the conservative “feminist” group Independent Women’s Forum seems to think that democratic and liberal women often play the “victim” in regards to challenging gender equity. The non-profit believes that non-conservative feminism is synonymous with big government, and that seeking gender parity across the board is impossible, since there are fundamental differences between genders.

Before I get started on saying why all of this is soooo wrong: let me start off with a brief history of the IWF. Their motto is “All Issues are Women’s Issues” which sounds GREAT, however the non-profit group is not really down for anything feminist. It was founded in 1992 by Rosalie Silberman, Anita K. Blair, and Barbara Olson after they started an informal network of women who supported the Thomas nomination despite allegations of sexual harassment from Anita Hill. They called themselves “women for Judge Thomas.” As of 2006, their budget has been $1 million and then some.

As you can see, the group’s foundation isn’t very feminist. Fast forward to present day, where the same holds true. IWF Executive Director Sabrina Schaeffer did, however, make one good point in a statement that she made regarding the inclusion of women by the two-party system. She admits that conservatives are “in big trouble with women” since liberals take women’s issues more seriously. I can’t argue with that logic. However, there are factors that she (and other conservatives) simply leave out of their calculations when creating their stances.

First off – there is no fundamental difference between genders. All apparent differences are socially constructed. People may argue that women have vaginas and therefore can get pregnant or something, but equating vaginas with the female gender is wrong because it’s transphobic. Anyone, regardless of gender, can have a vagina. People equate “fundamental differences in gender” with what people have between their legs, and the association between genitalia and gender is not something that is innate, but rather learned behavior. The thing is that nothing is inherent to a gender, for gender itself is a construction. That’s not to say that it is not important and hasn’t shaped our world today, for it most certainly has. But, the construction of gender leads to a simplistic, binary approach to viewing people, one that often excludes those who aren’t cis white dudes.

Second, the reason why anyone sees the right as anti-women is because they have rejected policies and opposed movements that are for the betterment of women’s lives. Of course the overall feminist response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision is negative, maybe because it restricts women’s agency. Something which the IWF believes is a liberal myth.

“One of my biggest frustrations with contemporary feminism today is that it has painted women as agency-less,” says Schaeffer, “as victims who are constantly in need of either government protection or who are always the underdog — rather than seeing [that] women are accomplishing more than ever before and outpacing men professionally, financially.”

The topic of women’s agency in general is a complicated topic, which is why studying privilege and oppression is so fundamental to being truly intersectional. Gender obstacles are the results of systems, not of individual consciousness efforts. In order to recognize who is most autonomous, you have to know who is most privileged. Of course rich, white women have more agency then poor, brown women.

Agency is dependent on situations, and in most situations, women have little to none. Patriarchy is set up in so that women who try to follow methods of “leaning in” and other types of classist, feminist language can’t engage with those ideas since leaning in can often mean losing their jobs. Power feminism – the belief that getting women into powerful positions can bring forth gender parity – buys into patriarchy by allowing women to also play the “game.” However, despite the fact that women are now part of the system, women are still hurt by patriarchy. Except now everything looks “feminist” because women are a part of it. Conservatives are very gung-ho about this type of feminism, since they believe that doing this is liberating because it somehow creates less dependency on the state. However, corporations are BFFs with the state, they are seen as people often times more than real women are. Female CEOs (and all CEOs for that matter) depend on the state MORE than most other citizens. Call it equal opportunity, but it’s really just women getting a piece of the oppression pie.

Schaeffer says she “absolutely” believes in equal opportunity, but “we shouldn’t feel disappointed in [women’s] choices. We’re not having government reports on the shortage of male nurses. We aren’t concerned about that.” RIGHT, because focusing feminism on staggering rape stats and the criminalization of brown women’s self-defense is definitely not as important as this “shortage” of male nurses (no stats are provided by IWF).

Women aren’t asking for handouts, but given our history we do deserve something. Especially if the women in question are poor, brown, disabled, trans, etc. Take for example the fact that Slavery lasted for 246 years in this country, and it’s been abolished for 149 years (and that is if we’re not including micro-aggressions or the prison industrial complex). Think of all the women that have been hurt by slavery; what we know of as gender today is a Western concept. When the West physically stole African people from their homes and introduced harmful concepts to them, gender disparities began between African-American women and men. Furthermore, think about the generations of systemic oppression that came as a result of this disgusting mark on our history. Slavery was incredibly destructive to black women; tell me again how after 246+ years of suffering perpetuated by the most privileged groups, they can’t  ask for some degree of help from the state.  

Conservatives can believe that they are better for the feminist movement all they want, but the reason why they gain no traction is because of statements like these. Or maybe because their foundation is rooted in misogyny. Accepting patriarchy and turning it around as a fault in feminism isn’t feminist. Please spare the “we are all about gender parity” speech.

Feminism is a political movement that strives to end oppression. It’s not about accepting the faults in a system that targets women, like saying that men and women are fundamentally different, or that women just need to work harder. 


Photos via upworthy, and 

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