For decades, the label feminist has been the exclusive property of women on the political left, with victimhood and abortion rights as feminism’s primary tenets, and the promulgation of grievances against the patriarchy its modus operandi. This election cycle a large cadre of traditional women have entered the the political arena and are challenging the sisterhood of bra-burners on their own turf, bringing what Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, calls “authentic feminism” to the national stage.
As many commentators have noted, 2010 is shaping up to be the year of the Republican woman. According to Center for American Women and Politics, 14 Republican women have thrown their girdles into the ring for the U.S. Senate and 94 for the House of Representatives. According to CAWP director Debbie Walsh, 60 of the 106 females who are challenging House incumbents are Republicans.
With all these changes occurring on the national stage, behind the scenes, there is an active revolution brewing on the part of conservative women to claim the word “feminist” as their own.
“Moving up to the primary endorsement process, we intentionally started a conversation about women’s rights and what is at the center of it, what shouldn’t be at the center,” Dannenfelser told The Daily Caller. “The women’s movement in its current form has abortion at the core and that is why we have started a dialogue about what true feminism is. It is not because I have ever labeled myself a feminist, but we really felt we needed to take them on on their own ground.”
“There is a conscious effort being made on the part of a lot of conservative women politicians to be using this word, feminist,” Carrie Lukas, vice-president and director of policy for the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, told The Daily Caller. “But they are offering a very different brand of liberation than what is usually associated with the term, which has really become, over the last few decades, associated with groups like NOW [National Organization for Women], which are essentially indistinguishable from the Democratic Party and are more about big government than women.”
NOW executive vice-president, Bonnie Grabenhofer, told The Daily Caller that to her, “feminism is a social justice movement aimed at getting social, political, and economic equality for women. We work for the advancement of women on multiple fronts.”
Dannenfelser says that the advancement that women’s groups like NOW provide is very selective and she credits Sarah Palin with leading the way for conservative women in politics today.
“The old guard feminists say they have opened the door for women, but when ladies like us show up, they just want to slam the door in our face,” she said. “But Palin shoved it open and was the first women of her kind on the national stage. She created opportunities for more women to run.”
According to Grabenhofer, Palin doesn’t qualify as a feminist.
“I do not consider Sarah Palin to be a feminist,” she said. “She has benefitted from the work of feminists but she has not worked to advance the rights of women. She works against the progressive ideas meant to help.”