Is feminism going Chapter 11?

Amy Siskind Contributor
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Last summer, I wrote an article for The Huffington Post titled “Why the ‘Pro-Women’ Movement should and will replace feminism.” Sarah Palin had just declared herself a “conservative feminist,” while endorsing a slew of diverse women candidates and working to get them elected. I found her efforts to get more women into leadership admirable. The women who apparently own the term “feminist” vehemently disagreed with me. Rather than welcome Palin with a sisterly embrace, they pursued her with machetes of words for daring to utter their sacred “F word.”

The vitriolic reaction by the coterie of women who have anointed themselves (some might say, hijacked) the voice of feminism defies both logic and common sense. Put another way, it’s simply bad business. A stated goal of feminism is gender equality. Yet, how can feminism get us there while excluding half the gender? Gender equality is impossible to achieve within a framework in which some women are viewed as less worthy, less equal. Until and unless feminism is willing to meaningfully address this incongruity, feminism may be headed for extinction. Feminism will be replaced by the Pro-Women Movement, which is following a simple business ethos: provide the customer with what she wants. And as with most start-up brands, the Pro-Women Movement was spurred by an unfilled need.

The feminists so eager to exclude conservative women from their clique won the battle — Palin backed off. But, sadly, they lost the war. GOP women decided they didn’t need to be “feminists” after all. On Tuesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann told The Daily Beast that she does not consider herself a feminist, but she is “pro-woman.” Last week, Rep. Kristi Noem told Greta Van Susteren she too is not a feminist, but is “pro-woman.” In fact, Noem took to the House floor with other GOP Congresswomen to let women know that her party is “pro-women” and will fight for women on today’s women’s issues. Noem welcomed all women to join her: a very appealing and positive message which could attract even more women voters in 2012. This after the shocking 16-point migration of women voters to the GOP between 2008 and 2010.

Where did feminism go so terribly wrong?

In the wake of the 2008 presidential election, 20% of women considered themselves feminists. At the same time, there was a historic opportunity to harness the depth of women’s anger in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s and Sarah Palin’s campaigns — to rally all women around their awakening to gender bias in the media, in the workplace and in our society generally. Tina Brown challenged: So passé is “feminism” that the bi-partisan women’s activist group New Agenda, formed by Amy Siskind in August after Hillary’s defeat, is canvassing for new names to re-invigorate the cause (suggestions gratefully received).

Changing the F-word alone would not save feminism. But changing its framework to be inclusive of all women looking for help would have been fruitful for increasing participation in feminism. Legions of women were stark, raving mad at the biased treatment Clinton and Palin received not only in the media, but also from the boys’ club establishment in the DNC and RNC. Women’s anger and passion for change provided fertile ground for social change. Palin supporters took the opportunity to act out their outrage by becoming activists in the Tea Party Movement and bucking the establishment. And so, 2010 became The Year of GOP Women, with a possible follow-up bang in 2012 with a female GOP candidate for president. As Chris Matthews (of all people) noted: “Rep. Bachmann is going to make a real bang in this coming election season … Bet on the pitchforks to take it from the country clubbers.” Those pitchforks are pro-women.

Among Clinton supporters, there was a rather widely held view that women’s groups (and many feminists) were either ineffectual or complicit in Clinton’s demise, preferring candidate Obama. The women claiming the mantle of feminism did little to heal these wounds, excoriating Clinton supporters for their criticism of President Obama. One particularly spiteful Obama-supporting feminist coined the term “Clinton dead-enders” for those loyal to Clinton, leading the charge for more Clinton-supporter-bashing and exclusion.

Since most Clinton supporters were silenced and had no means to act out, they chose instead to act in. More like a raft afloat, with each wave washing them further from political ideology. 2010 was the first year since exit polling began that women went GOP. But a closer peek reveals a truth: Women, 60 and over, the largest and most reliable voting block, shifted from +6 D in 2008 to +12 R in 2010. The second-largest voting block, women ages 45-59, went from +10 D in 2008 to tie. These are Hillary’s women.

There is one place that is making a home for all women, and that is the Pro-Women Movement. It’s the last call for feminism: go inclusive or go extinct!

Amy Siskind is the President and Co-Founder of The New Agenda, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls.