Naked Politics Blogger
For many, conservatism and feminism don’t mix. History has not typically put them together, with many more conservative women opposing suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment and other key movements. Social media shows many young women holding up signs with ‘I don’t need feminism’ emblazoned on them.
When the Women’s March swept through the world following the inauguration of Donald Trump, it was a bastion of left wing Hollywood types and was perceived as not being welcoming of a variety of groups, including conservative women. Ivanka Trump and other Trump allies have been attacked for calling themselves feminist by critics, who accuse them of working with a misogynist and alleged sexual predator. The left has dominated feminist discourse for years, portraying itself as the saviour and natural home of women. They boast a higher number of female members, politicians and more ‘feminist’ policies than the right, and particularly in America the right is accused of being sexist.
The thing is, conservative feminism does exist and it thrives just as liberal feminism does.
When someone is a conservative feminism, they do not operate in the same way a liberal feminist does. You may not see them advocating for smashing the patriarchy, pushing for positive discrimination or fighting for reproductive rights in the streets (some conservatives may do) but it is not necessarily the stance of everyone.
Here are some of the ways conservative feminists are different.
We think gender equality will be achieved from individual women, not society
The conservative feminist simply believes in gender equality as all good feminists do, but their idea of feminism comes from themselves instead of society. Broadly, many liberal feminists do believe that western society is still sexist both highlighting figures such as high rates of sexual assault, less representation in the boardroom and lack of childcare. That is not to say that the west does not have some work to do, but the more conservative feminist broadly believes that we have reached equality in our area of the world. They tend to cite the leadership of women, increasing entry into the workplace and female friendly legislation such as maternity laws.
Left and right feminists see barriers differently. Those on the left (and this is not necessarily a criticism) see that society is the one that is blocking further success. Their aim is to change society through active pressure, such as protests over issues they deem important. But conservative feminists believe that it is not down to society, but the individual themselves. Conservative feminists see western society as broadly already equal; the primary reason as to why there is less success is women themselves. For them, the glass ceiling is a mere fantasy in today’s world and that working just as hard as men will get them where they want to be. They may, however, join with the left’s position in regards to women in the third world, where gender oppression is a huge concern and there are many solid barriers to liberation.
The market can promote gender equality
Conservative feminists also believe more in market based solutions than social ones. For them, freedom comes through business opportunities, lower taxation and quality employment. American founded International Women’s Forums advocate for these solutions, whilst the Conservative Party’s Women2Win advocates encouraging women to enter political life. They believe that economic freedom allows women to control their own lives through more disposable income, which allows them to fund important costs such as childcare, known for being an issue more important to women and also being a costly one.
Women shouldn’t be given jobs they haven’t fairly earned
Meritocracy is also a huge issue for conservative women. The Labour Party has implemented all women shortlists, used to increase the quantity of women in both local and national politics. Many argue that it doesn’t necessarily increase the quality and just takes away the chance of very qualified men to get these positions. Women2Win for example, create the tools that teach women about being successful in politics, giving them the tools they need for successful campaigns. Whilst it uses gender to increase parliamentary diversity, it uses meritocracy instead of gender based affirmative action.
To their credit, the Labour Party has managed to provide better proof that they are for women with their larger amount of women in politics, which in turn can increase female perspective in parliament. But it’s notable that they are the only one of the major UK parties who have not had a female leader (though Harriet Harman has often served as interim between leadership elections).
Whilst many on the right disavow feminism, especially due to the extreme feminism that has entered today’s society, many on the right- both men and women- are proud to wear the badge of feminism. This girl? Always proud to have the words conservative feminist in her Twitter bio.