Who Gets to Be a Feminist?

The guardians of feminist purity are not amused by the idea of right-wing girl power. Rebecca Traister and Anna Holmes, for example, recently specified that members of the sisterhood may not oppose "reproductive rights" or "labor policies that would empower American women." They should be more open-minded.

Millions of women, for reasons of conscience, cannot bring themselves to support abortion on demand. According to a 2009 Gallup Poll, 49 percent of women are pro-life. Even if you are pro-choice (as I am), it is both unsisterly and impractical to organize a "women's" movement that excludes--and often demonizes--half of the American adult female population. After all, there are many other pressing issues: embattled women's groups in oppressive societies like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Congo are fighting barbaric practices such as child marriage, honor killing, stoning, and genital mutilation. If the women's movement would drop the purity test on abortion it would find millions of Catholic and evangelical women eager to join the next great wave of feminism: the emancipation of women in the developing world.

What about the empowering labor policies? Reasonable people disagree on which practices fit the bill. Traister and Holmes and their like-minded sisters are firm believers in "bureaugamy"--a term coined by the anthropologist Lionel Tiger to describe a society in which women are married to the state. The state provides child care, medical care, and an array of welfare services, and it mandates paid maternity leave, comparable worth, and gender quotas from the sports fields to the science labs, to the boardrooms and in the awarding of contracts. Conservative feminists are unconvinced that Uncle Sam is Mr. Right. They are suspicious of elaborate big-government "pro-woman" policies in advanced bureaugamies such as Norway and Sweden and think American women are faring as well or better in the workplace. For example, the World Economic Forum Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010 reports that a far higher percentage of American women hold managerial and executive positions than of Nordic women.

Conservative feminism is pro-woman but male-friendly. If boys are languishing academically, if blue-collar men lose most of the jobs in the recession, or if innocent young men are falsely accused of heinous crimes--as several members of the Duke University Lacrosse team were in 2006, with campus feminists at the head of the mob--conservative feminists will speak out on men's behalf. The feminists now in power in our universities and in Washington see the world differently--as a zero-sum struggle between men and women, in which their job is to fight for women. But that is not the attitude of most women, whether conservative or liberal in political outlook. Men are their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons; when they are in trouble, so are the women who care about them and, in many cases, depend on them.

If conservative women wish to describe themselves as feminists, and if they offer a new model of women's empowerment that large numbers of American women find inspiring, even determined feminist bouncers like Traister and Holmes won't be able to keep them from the party.

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar and the director of the W. H. Brady Program at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Christina Hoff
Sommers

What's new on AEI

To secure southern border, US must lead international effort to stabilize Central America
image The Ryan pro-work, anti-poverty plan: Thomas Aquinas 1, Ayn Rand 0
image Does SNAP support work? Yes and no
image Obama Democrats lose their big bet on health exchanges
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.