Republicans have some nerve.
In 2008, they patted themselves on the back for the “historic” choice to put a woman on the presidential ticket. Never mind that Democrats had already made history doing exactly that in 1984. It was historic for Republicans, more than two decades later, because they were finally willing to acknowledge what Democrats had already accepted –- that women have a right and ability to participate in the public and political sphere. Never mind that they belong to the very party that has long dismissed, mocked, and opposed such a notion.
This is, after all, the party that bows down to Rush Limbaugh, the man whose great linguistic contribution to culture is the word “Feminazi.”
And now they’re at it again, patting themselves on the back for the “historic” candidacies of Republican women running for governorships, the House, and the Senate. Never mind that in 1992, Democrats sent a record number of women to Congress. Never mind that Carly Fiorina’s bid for senate is nothing new in California, in which both Senate seats have been filled by women for nearly twenty years.
And the traditional media is, as always, all too happy to perpetuate the idiotic meme that these women are pioneering a new wave of feminism, even as reporters can’t resist the temptation to patronize their victories with incessant references to “ladies night” and repeated assertions that these conservative "feminists” are contradicting the feminist stereotype of hairy-legged, man-hating, bra-burning baby killers.
Like this headline from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Carly Fiorina bucks feminist stereotype."
The article doesn’t explain how, exactly, she’s bucking the feminist stereotype, other than to describe her as part of “a new breed of "pro-woman, pro-life" feminists. Apparently, the old breed of feminists are all anti-woman and anti-life.
In U.S. News & World Report, Mary Kate Cary, former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush, did her part to perpetuate the stereotype-bucking meme.
These women are no more likely to burn their bras than burn the flag, but they aren't so much social conservatives as limited-government fiscal conservatives, worried about the scope and reach of the federal government into the daily lives of their families.
Who cares if feminists burning their bras is a complete myth? According to Cary, it's refreshing that unlike the number of Democratic women already in the House and Senate, these conservative "feminists" won't be setting their undergarments on fire.
Cary also implies that these women are inspired by Sarah Palin's never-before-seen example of a mother-of-five running for political office. Apparently, neither Cary nor these newly inspired women have ever heard of the mother-of-five Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Cary also repeats the absurd comment from Nikki Haley, the Republican nominee for governor in South Carolina:
We are long past the day of electing someone because they look good in a picture or they hold a baby well.
But Cary was only one of many commentators to jump on the "gee, look at the new brand of feminism" bandwagon. Ross Douthat, who is always happy to bash feminists, or at least the ones he wants to blame for the destruction of civilization, gleefully declared that Republican women's primary victories earlier this month prove...something.
What Tuesday’s results demonstrated, convincingly, is that America is now a country where social conservatives are as comfortable as liberals with the idea of women in high office. More strikingly, they’re comfortable voting for working mothers — for women publicly juggling careers and family obligations in ways that would have been unthinkable for the generations of female leaders, from Elizabeth I’s Virgin Queen down to Margaret Thatcher’s Iron Lady, who were expected to unsex themselves before being entrusted with the responsibilities of state.
Wow! Look how far we’ve come, that the decidedly anti-woman party has joined the 20th century and is willing to vote for broads. Never mind that just two years ago, when a woman ran for president, the media and conservatives were all too eager to argue that the country isn’t ready to see a woman in the highest office in the land, that no one wants to watch an older woman on TV, and that men should guard their genitalia in fear. That’s all water under the bridge now, because conservatives have discovered feminism.
Douthat concludes that all women should be happy about these victories because voters who embrace women espousing anti-woman views is somehow a good thing for women.
So however much heartburn Palin’s “mama grizzlies” give to those who associate feminism with the policies and prejudices of American liberalism, circa 1973, they should recognize their emergence for what it is: not a setback for the women’s movement, but a happy consequence of its victories.
See? All the old bra-burning harpies should get over their personal agendas and be pleased as punch that all of their hard work to improve the lives of women has culminated in the primary victories of women who are dedicated to fighting against improving the lives of women. Hooray for feminism!
Or not. As Amanda Marcotte explains:
The slightly higher-than-usual numbers of female candidates this election season’s crop of increasingly right-wing challenger candidates has created possibly the most irritating meme of 2010---that we’re looking at new kind of feminism, a “conservative feminism”. Never mind that this crop of politicians doesn’t actually have any feminist positions outside of the narrow belief that they personally should have power despite being female.
In other words, a vagina is not a de facto feminist credential.
So what, exactly, are their feminist credentials? According to Kathleen Parker, who authored a book arguing that feminists have turned men into an endangered species:
That other women, such as Palin, want to reframe the abortion debate in new feminist terms, arguing that abortion hurts women and is, therefore, anti-woman, doesn't bother me a bit.
Ah, reframing the abortion debate to argue that denying women the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies is actually a feminist position. Because nothing says "pro-woman" like denying rights to women.
Parker’s argument, like all the others, is that these women don’t have to be pro-choice to be feminists. But as Jessica Valenti explains, their feminist credentials are questionable for a whole host of other reasons beyond choice.
These “feminists” would cut funding to the Violence Against Women Act and fight same-sex marriage rights. They shallowly laud working moms while supporting business’ right to discriminate on the basis of gender, opposing increased funding for SCHIP and supporting cuts to the Family and Medical Leave Act. They believe that the pay gap doesn’t exist. Hell, they believe sexism doesn’t exist!
The godmother of this new "feminist" movement, for example, wanted women to pay for their own rape exam kits, slashed funding for a program to help teen mothers, and opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help enforce pay equity laws because it was merely a "a boon for trial lawyers.”
And all of these new "feminists" are opposed to health care reform that would expand coverage for, among others, women. And families.
Apparently, that's mama grizzly speak for "pro-woman."
But these new "feminists" aren't just anti-woman. They're also “business women.” Like Carly Fiorina, whom conservatives praise for her success as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. And yes, she was personally successful -- walking away from the smoldering ashes of the company with a cool $42 million in her pocket, after engineering a catastrophic merger that led to the plummet of the company's stock price and the layoff of tens of thousands of employees. Which is why despite her “business expertise,” California technology businesses are actually supporting her rival, Barbara Boxer.
But Fiorina dismisses such criticism of her stunning failure at HP and subsequent ouster as mere “politics.”
"Voters should view my departure from Hewlett-Packard as evidence politics exists in the boardroom as well," she said.
Politics in the boardroom is nothing compared with Meg Whitman’s full-body contact in the boardroom, where, thanks to her “verbal dispute” with an employee, the company had to shell out $200,00 in hush money because, according to Meg, verbally and physically assaulting a subordinate is “one of those things that just happens” in the business world.
That's some kind of powerful sisterhood. But it turns out that these new "feminists" will need more than a Sarah Palin endorsement and a vagina to actually win their respective elections.
Because while 8 percent of voters are enthusiastic about a Palin endorsement, 37 percent are “very uncomfortable.” In other words, sure, Palin’s endorsement helps bring out the crazies to oust the moderates (moderates, in this case, meaning not-quite-as-crazy), but when it comes time to actually electing crazies? Not so much.
And as for their groundbreaking status as women, that won't help them much either, at least, not in California.
However, a look back at California elections involving women candidates suggests that gender won’t be a major factor in whether Fiorina or Whitman win or lose. Analysis of past voting data shows that:
– Party matters far more than gender in a general election.
– Gender matters most among independent women voters
– Neither Democratic nor independent women voters are likely to favor a candidate who is not pro-choice.
But why let facts interrupt the narrative that voters are all-too-ready to embrace this new brand of anti-woman feminism?
They can call themselves feminists. They can cry “sexism” whenever anyone questions their questionable intelligence and knowledge. They can co-opt the language and feminist icons, from Susan B. Anthony to Hillary Clinton.
But that doesn’t mean they are on the side of women. That does not mean they are working to improve the lives of women. That does not mean they are advocates or allies. Short skirts, starburst-inspiring winking, and empty platitudes about family and freedom are no substitute for actually working for policies that benefit women.
You don’t get to just talk the talk and expect to be applauded for advancing the lives of women.
You actually have to walk the walk. Even if you’re wearing heels.