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Can Conservatives Be Feminists?

Posted on January 4 2011 4:00 pm
Suzanne Venker, a.k.a. "No Bull Mom," is an author, blogger, and speaker. You can find her at
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There’s a new book out this week entitled A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, by Stephanie Coontz. I cannot give it a fair review — I’ve ordered the book but haven’t read it yet — but here’s a peek from Kirkus Reviews:

“A sharp revisiting of the generation that was floored by Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963), and how the book is still relevant today…. A valuable education for women and men.”

To give you an idea of those who support the book, consider this endorsement from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love:

“I am struck once more by how much there is learned (and taught) about the slow, stubborn advancement of women in America over the last one hundred years. I will keep A Strange Stirring in the forefront of my bookshelf forever.”

I highlight Gilbert’s endorsement because, as some of you know, I’ve just completed a book on this subject myself (The FLIPSIDE of FEMINISM) and Gilbert is featured in the chapter on marriage. A committed feminist, Gilbert has nothing good to say about conservatives in her sequel to Eat, Pray, Love — ironically entitled Committed. In typical left-wing fashion, she blames conservatives for holding women back.

That’s precisely how feminists want Americans to think of conservatism: as a governing philosophy that’s restrictive to women. Liberal women, on the other hand, are enlightened — and feminism is their governing philosophy.

The reason feminism has once again become a hot subject is because of the apparent contradiction that is Sarah Palin. Palin is the embodiment of what feminists claim women should be — unrestricted, powerful — but she’s on the other side of the political spectrum. This juxtaposition has caused women to question whether or not conservatives can be feminists.

Feminists say they can’t — and though it pains me to be on their side about anything, they’re right. Today’s conservative women want to be considered feminists, but the relentless confusion that inevitably results — the constant back and forth in trying to prove who’s feminist enough, as if not being one at all is a preposterous thought — proves otherwise. The reality is that feminists and conservative women do have little in common.

It is here that I part ways with my fellow conservatives — at least the younger set — many of whom join ranks with Sarah Palin, who, on more than one occasion, has referred to herself as a feminist. Two weeks ago, Bill O’Reilly asked Palin why she does, and she replied,

“Because I am self-reliant and quite independent, and I’m lucky to have been brought up in a family where gender hasn’t been an issue.”

It’s true that self-reliance and independence is what feminists want Americans to believe feminism is about — but like most of the modern generation, Palin has been duped.

During her discussion with O’Reilly, Palin concedes that feminism requires women to be dependent on the government and that turning to the government is not the solution to women’s problems. Moreover, she said, abortion should not be a litmus test to determine whether a woman is a feminist.

But why not? Why not let feminists have their label? Smart women don’t need a feminist badge. Calling oneself a feminist has become a crutch women think they need to prove they believe in feminism’s basic premise: that women are as strong as, or equal to, men. But feminism is not, and never has been, about equality for women.

It’s about power for the female left — always has been.

Why, then, associate with it at all? Because women on the right equate the suffragette movement with the feminist movement. They often refer to the work of suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who fought for the right of women to vote in all fifty states as “first wave” (a good thing) and the Betty Friedan era as “second wave” (a bad thing). But the suffragette movement has nothing to do with the feminist movement that has become the mainspring of modern women’s lives. Feminists aren’t the second wave of anything — they’re something else altogether.

Perhaps it’s semantics. If Palin (or anyone else for that matter) wants to call herself a feminist by aligning herself with the suffragettes, that’s her prerogative. But it’s confusing. I know my colleagues at NewsReal would like to resurrect what they believe is the true meaning of feminism in the same way they wish to resurrect the term liberal, but it’s not a good parallel. Unlike the term liberal, feminism was never a good word. Even if the suffragettes used this term on occasion, its meaning has been irreparably damaged.

As shocking as this may sound, feminism is not responsible for the freedoms women have today. If anything, it’s responsible for women’s discontent.

It’s time to chuck the term feminist. Honestly, ladies — you don’t need it.

Suzanne Venker is co-author of the forthcoming book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – and Men Can’t Say (WND Books). Her website is

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