Can a conservative be a feminist in America today? Liberal feminists cited in a USA Today article say no, either because conservatives are pro-life or they don’t support structural and institutional changes that are necessary to stop the oppression of women and their overlapping identities of race, sexual orientation, and religion.
As a conservative who deeply values individual liberty, I agree with them. This puts me at odds with many “conservative feminists” who insist on keeping the term. Some are pro-life feminists who tell liberals they don’t need “permission” to be called feminists, because they support the rights of all women — even those in the womb.
Others focus on individual rights. Kellyanne Conway, who admitted that it’s difficult to be a feminist today because it’s pro-abortion and anti-male, defined feminism her own way:
There’s an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices. … I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances. That’s really to me what conservative feminism, if you will, is all about.
Feminists descended on her in droves pointing to the definition in Merriam-Webster as the standard: Feminism is defined as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” In other words, if you say you’re not a feminist in the “classical sense,” as Conway did, then you don’t care about women’s equal rights or opportunities.
Other conservative feminists call themselves “opportunity feminists” to answer this challenge. This feminism, as reported in USA Today, “prioritizes equality of opportunity over equality of outcome, meaning that so long as women have the same opportunities as men in education, the workplace and politics, it doesn’t matter if they are represented in equal numbers.”
Many conservative or libertarian feminists say they retain the label because we always have to be on guard against creeping threats to our rights. To that, I say “Amen.” But this is true for all Americans, not just women. Our efforts to be ever vigilant should include our brothers, not just our sisters, in the never-ending fight against evil.
Intersectional feminists — those that believe women’s intersecting identities, such as race and sexual orientation, etc., “impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination” — reject all these definitions because they’re not part of the great political struggle against “the system.”
“For them [conservatives], there’s a very narrow view of what feminism is and also a very ahistorical view,” said Ronnee Schreiber, author of the book Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics. “Feminism isn’t just about a personal identification. It’s a political and historical movement.”
This is what feminism has become in the West, which means it’s not really about women at all.
It’s an ideology pressing for political change to transform — not simply reform — all of society. The individual doesn’t matter; it’s the collective that counts as it pushes against a “system” that impedes their progress toward a better, more evolved, humanity. That system, they believe, is controlled by white, straight men.
Despite the claims of intersectional feminists, feminism has historically been a mixed bag even in the beginning, as some pushed for social change in a Marxist sense and others focused on the liberty principle of securing rights and opportunities for women. The difference today is we have achieved the principle, and now all we have is an ideology — one that undermines the liberties and rights once fought for in the great feminist upheavals of the past.
I don’t use ideology here simply as a system of ideas or any kind of “action-oriented theory,” which isn’t a pejorative in any sense. I use it as the French Enlightenment philosopher who coined the term meant it. Antoine Destutt de Tracy, who was profoundly influenced by Montesquieu and John Locke, established five characteristics of an ideology:
(1) It contains an explanatory theory of a more or less comprehensive kind about human experience and the external world; (2) it sets out a program, in generalized and abstract terms, of social and political organization; (3) it conceives the realization of this program as entailing a struggle; (4) it seeks not merely to persuade but to recruit loyal adherents, demanding what is sometimes called commitment; (5) it addresses a wide public but may tend to confer some special role of leadership on intellectuals.
This is feminism today. It’s not a principle. It’s not even a social movement aiming for a principle. It’s an ideology, a monstrous self-worshiping “secular religion.”
(1) It believes the human experience is a closed system in which human beings are alone with no greater order or narrative to unite them beyond their group identities and common struggle. Humanity is self-defined, not objectively defined by our Creator; therefore, we can essentially change and be changed.
The human experience is a struggle against classes and groups, and only through elevating to a higher consciousness that values egalitarianism and collectivism can the oppressed overcome the oppressors (the Patriarchy, capitalism, Western — aka racist, misogynist — culture). If this system can be overcome, human progress and a sort of utopian ideal will be achieved.
(2) Its goal is to dismantle that system through social and political movements: the Women’s March, Me Too, Time’s Up movements — anything that seeks to transform “the system.”
(3) This is a constant struggle. They use the terms “war,” “overcoming,” “resist,” “fight,” “hear me roar.” The battle is perceived marginal groups against the strong. Masculinity is seen as the enemy because of its powerful influence on the human experience, and it must be transformed, eradicated or modified for women to be free and experience true equality. This is an existential battle for power, and it is intrinsically materialistic.
Abortion is a necessary part of the battle, because motherhood is nestled in the middle of the oppressive system hoisted on them by men. Motherhood feeds the beast and enslaves women. Abortion frees them from these chains, and the struggle to maintain this “right” is essential to freedom from oppression.
(4) Feminists are relentless in gathering recruits to their cause. If you’re not part of this group, with these goals, and seeking this higher consciousness, you are the enemy. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman, because this ideology is ultimately not about women; it’s about power. If you don’t comply, you’re excommunicated. Feminism demands loyalty to the cause and will turn viciously on anyone who opposes it. Hell hath no fury like Ideological Feminism scorned.
(5) Feminism today tries to paint itself as “for the people” and “of the people.” This is why it’s so important for Hollywood elites to say, “We’re all in this together.” They imagine they speak for the poor and the downtrodden. But this is an illusion. Feminism ropes in “the people,” but it is orchestrated and controlled by elites. The intellectuals at universities, in the media, and in politics, along with their celebrity lapdogs — these are the puppeteers who direct and manipulate the masses.
How, then, can a conservative who values liberty adopt any aspect of this ideology? If we try to say we’re simply for women’s rights and opportunities, we are validating the false premise that women’s rights are being institutionally and systematically violated without recourse in America today. This is false, and to affirm it even in the slightest is to empower Ideological Feminism.
We might think we’re holding to some kind of Principled Feminism in defiance of the Left, but why keep the label? Are women deprived of rights in America? Are they an oppressed class? The answer is a resounding no — and to those who cite abuses in the system, individual, single variables of legal violations do not translate into systemic oppression.
When it comes to opportunities, conservatives are not “opportunity feminists” because conservatives don’t believe in creating opportunities to bring about equality (e.g., affirmative action). They believe in removing impediments, particularly those that violate the law, from women having opportunities. Equal opportunity means no one can stop you from having access; it doesn’t mean someone has to create access for you.
As conservatives we stand for the individual, not identity politics. So how, in a nation and age when women have individual liberty, can we call ourselves “individual feminists”? Again, we are giving ground to a lie — the lie that women (as a group) are somehow oppressed by masculinity and “the system.”
If what we stand for is individual rights, then we stand for rights for all individuals, no matter their intersectional identities. We believe in liberty for all, and this is simply fundamental conservatism. We don’t need the appendage “feminism” hanging on like a skin tag.
The cost of holding onto the label is too great because it empowers an ideology that seeks to undermine everything we believe as Americans. It’s time to abandon it, and instead, hold to our conservative principles as we stand against a secular religion that seeks to consume us. This is a battle between good and evil — an epic struggle that is principled and spiritual, not ideological and materialistic.