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Feminspire | April 24, 2014

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Does Seeing Conservatism as the Enemy Hurt Feminism?

Does Seeing Conservatism as the Enemy Hurt Feminism?

| On 17, Jun 2013

Liberal or conservative: these are the mainstream options that are available for Americans to  describe their personal philosophies and politics. These two options come to define everything about you: what you wear, your taste in film, who you vote for, and virtually everything else.

Today we use these terms to make quick judgments about people and their agendas. The use of these two terms seems to make sense because of the two party system that is present in American politics. However, I would argue that many of the problems of the world stem from people being forced to place themselves and others into false dichotomies, or choices between one side or the other.

This is a serious problem I see in feminism today. In much of the feminist writing that I read, the use of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have come to mean liberal= good, conservative= bad. Conservative has in fact come to mean more than just “bad” — it has come to mean evil.

Conservatives now represent what we as feminists hate most about modern life: patriarchy, religious fundamentalism, homophobia, transphobia, rape culture, and many other things. However, if we stop and think about where this line of deduction will take us, I think that we will agree this is not the place we want to go.

A few weeks ago I had some of my feminist friends over to have a night of fun and conversation. As we were going out to dinner I remarked that I had spent most of that day gardening. My friend turned to me and said, “How domestic of you.”

Even though it was a joke and she in no way was being demeaning, this comment got me thinking. This is the kind of joke that I have made many times in my life, about myself and others. But when I thought about it, I realized that a certain ideology was informing this joke. The idea that women who choose a “domestic” (conservative) lifestyle are somehow fundamentally different from us as feminists is central to this kind of joke’s humor. If we equate housewives with conservatives, then we are, perhaps unconsciously, labeling them as an other and alienating them from feminism.

I would argue that feminist housewives (they exist) are some of the most radical feminists of all. They know what they want from life and they are not afraid to go after it, even though some of their feminist peers might look down on them because they believe that their desires are too “conservative.”

I was raised by a housewife. My mother home schooled my sister and me through my junior year of high school. Even though she is a woman with a college degree, she decided to stay home with her children and teach us herself, because she recognized that the American school system was broken and that we would not be pushed to our full potential in that system. My mother taught me many valuable lessons. Most importantly, she taught me that just because I was a girl did not mean that I was limited in life. She told me over and over again that I could do anything I wanted if I put my mind to it.

When my father made sexist comments to us, or told us we couldn’t go into certain professions because we were girls, my mother spoke up for us and told us that this philosophy was wrong.

My mother is a conservative. My mother and I have many differing opinions, but she believes in many feminist ideals and she did her best to pass those along to my sister and me. I could say that my mother is a politically “bad” person because she is a conservative, but I don’t believe that’s true. As much as we would love life to be black and white, to be easily explainable, it is not. Life is extremely complex.

When you choose to look at life through all of its complexities, you are choosing to fly in the face of most people’s beliefs, whether they are liberal or conservative. Choosing to view life as complex is a hard path to take, but I believe that it’s worth it. As feminists, we cannot choose what is simple or what is easy. If we took the easy path, we would not have had the right to vote in the last election.

Being a feminist is about being the person who calls everyone out on their bullshit; it’s about being the person who makes people uncomfortable because we refuse to buy into false dichotomies.

We know that both people and issues are complex and they cannot always be split into two opposite sides. Therefore, as feminists we cannot rely on terms like “liberal” or “conservative” because then we bring the level of discussion down to the lowest common denominator and feminism cannot function on the lowest common denominator, we have to bring everyone up to the highest common denominator.

Written by Abigail Sorensen

  • Sarah Gay

    I think the main reasons conservatives are seen as the bad side is because of, as you said, they are seen as enforcers of rape culture, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, etc. And whenever we interact with someone that we have a reason to think of as a conservative as a person, it’ll generally be when we’re arguing with them about some of said things. Personally, I couldn’t so much as respect someone who promotes victim blaming, male dominance, white supremacy, and all that, but labeling yourself as a conservative doesn’t necessarily involve carrying that mindset. So, as you say, it’s not black and white. Also, with the housewives thing, I think the most important part is to have CHOICE. If women are expected to be housewives and made so that it’s the only feasible option, then that’s what’s bad. If you choose to be and it works out for you, then that’s that, whatever political party you stand for, as long as you don’t try to police others.

    Anyway, enough of my rant, great article!

  • Freida

    Here’s the thing about politics. There’s two spheres to each party: social and economic. While I clearly support liberal social policies, I support conservative economic policies. Now, we can fight night and day over which party’s economic policies will best help society, but I believe in the conservative economic policies over the liberal ones. While I do not support conservative social policies AT ALL, I still vote conservative. Why?

    Because these people are puppets. Liberal, conservative… it doesn’t make an impact on social policies. At all. We all want to believe it does, but the honest to god truth is that HOLLYWOOD dictates the social beliefs of society. Our media – movies and TV especially – are much more impactual than Paul Ryan’s sexist rantings on what our youth believe.

    Now, I’m Canadian, so perhaps that’s a big difference. But in my heart, I truly believe that no matter how horrible the conservative I elect seems to be towards women and PoC and LGBT peoples, it won’t matter. Abortion will never be illegal. Gay marriage will be legal no matter what. Drugs will be legalized, just a matter of time. These things will not change just because a conservative is in power, because the honest to god truth is that they don’t have the level of power we fear they do. So I vote for economic policies only, and I think labeling people who vote conservative as “non-feminist” may drive feminists away, make them feel they have no where to belong (and again, if you prefer liberal economic policies that is your choice and I’d rather make this comment not about that argument of which is better).

    • Abigail Sorensen

      Hi Freida, thanks for the comment. Recognizing the differences between economic and social policies is an important factor. However, I do not agree that politicians do not strongly help shape social policies. For instance, in the United States, in the last 40 years or so, social policies and attitudes have become much more conservative. I wish I could believe that abortion will never be illegal, but judging by the way my home state of Ohio and many other states are developing in terms of legislation, I cannot count on this.

    • guest12345

      ‘I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative’ i.e. never mind the poor people but touch my weed and I’ll kick ur butt

    • JonathanNathan

      “Look, I got no problem with gay people, but it’s more important to me that none of my money gets used to help poor people.”–Freida

  • JonathanNathan

    If conservatives want to stop being wrong about literally everything related, either directly or indirectly, to feminism, I’ll stop calling them enemies of feminism.