What comes to mind when you think of feminism? One might think of the Women’s March or the #MeToo movement. Another might think of fighting against the gender wage gap or for paid parental leave. What comes to mind when you think about conservatism? While I’m sure there’s a lot that many in the UO community might come up with to describe conservatism, it’s unlikely that many would think of feminism. In fact, I would likely get a side eye from several UO students if I said that conservatives could be feminists, too.
Issues Conservative Feminists Care About
Most who consider themselves liberal, or at least sympathetic to liberal feminist issues, might be asking themselves what conservatives believe are women’s issues. It’s no secret that many conservatives believe that, in most cases, men and women have equal rights.
When reading an article written by the Network of Enlightened Women, an organization for conservative women, it seems to be that conservative women believe that “liberal feminists are waging war against conservative women. They are attacking conservative women who do not agree with their political agenda.” They continued, “Conservative feminism means empowering women in the workplace, politics and in society to achieve equal opportunity. It does not and should not mean radicalizing feminism to connotatively and definitively include only liberal issues like abortion and promoting a promiscuous sexual culture.”
Feminism, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” Krystal Antolin, a third-year student studying political science at the University of Oregon, stated that she felt that the feminist ideas expressed by liberals seems to “divide and contradict each other,” implying that the Women’s March, which condemns some discrimination and prejudices against women, does not condemn as much as it could. By the previously stated definition, Antolin argues that “It is possible to be a conservative and feminist, because as an individual, you may fall under the conservative political spectrum with the focuses of advocating for specific issues for women’s rights.”
How Conservative Feminists Viewed the Women’s March
Regarding the Women’s March, Antolin said that she didn’t “see a place for conservative women who are pro-life nor who have voted for Donald Trump during the 2016 election.” This is understandable considering how many of the signs at the event could be viewed as more anti-Trump than pro-feminism. It’s understandable why anti-Trump signs would be present, considering his indefensible dialogue in the Billy Bush video that was revealed during the election.
The idea of the Women’s March being accused of not being about much more than resisting the president isn’t exclusively conservative. Liberal feminists have also called the Women’s March “a failure.” Bitch Media author Rae Gray stated that the Women’s March “started with Trump and went nowhere due to a hollow ideology that fails to recognize and condemn the violent history of a state founded on Black labor and Brown blood and instead chooses to condemn a single Republican administration — that is, when it can see beyond one man.” Though we understand what the Women’s March is supposed to be about, it’s disappointing to see the purpose of such an event can be easily overshadowed by its resistance to the president, even if he’s perceived as part of the issue.
How Conservative Feminists View the Gender Wage Gap
When asked about the gap in pay between men and women, Krystal Antolin told me “the wage gap doesn’t exist, but the occupational gap does.” She then described the occupational wage gap as “career preferences” and the amount of time off taken by women for family situations such as maternity leave. The assertion about maternity leave can be confirmed by the Pew Research Center.
Elizabeth Russeau stated that the wage gap is “simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, job tenure, education, or hours worked per week.” The math tells us that gender is a factor in one’s wage, but that’s all it tells us; there isn’t anything linked to gender that would make an economist believe it’s strictly due to sexism, experience or education. Hence, economists are left to hypothesize and test their theories until a more concrete explanation can be found.
If we’re going to achieve anything in today’s political climate, we need to put away our political differences and focus on where we do agree. Nobody gains anything by claiming that either side is misogynistic just because they don’t agree on abortion or affirmative action. The sooner we can work together, the sooner we can truly make a difference.
We can start by sitting down with those we disagree with and acknowledging our similarities. In the long run, both sides want many of the same outcomes. Much of the time, the difference is how we get there. Until we start having meaningful conversations where we listen to each other and take what we’re saying into consideration, we will never get anywhere in solving these issues.