Recently, I read an enlightening Time article about Annette Bosworth, a woman running for South Dakota’s Republican nomination in the upcoming Senate election. While Bosworth would not be the first female senator from South Dakota (South Dakotans elected their first female senator in 1938), her campaign is unique for another reason.
In a recent press conference, Bosworth employed local artists to decorate her conference room with the abusive, disrespectful and misogynistic language used against her on the Internet. Although attacking women online is all too common in this day and age, what struck me about Bosworth’s case is that her attackers were primarily Democrats.
Democrats have long run on a platform of gender equality and, more recently, feminism. With prominent feminists speaking out against hateful language, street harassment and treating female politicians with the same respect as their male counterparts, Bosworth reveals a glaring hypocrisy in the American leftwing ideology. For mainstream feminists in the U.S., feminism has long operated as a club.
To be a feminist, a woman needed to do or be certain things (white, heterosexual, middle class, non-Muslim, etc.). However, feminism has also operated as a club to beat down competing notions of gender equality. It is fair to characterize the Republican Party as being bad with women. What is not fair is to brand all women in the Republican Party as being bad people. And yet, Bosworth reminds us that because of her socioeconomic views, her womanhood is totally fair game for attack.
Why does this matter? Why should be we worried about Republican women, who are obviously choosing to be part of a party that does not like them? Republican women have made strides in places and policies where Democrats have failed. The only female governors of Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah were Republicans. In fact, of the 35 women to ever be state governors, 15 were Republican. And it was a Republican woman — Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, Maine — who dared defy Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., in her “Declaration of Conscience” address.
For me, Chase Smith embodied many of the values that stand at the forefront of modern feminist ideas. Her Declaration of Conscience roundly denounced McCarthy’s rabid search for Communists in the U.S. by arguing that holding an unpopular belief was a constitutional right. She fought for the freedom of independent thought, an idea that seems almost absent from modern feminists’ politics. Feminism endorses “the right to choose.” That is, the right to choose whether to seek an abortion or birth control. But what about the right to choose to wear a hijab? Or the right to choose to be a housewife? Or — God forbid — the right to enter into an arranged marriage?
Women who engage in these activities are not considered “feminist” by the women who currently dictate mainstream feminism in the U.S., just as Betty Friedan did not consider working-class black women as feminists. Like any large ideology, feminism becomes an endorsement of the preferences of the top of the feminist food chain, at the detriment of those women further down the line.
So what is feminism really about? What should it stand for? Feminism is about empowering women. It’s about removing the inherent, gender-based biases in our legal system, our economy, and our language at large. It’s about guaranteeing that women can do or be whatever they choose. As such, the Democratic Party has supported various laws over time to accomplish this goal, like no-fault divorce, pay equality, strengthened sexual harassment laws, increased access to abortion, etc. While it is true that there are some Republicans who do not support these values, Republican women tend to be more moderate than their male counterparts. This is a major reason that they struggle to get elected in an increasingly extremist Republican primary climate.
If feminists want to support strong, independent women achieving their goals, then they need to decide what those “goals” should be. By tying “women’s rights” to the Democratic Party platform, feminists are cutting off a vital and growing group of women from realizing their own aspirations.
Let me be crystal clear: the Republican Party of the United States has a proven record of problems with women. Whether it’s former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s, “legitimate rape” comments, or women like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann flaunting their ultra-conservative credentials, the American public does not positively associate women with the Republican Party. However, using a few bad examples to justify a stereotype is still stereotyping.
Making a blanket accusation that women who identify as “Republican” are inherently antifeminist is, in itself, a form of discrimination. If we are truly committed to normalizing women’s roles in all aspects of our society, then we need to stop slut-shaming them for voting conservative. We need to support women in the Republican Party, because they (and only they) can make the party friendly to women. A truly woman-affirming ideology does not discriminate on the basis of race, or class, or political orientation. If we want to call ourselves “feminists,” it’s time we start acting like it.
Richard Furstein is a senior anthropology major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.