My Best Friend is Conservative.... & I Am Not: Here's What I Learned From Her

Over the summer, for the first time in the fifteen years we’d known one another, me and my best friend Amy had a conversation about politics. I’m not sure how it started, but we soon both realized that we had different political views. Instead of the conversation taking a tense or judgemental turn, we had a productive conversation about our experiences as political women on liberal college campuses.

 

I told her how I felt relieved to come to Denison and find a community of people who did not turn their nose up at liberal politics, but deeply advocated and implemented them on campus. However, Amy expressed that she felt she could never talk about her conservative political opinions at Kent State because she knew people would criticize and attack her for them.

 

This point of view was eye-opening for me. I had always thought of liberal spaces as places that were welcoming to all, but Amy showed me that sometimes they are welcoming to all who are not conservative. We ended the conversation this past July by switching to playing some sand volleyball instead, however, I never forgot the points she brought up.

 

After going through this brutal 2020 election season, I was again reminded of the ways that conservative individuals, specifically conservative women, do not feel comfortable expressing their views on liberal college campuses. I decided to bring up the topic again with Amy over a phone call to hear more about her experiences and point of view. While I may never agree with Amy’s political opinions or the candidates she supports, it was important to have this conversation and open up a dialogue for understanding.  Here are some important things I learned from our conversation:

 

  • Conservatism should not always be equated with bigotry - When I found out that Amy was a conservative, I was a little surprised. She is a person of faith and makes it known that in her faith God loves everyone despite their race, gender, sexuality, etc. In my mind, the acceptance of everyone regardless of their identity was a liberal idea that was refuted by racist, homophoic, and sexist conservatives. But, when thinking more deeply, why should caring about the entirety of the human race purely be a liberal desire? Why can’t conservatives want the best for every human? Loving and accepting every human seems like a universal desire that should no longer be equated solely with liberal political thought. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that a number of conservatives may be racist, sexist, or homophobic and that some conservative policies may perpetuate injustice in the United States and abroad. However, it does not do liberals any good to cast a blanket over all conservatives as racists/sexists/homophobes, etc. Not all liberal thinkers think the same as we have seen with the development of a more socialist wing of the democratic party, and not all liberal thinkers are anti-racist, anti-sexist, or anti-homophobic. Therefore, it is not fair to blanket all conservatives with a label of bigotry when some are using their politics in an attempt to create a more just society, just as liberal thinkers are.

 

  • Liberal spaces are not always welcoming to everyone - Amy has reiterated again and again that she feels extremely uncomfortable expressing her conservative beliefs in liberal spaces, including on college campuses and on social media outlets like Instagram and Facebook. She said that only confident conservative women have been able to break into those spaces because they are able to handle the backlash that they get from liberal thinkers that most conservative women are not ready to endure. This is disappointing since liberal institutions like colleges- including Denison- talk about building a community where everyone feels valued. Yet, conservative women feel that their voices will not only be neglected but attacked in these spaces, so they instead keep their politics to themselves. Let me be clear, I am in no way condoning the tolerance of alt-right or bigoted conservativism that does harm to others; however, I am saying that those of us liberal thinkers should be more mindful of the ways that we make conservative women feel unwelcome and acknowledge that we can do better at creating a more diverse community and political discourse.

 

  • Feminism isn’t working for conservative women - Over our phone call last week, Amy said that one of the biggest misconceptions about conservative women is that they are anti-feminist. What she said next was once again eye-opening. Being too lazy to write it down myself, I asked her to text the quote to me. Here’s what she said: “Am I for feminism? Yes, I absolutely think men and women should be treated equally. I feel as though the modern day version of feminism has changed to support all women BUT conservative women. And as a conservative woman, modern day feminism is not something I can really support when my support isn’t included.” This gave me a lot to think about, particularly as a women’s and gender studies minor, as the field has done a lot of work to make sure that feminism is working for women of any and all identities. As a feminist, in the future I will do my best to be more aware of who feels excluded from the movement while still pushing the agenda of liberation for people of all races, genders, sexualities, ages, abilities, ethnicities, nationalities, and other identities. I will make sure not to cast conservative women as the enemy but to continue to fight for the equality of all women which is a category in which they are included. Despite our politics, all women are fighting a struggle of oppression- all our very own version of oppression depending on our identities- meaning that we must advocate for all to live their fullest, most liberated lives. (I do understand that not all women are feminists and that they can be the enemy, but for those who are trying to make it work but just happen to be conservative, we should do our best to open the door to them.)

 

My friendship with Amy is deep and cannot be torn apart by politics. I am so glad to have a relationship where we can talk about these big questions on which we are divided and still come together and support each other regardless. I am grateful for our friendship and for the ability to learn new things from her. 

gif of Jimmy Fallon saying Jimmy Fallon via GIPHY

Congratulations for making it through this exhausting and stressful election season. We did it!