TW/CW: This article mentions topics like abortion and sexual assault.
Since the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court by current President Donald Trump to replace the seat of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the myth of ‘conservative feminism’ has once again come to the discussion— specifically with the publication of an article by the New York Times Opinion. It asks, ‘can there be a conservative feminism that’s distinctive, coherent and influential, at least beyond quirky religious subcultures like the faculty at Notre Dame?’ After being released on Twitter, many liberals and far-left accounts tweeted their disapproval at the phrase ‘conservative feminism,’ claiming there is no such thing. There is not. Let’s look at why.
A Google search does not result in a definition for conservative feminism. It is not an official term, ‘sector,’ or ‘ideology’ of feminism. It is a made-up phrase used to appeal to the masses. In Judge Barrett’s case, the phrase is catchy enough to appeal to those who are critical of RBG’s legacy— by labeling Barrett as a conservative feminist, the public and media appeal shows her as a woman with the possibility of filling RBG’s vacant seat with her own agenda, while including the ‘feminism’ aspect. Centrists may not look much into conservative feminism, and like many others, assume that is a ‘lighter’ form of feminism.
Perhaps people prefer the term ‘conservative feminism’ because they have an inaccurate view of what feminism stands for. Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to President Trump, said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2017 that she does not consider herself a ‘classic’ feminist, because the movement is considered anti-male and pro-abortion. “There’s an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices… that’s really to me what conservative feminism, if you will, is all about.” Here, Conway is describing feminism as a whole-—allowing everyone to make their own choice.
Feminism is not anti-male, rather it is working to dismantle deeply-rooted sexist structural laws and agendas which cater to men and allow for concepts such as male privilege and rape apologists. The movement is not pro-abortion, rather pro-choice. A woman who is personally against abortion could still be a feminist as long as she does not force other women to follow her beliefs. Many new Instagram graphics are emerging to explain the terms ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice,’ and how they cater to more than just abortion. To be pro-life, you must advocate for children being separated at the border, for families being detained, for minorities not receiving proper healthcare, for those not receiving proper medical treatment due to lack of insurance or inability to pay the bills, for climate justice and climate racism, for the foster care system, for the equality of all humans, and so much more. The ‘pro-life’ movement as displayed by the right side of politics is just pro-controlling women or pro-birth. Pro-choice is about supporting women in the choices they make, even if you don’t agree with them on a personal level.
After the NY Times opinion article was released on Twitter, many called ‘conservative feminism’ an oxymoron. The main reason being that you simply cannot claim to be for a movement, while actively working to suppress it or actively working against it. Political figures who claim to be conservative feminists have agendas that actively suppress women in different ways, whether it’s sympathizing with rapists, rebranding sexual assault laws to be in favor of the perpetrators, or working to end or make abortion inaccessible to the masses.
This topic is also discussed on the Freeform spinoff of The Fosters, “Good Trouble”. A group of clerks are discussing a sexual harassment case, and the topic of feminism comes into the discussion. Rebecca, the conservative clerk, mentions that she’s a feminist, claiming that ‘conservative women can be feminists,’ which prompts her coworker, a liberal female, to question, ‘while working toward limiting women’s rights?’ Rebecca is unable to answer.
Conservative feminism is just another phrase for sexism and misogyny, the idea being that if you don’t believe in fighting for structural change to change gender norms, stereotypes, and legal roadblocks for all women to make sure that everyone is equal, then you’re not a feminist of any kind, at all.