The Conservative Woman | Sarah Stook
When conservativism and women are mentioned in the same breath, there is usually confusion. For the left, there seems to be no reason for women to support the Conservative Party, Republican Party or any other party that is to the right, especially on social policies. Whether it’s views on reproductive rights or statistics that say that women are unfairly burdened by the austerity politics popular with conservatives. Though prominent conservative women are breaking through in parliaments around the world and showing themselves at a grassroots level, there is still a lack of understanding regarding the more traditional, right-wing woman. We are taught that the right hates women, wants us to go barefoot in the kitchen, spoon in one hand and baby in the other, that we cannot control our own bodies and that we vote the way our darling husband does (thanks Hillary).
Yes, women are more likely to be politically liberal (not like classically liberal, but the one we use to describe the left), but we are not owned by the left. In fact, any conservative woman is a strong one, as strong as her liberal counterparts, and is as important in the voting bloc. Whether it’s in the temperance or pro-life movement, women have shown themselves as strong conservatives for years, impacting change in ways that the left cannot imagine. So why is there still a stigma, and perhaps hatred, attached to the conservative woman?
The view on the political views of women most often depend on social policies, though economic policies can often come into place. Historically, it was those who were seen as ‘liberal’ who were often given credit for women’s rights, as the idea of the left and right was not yet incorporated into society in the way that we know now. An example of this is female suffrage, which is more linked to the Labour and Liberal parties, though passed with coalition support. Nancy Astor, an outspoken and definitely strong American-born lady was the first sitting female MP, representing the Conservative Party. Emmeline Pankhurst, the mother of the UK suffragette movement, was a Conservative unlike her more left wing radical daughters Christabel and Sylvia. Most notably, those who criticise conservative feminism, hold history to a standard of black and white- the ‘left’ was good and the ‘right’ was not. Yes, there were issues with racism; lack of worker’s rights etc but this is not exclusive to a particular party or ideology. Progressivism is a movement within itself. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President and most popular Republican after Lincoln and Reagan was definitely a conservative, yet was progressive in many ways and had supported women’s suffrage rights since the 1880s, a full forty years before its passing under the 19th amendment and one year before his passing in 1919. A similar case occurs with Abigail Adams, First Lady and wife of the 2nd President John Adams. Though a heroine of the American revolutionary, an intellectual who indirectly contributed to the limited government Declaration of Independence and Constitution, Adams was a fierce feminist, anti-slavery and anti-racism campaigner, believing in the strength of women whilst also believing in the strength of the people over the big government that the Founding Fathers argued again.
Today, however, as the left and right have become more set in socio-political ideas, the views have shifted onto contemporary ideas.
The most notable of this is regarding reproductive rights, particularly contraception and abortion. In the United States, there is a huge divide- some believe in late-term abortions and free contraceptives, whilst others believe contraceptives should be paid for out of pocket and there should be more restrictions on abortion. After Margaret Atwood’s brilliant A Handmaid’s Tale was made into a television series last year, a trend of liberal activists wearing the handmaid uniform, signifying patriarchal oppression and a lack of bodily autonomy, has exploded. These usually occur at protests regarding said reproductive rights, though they have been used to protest politicians disliked by those activists, specifically Vice President Mike Pence. Considering that the Republican Party are the ones usually more conservative on reproductive rights, it is unsurprising that many believe there is a ‘war on women’ by the party, a war that the left will often wish to fight. Used by prominent female Democrats such as now-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, it has become synonymous with the gendered political fight. It is a stick used to beat the right with.
Do I have to explain the stupidity of this argument?
Conservative heroine and current US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley once said ‘contraception doesn’t define a woman.’ She’s right. Now, there are single issue voters. The provision of contraception is also important as it can be used for medical reasons and also a great way to prevent abortion, something that nobody wants. Still, Ambassador Haley is right- it doesn’t define women and nor does it define a woman’s ideology. Contraception is only one part of a woman’s life. The idea that women are beholden to the left on the grounds of one issue is one that is easy to pull apart, simply because ideology is woven together by a person’s many views. In fact, conservativism is something that can, and should be, very attractive to women. Less taxation means more in her pocket, less regulation means it’s easier to open a female-led business and relaxed gun laws allow her to protect herself when she is sure that the other person has a gun. Though views on abortion and contraceptives may influence a woman, let’s not forget immigration reform, education and cheaper healthcare. America, unless Bernie Sanders gets in with a Democratic House, will not give free contraceptives but allowing free market healthcare and allowing insurance to cross state lines will make it cheaper for every woman. Ideology can make a woman a die-hard liberal, but can also make her a dyed in the wool conservative.
There also, unfortunately, seems to be some nastiness towards traditional, conservative women. ‘Woman Card’ Hillary Clinton got into hot water during her husband’s first presidential campaign in 1992 when she disparaged those who stay home. Her first mistake was the biting ‘I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,’ her second was mocking tradition using the famous country song ‘I’m not sitting here some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.’ Clinton eventually had to apologise for both, her attempts at seeming like a strong woman and defending her husband after an alleged affair ending up being very anti-feminist. For a politican like Hillary Clinton, who has portrayed herself as a fierce defended of women, she certainly was doing the opposite. This idea of women who choose not to work, to look after their children and to care for their home has been ridiculed for years. For most of history, women had no choice in this matter and that was awful, a waste of talent. In recent history, choice has become a dangerous word for the left, because the women are not always choosing the world of work for whichever reason.
Ann Romney learned this the hard way. She married her husband, 2012 Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney at a young age, and was heavily criticised by many, including her own parents, for choosing not to pursue a career as an educated woman and deciding to stay at home, something traditional in her new Mormon faith. Still, Romney did what her heart told her to. In 2012, this came up again when former HuffPost and CNN contributor (surprise, surprise) Hilary Rosen criticised Romney for ‘not having worked a day in her life,’ using that implication to say she was unfit to comment upon female and economic issues. A woman who suffers from MS, a nasty disease, who raised five children all whilst in the political spotlight and does a lot of amazing philanthropic work (even Trump praised her, which is something) is a woman to be celebrated. She is still as worthy and is admirable as any lawyer or big shot female executive, plus raising five sons is definitely not an easy thing. Both Clinton and Rosen (what is it with women named Hillary?) were wrong to reap such judgement on a lady who went down a traditional route.
On top of this, there is a huge double standard when it comes to conservative and liberal women. One such example is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has received cruel words regarding the fact that she is curvier than the average woman. Now imagine if someone said that about Hillary Clinton or everyone’s favourite new socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez- there would be uproar about right wing misogyny. Yet, because it’s a member of the Trump administration and a conservative, it’s a-ok. After the Red Hen controversy, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters called for the harassment of Trump officials and make them unwelcome wherever they go. Again imagine if someone like Sarah Palin had said that after someone like Loretta Lynch or Samantha Power. Yes, the controversy on the migrant child separation policy has caused much anger, as one would imagine it did, but did anyone do that after the record drone bombings in Pakistan or the destabilisation of Libya, both of which caused harm to many people? In another case, Democrat turned Independent Steve Krieg showed sexism in the 2017 race for the New York 21st Congress District. Regarding his opponent, the youngest female in Congress elected aged 30, Krieg said that ‘I see her as a child because she’s a child. She thinks like a child…And I think recognising her, I would go after her in that way.’ Now, imagine if that was said by a middle-aged, white Republican male about a young woman- let’s sat Ocasio-Cortez again. It’d be all over the news and he would be forced out of the race. Said about a conservative? No biggie, still let him run.
The wonderful Nancy Reagan, a fierce and independent woman who was also devoted to her husband, said that ‘feminism is the ability to choose what you want to do.’ Before the first and second wave of feminism, we would never see women like Nikki Haley or Elaine Chao in high positions. They chose their ideology and chose to accept roles as high ranking conservative women. Ann Romney had the choice to go into a career, going into work during the blooming of the feminist movement, but chose to be a homemaker. Conservative women do not deserve the hate and condescension that they receive- they are just as strong, brave and promising as their liberal counterparts. The conservative woman is a great one indeed.