The Conservative Woman
Feature from EJ Cook - Monday, 13 February 2012 @ 10:55am
When I talk about feminism with other women, there are two main reasons why they say don't identify with the movement. The first is that my idea of feminism - women who want equality and respect - is not their idea of feminism - hairy-legged man-haters. This is easy to combat: I show them my silky smooth legs and talk about how hot Ryan Gosling is, and then continue talking about the importance of equal pay. The second idea is harder to combat: that feminism is not for conservative women. Being a woman who makes conservative life choices doesn't make it any easier to explain why I am a feminist.
It is true that many women who identify as feminists also hold liberal views. To be a liberal, so neatly summed up by Darryl Adams on The Drum, is to assume that all people will make sane and sensible choices based on what is in their own best interests. It is certainly true that feminists want respect for women who make their own choices. But that is not the same as assuming that all feminists are liberals. There are times when feminists want choice regulated.
Let's take discrimination in the workplace as an example. In a liberal utopia, promotions are given to whoever is best suited to the job, regardless of gender. In the real world, people who make sane and sensible choices about what to put on their toast in the morning can make very stupid decisions about who to promote at work because of prejudice. And so we have Equal Employment Opportunity policies that actively prompt managers to consider candidates on their merits. It is regulation, and many liberals don't like the idea of it. But it is necessary to regulate in order to protect women's right to workplace participation.
An extension of the idea that feminism is liberal is that feminism is not conservative. To be socially conservative is to hold traditional values. While it's easy to support a woman's choice to be a full-time mother if she so wishes, other traditional values are not so easy to support.
There are anti-choice feminists who talk about the rights of the unborn child. What they're not talking about is why it's fair to put a woman's right to her own body second to the rights of a foetus. Because that's what the anti-choice movement is all about: regulating choice based on a subjective view of whether the rights of a potential person trump the rights of an actual person. The problem is that what is sane and sensible to one person is insane and irrational to another. Science does not have all the answers because it comes down to personal moral beliefs. Without agreement on what is a valid choice, all choices must be allowed and individual decisions respected. The liberals like removing regulation. The conservatives dislike that their morality is not legislatively enforced. On this issue, it is easier to be a feminist if you are a progressive liberal.
Being a feminist is not an exclusively progressive liberal domain. Traditional values such as opposing violence or valuing the nurturing role are part of the feminist movement. But let's not limit feminism by trying to include social conservatives at the expense of women's rights to their own bodies. It is a fundamental right that women should be able to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy. Not all rights need to be exercised by all women. These rights just need to exist, so that women can make their own choices based on their own values. That's what feminism is about: respecting women's right to make their own choices.