Can a Feminist be a Conservative? and Can a Conservative be a Feminist?
Red State Feminists are convinced that you can sincerely be both a feminist and a conservative. Many believe that feat impossible, but millions of women in the United States already live its precepts everyday.
What is a feminist? As you can imagine, the definitions are legion. However, all share the view that women are the equals of men while being different from men. What "equal" means and how "different" women are from men are terms also subject to debate. For example, can women be as brave as men? Sure. Can the strongest woman lift a heavier weight than the strongest man? No. Does that make them different? Well, they are apparenty different in some things but not others. Does that difference mean women and men can never enjoy a relationship of equality? Red State Feminists reject such a belief.
But it is also important to realize that even our knowlege of the capabilities of men and women is deeply infected by culture. For example, in the Koi-San culture of Africa, women are considered to be physically stronger than men, and so they carry the family's goods on their shoulders when the group moves, while men walk beside carrying their bows and arrows. Even in cultures where men are considered physically stronger than women, they may still be assigned to physcially demanding work while their husbands stand by, as this photo from Albania shows:
We in the United States have also been served a bill of goods regarding women's math and science capabilities. It has recently been shown that in Finland, girls do better than boys on standardized math tests. It is clear from this study that math ability has little to do with X and Y chromosomes and a lot to do with the socialization of girls in our culture.
So, yes, there are real differences between men and women--but probably not as many as we have been led to believe. Women should be immediately suspicious when men and male-dominated institutions tell them of a difference between men and women that justifies male dominance over women in any form.
Furthermore, in the things our religious faith tells us are the most important to God--integrity, courage, compassion, honesty, teachableness, righteousness--men and women certainly stand as equals. That being the case, men and women stand as equals before God, as well as before each other. As Christ says, "What manner of man among you having twleve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one; Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there--and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?" Just so; and what manner of men among you have six sons and six daughters and saith to his sons, Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here, and to his daughters he says, Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there? No, God, respects and values his daughters as much as He respects and values his sons, and it is that example that we are enjoined to follow.
What, then, is a conservative? Again, there are probably as many definitions as there are self-proclaimed conservatives. The American Heritage Dictionary defines conservatism as "a political philosophy or attitude emphasizing respect for traditional institutions, distrust of government activism, and opposition to sudden change in the established order." On one level, then, there does appear to be a serious disconnect between feminism and conservatism. To the degree that the history of the human race shows a pervasive devaluation, oppression, and even abuse of women, any traditional institution that sanctions such cannot be upheld by feminists. Further, it is undeniable that governments in the West have played an important role in elevating the status of women beyond what certain traditional institutions would be comfortable with. In that sense, feminists do indeed want change from the bad old days where women could not even be considered second=class citizens, but were considered more on the level of livestock.
But what if there was a tradition that preceded what we commonly consider "traditional"? If we truly believe that men and women stand as equals before God, and that God loves his daughters as much as He loves his sons, then we have an unsullied, ultimate, and divinely mandated tradition of equal regard, respect, and valuation of women. In a sense, then, feminism could be construed as the most conservative retrenchment possible! Traditional institutions, such as religions and marriage, are but contaminated with a misogyny that God never intended, and must be restored to their true and original culture of equal valuation and respect for women. Government intervention to facilitate this restoration is thus not only acceptable, but admirable to a conservative with this viewpoint. Change, then, is not change in the direction of some anti-traditional unknown, but change back to the way human society was meant by God to be. We reiterate, we see no force more conservative, then, than feminism, which seeks to restore that joy that God meant men and women to have through their equal partnership in life.
Nevertheless, we do think there are policy issues that would divide a conservative feminist (or a feminist conservative) from both the stereotypical conservative policy agenda and also the stereotypical feminist policy agenda. Consider the following list:
- Women should be accorded the same respect and valuation as men; daughters should be valued as much as sons. Comment: We don't think either conservatives or feminists would disagree.
- Women should not be subjected to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and the government should take action to prevent abuse and punish abusers. Such abuse includes practices considered traditional in some cultures, such as forced marriage, marriage of underage girls, polygamy, female genital mutilation, prostitution, human trafficking, and so forth. Comment: Ditto.
- Women should be paid the same as men for equal work, and the government should take action against employers who will not uphold this principle. Comment: Ditto.
- The standard of sexual behavior deemed appropriate for women should be the standard to which men should be held. Comment: Ditto.
- Women, even married women, have the right to say no to sex, without punishment or retribution. Comment: Ditto.
- The government should ensure equal access to health care, education, and training for both men and women. Comment: Ditto.
- Women and men should stand as equals before the law of the land. Comment: Ditto.
- Men are not more intelligent, more rational, more reasonable, or more virtuous than women. Comment: Ditto.
- It is not incompatible with feminism to be a Christian. Comment: Some schools of feminism would disagree.
- Abortion is a poor band-aid for what ails male-female relations in this nation; aside from cases in which the mother's life is at stake, the true issue underlying the abortion debate is the degree to which sex is truly consensual for women in our culture. Abortion is not the best answer to that problem, and a better answer should be urgently sought. Comment: Many feminists would disagree.
- The institution of heterosexual monogamous marriage must be upheld and privileged because of our devotion to feminism, and this is what we should teach our children. Comment: Many feminists would disagree.
- The single standard for sexual behavior in #4 should be abstinence before marriage, and perfect fidelity in marriage, and this is what we should teach our children (along with an age-appropriate understanding of human reproduction). Comment: Many feminists would disagree.
- It is not anti-feminist to have a large family. Comment: Some feminists would disagree.
- It is not necessarily anti-feminist for a woman to be a stay-at-home mother. Comment: Some feminists would disagree.
- Men are redeemable and perfectible, and as our brothers, we are concerned with their welfare both individually as as a group. Comment: Some feminists would disagree.
- Motherhood is one of the most profound female experiences, and if it is possible for motherhood to be voluntarily chosen within the bounds of marriage, a woman should seek it. Comment: Some feminists would disagree.
- Just as we would oppose prostitution and human trafficking as being anti-feminist, we also believe that practices that make women's eggs and wombs and embryos commodities to be bought and sold are also anti-feminist. In that light, we also oppose the exploitation of fetal stem cell research as being anti-feminist. Comment: Some feminists would disagree with one of more of these assertions.
- Women are as capable of being government leaders as men, and offer a unique perspective that should be proactively sought in government, perhaps by the institution of quotas for women in government. Comment: Some conservatives would disagree.
- Men and women were meant by God to be equal partners in marriage; a woman is not the subordinate of her husband, and they should share equally in the governance and finances of the home. Comment: Some conservatives would disagree.
- The Supreme Court ruled egregiously in the Lily Ledbetter case, mandating that a woman had to complain about wage discrimination within 120 days even if she did not know it was happening at the time. Comment: Some conservatives would disagree.
- New regulations that would ensure that the living standards of women and children after divorce were on the same level as that of men should be promulgated. Comment: Some conservatives would disagree.
- Men and women should more equally share housework duties, and there should be equally shared parenting where possible. Comment: Some conservative would disagree.
- Social Security should not penalize women for the years they spend in unpaid labor taking care of children, the ill, and the elderly of their families by denying them labor credit for those years. Comment: Some conservatives would disagree.
- The tax code should be reformed to permit credits or deductions for those, usually women, who are the primary caretakers of children, the ill, and the elderly. Any such benefit, if it resulted in a payment, should be paid in the name of the caretaker alone. Comment: Some conservatives would disagree.
- Part-time workers, overwhelmingly women who are also unpaid primary caretakers, should be entitled to wage and benefit parity with full-time workers. Comment: Some conservatives would disagree.
- Women should use their God-given talents in the public sphere, where that be in paid labor, government service, volunteer work, social commentary, or church service: they must not bury their talents in the home, lest a female sensibility and perspective disappear from the public realm. Comments: Some conservatives would disagree.
As can be seen, Red State Feminism has the potential to ruffle the feathers of both stereotypical conservatives and stereotypical feminists. And yet this very Red State, very Feminist space, described above, is healthier than either sterotypical viewpoint, in our opinion. Red Sate Feminists are committed to the equal valuation of women; but they are also committed to God and family. Yes, we can have it all--if "all" is our heart's desire.
Thanks to Red State Feminists for permission to reprint.