June 11, 2010 / Politics, Unity

Inactions have Consequences: Why Feminism is Ripe for a Takeover (and How You Can Help)


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda. This article has been modified and cross-posted.

2006 was supposed to be the year of Democratic women, but it didn’t work out that way. Despite a slew of female candidates hand-picked by Speaker Pelosi, Democrats couldn’t manage to elect them in a year that otherwise saw them sweep power and gain majorities in the House and Senate. The much-lauded Democratic Wave of 2006 ultimately was a wave of men.

Then came 2008, and Hillary Clinton was a primary presidential candidate. Despite earning the highest number of actual votes, Clinton lost when the party apparatus hijacked the delegate system in Florida and Michigan, rigging the primary season in favor of their preferred candidate. Meanwhile, some of the left’s most revered pundits piled on, and encouraged open hatred of her in their audiences, all the while coyly claiming it wasn’t sexism that drove them to it. Maybe it wasn’t, but the net result was a campaign season that can be summed up in one of the slogans that emerged from it: bros before hoes.

Two election cycles in a row Democrats had the chance to show Americans they really were the party for women. Twice they declined.

It’s exactly details like this that give voice to the lie that the Democratic Party does anything for women. Even on abortion, the rhetoric is merely a tool of coercion. Democrats squandered every opportunity to pass the ERA, helped orchestrate the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debacle, cut off poor families’ access to financial security without increasing opportunity, and more recently threw women under the bus in the mammoth health care bill. This strategy of abandoning women is finally working against them, leaving quite an opening for women of the right to lay claim to some of that constituency. We saw the first fruits of their labor on Tuesday, and I must say it’s pretty impressive.

Republican women stole the show last Tuesday, and advanced the potential for greater numbers of women in elected positions. Thus their much-debated awakening may lead to one of the stated goals of the so-called party for women. You won’t find many liberal or progressive feminists celebrating Tuesday’s advancement of that goal. Instead, women from the left side of the aisle continue to shadowbox straw women, invoking the always alienating ridicule-humor of progressives. It is the left’s willful ignorance of changes on the right that lead them to argue ridiculous assertions, such as that the right doesn’t support women with careers despite the presence of millions of conservative women in the workforce.

After Tuesday’s election, I am hopeful for the first time in a long time. It’s this dogged insistence from women on the right and enlightened women on the left who dare support them that drives my hope. The emergence of cooperation between women of different political stripes, driven in part by groups like TNA and a budding pro-woman movement, helps provide an environment where a diverse feminism can thrive. In this environment, long-held assumptions are finally being challenged and new strategies tested.

Understand that the particular brand of feminism women on the right are developing is a profoundly positive feminism. It dares insist that the status quo need not be adhered to, and that there is no need to wait for a paternalistic government, or even party, to save women from the trials and tribulations of their lives. Where left-feminism stands defiant, producing rhetorical variations of the classic, “Look what you’re doing!” argument, the women on the right are responding with, “Just do it!” The former is a message of blame pointed at those who would subjugate women; the latter is pointed directly at those women. No wonder that message is selling; it’s what women, especially young women, want to hear.

If women on the left are not open to this positive contribution, they will lose out to the takeover that is imminent. It won’t be a hostile takeover, either. So far we’ve seen the vitriol of Judith Levine, the cleverness of Amanda Marcotte, and the denial of Jessica Valenti deployed to disrupt the narrative. Meanwhile, the targets of their ire have stayed above the fray, carrying on with the work of advancing Republican women in office. They look like the kind of people who routinely have persuaded their way to more power-sharing. They are casting themselves in the molds of suffragists and civil rights activists, and that, too, will help them win the PR wars. Persuasion is so key.

And this is where the left will fail and fail big, though I wish it weren’t so. I dream of a big-tent feminism that understands and values the work of liberal feminists, which laid the foundation for the emergence of conservative feminism. We won’t get it, because left-feminists don’t want big-tent feminism. They are happy to be employed and deployed against their own best interests. While they are thus distracted, moderate women and enlightened women on the left and the right will continue to mentally marginalize the ridiculous criticism leveled against Palin and other conservative women, just as so many of us did with the Clintons. Even now it’s just white noise to me when I read or hear a Palin-basher.

This time, though, we must not make the same mistake that Clinton supporters in the 1990s made. We should understand that the children are listening, and we must not allow those black seeds of hate, now being sewn so ironically by the left, to take root in their hearts and minds. Instead, if we nurture this expanding movement, very soon we may see a political climate where women across the political spectrum are on the vanguard in terms of breaking the stranglehold of partisanship that is a barrier to our progress. A new generation of girls must come to adulthood seeing more women in positions of power. It won’t matter to them whether they are Republicans or Democrats, or some other unlikely party. The women who win today will make them want to run tomorrow. What’s more, they’ll make it easier for them to do so.

These are the stakes involved in this continuing debate about who is and who can’t be a feminist. Rage, mean-spirited humor, and denial are short-sighted responses to the possibilities presented by a conservative feminism. That liberal/progressive feminists are even interested in excluding women from the club is evidence of how deeply they have internalized the left’s bizarre and unexamined gender conventions. In the end, the Valenti’s, Levine’s, and Marcotte’s of the world may never be open to persuasion. Let them bitch themselves into irrelevance. Worrying about what they say will not advance the cause of progress for women. What does help is talking to people who can be persuaded.

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  • Thanks AB for you excellent piece (as always)- positive it is! And as Betty always says: ONWARD!

  • Bes

    “Instead, women from the left side of the aisle continue to shadowbox straw women, invoking the always alienating ridicule-humor of progressives.”

    “They (liberal feminists) are happy to be employed and deployed against their own best interests.”

    Another great post Anna Belle!

    And in response to the 2008 elections Democrat cry of “Bros before Hoes” I say “Chicks before Dicks”! I picked that phrase up from my teenage daughter and her friends and it works for me.

  • “Chicks before Dicks.” Hahahahah. I love it. Thanks for the comments Amy & Bes. Onward, indeed. Whoever doesn’t want to join us can eat our dust. 🙂

  • yttik

    Great post. I’m pleased to see so many women running for office and winning primaries. I’m especially pleased to see conservative women helping each other out, like Palin has been doing. Feminism was never supposed to be about tearing down other women, like some of the articles and pundits on the TV have been doing. Women need to learn how to stand together, how to watch each other’s backs.

  • Janis

    And if the Dems (and their ladies’ auxiliary) want to get in on the action, then they know what they have to do. The powers that be have to run Dem women candidates, and Dem women have to run the risk of being uncool, unsexy, shrill, and not cute to boys and ACTUALLY VOTE FOR THEM.

  • Janis

    I remember seeing something during the general election, after McCain picked The Evil Witch Woman With the Planet-Wrecking Vagina as his running mate. It was a press conference type of thing where a bunch of Republican women basically told the press that they would stand behind her. I have no clue how they feel now; probably after these election results, they are quite happy to be photographed shaking hands with Palin. 🙂

    But I remember hearing that — these “terrible” “right-wing” women, these brainwashed self-hating fools and enemies of women — and feeling like I wanted to cry when I thought of how completely shitty it made me feel to hear friends of mine who always called themselves feminists suddenly smirking and making a big stink over how they “weren’t going to vote for a woman just because she’s a woman!” They were crowing over it, like they were proud. They were so insecure in themselves, so fearful that being even a little bit outspoken for their rights made them unfeminine that they were apologizing for being women by abandoning Clinton. They really did internalize the message that a woman who speaks up for her own rights is an ugly, hairy-legged, unnatural, unlovable monster, and they fled to Barky’s side to prove to themselves and any men listening that they really, really, really weren’t like that! See, I’m game and girly, really! Don’t let my occasional picturesque feisty whining about equal pay fool you!

    And compared to that, here were these awful, horrible, woman-hating monsters standing there going, “We saw what you did to Hillary and we see what you’re doing to Sarah, and you will not get away with it.” One woman went so far as to say something directly along the lines of, “We’re ready for you, and if you mix it up with us, you’ll regret it.”

    Democrats have always stood for better things (at least, in theory) and felt apologetic about it. I care about the environment, but I’m not a SMELLY TREE-HUGGER or anything icky like that! (For the hets) I’m for gay marriage, but I’m not a FAG or a LEZ! I’m for equal pay and choice, but I’m not some HAIRY ICKY SHRILL SEX-HATING MONSTER!

    Their own insecurity in their principles did them in. Republicans are the party of stupid bullshit, let’s make no mistake. This comment is coming from a woman who is pro-union, pro-choice, recognizes global climate change, is sick and goddamned tired of being in a constant state of warfare, is very much pro-same-sex marriage, sees massive problems with deregulated business, is tired of listening to jackasses thump the free market doctrine like they’re thumping a bible, and is a stone-cold atheist to boot. Republicans are not my party.

    But the Dems sure aren’t, either. And at least the Pubs stick by their own. Now, 2008 taught me to stay out and NEVER EVER pick sides. Just because the Dems were revealed as absolutely worthless, it doesn’t mean the Pubs suddenly look like a giant chocolate sundae. They’re both useless assholes, but one side is a bunch of useless assholes WHO LOOK OUT FOR THEIR WOMEN. While the Dems look out for NO women, including their own.

    Guess which one comes out ahead, even to a completely cynical anarchist like me?

    “But don’t you care about the environment?!” Yeah, tell that to Barky-boy who voted for the Bush-Cheney energy bill and who seems to have spent the past month sitting on his thumb while the planet pukes oil.

    “But don’t you care about LESBIANS and GAYS?” Tell that to the cadre of homophobes that Barky and his buddies have appointed and welcomed with open arms into the WH. And tell that to Cindy and Meghan McCain and Gerald Ford, who all seem to think that gay marriage is just peachy.

    “But don’t you care about CHOICE?” Who was it passed healthcare legislation that set back choice by about 800 years? Who was it appointed a shitload of anti-choice assholes to various high-powered positions?

    I hate the Dems and am furious with them BECAUSE I care about these things, and I’ve watched them given free rein to gut these issues unmercifully, by a bunch of woman/fag/lez-hating Liburul Doodz and their doe-eyed little Stepford girlfriends who think they can get away with polluting the planet, demolishing women’s rights, and kicking gays and lesbians in the face as long as they claim to be green, non-homophobic, and pro-choice.

  • Marie

    How about a fearless feminism that is not threatened by the diversity of women’s searches for empowerment? That’s my version.

    I think that the awakening of women on the right and their Palin-inspired movement can be accommodated with our “progressive” versions of feminism.

  • Janis

    And a feminism that recognizes that ALL PARTIES ARE IMPROVED when more women participate in them.

  • That was some testimony, Janis! I hear you. And I couldn’t agree more with the assessment that ALL parties are improved when more women participate. Marie, I’m also on board with your proposal for a fearless feminism. Thanks for the comment Yttik. Always good to hear your voice!

  • votermom

    Fantastic post, Anna Belle!

  • bruce nahin

    Janis said:
    And a feminism that recognizes that ALL PARTIES ARE IMPROVED when more women participate in them.

    So true, without parity there is no equality…here in California we have Meg and Carly on the march and wont it be fun to see two ladies duke it out for US Senator

  • Bes

    Bruce: It will be interesting to see Carly and Barbabra’s race. Up until now as soon as a woman gets in the race the opposite party leadership goes immediately off topic and into the gutter with shrill voice comments etc. The media already picked a hairstyle sound bite from Carly’s unknowing off mike talk to hype. I change the channel every time thy try to hit that BS story.

    And now I have to wonder, why do I always call woman candidates by their first name? Odd. I think it is because I am more engaged with them and so it seems natural.

  • Actually, Bes, it’s convention. It’s a way to infanticize women, and it doesn’t just happen in politics.

    Way back in the bad ole days of 1995 I was a college sophomore taking a class called U. S. Traditions. It was a hybrid history/literature/composition course created to satisfy a Comp II requirment at my small liberal arts college. Anyway, we used this textbook that was edited by a guy named Boorstein (I’ll never forget it) and the book had exactly two selections (among the hundreds included by famous Americans) of famous speeches of women, Sarah Grimke’s “Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,” and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s address to the New York State legislature.

    All of the entries in the book were preceded by short bios, in which Mr. Boorstein referred to our male ancestors by their last names, i.e. Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Douglass, etc. But in these two entries he referred to them as Sarah and Elizabeth throughout. It was so pronounced that I couldn’t help but notice. This would be a good topic for a young history scholar to pursue, because I’m sure some recent history books are still riddled with this practice.

    So it’s not just in politics, and now you don’t have to wonder. It’s convention.

  • Alison

    Anna Belle,

    That is interesting and it’s a sexism that I catch myself engaging in quite frequently. I tend to want to call women politicians by their first names and I have to remind myself not to. I probably do this with other highly accomplished women, too.

  • samanthasmom

    It’s also harder to talk about men and only use their first names. If someone says, “What did you think about what Bob said last night on CNN?”, we have to ask, which “Bob” was on CNN? There are so few visible women, that if we ask, what did Hillary say, or what did Nancy say, we all know who that is. When there are more “Hilarys” and more “Nancys”, the problem of infanticizing women by using their first names only will have to go away in the name of clarity. I’d rather attack this issue by flooding positions of power with women than to spend time correcting people when they use a woman’s first name only.

  • bruce nahin

    So has any one been seeing the silly blogs discussing Gov Palin and breast implants. How ridiculous to see her on Greta’s Fox show answering such a question. The fact that she was forced to answer such a question to stop the bs bloggers just reeks of sexism. Do we discuss, men the same way- clearly not- and why would a women anchor like Greta waste valuable airtime to ask such a question. To her credit the Governor did answer ( No for those interested)…but google breast implants and see how many Palin hits that you get…disgusting

  • Samantha, I love your solution!

  • bruce nahin

    Where are all the feminists during the Palin breast discussion I mentioned above- answer noting from NOW, Feministing etc. No comments about how evil the discussion is… and Palin is forced to say

    “She also offered some advice to anyone wondering whether she’s enhanced her bust: “I think some of those folks, too, they need to perhaps grab a shovel, go down to the Gulf, volunteer to help, clean up and save a whale or something.”

    Apart from having to answer the embarrassing question, Palin said the speculation about her chest will also have her second guessing her wardrobe choices from now on.

    “To be judged on or to be talked about on appearance – say chest size – it makes me wear layers, it makes me have to waste time figuring out what am I going to wear so that nobody will look at an area that I don’t need them to look at,” she said. “I want them to hear what it is that I’m saying. It just ends up wasting time and that’s very, very unfortunate.”

    NOW-Liberal Women’s Groups- WHAT SAY YOU

  • Bes

    I found the Palin breast implant story just one more idiocy from the yapping heads. I did write into one of them stating that she has breast fed multiple children and since the photos they used for comparison aren’t dated she could have been nursing in one shot and not a year or so later in the next shot. But I think you aren’t seeing too much comment from women because women aren’t interested in breasts and discussing them and feminist leaning women, who aren’t blind liberals, see the press as a bunch of yapping idiots so their latest yap fest is ignored like the rest of their crap reporting. In other words they considered the source and lowered their opinion of the press even lower than it had been and moved on.

  • jenniferintexas


    Those liberal women are secretly investigating getting breast implants 🙂