The cause of feminism deserves more than to be diminished to the level of partisan clashes and to be touted as a movement exclusively for the left. In order for feminist pursuits to affect substantive change in society, progressives must loosen their grip on feminism for conservatives to realize that the conservative tradition does, in fact, defend the feminist cause—that essential belief in the equal dignity of men and women alike.
“The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For, I hate feminism. It is poison.”
One would scarcely believe that these words hail from the Iron Lady herself—the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain and formidable powerhouse on the world’s political stage. Yet, while one may well conclude that Margaret Thatcher regarded “the feminists” as others—an apparently toxic collection of activists who shared a mutual disdain—there’s no doubt that the ultimate feminist ideal of fundamental equality of the sexes, whether consciously or subconsciously, impelled her political ascendancy in what was then, as it is now, a man’s world.
With colorful suits and conscientious speech, the MP-turned-PM embodied a self-described “clear, decisive, purposeful” leadership style…as a conservative.
Ay, there’s the rub. Common knowledge and our political culture have dictated that conservatism and feminism inherently exist at odds, for a devotee of tempered change and natural order cannot possibly be a bra-burning man-hater, while an advocate for the equal dignity of man and woman cannot honestly venerate by-gone times rife with so-called male privilege and patriarchal oppression. Yet, if Thatcher were truly not a feminist, she would not have defied her own expectation that “there will not be a female prime minister in [her] lifetime [because] the male population is too prejudiced.” If Thatcher were truly not a conservative, she would not have served as the compelling leader of the party of British conservatism for more than 15 years. Whether or not Thatcher herself adopted the labels, her legacy straddles one of conservative convictions and feminist pursuits.
In times like today, especially in the United States where the fissures run increasingly deep on issues of race and class, in particular, and where the number of female heads of state still stands at zero, two behind Great Britain, the matter of gender equality should not evolve into yet another line in the already over-partitioned sand, another irreconcilable dispute between liberals and conservatives. The cause of feminism cannot continue to stand as a partisan clash, a rallying cry for liberals and a “poisonous” deterrent against conservatives, and to be reduced to a movement of exclusivity, selective applicability, and a clandestine progressive agenda. We cannot tolerate its plummet into the dark quagmire of politics, for it matters too much to not only the livelihood of the female half of the world’s population, but to the dignity of all humankind.
Feminism—the belief in the fundamental equality of men and women—must prevail as a supra-political cause that stands above politics and that can be adopted by both liberals and conservatives alike.
In transitioning to a common ground of basic human morality, the feminist principle of ungendered equality and its accompanying movement must extricate itself from the tight hold of progressive politics and widen its scope to embrace efforts by men and women across the political spectrum who appreciate the ultimate human virtue in its mission. We have seen time and time again the ways in which the feminist movement has alienated entire segments of society who might otherwise sign onto the notion of the inherent equality of the sexes.
Most recently, the Women’s March epitomized exactly the self-defeating selectivity and partisanship that has paralyzed modern feminism. The March apotheosized inclusivity, diversity, and the ideal of women (and men) convening in the capital of the most powerful nation in the world, empowered by their own convictions and motivations for marching—all in an effort to, as their website claims, “[build] inclusive structures guided by self-determination, dignity, and respect.” Yet, apparently (and specifically if you’re pro-life), you are some sort of faux feminist—in addition to being some sort of Luciferian subhuman who despises inclusivity, the right to self-determination, and human dignity and respect—if you don’t take progressive stances on political issues. Somehow, what branded itself as a historical manifestation for women’s concern for gender equality mutated into a forceful enumeration of partisan positions that one must adhere to as a verified ® feminist: immigration reform for amnesty and rights for illegal and undocumented immigrants, workers’ rights, environmental justice. A real feminist, according to the organizers of the March, must stand as a force of “resistance” to all of President Trump’s cabinet picks and executive orders, the NRA, pro-lifers, and all people of “privilege,” and cannot possibly criticize #QueenB, Colin Kaepernick, DACA, #StandWithPP, and the Affordable Care Act. In other words, conservatives and Republicans have no place at the feminist power table.
Nothing inherently wrong exists with such political stances. If one ignores the fact that the Women’s March and its organizers, with blatant hypocrisy, applied their founding principles of inclusivity and respect only to those whom they wanted to include (and targeted those whom they wanted to exclude with preconditions for the feminist identity) and that they were supposed to symbolize a profound demonstration of feminism above all, then the March’s prominence represents the cherished power of political organization in democratic societies like the United States to mobilize ideas and people to create change. Yet, such is not the case; the Women’s March only masqueraded as a march for women—a women’s feminist movement—and abused the essential platform of feminism through the divisive language of hyper-partisanship, identity politics, and progressive intersectionality. If the organizers of the Women’s March truly desired progress towards greater gender equity, their pursuit would have welcomed with open arms and open minds the dedication and volunteerism of men and women, both liberal and conservative, who remain devoted to that essential tenet of feminism above all else, at least on the day and for the cause of the March.
Great power has come from movements that were either apolitical or trans-political; that for feminism should be both and neither—it should stand supra-political.
While modern progressives monopolize the feminist efforts, conservatives are led to believe that feminism is singularly a liberal cause, intrinsically incompatible with their political convictions favoring organic change that harmonizes with an existing social and moral order of human nature and human society. As such, popular culture satirizes conservative men as sexist and misogynist perpetuators of an oppressive, hegemonic patriarchy and conservative women as submissive traitors of the female race who prefer inferiority to male despots.
Conservative men and women cannot tolerate such derision of themselves and of the conservative intellectual and political movement. They must realize that the conservative tradition champions the feminist cause—that essential belief in the equal dignity of men and women alike.
One can look to Russell Kirk, the architect of modern-day conservatism at its best, for a conservative justification for feminism. The conservative-minded individual, he writes in The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Conservatism, “[endeavors] to reconcile the growth and alteration essential to our life with the strength of our social and moral traditions…They understand that men and women are best content when they can feel that they live in a stable world of enduring values. They have liberty, security of person and home, equal protection of the laws, the right to the fruits of their industry, and opportunity to do what is best in them.” He continues, “Conservative principles shelter the hopes of everyone in society” and serve as “a social concept important to everyone who desires equal justice and personal freedom and all the lovable old ways of humanity.” What more is the belief in feminism (and conservatism, for that matter) than the assurance of “equal justice and personal freedom” for “everyone in society,” for men and women?
The conservative feminist is not a paradoxical identity. To be a feminist, one need not sport a crude pink hat in the shape of female genitalia or a flashy “This is what a feminist looks like” shirt; one need not tout the notion that gender is merely a social construct designed to subjugate and oppress; one need not burn bras or do away with suits and ties; one need not encourage promiscuity under the guise of liberation; one need not scorn feminine women or masculine men in the same degree to which they value the powerful woman and the sympathetic man.
The conservative feminist is, in many ways, a difference feminist. As Kirk reasons, the conservative “does not think that we can change human nature, in the mass, for the better; there is only one sort of improvement in human nature, and that is internal improvement—the improvement every man and every woman can work privately.” Thus, “the conservative believes that men and women, though equal before the law, are very different in their capacities and their desires.” Change is “essential to a good society,” but proves destructive and futile, in the spirit of conservatism, if it seeks to counteract the laws of human nature that bestow undeniably different yet equal virtues—both physical and psychological—to men and women. To the conservative feminist, such variances do not impede the attainability of a just society in which woman and man remain equal in intellectual capability, dignity, and opportunity for self-actualization and leadership; rather, they emphasize the beauty in the harmony of women and men in society when their unique virtues are empowered and shared, most especially in the profound life-giving result of their union. To devalue such equal divinity in the nature of men and women is to violate both the conservative ethos and the fundamental precept of feminism.
Despite her testament to the contrary, inherent in the conservative mindset of Baroness Thatcher resounded a philosophy of feminism—it was not a “poison” that she drank, but rather a natural extension of her conservative convictions that carried over into both her ambitions as a stateswoman and her identity as a wife, mother, and woman of feminine comportment. In assuming its cause of supra-political worth, feminism should sooner, and more deeply, as it did for Thatcher, find a place in the conservative mind and heart.