“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” -Audre Lorde
When conservatives on TV or other forums critique the feminist movement for advocating for causes that are removed from advocating for women’s equality they are forgetting the history of the feminist movement. The feminist movement is not some secret club designed to elevate Democrats and keep out Republicans. It is an intersectional movement and has been since Second-wave feminism. Feminism is at its strongest when it is in coalition, when women are not excluded because of their sexuality, their race, their gender at birth, etc.
This movement was not built to exclude conservative women. Abortion is linked so heavily to the feminist movement not to alienate anti-abortion advocates but because a women’s control over when to have a child is fundamentally linked to having economic and social control over herself. The feminist movement doesn’t advocate for amnesty for immigrants because it’s a part of a liberal agenda, it does so in order for working mothers to come out of the shadows that they have been forced to live in. It aims to enable immigrant women to attend PTA meetings, report abuse at work, and claim benefits for their American born children.
The feminist movement doesn’t say black lives matter because they are ignoring the sanctity of all life—it does so so no more mothers in Chicago, Los Angeles, or Baltimore have to hold a child who was gunned down in cold blood and so that women or men are not targeted because of their skin color.
The feminist movement doesn’t advocate for trans women because we have a secret plot to infiltrate bathrooms. Instead, it does so because in 2017, 28 of our sisters were killed, and a vast majority of these killings are being investigated as homicides.
The feminist movement does not advocate for promiscuity. It says that women have just as great a right to be immodest as modest. Feminism argues for sex education not as a gateway to the karma sutra, but because it has been proven to lower STD and teen pregnancy rates while promoting consensual sexual activity.
Those women who balk at their self-exile because they do not conform to every piece of feminist platform are misunderstanding two fundamental things. 1. You are not being stopped from doing anything. Party and movement platforms do not need to be supported by every individual. You can identify as a feminist and advocate for equality no matter what you believe in, you just may not have anyone turning to you for leadership. 2. This is not about you. If the feminist movement made itself more palatable for everyone who wanted to join their message would be, “you can have a job, as long as your husband always has dinner on the table and the dishes are clean.” It is not about creating the widest tent when doing so would limit the ability to organize. The feminist movement has gone down this road before.
There was a debate in Second-wave feminism about whether to include lesbians or not since homosexuality offended many Americans at the time. The leadership at the time decided to exclude these women, and the movement gained nothing while losing the support of thousands. To exclude the disadvantaged only serves power structures and is antithetical to obtaining equality for all women.
It is not the feminist movement that has excluded their fellow women, it is in fact the conservative movement that has alienated the women in their midst. The 1970s were a beautiful time. Planned Parenthood had a bipartisan board. The women’s convention had not one but two republican women elected on its planning committee. The ERA was sailing through statehouse after statehouse. Women were viewed as deserving of equality from both sides of the aisle. Enter Phyllis Schlafly. This conservative woman advocated strongly against the Equal Rights Amendment. She created a movement against the ERA backed mostly by housewives. Republicans, led by Richard Nixon, decided that in order to win Southern votes they were going to jump on the bandwagon and advocate against women’s equality. And so the conservative women left the women’s movement and have been yearning for a space back ever since.
Conservative women leave themselves out of politics. Since the 1980s, the number of Democratic women in office has grown while the number of conservative women has remained stagnant. Its true that conservative women do not believe that the feminist movement represents their values. “Only 19% of Republican women think that the feminist movement represents their values.” But conservative women are not advocating for themselves either. “Democratic men are 31 points more likely to say that the “country has not gone far enough on women’s rights” than Republican women.”
It is not the feminist movement that has failed conservative women so much as it is the Republican Party. The Grand Old Party has consistently tempered the voices of this loyal cohort. Democrats embrace women’s causes, but Republicans do not. When there was a woman’s only screening of Wonder Woman it was not Democrats who freaked out, but conservatives who set their hair on fire and yelled about the liberal agenda. Liberals want a wider tent, but it is the conservative media that tries to turn feminist bashing into an olympic sport. Noted conservative talking head Rush Limbaugh even went as far as to refer to some feminists as “feminazis.”
Feminists do not harbor an agenda against Republicans; they are the ones who harbor one against us. If anyone who is registered as a Republican wants to attend the women’s march or advocate for equality, no one is stopping you. Just because you don’t agree with a movement doesn’t mean it should be dismantled to fit your sensibilities.
Feminism is intersectional because it must be. Women are not harmed simply because some individuals hold the notion in their minds that women are less than men. Women are discriminated against because of institutional forces that seek to exclude and oppress them. These forces are compounded when women hold other identities that are not privileged. It is not about changing hearts and minds its is about changing institutions. Change is a radical, progressive force, not a conservative one.