May 31 2010

IWF in the News: Feminism: No Longer about Equality

Carrie L. Lukas

Feministing's Jessica Valenti has a new op-ed in the Washington Post, and she has decreed that to qualify as a feminist one must believe that American women are oppressed. She writes:

Feminism is a social justice movement with values and goals that benefit women. It's a structural analysis of a world that oppresses women, an ideology based on the notion that patriarchy exists and that it needs to end.

The article, titled "The fake feminism of Sarah Palin," targets the Alaska governor for daring to call herself a feminist; Valenti also throws in shots at the Independent Women's Forum, Kathryn Lopez, and Christina Hoff Sommers for failing to get just how muchAmerican women still suffer.

Valenti doesn't explain why she thinks those of us on the right are wrong when we argue that American women are doing pretty well. She merely argues that we inappropriately co-opt the language of feminism when making our case. For example, she writes:

When members of the conservative Independent Women's Forum argue against efforts to address pay inequity, they say the salary gap is a result of women's informed choices - motherhood, for example - and that claims of discrimination turn women into victims. Conservatives have realized that women respond to seemingly feminist arguments.

Actually, Jessica, we've found that women respond to the truth. And it isn't just the Right that's done its homework and realized that the 77 percent wage gap claim is grossly misleading. Even the liberalAmerican Association of University Women found that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the difference was explained by controlling for variables like career choices.

Does Valenti think it's best to try to convince women that they are all doomed to make three quarters of what a man makes, thanks to systemic discrimination? Isn't it better to help women understand how their decisions - about job selection, work hours, and time out of the workforce - affect their earning power, so they can make more informed decisions?

Valenti glosses over these issues in favor of blanket statements about how those on the right "time again vote against women's rights." Yet the only policies that she references are abortion and gay marriage. Are positions on abortion and gay marriage the litmus test for the feminist movement?

If the feminist movement is really trying to champion women, then they need to realize that women care about lot more than sex and reproduction issues. Valenti recoils from the idea of trying to rally women in support of a political movement when advancing "women's causes" (i.e. abortion) isn't part of the agenda. But those of us on the right recognize that women are citizens first and foremost. Their biggest concerns aren't abortion and the wage gap. Women care about the economy, unemployment, government debt, and national security.

And most women aren't fixated on an us-vs.-them gender war. Women aren't better off when men are worse off. I'm sure that Valenti celebrates the axing of each college men's gymnastics program as a great victory for feminsm - another win for Title 9! But most women don't think like that. When men's unemployment spiked, women suffered too. Women care about the education and employment prospects of their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, just as much as they do about those of their mothers, sisters, daughters, and girlfriends.

I understand that Valenti conflates advancing women's welfare with growing the welfare state. I'm sure she sincerely believes that women would be better off with much higher taxes and a bigger government that provided more generous transfer payments, including more preschool and daycare subsidies, generous paid leave time, all manners of education subsidies, housing subsidies, and free single-payer healthcare.

Is it impossible for her to get that there are some of us who sincerely believe that women are better off when government leaves us with more of our property and controls less of our decisionmaking about how to live our lives? Isn't it possible, Jessica, that we think that the private sector is better and, yes, even fairer than government, which allocates resources through a corrupt political process? 

Valenti may prefer to tar the Right as "anti-woman," but she's going to have a tough time winning many converts. There are a lot more women who look at the world as people and concerned citizens than as patriarchy-obsessed "feminists."

- Carrie Lukas is vice president and director of policy at the Independent Women's Forum.

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