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August 23 2011

Elle gets fashion right, conservative women wrong

Sabrina Schaeffer

The September issue of Elle magazine features a lengthy article about the rise of conservative women — or “Baby Palins,” as author Nina Burleigh affectionately refers to them. Included is a brief — but highly inaccurate — profile of my IWF colleague Carrie Lukas, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism. 

Like Carrie, I was encouraged that a major women’s magazine decided to engage in this often taboo subject of free market-oriented women; but Burleigh’s misrepresentation of Lukas and her ideas is shameful.

"… by 37-year-old Virginia mother of three and former Republican Congressional staffer Carrie Lukas (who quit her job to be with her kids). Lukas’ main point is that feminists have hurt women by advising them to pursue careers before establishing families, leaving them too old to bear children. This flip of kids and career was first advocated a decade ago by author Danielle Crittenden, though Lukas goes much further, indicting day care as harmful and premarital sex as unhealthy, and opining that “real” women want a husband, while feminists “pine for a sugar daddy in Uncle Sam.”

Let me address two of the misconceptions head on: Workplace flexibility and premarital sex.

First, Lukas didn’t “quit her job to be with her kids.” Rather, a changing workplace culture allowed her an opportunity to work from home. This may seem like nitpicking, but workplace flexibility is a pivotal issue for conservative women. 

Too often, traditional women’s groups suggest the workplace is antagonistic toward women. They believe women are entitled to high salaries, benefits and job security without acknowledging that these each come with a cost, and they work to pass gender-protection laws to make the workplace more “fair.” But as Lukas would attest, burdensome regulations actually end up making the cost of employment higher and reduce flexibility for working mothers like Lukas and myself.

What’s more, while workplace flexibility is a luxury that professional women like Lukas may enjoy more than other working women, it is a change corporate America is increasingly adopting at all levels as they see an increase in productivity, employee retention and cost-saving benefits. 

Second, Burleigh suggests that Lukas views “premarital sex as unhealthy” and that she says “ ‘real’ women want a husband, while feminists ‘pine for a sugar daddy in Uncle Sam.’ " 

Wow. 

I’ve known Lukas for years, and I know she’s never made the blanket statement that “premarital sex is unhealthy.” But I also know that Lukas believes the culture of casual sex has been harmful to women. In a society in which gender roles have largely dissolved and romantic relationships are a thing of the past, girls are encouraged to reject traditional dating practices and instead act like “one of the guys” — all in the name of “gender equality.” 

While easy access to birth control was supposed to empower women, it has often left women feeling powerless. Too often we find that men are the biggest benefactors of the Pill, which has encouraged a flippant attitude toward sex and dating. 

What Elle’s author missed, and what Lukas surely must have stressed in their interview, is that most young women still view marriage as a positive institution. But in a society in which we heavily discount differences between men and women, it can be easy to lose perspective of healthy sexuality and relationships.

Ultimately, the issue that matters most to Lukas — and that Burleigh ignores entirely — is that women have choices. Like Lukas, I believe decisions — as difficult as they may be — are a sign of freedom. Still, conventional feminists often view choices as a sign of inequality. They don’t believe women should have to make choices between, for instance, work and motherhood. 

Lukas and I discuss work-life balance decisions regularly, and I know she would agree that choices are difficult. But that’s what gender equality is all about.

Sabrina L. Schaeffer is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and managing partner of Evolving Strategies.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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