Perez: “Faux” Feminism No More

by Sarah Perez | 10/14/15 8:35pm

The F-word is complicated, and it is no secret that it elicits a broad spectrum of reactions. For some, the word “feminism” is a cringe-inducing combination of letters. For others, it is something to live by. With two female candidates currently in the race for the White House, the F-word has been tossed about more than usual. It has been on the lips of reporters and talking heads on both sides of the aisle, and even the candidates have broached the subject. Despite its newfound status as a campaign buzzword, discussion of feminism has been dishearteningly shallow. In most instances, dialogue has devolved into shouting matches over the recent Planned Parenthood controversy. Being pro-choice has been made a pre-requisite for being a feminist. Being pro-life has been conflated with hating women, or at least failing to properly support them. As a result, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has been disparaged for peddling faux feminism on the campaign trail.

While Fiorina’s most ardent critics may see themselves as crusading for women’s rights, they could not be farther from the truth. Branding Fiorina an anti-feminist because she espouses a conservative view on women’s health is not only absurd — it is counterproductive. Feminist disdain for conservative women is nothing new. Indeed, women on the right have long been seen as mere tokens, pawns of the patriarchy. The truth of the matter is this — haggling over ideology will do little to improve women’s status in society. True progress necessitates looking past party lines.

South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal said it best in a Dec. 2014 interview with the Washington Post: “Being pro-choice is a litmus test for women, and we’ve got to get over it. We need to not be ashamed that we are who we are. We are different. We need to honor difference of opinion. That’s the only way we’ll ever reach critical mass.” An avowed Democrat and lifelong civil rights activist, Toal is also a staunch pro-life advocate. She shed light on the apparent contradiction, explaining, “I was one of the few right-to-life Democrats that there has ever been, but nobody ever held it against me.” In today’s political climate, it is hard to imagine a self-identified pro-life Democrat being taken seriously as a feminist. Yet, if we can agree that marked progress for women is the ultimate goal, uncompromising liberal feminists must step down from their high horses and accept conservative women — or even just women with some traditionally conservative viewpoints — as equals.

Democrats do not inherently champion women’s rights. Republicans do not fundamentally oppose women’s advancement. This simple-minded dichotomy has existed far too long and must be discarded. It not only obfuscates the issues at hand, but also impedes constructive conversation from taking place. For example, at a Sept. 2014 roundtable discussion on women’s issues, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz declared, “What Republican tea party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back.” This comment followed Wasserman Schultz’s less-than-subtle comment, “Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand.” Wasserman Schultz is painting the entire Republican Party as anti-feminist, including the women within it. To ensure true progress, we must condemn such instances of unabashed pandering. Such indiscriminate vilification of the other side is unacceptable and contributes absolutely nothing to fruitful dialogue.

The longer we allow demagogues like Wasserman Schultz to exploit trite narratives for the purpose of political expediency, the longer it will take to make true progress in the realm of women’s rights. By restricting women’s advancement to the purview of a specific party, we limit the possibility of any progress at all. The longer conservative women are shut out from all discussion, the longer it will be before a woman — Republican or Democrat — enters the White House. Women everywhere must realize that they are playing for the same team. If not, the patriarchy still has plenty of time to grab another cold one from the fridge, prop his feet up and finish off the other half of that sandwich.