Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics

Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics

Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics

Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics

Synopsis

When we think of women's activism in America, figures such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan invariably come to mind--those liberal doyennes who have fought for years to chip away at patriarchy and achieve gender equality. But women's interests are not synonymous with organizations like NOWanymore. As Ronnee Schreiber shows, the conservative ascendancy that began in the Reagan era has been accompanied by the emergence of a broad-based conservative women's movement. And while firebrands like Ann Coulter and Phyllis Schlafly may be the public face of rightwing women's activism, ahandful of large and established women's organizations have proven to be the most effective promoters of the conservative agenda. Righting Feminism shows that one of the key-albeit overlooked-developments in political activism since the 1980s has been the emergence of conservative women's organizations. It focuses on the most prominent of these groups, Concerned Women for America and the Independent Women's Forum, toreveal how they are using feminist rhetoric for conservative ends: outlawing abortion, restricting pornography, and bolstering the traditional family. But ironically, these organizations face a paradox: to combat the legacy of feminism-particularly its appeal to the majority of American women-theymust use the rhetoric of women's empowerment. Indeed, Schreiber amply illustrates how conservative activists are often the beneficiaries of the very feminist politics they oppose. Yet just as importantly, she demolishes two widely believed truisms: that conservatism holds no appeal to women andthat modern conservatism is hostile to the very notion of women's activism. Based on interviews with colorful conservative activists and extensive analyses of organizational documents, Righting Feminism offers a new way of understanding the unlikely intersection of women's activism and conservative politics in America today.

Excerpt

In April 2001, the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) ran a fullpage ad in several campus newspapers, urging students to “Take Back the Campus” from “factually challenged” feminist professors seeking to indoctrinate students into a “cult.” in the ad, iwf asserted that feminists had exaggerated the frequency and severity of incidences of violence against women and that feminist accounts of gender differences in wages and gender biases in schools were overstated and often inaccurate. Finally, the ad encouraged students who encountered such accounts of “Ms/information” to report them to iwf for posting on its Web site. iwf caused a stir on several campuses with the publication, garnering the organization national publicity. This was, no doubt, part of the intent of this media-sawy organization.

Upon first glancing at the ad, one is compelled to ask: why would a women’s organization run this? Why would a women’s organization publicly contest women’s claims of abuse and violence? How can it square its need to appeal to women with its seeming disregard for feminist construction of women’s interests? Can we just dismiss this organization as being antiwomen or the dupe of conservative men? Simply put, no. As a conservative women’s organization, iwf was articulating alternative bases for understanding women’s political interests. and it had clout because women were making the claims.

IWF’s agenda in this incident is representative of a significant political battle that has been largely unrecognized by political analysts.

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