BY SAMAN SALAHUDDIN
During an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference, President Trump’s White House Counselor, Kellyanne Conway, said that she did not consider herself to be a “classic” feminist because classic feminism is supposedly associated with being “pro-abortion” and “anti-male.” Conway then went on to criticize the Women’s March on Washington, which has now become the largest protest in modern American history, by saying:
“You know, this whole sisterhood, this whole ‘let’s go march for women’s rights’ and, you know, just constantly talking about what women look like or what they wear or making fun of their choices or presuming that they’re not as powerful as the men around, this presumptive negativity about women in power, I think, is very unfortunate.”
There is a lot to unpack in Conway’s comments because in today’s divided political climate her beliefs have become representative of that of many conservative women, as evidenced by conservatives’ positive reaction to Conway’s remarks.
First, let’s address Conway’s claim that feminism is“anti-male.” To be clear, according to the Webster Merriam Dictionary, feminism is strictly defined as “the belief that men and women have equal rights and opportunities.” So for Conway to construe feminism as being “anti-male” is in complete opposition to feminism’s core belief: that no gender is superior or inferior to the other but rather inherently equal.
In regards to Conway’s “pro-abortion” claim, it’s true that in today’s society, in which “my body, my choice” has become a rallying cry for millions of women, feminism is increasingly associated with being pro-abortion. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, sixty-six percent of millennial feminists support abortion’s legality in all or most cases. Access to abortion is so largely supported by feminists because of feminism’s core belief that equality is achieved when women have the right to control their bodies and their choices. Regardless of their own personal views on abortion, feminists recognize that women are capable of making their own choices and should not be restricted in doing so, which is why they so vehemently support the legality of abortions. So in response to Kellyanne, being a feminist does not mean that you must agree with abortions, but it does mean that you must allow your other fellow women to have open access to them because each woman’s circumstances are complicated, unique, and, most importantly, her own.
During the interview, Conway also made the absurd claim that the women that attended the Women’s March on Washington were somehow afraid of women in power. That claim has absolutely no basis at all, considering that the majority of those women voted for Hillary Clinton, who would have become the most powerful woman in the world if she had won the presidential election. However, despite its lack of substance, Conway’s argument is continually echoed by many conservative women.
The Network of Empowered Women is a nonprofit organization that was founded by prominent conservative women, including GOP campaign veteran Mindy Finn. Their website asserts that “liberal feminists are waging war against conservative women.” The website also names four powerful women in politics: Condoleezza Rice, Nikki Haley, Jan Brewer and Sarah Palin, all of whom, according to the website, have been subject to “liberal feminist” criticism. The organization argues that “liberal feminists” attack any powerful women that they don’t agree with instead of supporting them. It is true that these women in particular have received intense backlash from feminists, but it is not because they’re conservative women. It is because these women, especially Nikki Haley and Jan Brewer, have done little to use their power and voice to advance and shed light on women’s issues.
In 2012, Nikki Haley, the current United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina Governor, vetoed a bill that would authorize information on and access to the HPV vaccine for incoming seventh graders. In 2006 Haley voted for the Penalties for Harming an Unborn Child/Fetus law, which likens any act of violence against a fetus to a criminal act against the mother. Jan Brewer, former Governor of Arizona, signed into law the Omnibus Abortion Bill, which highly limited a woman’s right to make her own health decisions and prevented Planned Parenthood from delivering information on family planning and sexually transmitted diseases at state sponsored women’s health expos. The bill also opposed sex education in Arizona public schools; this correlates to the fact that during the time Brewer was governor, Arizona had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.
In short, these “liberal feminists” described by Kellyanne Conway and the Network of Empowered Women do not have a problem with women in power. They have a problem with people that have used their power to hurt women instead of championing women’s issues in a society that constantly attacks women’s rights.
In a society where women are discriminated in the workforce, losing control over their bodies, subject to domestic violence and rape and don’t have sufficient access to vital healthcare, all women must stand united to combat these injustices. I’m a woman that has grown up with immense privilege; I’ll be attending college next year where I’ll be exposed to life-changing opportunities. Even though I may face gender discrimination in the workplace, I’ll still have opportunities to succeed. That is not the case for many women who live in low income areas and don’t have access to healthcare, family planning and proper education. I hope that women across both sides of the spectrum choose to fight for those who have been hurt by our society. To do that, women must abandon anti-feminist rhetoric and instead embrace feminism–a tool, not a weapon, to combat intolerance toward all, not just women–to heal the wounds of our society.