Hillary Clinton will be feted this Friday at a “world summit” event hosted by Tina Brown, the editor in chief of Newsweek. This week Brown relaunched the magazine with a cover story featuring Hillary as one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World.” Clinton and other public figures such as Christiane Amanpour and Nancy Pelosi as well as pop culture icons like Mia Farrow and Susan Sarandon own the message on strong women. They embody the identification of so-called “women’s issues” with left-leaning politics. But conservatives don’t have to relinquish the banner of feminism to liberal ideology.
The primary (and most literal) dictionary definition of feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” However, in popular ideology it has unquestionably been superseded by its secondary, connotative definition, “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” “Interest” has been broadly interpreted to mean virtually any liberal agenda. This has led to the frequent claim that for a woman to be conservative, she betrays her sex; there is no such thing as a conservative feminist.
Such a political philosophy belittles women. It assumes that women lack the intellectual capacity to choose their own views; their opinions on everything from abortion to the economy must be prefabricated by the liberal thought machine. It is also a distasteful blow to the idea of individual self-determination: what a person is, is more important to liberals than who a person is. Individuality is undermined by group identification. The political movement that purports to defend “equal rights” for women begins by asserting that the female half of the population is born into their ideology and is not permitted to deviate from it.
Liberal hypocrisy on feminism is rife in a number of highly visible positions:
Abortion. Liberals claim that pro-life activists are paternalistic because, by combating abortion, they are depriving women of the right to choose for themselves whether to terminate a pregnancy. Yet many of these same liberals oppose the establishment of Pregnancy Resource Centers, pro-life institutions that educate women on the other ways, besides abortion, to cope with an unexpected pregnancy, including support services for the pregnancy period itself, as well as information on the alternatives of adoption or parenting. Similarly, many liberals oppose measures to require women to view an ultrasound before having an abortion, because it might persuade them to change their minds. Liberals are so convinced that abortion is the best choice for women experiencing unexpected pregnancy that they would like to prevent those women from learning about any other options, or being exposed to the full reality of the procedure. Who’s paternalistic now?
School Choice. Liberals oppose school choice, claiming that it siphons much-needed funds from the public school system. But school choice simply means that money funds the child instead of funding the school. In addition to being fiscally incorrect (many school choice programs, such as the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, not only cost less per-pupil than surrounding public schools, but are funded on a structure specifically designed to avoid decreasing the funds to public schools) this anti-school choice position is a shocking insult to parents. The liberal position on school choice is clear: mothers cannot be trusted to choose their own children’s education.
The Defense of Freedom and Human Rights. Liberal feminist groups are vitriolic in condemning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which liberated millions of women from the atrocities of the Taliban and other Islamist regimes. They support organizations such as the U.N., which recently seated Iran—a flagrant violator of basic rights for women–on its Commission on the Status of Women, and they support its resolutions against Israel, the only country in the Middle East that recognizes full equal rights for women. Liberals justify their support in the name of multiculturalism—the relative equality of every society, even if they legalize the honor killing of rape victims by their own family members and institutionalize spousal abuse. Liberals find multiculturalism far more of an enlightened idea than the American tradition of promoting universal democratic principles, which they view as “intellectual colonialism.”
What constitutes this “intellectual colonialism” that is such a threat to progressive multiculturalism? It’s the spread of the unique ideas upon which America was founded: ideas hailed as universal and immutable truths, stemming from that first declaration “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” What could be more empowering than the simple declaration that all people, women and men, are entitled to the respect of their basic human dignity?
But these truths are a threat to the liberal interpretation of feminism, which claims that men and women are not born equal, but that women (and other gender- or race-based groups) are born into a predestined ideology, while other “majority” groups (most of the time, white men) are born into collective guilt for their fathers’ transgressions. These truths are also a threat to the progressive concept of multiculturalism, which claims that moral relativism is the only truth, and that America’s founding principles are merely “values” applicable only in a particular time and place.
Yet if the last idea is true, what defense does progressivism offer for the basic human dignity of women everywhere?