On December 1, 2021, 55,000 viewers tuned in to the live stream of the pro-life rally in Washington D.C., Empower Women, Promote Life. 55,000 people listened to anti-abortion activist Christian Bennet proclaim, “Women deserve true empowerment.” 55,000 watched as Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Missouri Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, sponsor of the Missouri Heartbeat Bill, marched with signs that read, “I am Woman.” It was one of the largest pro-life rallies of 2021, yet the messaging wouldn’t have been out of place inside a Planned Parenthood clinic or Women’s Rally.
The Empower Women, Promote Life rally signals the beginning of a new era for women in conservative politics. Feminism, once a dirty word, is now a campaign slogan. Politicians and activists like Bennet, Dannenfelser, and Coleman have broken the Left’s monopoly on modern gender politics. Pro-life, they want you to believe, is girl power. The new conservative woman promotes her platform with a faux feminism, perverting the label for political advantage and misogynistic policy.
The new conservative woman listens to Lizzo, Beyonce, and Britney Spears. Their favorite show is The West Wing. They wear Chanel to pro-gun conferences, put Amy Coney Barrett bumper stickers on their sedans, and subtly promote their views through an aesthetic Instagram page or a trendy podcast. They’re as angry as the truculent men shouting on Fox, but as Washington Post’s Caroline Kitchner writes, “They smile. They nod. They talk about their children and invite you for dinner. Then, over a cocktail, they explain why they think abortion is wrong.”
Even labelling themselves as feminists is something of a radical position for women working inside a political organization once infamously nicknamed the “Daddy Party.” While there have long been conservative women in politics—think Phyllis Schafly or Margaret Thatcher—both actively campaigned against the women’s movement. But in a new political era, when 61% of American voters consider themselves a feminist, how do traditional, conservative women survive in Washington? A “girlboss” rebrand with a focus on motherhood, career, and strong women.
This rebrand paid off at the polls. After 10 Republican women lost their seats in the 2018 midterms, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik invoked conservative feminism and called on GOP House leaders to priortize women. Eighteen new Republican women were elected to Congress last January. All came with their own ideas on feminism. However, its definition seems to vary based on individual agenda.
Rep. Nikki Haley, for example, said at a pro-life event, “[pro-choice advocacy] is not real feminism. The idea that women must adhere to a particular set of values is one of the most anti-women ideas in today’s culture. It is a rejection of the ideas of equality and tolerance that the women’s movement is supposed to be about.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted, “The ‘feminists’ who run around with pink hats glued to their heads are silent as women’s rights get completely obliterated under the Equality Act.”
Political pundit Kellyane Conway delivered a speech at CPAC where she claimed that being a feminist in the “classic sense” meant being “very anti-male” and “very pro-abortion.” She added that there’s “an individual feminism, if you will, that you make your own choices … I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances. That’s really to me what conservative feminism, if you will, is all about.”
These women are right, in that feminism should involve freedom of choice and individuality. But it’s dangerous to associate a women’s rights campaign with their radically conservative platforms. When Haley, Boebert, and Conway defend themselves as feminists, what they are really saying is that to critique them, is to critique feminism. This is purposefully misleading and obviously untrue. A powerful woman using her platform to oppress other women is not feminism, it’s misogyny. As it turns out, conservative feminism has little to do with actual equality and a lot to do with political advantage.
On the long list of so-called conservative feminists, radical politicians can find their very own “nasty woman” who is able to express any kind of retrograde view on women’s issues, particularly abortion, without being tagged as sexist. The GOP desperately needs female voices after the disastrous legacy of Donald Trump (“grab ‘em by the p—y”), Matt Gaetz (under investigation for allged sex trafficking), and Brett M. Kavanaugh (hearing dominated by allegations of sexual assualt). Republican women have mastered the ability to weaponize feminism for a conservative cause.
Coleman, after speaking at pro-life event in Missouri, was followed by state Rep. Doug Richey who said he’s been told to “sit down and shut up” because, as a man, he has “no right” to speak about abortion. He directs his critics to women like Coleman who, he claims, understand the “challenges and difficulties” of motherhood. Though they span a wide spectrum of political viewpoints, women like Conway, Coleman, and Marjorie Taylor Greene are using the label of feminism to say what many conservative men are beginning to learn they definitely should not.
Infamously, Greene was recorded shouting insults into Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s mail slot. Alongside bizarre threats, she screams, “I’m a woman! I’m a female business owner! I’m proud to be an American woman!”
As The Washington Post’s Monica Hesse suggests, Greene could be trying to make a connection in the creepiest way possible (I, like you, am a female politician), or it could be a racist statement implying that Ocasio-Cortez was not an American woman. But, there is another dangerous implication: I am a woman. So I can get away with this.
The new conservative feminist hates liberal women and makes it okay for conservative men to hate them too. She allows the Trumps and Gaetzs of the world to rage with her against Ocasio-Cortez. She endorses misogynist beliefs and uses her womanhood to twist them into a perverse form of “girl power.”
55,000 people tuned in to participate in the Empower Women, Promote Life rally. How many more were enticed by the Conservative Girlboss?