I consider myself a feminist. No, not the government-dependency pushing, man-hating kind. I’m the type who simply believes in both social and political equality between the genders, and thinks those who say all of the work is done in these areas are hopelessly naive.
The truth is any politically active woman is to an extent a feminist. Without feminism, we wouldn’t even have the right to vote, not to mention access to positions of power in both business and government. Absent feminism, we would be subjugated by “traditional” gender roles, like it or not. The women of our generation undoubtedly owe a debt of gratitude to the strong feminists who came before us.
For me, the first Republican presidential debate and its aftermath brought just those types of feminist thoughts to the forefront. I watched both the “happy hour” debate, featuring candidates who hadn’t polled well enough to make the top-tier, and the primetime event itself. The amount of drama surrounding the two women involved was enough to put me in rant-mode.
As the evening wound down, I posted the following on Facebook (edited slightly for atypically bad language use in public; feel free to read the original here).
“Feminist thoughts post-debate:
There’s a contingent of conservative women who reject the victim mentality of the left. We hate that we’re expected to accept government dependency as penance for the very real sexism that does exist in our day to day lives. How is reliance on a government made up of men empowering? We recognize that it’s not. Many of us think that to overcome the very real chains of sexism, it’s incumbent upon us to be independent thinkers and achievers. It’s what leads us to reject the Democratic Party sycophants who suggest that as a gender, we’re too weak to make it on our own, thus need to be subsidized by government men. No, we don’t, actually. We’re fine without you throwing scraps at us, thank you very much. We’re the ones who scraped by to raise the men currently claiming to lead this generation. Feel free to thank us for that.
So what about the concept of actually making it on our own as women? What about the fact that we’re expected to ignore the soft bigotry we face everyday, in the form of men treating us like less-than in political settings? Republican ladies, don’t pretend you don’t experience this on a day-to-day basis. The standing there amongst your male colleagues, when another man joins the group and he acknowledges you last if at all, barely making eye contact, assuming you’re someone’s spouse rather than a successful political operative? You know this reality, because you experience it everyday. But you don’t whine about it publicly, because you’re there to make it despite the obstacles. You’re there to face that passive sexism head on and prove you’re better than it.
This is what I wish men would understand about the camaraderie that women create with each other; especially among us conservatives. It transcends policy. Do I agree with everything women like Megyn Kelly or Carly Fiorina say about every issue? No, not at all. But as a woman who, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, is treated with kid gloves in the conservative political world, strong women who don’t take crap resonate with me. Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina are incredible people. These are fearless women who take men on, acknowledge the existence of sexism as a pervasive obstacle we need to overcome as a gender, but say screw it, I’m going in anyway. That’s inspiring. That’s empowering. That’s feminism.
I strongly believe that libertarian-conservative women are on the front lines of feminism, defending our fellow females as powerful political contributors. It’s why I loved Megyn Kelly calling Donald Trump out for his misogynist commentary tonight; because IT MATTERS. She stood as a lone voice for women, telling millions of clueless Fox viewers that, yes, women actually do care whether or not you insult our entire gender. We’re strong swing voters; you won’t win without us.
A message of self-reliance and independence resonates with women. We are, after all, the world’s child bearers. And not only do we give birth to you, we host popular cable news shows; we run giant corporations; we run for PRESIDENT. So if you’re wondering why Carly Fiorina is going to see a giant boost in her poll ratings after today, look beyond policy. Look at the fact that millions of women are inspired by the lady in hot pink who stood alone in the face of men who, on paper, should be more successful than she is. Yet Carly kicked every single one of their butts. That’s feminism. And Hillary Clinton is rightfully scared to death by it.
Pay attention. Because it’s about to get real.”
As it turns out, my reaction to Fiorina’s performance was an opinion almost universally held among viewers. She truly killed it. I even tweeted during the debate, perhaps somewhat hyperbolically, that Carly was the only grown woman on a stage full of little boys. A week later, as predicted, she’s reaping the benefits; tied at 9% with Scott Walker.
After Carly of course, came the big show. In my opinion, the primetime debate rightfully featured tough questions aimed at each candidate, as indicated by my debate-night reaction to the Kelly-Trump spat. No man was spared, which frankly, made the post-debate social media whining about “hatchet jobs” more than a little disingenuous.
Nevertheless, Kelly was inevitably attacked by Trump for doing what she and the moderators did to every other candidate: dare to hold them accountable. And she wasn’t just attacked in the milquetoast way men are. Her sexuality and gender were inevitably brought into the mix. And those qualities were predictably savaged in a manner that society reserves for female public figures.
To provide context, Kelly said to Trump: “One of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However that is not without its downsides, in particular when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
Trump demurred. “That was only about Rosie O’Donnell,” he said. Even if that were the case, which it isn’t, it wouldn’t make his commentary any less misogynistic. In response, Kelly doubled down: “No, it wasn’t. Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice that it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.”
Thin-skinned as ever, Trump told Kelly, “I’ve been very nice to you, but I could probably not be, based on the way you’re treating me,” apparently unaware of the tough questions asked of the candidates flanking him. Lacking self-awareness and manners as usual, Trump took to Twitter:
Oh really, check out innocent @megynkelly discussion on @HowardStern show 5 years ago–I am the innocent (pure) one!https://t.co/8Hg7f5Q2jE
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2015
Really? A woman is open about her sexuality – like men are constantly – and suddenly, because she dares to admit she sleeps with her husband, deserves the misogynistic commentary Trump treated her to?
“I don’t have a lot of respect for Megyn Kelly, she’s a lightweight,” said Trump to CNN’s Don Lemon. “She gets out, and she starts asking me all sorts of ridiculous questions. And you know, you can see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
As Carly Fiorina, who was also attacked by Trump, eloquently put it:
“As I made my way up in the business world, a male-dominated business world, I’ve had lots of men imply that I was unfit for decision-making because maybe I was having my period. So I’ll say it, okay? When I started this campaign, I was asked on a national television show whether a woman’s hormones prevented her from serving in the Oval Office. My response was, can we think of a single instance in which a man’s hormones might have clouded his judgment? My point is, women understood that comment and yes, it’s offensive.”
Looking at all that’s transpired this week, it’s safe to say the enduring need for feminism is clearer than ever. And this should be an issue that transcends politics. As liberal writer Mary Elizabeth Williams stated in a piece defending Megyn Kelly at Salon:
“When women on the right are attacked with the kind of disgusting, sexist trolling I’ve certainly seen aimed at them — mocked for their looks, dismissed for not being bang-worthy, called vile names — it’s as gross and wrong as when it happens to women on the left. We don’t any lose credibility for supporting their right to not be intimidated. It’s our duty to do so.”
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Corie Whalen Stephens is a libertarian-conservative activist and writer based in Houston, Texas.
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