Recently, a peer asked me how I could possibly call myself a woman and still vote Republican. After all, the right holds all sorts of archaic views on a woman’s place in the world (her words, not mine). When I referred to myself as a conservative feminist, she laughed me out of the room.
In a way, I can understand her reaction. In our society, the term “feminist” conjures up images of a bra-burning, pro-choice, “femi-nazi” type woman. But according to the Feminist Majority Foundation (feminist.org), feminism is the “policy, practice, or advocacy of political, economic, and social equality for women.”
As a young woman in the modern age, I can’t find anything inherently wrong with that definition. In the not-too-distant future, I hope to have a full time job. I will pay for my car expenses, clothing, food, shelter and perhaps the occasional luxury. As one may guess, I relish the opportunity to vote and take advantage of this right during any election. I even aspire to own a gun someday, and my father and I have plans to take the required classes to obtain our concealed weapons licenses (if that’s not female empowerment, what is?).
I fail to see where I give myself away as an anti-feminist. In fact, the life I’ve just described is textbook feminism. It’s a woman living self-sufficient.
Typically during the debate, this is where my opponent asks, “What about a husband and kids?” Sure, someday I’d like to marry and have children, and when that day comes, I will evaluate where in my life I can fit in a career. This usually elicits a snarky response regarding my submission to man. I say, however, that the simple act of choosing family over job, however, does not an anti-feminist make.
In fact, choice constitutes the core principle of classic feminism. I don’t mean choice in the euphemistic sense we now attribute to abortion, but rather the simple act of discerning the better of two options. A true feminist is any woman who makes decisions.
Now before you go thinking I’m condoning abortion, I should say that conservatism diverge from classic feminism here. Classic feminism would have a woman making decisions for herself alone, doing what she feels best. Conservative feminists would have her consider the other lives affected by these decisions – and, in our belief, the unborn child counts as a life. But that’s for another column.
Back to the matter at hand. I direct your attention to an oft-overlooked, yet crucial figure in the feminist tradition – Clare Boothe Luce. Born in 1903, she serves as a role model for any feminist, conservative or liberal. As a biography by the Lakewood Public Library in Ohio points out, Luce commanded an impressive career working as an editor, a playwright, a journalist, a politician and a diplomat, as well as wife and mother. Achieving success in all attempted fields, she embodied the superwoman type we revere today as a modern goddess, a woman who can do anything, and, moreover, does it.
Luce edited for Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines, penned several enormously popular plays (including The Women, now a major motion picture), served as a foreign correspondent for Life magazine during World War II, won two terms in the House of Representatives on the Republican ticket, served as ambassador to Italy under President Eisenhower and following her service to President Reagan on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, won the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In the course of her life, Clare Boothe Luce accomplished feats that she was raised to think were impossible and improper for a woman to do. Perhaps this fact makes her all the more impressive – that she would have faced blatant, lawful discrimination based on her sex that we modern women don’t see so much anymore.
Not to discredit the battles we still face today – I don’t relish the idea of making less in my future profession simply because I’m female. Rather, I wish to highlight the fact that at Luce’s birth, women did not have the right to vote, yet at her death, she was the recipient of the highest honor our country affords civilians.
Clare Boothe Luce provides a perfect role model for a modern conservative feminist. She’s a woman who achieved success by working for it, proving that her gender made no difference in her capacity to serve as a leader. I might add that all this while she managed to earn a reputation as an “ultraconservative.”
Perhaps it’s time we change our definition of feminist, and re-think the conservative position on women. The idea that the right thinks women belong in the kitchen is itself an archaic stereotype, one that does not do justice to the scope of powerful conservative women whose strength and leadership have affected this country. After all, even Gloria Steinem can thank the conservative Mrs. Luce for opening so many doors for women in this country.
Contact Kate Hicks at [email protected]