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May 21 2018

"Sex Object" Author Jessica Valenti Says Conservative Women Can't Be Feminists

by Charlotte Hays

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, "Sex Object" author Jessica Valenti has said something that many on the left believe but in the past have been hesitant to come right out and say: that conservative women can't be feminists.

Valenti's jumping off point is Gina Haspel's confirmation as the first female to head the CIA, followed by Suzanne Scott's being named to head Fox News. Valenti writes:

While groundbreaking in the literal sense, there is nothing feminist about a woman who oversaw a site where detainees were tortured, someone who refuses to say whether she believes torture is immoral. In the same way, there is nothing “empowering” about Ms. Scott, a media executive who reportedly enforced a “miniskirt rule” for female on-air talent, and who was cited in two lawsuits for contributing to a toxic work environment and retaliating against a sexual harassment victim. (Ms. Scott has denied these reports and the lawsuits were settled.)

Feminism isn’t about blind support for any woman who rises to power. The real political duplicity here is Republicans’ continued efforts to co-opt feminist language while actively curtailing women’s rights.

Conservatives appropriating feminist rhetoric despite their abysmal record on women’s rights is, in part, a product of the president’s notorious sexism. Now more than ever, conservatives need to paint themselves as woman-friendly to rehab their image with female voters.

The reason they’re able to claim feminism at all is a bit more complicated, because feminists themselves — myself included — helped to enable it. Before Walmart sold “feminist” T-shirts and celebrities embraced the cause, we worked to make feminism more accessible.

We wanted to reach the young women who said they “weren’t really feminists” but who believed they should make the same amount of money as men or be able to attend a campus party without fear of being assaulted. The hope was to make the term less scary to those who believed in feminist values but avoided the feminist label.

In our eagerness to make feminism more friendly to the mainstream, we didn’t fully consider what it would mean if any woman could claim the label.

Wow! So feminism is an exclusive club, something that not any woman can claim.

In their "eagerness to make feminism more friendly to the mainstream," Valenti and her friends have given conservative women the mistaken impression that we can claim the label?

You see, Valenti and people who agree with her are gatekeepers. You must agree with them.

And you must agree with them on everything.

If you believe that enhanced interrogation was immoral,we at IWF support your right to believe that. Others make a different case, and we want to hear their arguments too. Does being a feminist require that you embraced Ms. Valenti's view of waterboarding? I think it must.

If you believe in economic opportunity for women, and if you think that the free market provides these opportunities, then Ms. Valenti will not let you into her exclusive club.

But Ms. Valenti does show her hand: her impassioned argument that conservative women can't be feminists is really based on politics. She is fearful that conservative women are a threat. Conservative women are pretty prominent these days. For Ms. Valenti, the prominence of conservative women could spell trouble.

Valenti writes:

Conservatives appropriating feminist rhetoric despite their abysmal record on women’s rights is, in part, a product of the president’s notorious sexism. Now more than ever, conservatives need to paint themselves as woman-friendly to rehab their image with female voters.

Valenti fears that, with an improving economy and, yes, more conservative women prominent in government and the private sector, she might be losing the argument. Or more important than the argument, her "side" may be losing votes.

Ms. Valenti is not very welcoming. By contrast, we conservative women are.

If you are an independent-minded women, with divergent views on a variety of issues, but believe in the dignity of women and opportunity for women, we welcome you.

We're not so exclusive as Ms. Valenti--and we let you think for yourself.  

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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