May 13 2015
In the lead-up to 2016, Republicans are going to have to perform some serious magic with female voters. They’ll have to make all those pesky rape comments disappear, use sleight-of hand to distract us from their idiotic beliefs about women’s biology and the fact that the core of their platform is about maintaining inequality.
But the GOP’s real abracadabra moment will come if they pull off the trick they’ve been working on for years: convincing Americans that Republicans are not only good for women, but actual feminists.
Last week, presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina was anointed a “real feminist” by The Week, even though “she has no use for laws mandating ‘equal pay’ or paid maternity leave or contraceptive coverage.” In Jeb Bush’s Liberty University commencement speech over the weekend, the likely Republican presidential candidate told his audience that “wherever there is a child waiting to be born, we say choose life,” and in the same breath added, without irony, that he derided the “arrogance” of treating women and girls “as possessions without rights and dignity.”
And next month, the Independent Women’s Forum - a powerful conservative women’s group based in DC - is hosting a “Women Lead” summit to “move forward with a positive agenda for women.” The speakers include Christina Hoff Sommers (who has defended the misogynist horde known as GamerGate), Naomi Schaefer Riley (who wrote that a woman who was raped and murdered “should have known better” than to be at a bar alone), and Katie Pavlich (who says feminists oppose guns because “modern feminism can’t survive without victims” and the movement would rather see women raped than armed). These are the women, we’re told, who will “discuss the progressive women’s landscape.”
But glomming on to the cultural cache of feminism is a losing strategy for Republicans - and has been for years. In 2008, when the Wall Street Journal coined the term “Sarah Palin Feminism”, Republicans cynically believed that any woman on the ticket - no matter what she believed - would bring in women’s votes. (It didn’t.) And as feminism’s influence and power has grown over the last decade, conservative women who eschewed feminist ideals for years have started to call themselves the real feminists.
But try as they might, Republicans will not be able to extricate themselves from their anti-choice, anti-birth control positions or convince female voters that said beliefs are actually in line with what’s best for women. We know that’s not true.
As Naral Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue told me over email, Americans are “embracing the fact that women are the bellweather of economic well-being for the family unit, reproductive freedom and abortion rights are critical to economic opportunity and job security, and that women’s rights are human rights.”
Republicans won’t be able to run away from women’s bodies and rights this time - no matter how many times they use the word ‘feminist’ or ‘empowerment’. Because feminism isn’t just a label that anyone can slap on themselves when it’s politically convenient. It’s an actual movement, with actual people behind it - people who aren’t willing to let their hard work be co-opted by those who want to see women’s rights rolled back while telling us its progress.
There aren’t enough smoke and mirrors in the world for that trick to work.