I want to tackle two big myths: "the ugly (or shrill) feminist" and the constructed identity of the typical "conservative woman".
But before I get into this, it is necessary to do what far too many scholars and social critics have neglected to do: define the terminology. Specifically, to the term feminist.
Feminists believe, in short, that women are people, too. I know, mind-blowing. If you believe that women are people, too, then you're a feminist. If you don't, then you are what is called a "misogynist" (a.k.a. pig-head and drag on social relations of all types).
I like to think that I'm a person, and that I deserve to be treated like a person. It has always been accepted that men are people, so in practical terms, what I'm saying is that women deserve the same levels of respect and the same expectations of capability (except in physical labor) that men deserve.
Equal respect should translate into equal compensation for goods and services rendered...which hasn't happened yet.
Equal respect should mean the nonexistence of denigrating feminine tags, like "cop lady" or Rush Limbaugh's "info babe". Still there.
Equal expectations of capability should mean the elimination of patronizing and denigrating extra "support" in the workplace. Still there.
The point is that feminism as a social movement, not just as a theory of equality, is justified in its existence. I don't consider myself an activist, and I'll readily admit that there are certain strains of feminist ideology that I find idiotic and counterproductive, but I do respect those who take this issue to heart and actually try to change their world for the better.
Now that I've covered my definition of feminism, it's important to define conservative. We must keep in mind that not everyone who self-identifies as a conservative holds exactly the same beliefs, values, and priorities that other conservatives hold. On the social side of things, you might say that a typical conservative has a general acceptance or promotion of religion (well, Christianity, Judaism, Catholicism, and Mormonism, at least) in public, is pro-life, and considers marriage to be between a man and a woman.
But this is tenuous. I would wager that the majority of those who identify as "conservative" (taking into account polling choices like "moderately", "very") don't believe in everything in this list. In fact, a "conservative" doesn't really exist. It's simply a category we put ourselves and others into, based on how well we think they fit what a conservative "should" be, or if you're not "a conservative", what you think conservatives "really believe".
My assertion here is that we must destroy the pervasive stereotype of the Conservative, who also happens to be a Fundamentalist, a Creationist, a Male Supremacist, or a Subservient Housewife. These associations have been dangerously generalized to encompass all who bear this title, thus making people less receptive to what a "conservative" has to say, and even swaying the vote away from those who have been unfortunately stigmatized.
This stigmatization and antipathy toward conservatives is probably nowhere more evident than among feminist liberals. Conservatives want you to stay home and cook, conservatives want to rob you of your rights, conservatives actively discriminate against women, conservatives want to ban birth control, conservatives hate public education, conservatives are racist, and so on, ad nausea. This is simply not true, at least not as a generalization about conservative ideology. For example, it is a lie that Mitt Romney wanted to ban birth control. A myth. A fabrication. A mis-characterization. An untruth...whatever you want to call it.
The Subservient HousewifeAnd if you believe all these things about conservatives, then it is logical to assume that conservative women are submissive, believe themselves to be ever relegated to the secondary, "supportive" role, that they must be married, that birth control is wrong, that children must be sheltered and disciplined etc. They are therefore both the enemy and the victims that must be released from their bondage.
My parents are conservative. They pretty much adhere to everything on the list of conservative beliefs. Did my mom tell me I shouldn't bother going to college, because I need to get married and start having children, and I must be home to attend to my husband's every need? Did she force their opinions on me and fill my head with fundamentalist dogma? Did she prevent me from interacting with "the world", and from accessing worldly knowledge? No. Did she tell me I shouldn't be on the pill? No. Did she tell me to just stay back and let my husband make all decisions on his own, and who was I to involve myself in the decision-making process? No again.
And my mom isn't the only woman I know who doesn't fit the largely liberal-generated image of the conservative woman. I, of course, don't match up with this image either, nor do the vast majority of my friends.
The Ugly FeministConservatives are just as guilty of misrepresentation as the feminists; they are equally as irresponsible with their characterizations and ignorant of accurate information that's readily available. The stereotype set forth by conservatives is that of the ugly feminist.
The epitome of this imagery is put forth by none quite so audacious as Rush Limbaugh. Rush, a
As I've said, feminists are a much broader group than El Rushbo interprets. While you certainly may find some women who are motivated by the emotions evoked through marginalization and personal claims to suffering caused by men, there are thousands upon thousands of feminists who sincerely uphold the ideal of gender equality for its own sake, and may (surprise!) actually be quite attractive. Feminism is not a reactionary movement formed through personal bitterness toward the male species, it is a belief that women are people, too.
There are feminists are working to stop the sex-slave trade, feminists who run women's shelters, counselling, and rehab, feminists who push for equal pay for equal work, and feminists who push for higher penalties for rapists and domestic abusers. Those are projects we all should promote, no matter what you call yourself.