Can only the left speak for women?

One fe­male con­ser­va­tive says that lib­eral claim is just hypocrisy

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - SU­SAN CHIRA

Who gets to de­fine what it means to be pro-women? The left has staked its claim. The pub­lic face of re­sis­tance to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be­gan with a “women’s march.” An es­ti­mated three mil­lion to five mil­lion turned out world­wide, bran­dish­ing signs such as “Women’s Rights Are Not Up for Grabs” to de­liver the mes­sage that to be a woman was to be against this pres­i­dent.

Now the same groups that or­ga­nized the march are propos­ing a March 8 strike — “a day with­out a woman” — to show that women con­tinue to op­pose him and that the world would be lost with­out them.

The lead­ers of these protests ar­gue that women’s causes — abor­tion, con­tra­cep­tion, eco­nomic equal­ity, im­mi­gra­tion, crim­i­nal jus­tice — es­sen­tially de­mand lib­eral so­lu­tions.

That leaves out con­ser­va­tive women — those who sup­port the pres­i­dent and those who don’t.

Their op­po­nents claim to rep­re­sent the best in­ter­ests of an en­tire gen­der, one that hap­pens to be theirs.

Cleta Mitchell, a part­ner at the law firm Fo­ley & Lard­ner who has long been ac­tive in con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics, finds noth­ing but hypocrisy on the part of women who claim to speak on her be­half.

“This women’s march, I kept thinking, so what are we? Chopped liver?” she said.

“We’re in­vis­i­ble when it comes to talk­ing about women. These women don’t rep­re­sent me or any­one I know. I don’t think it’s fair to say (Trump’s) com­ments hurt the Repub­li­can Party im­age any more than Bill Clin­ton’s be­hav­iour tar­nished the Demo­cratic Party.”

The early days of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion have pro­vided am­mu­ni­tion to Democrats who have long tried to brand Repub­li­cans as anti-women.

Trump im­me­di­ately re­in­stated the “gag rule” deny­ing fed­eral funds to over­seas or­ga­ni­za­tions that in­clude abor­tion as part of fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices. His cab­i­net has the high­est num­ber of white men since Ron­ald Rea­gan’s. And the now in­fa­mous si­lenc­ing of Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, D-Mass., coined a new ral­ly­ing cry: “She Per­sisted.”

Mary Matalin, the veteran Repub­li­can strate­gist who switched her party af­fil­i­a­tion to Lib­er­tar­ian last spring, be­lieves any at­tempt to brand the Repub­li­can Party as anti-women will fail.

Hil­lary Clin­ton’s re­peated at­tacks on Trump’s misog­yny did not sway in­de­pen­dents and mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans to re­ject him, for ex­am­ple. Of women who voted for him, 78 per cent said they were both­ered to some ex­tent by his treat­ment of women.

“The crit­i­cal fal­lacy in the lib­eral logic of iden­tity pol­i­tics is that — demon­stra­bly — ‘groups’ don’t think ho­mo­ge­neously; they don’t be­have ho­mo­ge­neously,” Matalin wrote in an email.

Repub­li­cans, cham­pi­oning in­di­vid­u­al­ism, are philo­soph­i­cally wary of al­ly­ing them­selves with iden­tity groups as Democrats have done — even if crit­ics charge they have sent coded mes­sages to groups such as South­ern whites and the white work­ing class.

“I guess I would say I’m not some­one who thinks in terms of gen­der,” said Sharon Fraser Toborg, 48. She is rais­ing four chil­dren in Barre, Ver­mont, and re­sents that her choice to stay home de­spite Ivy League and grad­u­ate de­grees still draws con­de­scen­sion from many women.

She did not back Trump in the pri­maries, but pre­ferred him in the end to Clin­ton.

“I’m some­one who thinks in terms of ca­pa­bil­i­ties, so to me how many men or women are in a par­tic­u­lar pres­i­dent’s cab­i­net, I don’t keep score. I don’t be­lieve only women can un­der­stand so­called women’s is­sues.”

That un­ease with gen­der as a uni­fier ex­ists for those on the right who sup­port Trump and those who de­clared them­selves Never Trump.

Kori Schake, a re­search fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion who served on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil un­der pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, joined a group of Repub­li­can na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in a pub­lic let­ter pledg­ing not to vote for him.

“If you are go­ing to make a sweep­ing claim of gen­der op­po­si­tion to the pres­i­dent, you have to ac­count for those women who voted for him and con­tinue to sup­port him,” she said.

“It seems to me a bet­ter broader ar­gu­ment to make against the pres­i­dent is to join forces across gen­der lines, across all man­ner of lines, and ar­gue for the re­spect of hu­man dig­nity.”

For years, con­ser­va­tive women have wres­tled with the very idea of fem­i­nism. Many re­fused the la­bel be­cause they saw it as tar­nished by as­so­ci­a­tion with the left, even as they pur­sued ca­reers or won promi­nence in pub­lic life.

“Con­ser­va­tive women say ‘Don’t put me in the fem­i­nism bloc’ be­cause some­how it’s em­blem­atic of a whole set of lib­eral is­sues that may have noth­ing to do with pro­mot­ing women,” Mitchell said.

Lani Can­de­lora, 39, wrote to the New York Times in re­sponse to a ques­tion about who was, or was not, at­tend­ing the marches.

“It might be a shock to the New York Times, but many Amer­i­can women are feel­ing hope and joy in the change of ad­min­is­tra­tion,” she wrote.

“We be­lieve our fam­i­lies will have fi­nan­cial relief, that we’ll have a bet­ter chance of every­one find­ing gain­ful em­ploy­ment, that we’ll have af­ford­able health in­sur­ance again for our fam­i­lies, that our re­li­gion will no longer be shunned and per­se­cuted by the pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion, that the phoney self­ish fem­i­nism pro­moted by this women’s march is not con­tin­u­ously pro­jected onto mil­lions of other women who strongly dis­agree.”

Abor­tion is, for many, a key stick­ing point, di­vid­ing women who might other­wise find com­mon ground.

There are is­sues that have uni­fied women across the aisle — sex traf­fick­ing is one; some as­pects of crim­i­nal jus­tice have the po­ten­tial to be an­other.

Sab­rina Scha­ef­fer, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the In­de­pen­dent Women’s Fo­rum, which ad­vo­cates con­ser­va­tive ap­proaches to poli­cies that af­fect women, said there is bi­par­ti­san con­cern that mass in­car­cer­a­tion poli­cies de­stroy fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.

And Scha­ef­fer, with­out di­rectly men­tion­ing his name, seemed to echo lib­eral women’s dis­com­fort with this pres­i­dent when she said: “Most of us would like to see peo­ple in pub­lic of­fice who speak well of women and who treat women well. Un­for­tu­nately, there are peo­ple on both sides of the aisle who don’t do that, and that’s a shame.”

Mitchell, like other conservatives, re­jects what she sees as fem­i­nism’s em­pha­sis on women as vic­tims. “What is the right they don’t think we have?” she said. “I re­mem­ber when we were fight­ing to change statutes, when women couldn’t serve on ju­ries. It’s al­most as if we are not al­lowed to claim vic­tory.”

JOHN MINCHILLO, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pro­test­ers build a wall of signs out­side the White House for the women’s march last month. Protest lead­ers ar­gue women’s causes de­mand lib­eral so­lu­tions — a premise re­jected by many women.

ALEX BRAN­DON, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A crowd fills In­de­pen­dence Av­enue dur­ing the women’s march in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. last month. But the mes­sage — that to be a woman is to be against Don­ald Trump — is re­jected by con­ser­va­tive women who sup­port the pres­i­dent and those who don’t.

ALEX PANETTA, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

San­dra El­gear, an Ottawa na­tive and long­time New York res­i­dent, holds a sign as she poses for a photo dur­ing the women’s march in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., last month.

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