By Anne Butcher
Women are running for president in both major parties. This bipartisan acceptance of female candidates would surely make the suffragettes proud.
Unfortunately, many in the modern feminist movement do not celebrate this progress so much as clarify which female leaders are allowed to call themselves “feminists.” The movement needs to rethink this exclusive mentality, which ignores the diversity of female perspectives.
Republican Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina isn’t your run-of-the-mill feminist. She’s pro-life. She’s religious. She’s Republican. But she’s not your run-of-the-mill conservative female politician either.
Since the beginning of her campaign, Fiorina’s narrative has revolved around working her way up the corporate ladder to become CEO of Hewlett Packard. This is in stark contrast to 2012 Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann, who lists the roles of “wife,” “mom,” and “foster mom” on her Facebook page before her roles as a small business owner or former congresswoman.
There is nothing wrong with a woman who is proud of her role as a wife and mother, but there is something refreshing about a Republican woman who refuses to cling to that narrative, even if it’s what the Republican establishment expect.
So what about those issues where Fiorina will clash with mainstream feminists; most notably issues of reproductive freedom?
Unlike many feminists, Fiorina supports the Hobby Lobby ruling that says employers don’t have to provide birth control to employees; she wants to make abortion illegal after 20 weeks and make sure that tax dollars are not used to fund abortion. But these issues are more complex than many progressive feminists would have you believe.
When answering a question such as “should Planned Parenthood receive government funding?” a person’s answer is not only influenced by her views on gender equality, but also her views on taxation, the ideal role of government, and her opinion of the specific people running Planned Parenthood. The complicated reality is that people can have conflicting opinions in these areas while still believing that men and women are equal and deserving of the same opportunities.
Unfortunately there is little tolerance for such perspectives within the feminist community. Divergent voices are quickly attacked as being anti-feminist. It happened when Lena Dunham said she didn’t support legalizing sex work. And it happens to Carly Fiorina when she suggests that feminism doesn’t have to include a statist political agenda.
All too often, divergent views among feminists are not treated as differences of opinion, but as heresy, which discounts the status of those who hold them as feminists. This desire for ideological purity hurts the feminist movement as a whole, because it divides feminists and alienates potential allies, reducing the movement’s ability to accomplish change. It also creates a culture where feminists focus on proving themselves to other feminists, rather than on the battle for women’s rights.
Internal debate is a good thing, but disagreement should not lead to expulsion from the movement altogether.
Imagine a feminist movement where everyone agrees on the basic principle that people should not be treated differently because of their gender. They agree that we’re not there yet, but they strive to make it a reality. Beyond that, it is up to the individual. Feminists are free to be anarchists, socialists, or anything in between. They are free to participate in other social movements such as Black Lives Matter, but if they don’t, it doesn’t mean they cease to be feminists.
Such a feminist movement would understand that it can’t simply demand that feminists change their minds because it is convenient for the movement. It would understand that each and every individual is worthy of respect and that we can talk out our differences without breeding animosity.
If the wide field of people running for the Republican nomination has taught us anything, it is that people can wear the same label without having identical views on every issue. The label of “feminist,” too, should be worn proudly by anyone who acknowledges that sexism still exists and wants to end it. This can include Lena Dunham, Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Beyoncé, and everyone in between.
The sooner we stop dwelling on what the “F word” means and who is allowed to use it, the sooner we can move on to bigger and better things, like actually dismantling the patriarchy.