An Answer to Conservatives

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“Feminists misled us! They told us we could have it all! And you can’t; it’s just too hard to juggle child-raising, housework, relationships and a career. Something has got to give.”

I’ve read this complaint over and over from many young women today. While I empathize with their dilemma–because I’ve lived it–I wish they would quit their bitchin.’ At least they have choices. No one is telling them that they have to do all of it to be a modern woman or feminist. What feminists are saying is that they have a right to pursue any course they want to. And more than that, that society has an obligation to help them to do so.

This is where the average feminist parts company with the average conservative. Conservatives run the gamut from those who think that women should stay in the home to those who insist that a woman can do anything–as long as she does it on her own. They don’t think society is obligated to help them. They definitely don’t agree with the feminist slogan that “the personal is political.” These are the conservative women (Palin comes to mind) who contend that feminists should quit their bitchin’ and just get out there and do it themselves.

Feminists and liberals (and yes, those are often one and the same) believe that government and legislation can be powerful tools for change. They see their job as that of “identifiers.” That is, they exist to point out where society is off the rails as far as women are concerned. And they lobby legislators and politicians to do something about that. To lead the vanguard, so to speak. Conservatives believe that government should stay out of their business and that the status quo shouldn’t be changed until it is good and ready to be changed. In other words, until the status quo has changed on its own.

What conservatives fail to take note of is that the status quo is not homogeneous. There is no one paradigm that fits all women’s situations. I admit that feminists have been bad about this as well. They have too often assumed that all women want to “have it all” and haven’t taken into consideration that some women don’t want to work outside of the home, or to have abortions (or even use contraception) or to remain single.

But it’s not true that feminism is not concerned about the SAHM (stay-at-home mom). Being a SAHM doesn’t mean that a woman shouldn’t still have all the rights and options that men have. What if she does want to go to work someday? What if she has to? And what about issues like health care for herself and her children?

Besides, what kind of life does she want her daughters to have?

One thing that makes it so difficult to define feminism these days is that there are a lot of conservatives who have the same goals as feminists, but won’t identify themselves as such. They want to retain their femininity (because we all know that feminists are man-like in one way or another). They’re afraid of what men would think of them if they called themselves feminists.

Women have to stop worrying about what men think of them.  That’s the bottom line for feminists. And a stumbling block for conservatives.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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