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Posted by on Jun 30, 2011 in Media, Society | 9 comments

Bachmann Trail Blazes New Path for Conservative Women on Feminism

WASHINGTON – I’ve been waiting for this particular moment for a long time. The Hillary effect continues to produce political opportunities for women to break out, regardless of whether Michele Bachmann can rival Clinton’s 18 million cracks, though she’s on a course to be the first Republican female to win the caucus state of Iowa, much to T-Paw’s chagrin.

Bachmann told me in an interview Tuesday that she wouldn’t call herself a feminist—instead, she simply described herself as “pro-woman and pro-man.” When I pressed her on the matter, the Minnesota congresswoman said she sees herself as an “empowered American.”Kirsten Powers

Political moments like this don’t come along often. This has the potential of being a seminal moment for the conservative movement and their outreach to women, though it remains to be seen whether the macho misogynists who run the Republican Party will see this for the historic opportunity it is.

Kirsten Powers gets the story, for which she deserves credit, with her Fox News channel access proving the perfect channel for Bachmann to broadcast the message. That it happens to be the most important breakthrough for the Right where women are concerned is undeniable, though we’ll have to wait to see if they understand what Michele Bachmann has done. I doubt she even knows the importance of what she said, because it takes a feminist to see it.

I’ve written about this for quite some time, wondering what woman on the Right would go beyond contorted conservative feminist-esque rhetoric by offering a positive alternative vision for Republican femmes that left their lame and divisive selective “pro life” mantra behind.

Then along comes a so-called gafferiffic “flake” named Michele Bachmann, the first politically competent conservative female to run for the presidency, offering a free at last path. That she did so in an off the cuff comment to a Democratic feminist is precious.

After watching Palin’s tortured conservative feminist cry when she spoke at the Susan B. Anthony event last year, I wondered when, if ever, conservative females would finally give up the ghost on feminism, a model that can never fit or worked for them, which history has proven. Asking continually why conservatives don’t disavow feminism, with the only answer from the Right sniping derision, which came off as petulant defensiveness.

Since Phyllis Schlafly ruined the Right’s coolness, the Republican Party has been struggling to break out of their past restraints and go beyond their abortion rights opponent stance and selective “pro life” mantra. That Bachmann’s comment comes when modern women are now primarily focused on economic issues makes the timing perfect.

Mrs. Bachmann could potentially change the conservative playing field, going well beyond Schlafly, as well as Sarah Palin’s unimaginative verbal femme contortions, while mining a seminal Republican talking point that is actually modern. Bachman’s premise is that women no longer need a separate activist wing to get what’s due them. Nothing fits the Supreme Court Wal-Mart decision era more perfectly than Bachmann’s “empowered American” mantra, coming in an age of austerity and amidst the Obama era’s diminished capacity for fighting for Democratic Party principles.

Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has also added to her authenticity while giving Republican female conservatives a genuine path to rhetorical relevancy.

The opening for them came in the 2010 midterms, with women breaking evenly for Republicans and Democrats.

For four decades, the Republican struggle among female voters has been tortured, with the last conservative star Sarah Palin adding to the pretzel logic by declaring an “emerging conservative feminist identity,” a ludicrous pronouncement, because there can be no such thing as “conservative feminism.”

You simply cannot be a feminist if you do not support women’s full freedoms, which the Right clearly does not. Their war against women, which is being waged through their Planned Parenthood assault, but also demeaning women’s personhood through state government ultrasound pregnancy tests, “heartbeat” bills and other invasive laws directed only at pregnant women, proves it conclusively, even as these onerous legislative laws make a mockery of “small government conservatism,” which now only aims to control women’s lives on the wings of extreme ideology.

Into this Michele Bachmann steps, not only declaring the Right’s separate status on the political playing field by rejecting the feminist label outright, but she instead simply offers another label saying she’s an “empowered American.”

Shorter Bachmann: Modern conservative women don’t need your stickin’ feminism. This is the 21st century and I’m an “empowered American.” It’s brilliant, for her purposes and for the agenda of the Republican Party.

It ends the Right’s feminist problem by refusing to play in that ballpark, which has always been the road to set Republicans free.

Most importantly for consevatives, it disavows a concept that’s weakened Republicans and made them seem anti-women, which they are, though with this rebranding they jump beyond the ’70s to a time when new generations have no loyalty to feminism or the times that forged the laws that aid women across the board, no matter a woman’s politics.

Feminism did the work, now Bachmann is trying to lead conservative women beyond the movement that hamstrung Republicans with women for 40 years, while also allowing Bachmann to run for president in a party that doesn’t respect women’s freedoms. Feminism made Bachmann’s “empowered American” possible, because of gains made through this movement. Hey, but who cares, right? Certainly anything that attempts to wash away feminism is good for the Republican Right.

Bachmann affirms equality unequivocally, with no separate status of “feminist” required for her. She is daring Republicans and the conservative Right to break with the divisive and retro “feminazi” Rush ranting and bashing once and for all.

With “empowered American,” Michele Bachmann looks modern, dare I say it, even post-feminism, a term Republicans have tried to use but no one bought, because they couldn’t sell it. But as women now turn to economics as their primary concern the moment is ripe.

This is potentially a phenomenal political moment for Republicans.

However, Republicans and conservatives like Michele Bachmann still can’t effectively answer the most important question of all: Is freedom just for men?

But they don’t care, because for conservatives, invoking God is the answer for everything else.

Taylor Marsh is a Washington based political analyst, writer and commentator on national politics, foreign policy, and women in power. A veteran national politics writer, Taylor’s been writing on the web since 1996. She has reported from the White House, been profiled in the Washington Post, The New Republic, and has been seen on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, as well as on radio across the dial and on satellite, including the BBC. Marsh lives in the Washington, D.C. area. This column is cross posted from her blog.

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  • roro80

    Very, very interesting piece, Taylor, and thank you for writing it.

    I guess the one sticking point I had was that being pro-life is such a huge part of the whole MB thing — even those other pols who give it huge amounts of lip service, and pass huge amounts of awful legislation don’t usually stand outside of Planned Parenthood clinics screaming at young women. Bachmann’s all over that scene, and has been for decades.

    In any case, I really appreciate the tone of your article; you don’t have to like (or even respect) her policy positions to really respect her as a candidate and a trail blazer. It’s going to be very, very interesting to watch this election season play out.

  • CStanley

    I don’t know why this comes as a revelation or new development, but if her way of articulating it helps liberal women understand the conservative female viewpoint, then good on Michele. Of course it would be nice if we could move even farther down the field and recognize that many women don’t consider abortion to be a natural right or a necessity for bodily autonomy, but I suppose that’s too much to expect.

  • roro80

    CStanley, I believe you may have misread the article. I could be wrong, as it’s also possible that I misread the article.

    In addition, “we” do actually recognize that many women don’t consider abortion to be a right or necessity for bodily autonomy. It’s just that many of us think that those women (and men) who think that are wrong.

  • DLS

    Presumably Bachmann offends, among others, the farther Left who believe they define what “female” (and “black,” “gay,” et cetera) is, people who resent that she’s not stuck in the 1960s and diverges from leftist-definition “authenticism.” (She’s abandoning and even repudiating us! [seethe]) Yep, she does.

    And she’s hardly the first woman to have outgrown left-feminism or not have accepted being stuck in the Pink (and voting Blue) PC Box. Was she being described here as the Great GOP Pioneer because the author dislikes Sarah Palin more, for example? And has the author never known of past non-liberal women and indeed, right to even far right, such as Phyllis Schafly?

  • roro80

    DLS, did you read the post? The author explicitly talks about both Palin and Schafly in such ways that would answer your question. She also makes it very clear that your whole first paragraph is, um, totally wrong. Try reading the post before spouting your anti-feminist silliness, eh?

  • DLS

    Actually, I’ve seen time after time what makes my initial statement correct. That goes not only for PC misogyny (liberal hypocrisy) but for the other various myths and lies, some of which were repeated in this article. All that’s missing would be if Bachmann were a racial or ethnic minority, for then we’d encounter more abuse sent at her.

  • CStanley

    roro- certainly possible that I’m misunderstanding (my premise actually rests on the proposition that I find a very large communication gap between liberal women and conservative women on matters of gender.)

    I’m not sure what you think I’m interpreting wrongly though. I took the main point to be that Bachmann is declaring herself to be a non-feminist woman, which is what I feel is the way most conservative women self-identify. Probably it’s semantically more accurate to say it that way rather than Palin’s formulation of ‘conservative feminism’, yet there’s nothing fundamentally different IMO between what these two women represent regarding their femininity and politics. Calling it a conservative version of feminism is a bit off because it’s not an ‘ism’ at all. It’s just taken as a given that women can attain equal stature to men in society, even while accepting the biological gender differences and not expecting or seeking different treatment or remedies for the potentially difficult aspects of being female.

    I’m sure we disagree sharply on the wisdom of that philosophy- but that didn’t seem to be the main point of the article (though it’s there as a subtext, as the author couldn’t resist stating her opinion that conservatism is anti-women as though that’s fact.) I interpreted the article as noting a political shift, with the GOP potentially moving beyond the feminism/anti-feminism divide to a post feminist mindset, but from a conservative woman’s perspective I’d say this is how most of us have always viewed things (that it’s not useful to fight against feminism, and we do in fact appreciate the progress made toward equality but also see the overreaches and the damage done from certain aspects of the liberal feminist movement.)

  • JSpencer

    “PC misogyny”? Probably not much point in asking for a straighforward explanation of just what that is supposed to mean. As for the expression, “post-feminism”, I’m guessing that’s the phrase “conservatives” use to describe their secret pining for the 50’s. 😉 Anyway, good post Taylor.

  • DLS

    What a nice windfall. “If you have to ask, …” is dead on here, as in a number of instances. The explanation will either not be understood or will be rejected for no valid reason, so with such people it’s wasted.

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