Margaret Fortney (author of “What Princeton Women Want”) wrote an op-ed for the Tory about Republican Women. Mark Fillmore asked me for my response to it. I decided to keep my response to the main aspect of her op-ed (otherwise, this article would turn into a book.)
The preliminary argument seems to be that the terms “woman” and “Republican” are not mutually exclusive.
This is correct.
You CAN, in fact, be female (more accurate on the sex-gender distinction) and a Republican. I agree: They do exist.
You can even be a “woman” and Republican. I am a feminist that believes that there is more than one concept of “womanhood” (some don’t). Not just two types as Fortney says—many. I believe there as many concepts of womanhood as there are women in the world. And some of these concepts of womanhood and feminism are indeed at odds with each other. (#feministpornwars)
So yes, I agree, “Republican Woman” is not an oxymoron. But that’s not what really Fortney seems to be arguing.
Instead, it appears the real question is not “Is it impossible to be a Republican female?” (no, of course not) but rather “By being a Republican female, are you acting against your interests ‘as a woman?’”
Many feminists would say “yes.”
I say no.
Surprise! I don’t think that a Republican woman is standing against her interests when she opposes abortion, contraception, or equal pay. But that’s because I don’t think these are really her interests.
That is to say: the issues of access to abortion, funding for contraception, and economic equality are NOT ones that affect the demographic of upper-class, predominantly white conservative women who voted against Obama. These are not the interests of a “Republican Woman” who Fortney constructs when she talks about the 2012 election.
Then whose interests are these? Those of poor/working class (possibly trans/queer) women of color.
That is one reason why these women voted in droves for Obama and basically made the gender gap that everyone is talking about. The New Yorker does a fabulous deconstruction of said gender gap in the 2012 election, and explains why Fortney’s analysis of Obama’s exit polls is misleading to say that “fewer women voted for Obama” (TL;DR: fewer white women voted for Obama).
Thus, when a Republican woman opposes abortion, contraception, and equal pay, I’d argue that she is not acting against her own interests, but against the interests of women with less privilege than her.
Fortney mentions “coverture” in her abortion argument, which leads me to think we’ve been taking the same GSS History classes. If so, Fortney should know that historically, a rich, upper class (white) woman could always and will always be able to access these privileges—abortion, childcare, contraception, and a comfortable socioeconomic status (by marrying rich and being a stay-at-home mom or gasp, even having her own career)—if she absolutely needs them.
See abortion: Fortney says it herself– 64% of women having abortions are minorities and 42% are poor. Abortion is an issue that predominantly affects poor, ethnic women. (She then goes on to argue that this is why abortion is not empowering—misleading and an absolutely insulting misunderstanding of why people are pro-choice. Let me go on this tangent: Pro-choicers do not think abortion is empowering. Pro-choicers would rather we prevented abortions with proper sex education and contraception. But we fight to keep abortion legal because, barring the above (and in cases of rape/incest), the system of oppression that the child would be born into is a fucking nightmare for the child, the mother, and society, [and Republicans are doing their best to make sure that system goes nowhere.] I’ll save the rest of this rant for a later post.)
Let’s face it:
- Wealthy, white women don’t have as many abortions because a wealthy, white woman can choose when/if she wants children (a privilege I’ve previously called Fortney out for failing to acknowledge). She can afford to have babies.
- She can afford to NOT have a job that gives her equal pay for equal work, because if she’s straight she can have a male partner whom she can marry and legally benefit from a secondary income or as a “stay-at-home mom.”
- She can afford to pay for her own contraception, even if her religion tells her she’ll go to hell for it (btw: a majority of Catholic women use birth control).
In other words, a rich, white woman can AFFORD to have Republican ideals, because the consequences of the Republican platform do not really affect women like her.
That said, I, like Fortney, wasn’t too keen on the hyperbolic rhetoric of the “Republican War on Women” that proliferated this summer. Fortney says she is “concerned that this distorted dialogue obscures arguments and elicits emotional responses rather than encourages productive discussions.” As was I.
I am also concerned when someone’s ideological perspective fails to take into consideration the privileges that prevent them from fully understanding how their positions affect other people’s lives. This is what upper class, white, conservative women risk doing when they subscribe to the totality of the Republican party’s platforms on abortion, contraception, equal pay, healthcare, childcare, gay adoption (and other LGBT rights), etc.
I’m not suggesting Fortney herself or any/all Republican women agree with the entirety of the Republican platform. They probably don’t. Taken in isolation, one can have perfectly sound and consistent reasons to oppose abortion/contraception/equal pay that have nothing to do with opposing women’s rights. If Fortney had been consistent in her message that she is not a ‘feminist’ (or at least, definitely not a Third World feminist) and is a Republican because, say, she greatly values economic free-market principles/religious rights/private property/limited goverment at the cost of the welfare of women, children (not just the unborn ones), and poor people, then that’s totally fine.
(Side note: Perhaps a more accurate narrative for Log Cabin, non-white, or female Repubs is that their decision is a sacrifice of some personal interests/rights for an entrenched ideology they one day hope to benefit from.)
But until a queer black transwoman or working-class Asian feminist becomes the forerunner in the Republican party primary, anything other than a wealthy, white/straight/cisgender person in the Republican party will have to defend their decision by themselves, and incur the wrath of my very skeptically raised eyebrows.
TL;DR: Being a [rich, white] Republican woman is not a paradox; it’s a privilege.