Is Conservative Feminism a Paradox?

Kathryne Wynne’s surprise win in the 2014 Ontario election. Photo from Flickr.

Looking around, it appears that socialism may be on the rise in the western world. Socialism argues that it aids minorities and the lesser off, an example of which being women. Some far-left socialists use this to argue that their party and only their party supports women, and one cannot be a feminist supporting any other party.

This argument has placed a distinct cleavage in the American Democratic Presidential race, with far-left democrats arguing that as Bernie Sander’s platform offers more policies to support the minorities, it is innately more ‘feminist’ or pro-women than Hillary Clinton’s campaign or that of any of the republican Candidates.

While this argument may be appropriate for the far-right in the United States, where many republicans are limiting the rights of women with campaigns that propose the defunding of Planned Parenthood clinics (which are so much more than abortion clinics), but I argue that this claim does not suit Clinton’s campaign. Other platforms that are more right than a socialist’s like Sander’s policies are, or even explicitly conservative ones such as Canada’s Conservative Party, can still make room for feminists.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Photo credit to Flickr.
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Photo credit to Flickr.

Many writers find it easy to target Clinton for her past misdemeanors in politics in relation with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, in a bid to redress her label as a feminist. Many publishers, such as the National Review, have used her comments on her personal life such as when allegations of sexual misconduct emerged during Bill’s 1992 presidential run, Hillary reportedly said “Who is going to find out? These women are trash. Nobody’s going to believe them.” Whilst yes, these comments were wrong, they had to do with her personal life, her intimate marital relations were involved, and not her political one. I believe it is wrong to conflate Hillary’s personal relationship issues with her presidential platforms by saying she is anything but pro-victim’ rights. This is a women who has even said “everyone has a right to be believed” [1] and describing her otherwise is a bid to guilt feminists, and every women, into voting for Sanders. Yes, that may be an effective campaigning tactic, but it not a fair or salient one on Clinton’s behalf.

Previous US Senator Madeleine Albright further explains how wrong and frankly sexist it is to drag a female politician through the dirt for her personal life, a tactic that men are less frequently exposed to. Albright states that “I see women in public office being criticized on television for their hairstyle or tone of voice….The battle for gender equality is still being waged, and it will be easier if we have a woman who prioritizes these issues in the Oval Office”. It is inherently wrong to state that Clinton, or any other female politician, is less of a feminist due to her personal issues that have nothing to do with her job, or because she holds a less radical platform. Conservative politics can and often do have a place for feminism, with Canada being an example.

The Canadian Conservative Party’s platform is focused on the economy and less on welfare than say, the NDP. However, this does not mean that it forgoes the necessity of equality within Canada, a trait that is correlated to feminism. Much of its ideas, contrary to what the conservative stereotype makes us believe, actually work to support women, however in indirect ways. An example of this is the Canadian Conservative Party of Ontario’s promise to allow “families to split their income between spouses to reduce their taxes in situations where one spouse is not working full time”. This serves to help support stay-at-home parents or those choosing to support an elderly or disabled relative, although certainly, it would be better to provide daycare or senior housing services themselves.  Another example is their plan to “provide rapid transit projects in Brampton and the York Region” to support minorities who must make it to work or appointments and yet cannot afford a car, as well as their plan to “give self-employed parents” who may not have the same benefits as those in unions “the access to maternity and parental benefits.” In the realm of welfare, conservative policy could be better, however, many conservatives don’t want as much money spent on welfare or other services as say NDP workers – choosing instead to focus on the economy or international trade. Thus, these policy fit conservative wants whilst still implementing equity for women and men alike, a directly feminist policy.

The list of examples of conservative feminist policies goes on and on, and it supports the oppressed women in our society, and thus is is wrong and dangerous to say that conservatives or non-socialists are not feminists. While much conservative feminist policy – both in the US and Canada – could certainly be further developed, especially when it comes to women’s health or aid to poor women, to imagine an unbreachable wall between conservatism and feminism unfairly weakens the debate and ignores the multilayered-ness that is the feminist movement.