A Defeat for Conservative Feminism, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Clare has a great piece today examining how Carly Fiorina’s departure from the presidential race will diminish the discussion of women’s issues on the Republican side. A conservative feminist reader comments via hello@:

Fighting for female equality, like most things, can be done in 1,000 different ways. Depending on one’s priorities, some ways are better than others, but all of the ways are an attempt to achieve the same basic outcome. If you believe that women (and men) should be able and encouraged to fulfill their highest potential, you are a feminist.  If you think women’s voices are as important as men’s, and that both sexes deserve equal opportunity, you are a feminist.

That does not, however, mean that feminism requires subscribing to the full platform of “pro-choice, let’s-make-it-rain birth control, we need more government mandates and more federal spending on women, etc.”

Personally, I’m pro-choice. However, a number of my fellow feminists are pro-life. We agree that women should be able to make their own choices for their own bodies; the disagreement lies in whether a woman should be given the choice to end another life. If, from a scientific and religious standpoint, you believe that human life begins at conception, allowing abortion based on “a woman’s right to choose” is analogous to allowing a woman to kill the man next to her on the subway for violating her personal space.

On the other hand, if you hold the view that a fetus is not a human life until it reaches viability, early term abortions don’t infringe upon another’s rights at the expense of the woman’s bodily autonomy, and therefore abortion should be allowed. Both views are quite reasonable, and it’s a mistake to discount a woman’s feminist views based how and when she defines life as beginning.

Similarly, most sane people support the idea that individuals who truly do the same work deserve the same pay, regardless of sex. The divisiveness comes when deciding what exactly constitutes “equal work,” and how much of a role the government should take in deciding that issue. Is the employee who has been in the same job for 25 years really do the same work as his colleague who was hired two months ago? Is the employee who works a flexible 40-hour week really do the same work as the employee who has to be in the office from 9-5 each day?

The reality is, there are a lot of factors at play, and those questions usually don't have easy answers. Left to employers to decide, there’s a risk they’ll act in their own best interest and reach whatever conclusion that lets them pay lower wages.  Left to the government to decide, there are likely to be one-size-fits-all mandates that don’t accurately reflect industry or employee needs. Neither solution is perfect, but one’s personal trust in the free market vs. one’s trust in the government is what normally guides their decision, not their feminist beliefs.

Personally, I am both a proud feminist and a proud conservative. I work in a male dominated profession, and I’m incredibly grateful for all of the feminists before me who paved the way for women to work in jobs like mine. I support my fellow feminists who push for the stereotypical feminist platform, but ultimately, I think there are many other (and often better) ways that we can push for the same results.

Your thoughts? Send them as always to hello@theatlantic.com. Update from another reader, John Ranta:

There’s a major fallacy your reader makes, and it’s insulting and reductive in the extreme: “allowing abortion based on ‘a woman’s right to choose’ is analogous to allowing a woman to kill the man next to her on the subway for violating her personal space.”

Nope. Not even close. A pregnant woman is facing 18+ years of support, responsibility and sacrifice for the potential person she is carrying. A woman sitting next to someone on the subway has no connection, no responsibility, no long-term commitment to that adult person. “Subway man” is presumably autonomous, and makes no demands on our woman—besides, perhaps, taking temporary elbow space. She can end the connection between herself and “Subway man” by getting up and exiting the train at the next stop.

Our pregnant woman has no such remove from the fetus she carries. She will be intimately connected to, and responsible for that life until it reaches adulthood.

Unless the child is adopted, of course. But they’re certainly connected for nine months.