When Carly Fiorina dropped out of the presidential race, she took the opportunity to talk about the meaning of feminism—or at least advance her own definition of the term. “A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses and uses all her God-given gifts,” Fiorina wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. The message was familiar for Fiorina, a Republican candidate who used her most recent moment on the national stage to argue that women in America still face an uneven playing field.
Fiorina’s assertions lent credibility to the idea that gender inequality is not merely a lament of the political left, but a reality to be confronted by Republicans and Democrats. That message opened the door to debate over what kind of policy platform might best improve quality of life for women in America. Now that Fiorina has exited the race, it seems extremely unlikely that any Republican presidential contender will take up the mantle of talking about feminism and the challenges women face. The debate that Fiorina fostered will be far less prominent as a result.
As a presidential candidate, Fiorina decried what she called “the progressive view of feminism,” arguing instead for a feminism divorced from ideology. Yet in making the case for her vision of feminism, she seemed to articulate a set of goals that liberal and progressive feminists could agree with. Fiorina didn’t shy away from talking about sexism and the ways it has affected her personally. She called attention to the underrepresentation of women atop the corporate ladder. She noted that women aren’t always paid fairly in the workplace and argued that “equal pay for equal work is absolutely required.” That didn’t go unnoticed on the political left. “Fiorina actually does a good job of highlighting the problems most often raised by feminists as those in need of solutions,” Jenny Kutner wrote in an otherwise critical article that ran in Salon last June after Fiorina published what amounted to a feminist manifesto on Medium.