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September 18, 2010

In the Land of Conservative Women: The Fetus Beat Us

September 18, 2010 | By | No Comments


The central issue is not privacy–a woman’s right to control her own body–but rather the reality of visibly moving fetuses that they believe to be fully human.

“You can’t appeal to us through our wombs,” Kellyanne Fitzpatrick says. “We’re pro-life. The fetus beat us. We grew up with sonograms. We know life when we see it.”

Kellyanne_Fitzpatrick_Conway.jpg

Kellyanne Fitzpatrick Conway

Smart women and technology and open debate are moving the country to consider the life of the unborn baby. The Atlantic Monthly magazine took note of the shift back in 1996.

Excepts from The Atlantic Monthly, Politics, September 1996

In the Land of Conservative Women

A diverse group of woman

activists, including many young people

and small-business owners, are bringing

new energy to the Republican Party

by Elinor Burkett

NO one had ever before tried throwing a big party for young conservative women.

But even before the RSVPs started coming in, April Lassiter was certain that the Eighteenth Street Lounge, the club she and some friends had rented in Washington, D.C., would be as packed on their Thursday night as on any Saturday night.

The invitation–an entreaty to “Merge Right”–had been an immediate hit.

When the Republicans swept into power on Capitol Hill, scores of young conservatives were suddenly emboldened, sure that they now represented the cutting edge–socially as well as politically.

These were Hill rats–that horde of ambitious, idealistic, and underpaid young people who work as press secretaries and floor assistants in congressional offices, as researchers at think tanks and public-relations companies, and as rising associates at law firms and in special-interest lobbies. They see themselves as a generation wresting the Republican Party away from the country-club set.

“For us, there’s been no galvanizing event to connect us to the government; therefore we don’t trust or need it,” says Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, who at twenty-nine runs her own firm, The Polling Company, and sees herself as one of the nation’s only truly conservative pollsters.

She is also a regular election commentator for CNN. “We grew up in car seats while Ma and Dad pumped gas on odd and even days. We watched Challenger blow up. We were the children of no-fault divorces. When I was seventeen, I watched Geraldine Ferraro accept the vice-presidential nomination at the Democratic convention, and thought it was interesting.

Then I listened to Ronald Reagan and saw someone four times my age, of a different gender, and from a different coast, who was communicating a message that appealed to me as a young adult.

Being a liberal is no longer fashionable. It went out with bell-bottoms. We’re never going to be Stepford Democrats. Most of us make Ayn Rand look like a leftist.”

Continue reading at the jump.

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Be sure to follow Your Business Blogger(R) and Charmaine on Twitter: @JackYoest and @CharmaineYoest

Jack and Charmaine also blog at Reasoned Audacity and at Management Training of DC, LLC.

Thank you (foot)notes,

Full Disclosure: Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D., served on the Board of Advisors on the Independent Women’s Forum.

Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D., has retained The Polliing Company to research attitudes on abortion.

***

For the party that Thursday evening hundreds of young women, and a surprisingly large number of men, lined up outside the front door. By 8:00 P.M. a top assistant to Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative activist (and Equal Rights Amendment opponent), was poised on the edge of a couch in a skirt that barely covered what her mentor would undoubtedly call her “private parts.” She puffed on a cigar as she bantered about the importance of abstinence-oriented sex education in the schools.

Genevieve Wood, a producer and talk-show host for Paul Weyrich’s Political Newstalk Network, wore a button that read NO LEFT TURN. At twenty-seven, she is still trying to figure out how, in her view, the Republicans got it wrong on key social issues for so long. “I always say to my parents, ‘You complain about LBJ and the Great Society, but where were you? Where were your answers?’” What does she think of older Republicans? “So many represent the status quo.” The Federation of Republican Women, the mainstream Republican women’s club? “Dinosaurs. We don’t need tea parties. We need to be tough.” For Wood, working at the network is a relief after a stint at NBC. “I was the token conservative,” she says, laughing. “One girl told me I was the first girl she’d ever met who was pro-life and still cool. It’s so strange. They didn’t know we existed.”

The standout of the evening was April Lassiter, twenty-seven, who by day works as a policy adviser to the House majority whip, Tom DeLay, and by night sings in a band that plays alternative rock. In a silvery-pink mini-dress and dark makeup she looked like a 1990s version of the 1960s chanteuse Petula Clark, whose name means nothing to her. Her only other even vaguely 1960s characteristic is her certainty that she has the cure for all of America’s ailments. For her, issues like abortion (which she would outlaw entirely except to save the life of the mother) and affirmative action (which she finds demeaning) have never been rallying cries. They belong to some other generation. What she and her friends believe in is less important than what they don’t believe in: government. In their world no one questions that the federal government has replaced the Soviet Union as the enemy.

The “Merge Right” party was in fact a fundraiser thrown by Lassiter and her friends for an existing group, the Independent Women’s Forum, a think tank created in 1992 by and for women who found themselves politically homeless–women who believe that the important feminist battles have been won. For them, the liberal National Organization of Women was definitely out. Concerned Women for America and other traditional conservative women’s groups weren’t much better: too Christian, too focused on abortion. IWF members fall somewhere in the vast ideological expanse between Gloria Steinem and Phyllis Schlafly. The group’s monthly speakers’ series in Washington attracts dozens of professional women who are rethinking their attitudes toward affirmative action (an article in the IWF’s quarterly magazine was titled “That’s Not a White Man, That’s My Husband”), the wisdom of so much emphasis on federal violence-against-women programs (“What about violence by women?” the magazine asked), and the forced integration of same-sex schools (which they are convinced will harm women’s colleges and schools). Mostly they are intent on providing an alternative female voice in the national discussion. “Are you tired of the nonsense you hear from people who pretend to speak for all women?” an IWF brochure asks. “Are you sick of being told that you are a ‘victim’ of the men in your life?”

The IWF has perhaps received as much press for the attacks leveled against it by liberal feminists as it has for its work arguing for the Virginia Military Institute’s right to exclude women (a cause that last summer met a considerable obstacle in the form of the U.S. Supreme Court) and its advocacy of mandatory testing of newborns for HIV. The Washington Feminist Faxnet, a weekly newsletter, has described the IWF as “a pack of she-wolves.” The writer Susan Faludi has called its members “pod feminists” and described that organization and sister conservative groups as “a media-assisted invasion of the body of the women’s movement: the Invasion of the Feminist Snatchers.”

At the “Merge Right” party a scattering of older conservative women circulated through the crowd, but they seemed somewhat out of place. Even in such ideologically consonant circles a generation gap is glaringly obvious. Thirty years earlier old leftists looked with disapproval on the young upstarts cutting their teeth on Marx, Gramsci, and C. Wright Mills. The young people seemed undisciplined, arrogant, too willing to offend the wider society. Young conservative activists elicit strikingly parallel reactions from some of their ideological forerunners. Christian women often find the young women’s short skirts inappropriate, a flaunting of sexuality that borders on the amoral. Secular conservatives are less shocked by the flaunting than amused by the flouting of liberal presuppositions about what conservatives wear, how they dance, what they do with their free time. Looking around at the “Merge Right” crowd in a room filled with smoke and long exposed legs, Ricky Silberman, a former vice-chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, kept shaking her head. “In my day young Republicans didn’t look like this,” she said. “If they had, maybe we would have liked them.”

The young women carry different historical baggage. The middle-aged members of the Independent Women’s Forum and others of their age grew up at a time when America was discovering its own injustices, and many of them still struggle with a pair of long-held liberal assumptions: that equal protection under the law can mean protecting groups rather than just individuals, and that government inaction tends to breed or perpetuate social injustice. The younger women, in contrast, came of age at the height of identity politics, with the culture of victimhood being explored endlessly on daytime television. They have emerged as rampant individualists who have traded the rhetoric of group empowerment for the philosophy of self-empowerment. It is perhaps testimony to the success of feminism that most of them, like April Lassiter, have never seriously considered the possibility that their options might be limited.

The generation gap seems to be widest on abortion, which older Republican women support to a greater extent than do the young. Many IWF members, whose view of the abortion debate was shaped by the debate over a woman’s right to control her own body, are dismayed by what they perceive as an absence of any sense among younger conservatives of what it meant to be a woman in America prior to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion. For them–as for many older women, whether conservative or liberal–the concept that young college-educated women could be anti-choice is so implausible that they tend to assume the younger women will grow out of that opinion as life circumstances teach them about the moral complexities of women’s lives. Others regard the anti-abortion rhetoric as the political posturing of the young. But women like Kellyanne Fitzpatrick resolutely beg to differ.

For them, the central issue is not privacy–a woman’s right to control her own body–but rather the reality of visibly moving fetuses that they believe to be fully human. “You can’t appeal to us through our wombs,” Fitzpatrick says. “We’re pro-life. The fetus beat us. We grew up with sonograms. We know life when we see it.”

For these young conservative women, abortion is not even a women’s issue. Indeed, they dismiss the very concept of “women’s issues” as a vestige of some paleolithic reality. “I agree with the original idea of feminism, with equal opportunity,” Lassiter says, “but it went too far. There is no such thing as ‘women’s issues.’ Men worry about their families and kids, and women worry about the economy and national defense.”

In fact, although Lassiter and her friends support the Independent Women’s Forum, some of them don’t quite understand why they need a women’s group at all. “I don’t like any word that defines me foremost as a woman,” Lassiter says. “I’m a conservative who happens to be female.”

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Be sure to follow Your Business Blogger(R) and Charmaine on Twitter: @JackYoest and @CharmaineYoest

Jack and Charmaine also blog at Reasoned Audacity and at Management Training of DC, LLC.

Thank you (foot)notes,

Full Disclosure: Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D., served on the Board of Advisors on the Independent Women’s Forum.

Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D., has retained The Polliing Company to research attitudes on abortion.

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