In the 1970s, Phyllis Schlafly successfully won the battle against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). She appointed herself as the “champion of mothers and wives” while condemning the feminist movement. The ERA was vilified by Schlafly as an amendment that would encourage the “killing of millions of unborn babies” and jumpstart the end of housewives and traditional values. Although Schlafly’s political arguments were disguised as female empowerment, her career focused on anti-feminist rhetoric. Schlafly contributed to the negative connotations that continue to surround the word feminist, despite her benefitting directly from the work done by the same movement she so fervently denounced.
Fortunately, feminism has cleared its reputation in recent years. Not only is it more palatable than it was decades ago, but feminism has proven itself profitable. It is not surprising that girl power has been exploited by the market and used repeatedly by politicians. Hillary Clinton’s campaign relied on the feminist vote after receiving a stamp of approval from the iconic Gloria Steinem. The Democratic Party has appointed itself as the party of equality, and it has embraced social justice. Nevertheless, the Democratic party was that of Phyllis Schlafly.
A new conservative feminism movement has become the new packaging of Republican women under President Donald Trump’s administration. Ivanka Trump is its advocate for women’s rights, despite the fact that her efforts have been lacking thus far. A true feminist has to display work toward equality. It is not enough to call yourself a feminist and remain complicit in systematic discrimination. Being a woman does not automatically translate into being a feminist.
It is important to understand that feminism is rooted in more than just female empowerment or girl power. Feminism is, as defined by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” It cannot and should not be limited to not “tearing other women down, but building each other up.” The current political climate reflects how there is a need to be critical, regardless of gender. Not all women in office deserve the support of the feminist movement. It is only those who are willing to fight for the equality of the sexes who should be rightfully called feminists and have the full support of the movement.
False feminist figures from the alt-right, like Tomi Lahren, undermine the fight for social justice. Supporting other women is not synonymous with feminism. Policies should not be overlooked for the sake of female empowerment. Gender should not exempt anyone from criticism. It was not hypocritical for White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to to publicly denounce the nomination of Gina Haspel as the director of the CIA. Haspel is known for her enhanced interrogation methods involving torture after 9/11. Her historical confirmation does not imply that she should receive the full support of the feminist movement. Although being the first woman to head the CIA is undoubtedly a milestone, it should not be forgotten that Haspel has achieved her position through the denigration and pain inflicted on other human beings.
The feminism that the current administration continues to promote is simply a smoke-screen. The blind support for any woman the president decides to appoint in the name of feminism is another form of authoritarianism. The White House has proven it does not care about social justice or equality. The tax-reform, the new healthcare bill and the ongoing battle to defund Planned Parenthood are evidence that these self-proclaimed feminists are at best mere puppets. They cannot hide behind their gender as if it makes them untouchable. Each member of the administration must be held accountable. Conservative feminists should not receive support if they are actively advocating for policies meant to heighten inequality in this country and around the world.