It’s easy for conservatives to write off college campuses as impenetrable liberal strongholds and to regard women students in particular as a lost cause. But three efforts to reach young women with conservative ideas — a magazine, a speaker recruitment, and a campus-based organization — demonstrate that conservatives can make some headway.
Conservatives should be emboldened by these successes and use the lessons from them to develop more ways to influence the experience of college students today. There is plenty of room for more victories in the years to come.
Take the popular women’s magazines that litter the typical campus.
Walk into any dorm and you’re likely to find women’s magazines lying around in the common areas — magazines such as Cosmopolitan, whose latest issue has the following headlines splashed across its cover around a heavily airbrushed photograph of an actress squeezed into a minidress: “21 Mind Blowing Sex Moves,” “Cosmo’s Best Birth Control Tips Ever,” “263 Hot Looks and Sexy Hair Secrets,” and “Crazy Sex Confessions!”
But that’s not all that’s in these magazines. After the 2012 election, Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds noted
that popular women’s magazines often include “soft p.r. for the Democrats or soft — or sometimes not-so-soft — hits on Republicans.” He argued that one of the best ways Republican donors could use their money is to buy women’s magazines and women’s websites in an effort to reach female “low-information voters” — “women who don’t really follow politics, and vote based on a vague sense of who’s mean and who’s nice, who’s cool and who’s uncool.” A recent effort shows he might be onto something.
Realizing the need for a women’s magazine that provides an alternative version of female empowerment, some young women in New York City launched Verily Magazine. Verily is self-described as featuring “fashion that is worthy of the woman, relationship articles that go beyond sex tips, and strong cultural and lifestyle journalism. Verily is the modern woman’s go-to guide on how to lead a fulfilling, integrated life.”
In contrast to Cosmopolitan, the August/September issue of Verily includes the following headlines on its cover: “Speak His Language: Bridging the Communication Divide,” “Are Elite Degrees Wasted on Stay-at-Home Moms?” and “Juice Cleanses: Fact vs. Fiction.”
Verily hasn’t made it to convenience-store racks, but it’s great to see it competing in the arena. It is an uphill battle, but a serious effort to launch a women’s magazine promoting more culturally conservative ideas to a target audience of women ages 18–35 is something to celebrate.
Meanwhile, on the campus political front, we aren’t just competing but are winning some important battles. Just this month the student government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill cut the proposed budget of the College Republicans, which included funding for a visit to campus by Katie Pavlich, a twentysomething conservative woman who is already a news editor at Townhall.com, a New York Times bestselling author, and a Fox News contributor.
Undeterred by claims that she and another proposed conservative woman speaker were “non-intellectual,” UNC students launched an online fundraising campaign, and conservatives stepped up — the goal was met within hours. Pavlich will be speaking at UNC.
Students, regardless of their political beliefs, benefit from the chance to hear outside conservative speakers on campus. Specifically, speakers like Pavlich serve an important role of challenging the dominance on campus of women’s-studies programs and women’s centers promoting a liberal feminist agenda.
Students inspired by Pavlich and other conservative speakers are fortunate to have the opportunity to join a growing number of conservative groups on campus.
For years, students who wanted to belong to a women’s organization could join chapters of the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation, or various other feminist groups. Students open to conservative ideas simply didn’t have any options. That’s why I founded the Network of enlightened Women (NeW), an organization for conservative university women. Started as a book club at the University of Virginia to provide an alternative to campus feminism, NeW now has expanded to over 20 campuses nationwide. In NeW, students have the opportunity to read books often left off college syllabi, become part of a larger network of conservative college women, and learn how to speak out for conservative principles on campus.
Will a magazine, some campus speakers, and a campus-based organization turn a majority of college women into conservatives in time for the 2014 elections? No. But are these efforts strengthening the resolve of women who have conservative values? Yes. Are they getting women to question staunchly held views on campus? Yes. And are they influencing the discussion on campus? Yes.
To have a bigger impact, we need to play the long game, and not cede the next generation of women to the Left. Conservatives have a lot of work to do, but these are victories we should celebrate.
— Karin Agness is the founder and president of the Network of enlightened Women (NeW) and a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. Follow her on Twitter @KarinAgness.