Can young conservative women find a place on college campuses? The Network of enlightened Women (NeW) sought an answer at its 9th annual National Conference in Washington, D.C. over the weekend. Dozens of young women showed up for a three-day gathering billed as “the only conference in DC focused on connecting young women with conservative ideas.”
NeW aims to foster the educational and leadership skills of conservative university women. NeW Founder and President Karin Agness has her work cut out for her: Women between the ages of 18 and 29 went a whopping 66 percent for President Barack Obama in 2012.
After its start at the University of Virginia 10 years ago, the organization has grown to more than 20 campus chapters nationally, with the recent addition of regional chapters for young professional women.
This conference centered on balancing work and family life. These ladies took aim at the so-called War On Women, Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell’s book Lean In, and Obama’s “Life of Julia” campaign.
To the panelists, most differences between men and women’s status in the workforce are not evidence of discrimination and a “War on Women,” but rather a sign of success as women can more freely choose how they live their lives.
“We will reach parity when we want it, when we choose it,” Penny Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America, declared. She explained that many women deliberately choose a different path than men: “Women tend to off-ramp. When we have our children, we take several years off, or some women leave the workforce altogether, or they work part-time, as I did. They choose all different sorts of measures for themselves that work for their family.”
“There isn’t any social discrimination against women. The choices that women make are a function of what they want to do rather than what society [tells] them,” Diana Furchtgott-Roth, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research echoed. “One thing I want to tell you is: You can do whatever you want to do. If you want to work fulltime as an investment banker, you can make it. If you want to be a Supreme Court justice, you can make it. Or if you want to have a part-time job and be home with your children, you can do that, too.”
The panelists encouraged young women not to be held back by the implicit message of “War on Women” rhetoric, that the system is actively set against them and it is impossible to succeed without the government’s help.
“Women succeed though opportunity, free markets and hard work, not through dependence on the government or through socialist policies,” said keynote speaker and best-selling author Katie Pavlich.
Another theme, along with choice, was flexibility, particularly laws like the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would allow employees to choose to get comp time instead of overtime pay.
April Ponnuru, Policy Director for the YG Network, revealed the results of the group’s recent poll of women, “On workplace flexibility, unions hate it, women love it. Nearly 9 in 10 women think employers should be able to offer a choice between overtime pay and time off. They also support the employer’s ability to provide more flexible work arrangements, and paid leave options. This should come as no surprise since survey data tells us women – both mothers and non-mothers, I’ll note – are increasingly choosing time over money in their work lives.”
Liberals don’t want to allow workers to choose to be paid in comp time; they want to regulate salary and benefit negotiations. But, Nance said, when the heavy hand of government comes in and mandates “we actually end up with fewer choices. What we want is more flexibility between the individual employee and their employer.” Furchtgott-Roth, a mother of six, also cited her own ability to work out more flexible maternity leave time with her employer without government mandates and interference.
As attendee Gabriella Marie tweeted, “We want more than fulfilling careers; we want fulfilling LIVES. We are not Julia.”
What women really want is choice and flexibility. Women who choose to reject the one-size-fits-all model of government dependence that the left is offering, create an opening for conservatives. The women of NeW are hoping to find that next generation on college campuses.
– Alexa Moutevelis Coombs is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She is based in Fairfax, Va., and tweets @AlexaShrugged.