Politics & Policy

Third-Wave Feminists Bully and Devalue Women

Protesters at the Women’s March in Los Angeles, Calif., January 20, 2018. (Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters)
The conflation of feminism with the progressive agenda does a disservice to women’s issues.

It takes a special kind of condescension to declare yourself the ultimate authority on being pro-woman, even as you dismiss and denigrate any woman who doesn’t agree with your entire political agenda.

That’s exactly what feminist writer Jessica Valenti did over the weekend when she wrote a New York Times op-ed on “The Myth of Conservative Feminism.” The premise of the piece is that she and her allies are the Gatekeepers of Real Feminism, and thus that she is the arbiter of who may be permitted to call herself a feminist. Unsurprisingly, her criterion for whether one meets the definition appears to be whether a woman embraces the progressive agenda. If you claim to be pro-woman but won’t join the #Resistance — well, that’s “conservative appropriation.”

Like the organizers of the Women’s March, Valenti has evidently decided that being a feminist requires acceptance of every left-wing action item, including things that, as far as I can tell, have nothing to do with women’s rights, such as opposition to enhanced interrogation and the detention of parents who have immigrated illegally. For the Women’s March, the laundry list is even longer: support for Palestinians, minimum-wage laws, “gender-responsive programming,” and laws to combat police brutality to name just a few.

This fusion of feminism with the progressive agenda actually does a disservice to anyone who cares about women’s issues. I understand Valenti’s belief that limiting abortion rights harms women, though I disagree with her vehemently. By contrast, I fail to grasp why my opinion of Gina Haspel’s unknown political views, for example, is relevant to my stance on women’s rights.

Valenti weakens her case when she attempts to avoid the unavoidable reality that millions of American women don’t agree with her. Like it or not, conservative, pro-life women exist, and third-wave feminists hamper their agenda when they dismiss us as gender traitors rather than engaging our views. By conflating feminism with left-wing politics more broadly, they knowingly shrink their list of allies to a very small pool — excluding even women who agree with them on many more issues than I do. At the very least, this is not a recipe for a successful political movement.

Ultimately, Valenti’s piece does a handy job of undercutting one of the lynchpins of left-wing feminist rhetoric: the celebration of female achievement. Valenti is correct when she writes, “Feminism isn’t about blind support for any woman who rises to power,” and thus that the Left need not celebrate as a feminist victory the success of Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen, and Gina Haspel. But it isn’t conservative appropriation of feminism that Valenti refutes when she makes this point.

It is undeniably the Left, not the Right, that routinely insists women deserve to advance solely because they’re women and that women’s failures are the result of sexism alone. It is Emily’s List and the DNC who demand we vote for women qua women and malign the GOP for being all-male. It is Valenti’s own allies who have asserted that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 as the result of sexism.

This is the point some on the right — myself included — make when we criticize feminists for hypocrisy. Conservatives have never argued that every female advancement should be celebrated or that women should advance solely because they’re women; that argument belongs to the Left. We are merely identifying the double standard inherent in asserting that progress requires placing women in positions of authority, even as they ignore or denigrate successful conservative women. They can’t have it both ways.

If left-wing feminist rhetoric were sincere, the successes of Conway and Haspel — women who were not part of the third-wave feminist movement — would be a cause for celebration, not a source of misery. Though Valenti says that their success proves the feminist movement’s strength, she views them not as a success story but as imposters taking unfair advantage of a system they didn’t put in place. If the goal is to empower women, the empowerment of Conway, Haspel, and others should be seen as a victory, even if their views are not in line with feminist orthodoxy. In reality, Valenti and her ilk despise the notion that a woman might manage to succeed without toiling in the progressive trenches and, more importantly, without their stamp of approval.

Valenti’s disdain for women undergirds the entire piece. According to her intolerant view, there is no longer any room for good-faith disagreement among women. This manifesto is not a defense of women’s rights against the encroachment of cynical conservative appropriation. It is an exceptionally obvious effort to silence any woman who dares to consider herself a feminist without adhering to Valenti’s narrow definition.

That isn’t pro-woman; it’s ideological bullying.

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