Rethinking the ‘Women’s Issues”
Rethinking the ‘Women’s Issues”
By Kellyanne Conway
For years I was asked by people, how is the conservative movement going to win more women? There's this huge gender gap and women don't vote for conservatives. Why is that? I used to give these long explanations and treatises, and people would politely nod their head, yawn, and say words, like "interesting," which I knew it wasn't. So finally, I just said, you know, you've got to get women the four magic 'm's" – marriage, motherhood, mortgage, and mutual funds – and they'll start thinking more conservatively and voting conservative. Then I realized I was a big hypocrite. All I had at the time was mutual funds, so I decided to at least attempt the other acquisitions.
The fact is, fewer American women are having fewer children than ever before in our nation's history. I look at that as a very strong indicator of women being a product of their choices. That is the ultimate feminism. Women are deciding whether or not to get married, to have children, to enter the workforce, to leave it, to start their own business, to retire early, to retire later, to not retire at all.
We women in this nation are much more free to choose than women in any other nation in the world. I think that's lost because so many messages are negative. Everything really is gloom and doom.
When I counsel leaders, whether they're in corporate America or political America, I tell them routinely, if you depress people, they're going to change the channel, turn the page, or click off and go immediately to a different link. We already know what the problems are. We already feel terribly about any number of issues and challenges. But if you – as women in this country do every day – talk about solutions, talk about specifics, give them something positive from the beginning, they will listen.
This actually came out in one of the many articles recently that I've done regarding Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who has announced her candidacy for the president of the United States. I told a journalist that Bachmann is a curious case because she doesn't lead with her gender. Not to make it all about her, but her candidacy is a very good indicator that femininity is replacing feminism as a leading attribute for American women … as something they want to lead with, rather than struggle with or be burdened with.
What I've said is that women are much more focused on optimism and opportunity than doom and gloom, which I think is what the feminist movement has peddled a lot. It's a drag to be in a bad mood all the time. It's also a big drag to call into question, be suspicious of, or have revulsion toward, the men in your life or men generally. And I challenge anybody to show me where that is not part and parcel of the feminist movement. This has absolutely been the cost of admission into the feminist movement: You must automatically believe the pro-forma default position that men are trying to keep women down.
We've asked women and men in polls many times over the years, would you rather have a male boss or a female boss? Women would slightly prefer a female boss, but in time of recession they'd actually prefer a male boss. They think he's going to be more decisive, that he's going to protect that division, he's going to be unemotional. Maybe that's an unfortunate polling statistic, but it's true.
Women are much more gender-neutral now in their approach to things like the workplace, like investing, like tax and debt policy, like the things that go on in Washington DC. But women are not gender-neutral on things that matter to them, like being wives and being mothers and believing in traditional marriage. That distinction is very important.
The Daily Beast asked a really terrific polling question: Do you consider yourself a feminist? Fourteen percent of American women said yes. The same people were also asked, If you have, or would have, a daughter, would you like her to be a feminist? Seventeen percent said yes. Over 70 % of the women said that they are not feminists, and 58% said they would not want their daughters to be feminists. Those numbers don't lie. I think those numbers, in part, are because women are rejecting labels and a sort of collectivism based on their gender, but it's also because the cost of admission ended up being too high.
For the feminist movement, if there's a religion at all, abortion is the religion. And I think that alone has produced many converts away from feminism and toward femininity. Realistically, it's also a drag to talk about the same thing when women are faced with so many other issues right now.
A journalist called me about Michele Bachmann a few weeks ago with a question related to her saying (in relation to her husband telling her to get her advanced degree and to run for state senate), we women must submit to our husbands. Now she's very Christian and the Bible is a huge foundation in her life, and she says so publicly.
When the Washington Post reporter asked me about her comment, I said, you know, when I think of women being submissive, I picture them up at a podium next to husbands who have just publicly humiliated them by admitting adultery and forcing them to stand there like some wind-up kewpie doll.
I can't think of anything more submissive than being complicit in the way he has treated you and treated your marriage vows. To that end, I give Huma Abedin and Jenny Sanford credit. I can't think of anything more submissive to the man's power, than to have him asking you to be something you're not or should not be, and violating a very sacred compact. [Ed Note: The wives of Rep. Anthony Weiner and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, respectively, did not attend their husbands’ public mea culpa.]
When I think of a woman being submissive to a husband, I think of things like, "you will have no access to the checkbook" … or "you will lose 10 pounds because you look like a fat slob" … or "you will clean up all those cheerios." I don't think of the husband saying, "you should go get your advanced degree and run for office." Everyone should have a husband who is as supportive of you and your career as that!
2010: A Watershed Moment for Women
2010 was a real crossing the Rubicon for America's women as voters. Just as they had been since 1964, a majority of voters were female, but for the first time since pollsters started tracking it about 1982, women voted Republican over Democrat in the congressional races. Now this was key for any number of reasons, but let me mention a few important ones because they have staying power and they are more cultural than they are political.
On the question, what was the most important issue that helped you decide today?, 42% of women said economics and the budget. It was a similar number for the men. Where was abortion? It was number 9 on a list of 10. Forty-six percent (46%) of self-identified pro-choice Democrats said abortion wasn't in their top 10 issues.
This all makes sense to us. It was the economy. It was deficit spending. It was jobs and unemployment. It was taxes. And it took the conservative movement to respect women for the financial sophisticates they are, and speak to them about the economy. Not just the micro economy; not just the family-based 'grocery-saving' or 'trip to Disneyworld' economy. They talked to women about the federal budget deficit and the debt. Debt became a four letter word to America's women, in large part, due to the Tea Party movement and the conservative movement, both of which respected women enough not to bifurcate, or artificially segregate, "women's issues"—whatever that is—from men's issues. It turns out, the economy, jobs, and unemployment are a woman's issues.
During the two years prior to the 2010 election, the 'mancession' had disproportionately hit men in this country: 87% of all construction and manufacturing jobs were held by men, and over 50% of the initial job losses from this recession were absorbed in the manufacturing and construction industries.
At the same time, the fastest growing industries are all populated by a majority of women as workers: health care, education, and public sector industry. Many women were forced to stay in jobs they didn't particularly like, or ramp up their hours, to be the family's primary breadwinner in the household and hold on to family benefits.
Right now, 40% of American women are the primary breadwinners. And women are the majority of people in owner-occupied single family homes. So women have availed themselves of the natural accoutrements of the ownership life. They are buying homes, getting mortgages, building investment portfolios, and becoming small business owners.
Although corporate America has become more accommodating, women do not always find the flexibility they need in the corporate world to make the parallel work-home universe work. These are not just women who want to web-commute or want different kinds of work life. (Incidentally, the 70s term for blending marriage, motherhood, and career was 'balance', suggesting a frantic juggling act. I reject that. The better term is 'equilibrium' because the woman is the fulcrum.)
Many of these women are not seeing that parallel universe, so they are creating one for themselves. While the recession has tightened access to capital, women are still starting small businesses because security in not in corporate America, it's in being your own boss. Go talk to a small business woman and ask her where abortion and gay marriage fit in her range of issues, and she'll bite your head off. That is not what she focuses on every day. If she does, chances are she's got traditional views on both, and that just a fact. Voters in 30 states have decided what to do about marriage, and in every single state – from Mississippi to blue Oregon and California – they have voted to affirm traditional marriage.
What else has happened with women and economics is that you have more and more women who feel they are currently – or will be at some point be – responsible not just for their adult children, but also for their aging parents. A poll released recently reported that 70% of seniors believe they are going to have to help their adult children.
Polling data show that seniors feel they are going to have to help their children and grandchildren, the grandchildren feel they are going to have to pay back their family elders, and the ones in the middle have always said they expect to help both parents and children first.
Notice how few said you're on your own, go get the government to help you. That's just not the way American women think or feel about the family structure, self-reliance, and hand-outs unless they're really, really needed. American men don't either, by the way.
When I think about the calls for 'gender equity', I think of the Wal-Mart class action case (Wal-Mart v. Dukes) that was recently decided by the Supreme Court. Although it was a 5-4 split decision on fairness, it was a unanimous decision for Wal-Mart on the central merits of the case, and even the three female Supreme Court justices, who are all products of the feminist movement, voted unanimously against certifying a class action based on gender. That's important.
Dukes and two other women plaintiffs felt they had been discriminated against, through unequal pay scales and promotions for men and women, in the stores where they worked. Now, these three women may well have been discriminated against by their local store management. If so, they've been denied real justice for ten years because of a crusade by the trial lawyers and feminist movement that persuaded the plaintiffs to pursue a class action on behalf of all women working at Wal-Mart instead of individual discrimination cases they might have won. Ultimately, the court rejected the class action case because all women working at Wal-Mart had nothing in common except their gender and their employer.
I'm reminded again of the 1995 Shannon Falkner Citadel case. A 17- or 18-year-old young woman used a court challenge to gain entry into the Citadel, an all male college, and she lasted a week. She was a kid who was used as fodder by the feminist movement.
Or consider the case of Augusta National Golf Club, a men's club that hosts the Masters Golf Tournament each year. Augusta was sued by Martha Burke, and we conducted some polling for Augusta National during that time. We found that American women didn't think access to Augusta National Golf Club was a pressing issue. (Eventually the New York Times and ESPN reported similar polling results.) Guess what women said was a pressing issue? You guessed it: jobs, the economy, health care, education! It was important to Martha Burke, but not to America's women.
When it comes to gender, we voluntarily segregate ourselves all the time in private arenas. When was the last time a man was invited to a baby shower, a Pampered Chef party, or a Botox party? The most misogynist thing going on at Augusta, by the way, turned out to be Tiger Woods and the way he treated his wife. So feminists are always looking out of the wrong pane of glass.
Candidates and Policymakers
I also get calls all the time asking why there are only 17 women in the Senate. The short answer is because not many women want those jobs, at least proportionally. Women are doing pretty well when you compare the number of women in the different states who have pursued and won federal public offices in Washington. The margins are pretty good, and much better than the men.
Yet many women will tell you that is not where they feel they belong. It's not where they feel they can make as much of a difference, and they do not want to commute between home and Washington DC, especially if they have little kids or an ailing mother. Women feel they can make a difference closer to home in any number of ways: as a voter, by providing transportation to the polls to the elderly, by writing letters to the editor, by getting involved with a state think tank, and so on.
When it comes to Congress, no one is standing by the door saying no entry to women, and women know it. Implicit in the right to do something is also the right to refrain from something, and many women have made that decision as well.
Diversity and Double Standards
But look at 2010. It was a masterful example of a very, very diverse class of women being elected to Congress to serve. These women come from such diverse backgrounds: a rancher, small business owner, someone who slept in her car with her two children after her husband left her. The biographies of the freshman class of congresswomen are amazing. We should thank them. Without ever hanging on to feminism as a philosophy and ideology or orthodoxy, they took their case all the way to Washington DC. These women aren't bitter or angry people, as feminists tend to be. They're happy warriors, and it drives the Left bonkers.
The old double standard still exists for women. I'll give you a couple of examples. I don't believe in identity politics and I don't like talking about gender and race. We're all supposed to be treated as individuals—that's what feminists told us, so I listened. But voters do think that women take a special perspective to public service, and they're right. Years ago that meant we're going to give you health care, education, social security, child stuff—the ‘girl stuff’—and we'll worry about the war and the economy.
Well, guess what. For 10 years, war and the economy have traded places as the top issues. Yet women are ascending politically. We're not just doing the 'girl stuff'. We're doing the war and economy, and we're doing it happily and mightily.
Candidates like Bachmann drive the Left crazy because they don't get miffed or angry. In fact, it was a Fox News anchor, Chris Wallace, who asked her if she was a flake. He wasn't even gracious enough to say "others have said you're a flake; how does it make you feel?" She just gave an explanation without ever repeating the criticism, which was a very smart way to handle it. She simply said, I find that very disrespectful. I'm a serious person. And what happened? Chris Wallace had a cascade fall upon him, and not just from women. It offended everyone.
We have all the coverage of what a woman wears on the campaign trail. This really does bother me, because it's been empirically proven now that there's so much coverage on a woman's clothes, hair, jewelry, etc. I call it the ‘husband's hairdo haut couture coverage’. Nobody ever covers the paunchy beer belly and the bad comb over. I never see articles about these!
So there is a double standard, and I think it comes from female journalists most of all. There's this notion that if you are a Christian, pro-life particularly, and you want to run for Senator or President and you're happy about it, you're a threat. That's a problem. To journalists, the cost of admission is still that you have to be for abortion. It's what they focus on, but it isn't what Americans focus on.
I also think many don't understand somebody who either owns a gun or goes to church or a synagogue. If you're out jogging and having brunch every Sunday, that's your right. But it doesn't mean that what somebody else does is wrong or stupid. But the coverage would suggest that.
I thought it was a miserable experience to watch the coverage of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. A lot of it was "gotcha" and gloom and doom. Very little opportunity and optimism. If either Clinton or Palin tried to talk about job creation, journalists still covered whether the shoes matched the bag. Clinton's tears were covered in New Hampshire. The Washington Post ran a 1,000 plus word article about her cleavage. Are you kidding? And Palin was called the she-devil, caribou Barbie, and more. I felt myself getting angry with the calls asking whether I thought a sitting governor was 'qualified'.
Young Peoples' Perspectives
So what does this all mean? We just released this big poll of young people, and it proved what many of us believed anecdotally.
It empirically said that young people are pessimistic about the future of the country, its prosperity, its ability to compete with China in markets, its ability to compete for energy. We asked what they saw as the greatest threat to the US. China and energy dependence topped young peoples' list, followed by terrorism.
But they were not so pessimistic about their own life, although they have every reason to feel the opposite. Student loan debt just topped one trillion dollars for the first time this year. And for the first time in history, we have more student loan debt than we have credit card debt in this country. That is a phenomenal statistic to me! Students can't get the jobs to pay down the debt, and their parents can't afford to help them with it. They wouldn't dare go and get another degree while they're waiting out the storm of the economy because all that would do is add more debt and one more space on the resume for calls that never get returned and interviews that are never granted.
So there is cause for gloom and doom. Yet these young people are very optimistic. They feel like there will be a way out.
Femininity Replaces Feminism
Finally, I find it ironic the way all this coverage of the way women dress hits the presidential candidates and not the rest of the workforce. I think if women really want to be taken seriously in the workforce these days, looking feminine is a good way to start (as opposed to looking unisex or generic). I'm also amazed at women who appear on television wearing what appears to be a cocktail dress to do an interview about the debt limit. If women think that any man out there is paying attention to what they are saying, they are mistaken. Women can't dress like Snookie and have someone say that you're the next Margaret Thatcher. It just doesn't happen that way.
In closing, Margaret Thatcher said something that encapsulates what I mean about femininity replacing feminism, that you don't have to be part of a collection, you are an individual; how fairness, a level playing field, and an outcome of our choosing and merit have replaced equality of outcomes. She said, Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to say you are, you probably are not.
Adapted from remarks Ms. Conway made to the Conservative Women’s Network.