Divided States of Women is a new series from Vox Media and Comcast. New episodes premiere every Thursday on DividedStatesOfWomen.com
It’s an understatement to say that conservative women have not always been jazzed about feminism. In fact, Republican figureheads like the late Phyllis Schlafly — known primarily for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment — believed that female empowerment made women miserable and destroyed the structure of the American family. To her, feminism was antithetical to the goals and values of the Republican Party, a view held by many conservative women (and men).
But a shift is happening. You can call it the “Ivankanization” of feminism. But that sea change started before Donald Trump’s daughter wrote a book about women and became the first daughter. Carly Fiorina, the only woman to run in the 2016 Republican primary, made feminism a central plank of her media outreach. She went on MSNBC and The View to declare herself a feminist and reaffirm that the movement is not just for progressive women. Sarah Palin even dabbled with feminism back in 2008 during her vice presidential campaign. She referenced female empowerment so frequently — both overtly and covertly, with language like “grizzly bear moms” — that she was celebrated as one of “the new faces of feminism" in an article by the National Review at the time.
I want to understand what feminism actually means to conservative women. In our first episode of Divided States of Women — a new show Vox Media is producing in partnership with Comcast that uncovers the complicated, multifaceted perspectives of women in America — I traveled to Dallas to Turning Point USA’s young leadership summit. I spoke to young women who, to my surprise, almost all identified as feminists, despite not necessarily sharing the same values or principles of progressives. They repeatedly talked about feeling excluded from the feminist movement, a sentiment they felt was echoed in the decision the Women’s March made to let pro-lifers participate in the event but not act as sponsors.
But it’s impossible to speak about Republican women’s exclusion without speaking about the systematic erasure of the women at the front lines of the feminist movement. Whether they were excluded from the narrative because of their race, class, sexual orientation, or gender identity, so many women who have been central to feminism have been simply left out. We explore this historical tension with YouTuber Akilah Hughes in a playful segment we like to call “Feminists in the Kitchen … voluntarily.”
Do conservative women have a right to claim membership in a movement with a set of goals their party has often stood against? Should progressive feminists make room for more voices they don’t agree with? Or is a reckoning with those who have been excluded from the conversation the more urgent matter? There are no easy answers, but talking to each other is a great way to start figuring it out.
As Audre Lorde once said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Divided States of Women will be using this quote as a jumping off point for difficult yet necessary conversations. We really hope you like this first episode. Please join the conversation on the Divided States of Women digital platform, listen to our podcast, check us on Instagram and Twitter, and send us your feedback at email@example.com.