I picked up this book purposefully. My intent was to learn about women’s organizations that hold completely divergent viewpoints from my own. Righting Feminism by Ronnee Schreiber fulfilled that purpose.
Schreiber is a professor of Political Science. Her focus, much like this book, is divergent from my chosen educational focus. Or so I would have thought until I came to realize that feminism is one of the largest, ongoing social and political movements that America has ever experienced.
I don’t plan to debate definitions of women’s movements, when they began, if they are necessary, even how or who defines them. I am a feminist. I have considered myself a radical feminist ideologically, although reading current feminist blogs, social media, news articles and commentary makes me feel that I don’t fit that label, if it’s a label that is even still in use. For now though, it is the closest identity I can use to define my viewpoint although I will qualify that statement with the fact that I see a troubling trend toward blame, overt hostility, and unbending positional rhetoric among many feminists.
I am also an atheist, a declaration that is still hard to write in print as I feel this designation carries much more stigma in our society than my identification with the feminist movement. Simply put, in my viewpoint, the basis of most monotheistic religions stems from a fundamental need to control a given society. What better way to structure power relations than to create an overarching, unseen supreme deity who heralds salvation by compliance.
American patriarchal social order relies heavily on the existence of such a deity. Perhaps I should specify that statement to say the belief in such a deity. Most of both early and current feminist ideology is clearly counter to the beliefs and goals of the followers of our conservative patriarchal social order. Conservative women’s organizations, namely the two outlined in Schreiber’s book: Concerned Women for America (CWA), and the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), have attempted to do their best to use many of the issues concerning feminists to reframe, rework, and reapply the most pressing political issues facing women in our society.
Schreiber covers the process by which both of these organizations began. The CWA has roots in the suffrage movement of the 1920’s with opposition groups strongly opposed to women converging into the male-centric public sphere. They also can claim idealistic association with groups who advocate and condone many forms of social isms: racism, sexism, ageism, maternalism, and of course conservatism.
I am going to utilize the descriptive components associated with each group from Schreiber’s own overview.
The CWA was founded in 1979 and it’s mission is “to protect and promote biblical values among all citizens–first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society–thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation” (Schreiber, 2008, p. 26). The IWF, founded in 1992 is based on libertarian premise of limited government, free markets and strong national defense. It’s mission being to “rebuild civil society by advancing economic liberty, personal responsibility, and political freedom” (Schreiber, 2008, p. 26).
Gender identity politics play a large part in the activism of CWA as they promote a decidedly traditional view that gender is not a social construct but a biological fact. IWF tends to lean somewhat away from labels of identity, choosing to stress individualism and determination, however they are capable apparently of using gendered promotion when needed to advance their goals.
Schreiber provides insight into both organizations views and policy work regarding issues of violence against women, motherhood, and women’s health concerns. She contrasts both groups, and closes the book with some insight (current as of the writing of this book) into both Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, two females who may be deemed as figureheads among conservative groups such as these.
My opinions have not changed regarding the viewpoints and goals of groups such as these. I do feel that I have a clearer picture of their focus, the initial impetus for and background behind conservative groups pushing alternatives to feminism, and the ability of all activist organizations (feminist as well as conservative) to use skillful rhetoric to push political agenda.
Coming to a clearer understanding of the other side makes my position crystal clear.
*Schreiber, R. (2008). Righting Feminism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.