Last week, the sole female presidential candidate in the crowded Republican field gave a speech on feminism.
“Feminism began as a rallying cry to empower women. But over the years, feminism has devolved into a left-leaning political ideology where women are pitted against men and used as a political weapon to win elections,” she said Thursday at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
She redefined the word: “A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses. … A woman may choose to have five children and home-school them. She may choose to become a CEO, or run for President.”
According to Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig at The New Republic, her ideas are “difficult to differentiate from any run-of-the-mill, mass-market, self-help system.” Fiorina’s ideas are not feminism, says Stoker Bruenig, but an “empty marketing strategy.”
At the same time, The Washington Post’s Hunter Swartz writes, “Fiorina’s definition of a feminist is ‘a woman who lives the life she chooses.’ It’s a more nonpartisan definition — liberals would say a watered-down one — and might be more welcoming at a time when a majority don’t identify with the word but believe in equality for women.”
(According to The Wall Street Journal, she’s reclaiming feminism, but we won’t go there.)
The problem with watered-down feminism is that it doesn’t really get women anywhere. Sure, Fiorina has had to overcome serious obstacles — harassment, bias, and more. It’s unclear how her brand of feminism helps promote a more equal society.
It’s important to have women at the top of the hierarchy. The Sheryl Sandberg brand of feminism addresses this. It’s important even though it is not inclusive — it’s about helping a very small subset of successful women push through the glass ceiling into an equally small club of (mostly) elite men.
Feminism can’t be just about rich, upper-class women
Having women in power is necessary to further the cause for everyone. However, that logic works only if the women who get to the top are committed to bettering the situation for the women, and men, below.
For a CEO, this means the entry- and mid-level workers. For a president, it means the poor and the middle class. And it’s not clear from Fiorina’s statements that she has thought much about the poor. Her message is about her as an individual overcoming all the obstacles in her way. There’s no recognition of systemic issues that many will never be able to overcome.
What’s the “choice feminism” for women who can’t afford to be stay-at-home mums?
Stoker Bruenig demolishes her on this point:
What are the factors that are harming women as a class? Poverty: Six in ten poor adults are women. What poor people lack — that is, what defines the condition of poverty — is enough resources to support themselves. The way to help impoverished people is therefore to deliver resources to them, through either the labour market or state transfers or some combination thereof. Fiorina is opposed to improvements in both avenues of poverty reduction, having come out against legislatively raising the minimum wage as well as laws that would mandate equal pay, and has argued that further work requirements be attached to welfare programs. For poor mothers who rely on welfare to make ends meet, what work requirements mean is more time away from their children, more money spent (paradoxically) on daycare, and not much in the way of long-term job prospects. In no way, then, does Fiorina actually support policies that would be beneficial to women on the whole.
What’s the point of having a female president if she doesn’t support policies that would lift up most of the women in society? There’s no reason to support feminism if you don’t intend to make equalizing policy.
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