Reconciling Feminism and the GOP

By Emily Merlino

If one were to look at pure statistics, the media’s passionate assertion that the Republican Party is less-than-friendly to modern American women is unmistaken. Almost all tangible evidence points to an apparently irrefutable conclusion: it has become very, very difficult to be both a feminist and a Republican.

The Republican Party, dominated by white, conservative, God-fearing older men, is unquestionably less inviting to women and minorities than the Democratic Party. Statistics alone paint a dismal portrait for female Republican support. A Gallup poll in 2009 showed that 41 percent of the voting female population identified themselves as Democrats, while just 25 percent labeled themselves as Republican. Twelve of the 17 current female senators are Democrats. Obama leads Romney by 7 percent among female in Florida voters, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll taken last month.

Among those women who do identify as Republicans, the most vocal are fervently pro-life and anti-gay marriage. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann frequently speaks out against abortion, gay marriage and even Muslims. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is the nation’s most outspoken opponent of illegal immigration.

Fronting a less severe Republican movement, however, are Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans, both women and both moderates. Snowe is a pro-choice, pro-death penalty centrist, while Collins seems to be in favor of legalizing gay marriage. Both are living proof that women can be intelligent, feminist and Republican all at once.

Admittedly, however, more Americans know the names of Brewer and Bachmann than Snowe and Collins. This leaves a sour and erroneous taste in many progressive women voters’ mouths, and who can blame them, when Bachmann seems to hunt Muslims like witches and Brewer seems to treat illegal immigrants like sub-par human beings?

Nonetheless, to say that one cannot be both a feminist and a Republican is irresponsible and wrong. It would be hypocritically closed-minded to believe that if a woman is pro-life and opposed to birth control being paid for by their employer or covered by their insurance, they are backwards, anti-feminist zealots. Feminism is about different things to different women, and the idea that a woman who  doesn’t fit the common mold of a pro-choice progressive cannot possibly be a “real feminist” is untrue.

A recent Huffington Post article asked, “Can a feminist put the principles and ideals of feminism aside if he or she believes that Mitt Romney is the one who can get the job done?” The job Romney is being asked to do, of course, is to whip America’s economy back into fighting shape, and this is where the argument gets tricky.

To achieve desired goals such as pay equality, there need to be jobs to obtain in the first place, and many feel that Romney’s economic policies will do more for the unemployment rate than Obama’s. Put simply, a feminist should be in favor of equal economic opportunity for both genders, and if economic opportunity as a whole has stalled and women believe that Romney will do better to create jobs and jumpstart the economy, they might put personal convictions about hot-button issues like abortion and contraception coverage aside for the collective “greater good” of America’s economy.

Furthermore, many women identify themselves as both feminist and pro-life. It is simply incorrect to say that a woman cannot be both.

Katie Martin, a Boston College sophomore and an officer of Boston College’s Pro-Life club, is also an advocate for Feminists for Life, an organization that “promotes feminism with a pro-life stance emphasizing nonviolence.”

“I want both what is best for women and what I feel is best for our country,” Martin said in an interview for this column. “Furthermore, I believe my pro-life stance highlights my feminist ideals. Women deserve better than the violent act that is abortion.”

Martin represents an underrepresented and unheard percentage of women: politically involved, passionate students who take a relatively unpopular position on abortion, particularly on college campuses. Too often political candidates and political commentators treat women as one singular, uniform voting body. When the GOP solidified their pro-life stance, the media and the Democrats gave sweeping generalizations about what that meant for women voters. The theorization that this pro-life rhetoric instantly scares away women voters is inherently patronizing; men are almost never grouped together as one collective “opinion,” whereas women are almost always considered to think in a single agglomerate.

This is the true problem women face in this election, and it is one that has not and probably will not be addressed in this election cycle. One presiding argument used against the Romney-Ryan ticket is that in the year 2012, women cannot logically be pro-life, Republican, and feminist all at once. This is wrong. The argument should be that in the year 2012, women can logically be whatever mix-and-match political combination they want.

Emily Merlino is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]