Why can’t Conservatives be Feminists?

catherine swift

Another International Women’s Day has come and gone, and I am yet again reminded that, as a woman who is a small-c conservative, I am simply not allowed to be a feminist in this day and age.  This was not always the case.  I am old enough to have experienced the women’s movement more or less as it was beginning back in the 1960s and 1970s.  At that exciting time, being a feminist simply meant believing that women should be free to have the same rights and opportunities as men, and not be discriminated against because they were female.  And a key part of the movement was the vital importance of individual freedom.

Sadly, in the ensuing decades, what most people refer to as feminism has morphed into a rather extreme left-of-centre movement where its proponents advocate such things as big government, pro-big-labour policies and fight sensible economic projects that help average people such as fossil fuel extraction and industrial development in general.  Present-day feminists refer to such things as intersectionalism, microaggressions and have bought into the mangling of the English language with a whole bunch of new and often incomprehensible pronouns.  They also seem to have a penchant for wearing silly pink hats.  In the process they have alienated a significant proportion of women, not to mention men, who very much believe in women’s equality but can’t buy into all the other unrelated elements that have taken over modern-day feminism.

Today’s feminists also perpetuate a number of untruths. A classic example, which once again received a lot of media coverage during International Women’s Day 2018, was the myth that women only earn about 70% of the income earned by men. Shamefully, even federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau included this fiction in the recent federal budget.  The reality is that when a proper comparison is done, comparing males and females of similar education levels, occupations, seniority and hours worked, the gap between the earnings of men and women pretty much disappears. Women do on average earn less than men because they are more frequently found in lower-earning occupations, take periods of time off the job to give birth to and rear children, and typically work fewer hours. There is of course nothing wrong with any of that, but you cannot reasonably expect to earn the same as men when the underlying circumstances are so different.

What is really unfortunate in my view about today’s feminism is how it is alienating so many women, and especially young women.  Things have greatly improved for women since the 1960s, but challenges remain.  It seems to me that those challenges can best be met by having the biggest possible feminist tent to include all women and men who choose to be included, not by excluding anyone who does not subscribe to an increasingly narrow and more extreme mindset. As the group of women who define themselves as feminists gets smaller and smaller, it is increasingly written off as irrelevant by mainstream society.   That is a very sad end for what was initially an inclusive and worthwhile social movement.

Catherine Susan Swift is the former Chair of the Board of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She is currently the spokesperson for Working Canadians


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