I’ve blogged for about a week without actually defining tory feminism*. Don’t worry, I’m about to do that now.
I describe myself as “moderate tory, liberal feminist”. By that I mean that tory feminism has its roots firmly in liberal feminism. (And that I’m a Ken Clarke sort of Conservative, but that’s irrelevant.) Liberal feminism seeks equal rights and equal opportunities in a formal, public sphere setting. Liberal feminists argued for the right to enter politics rather than a change in politics – the state is seen as essentially neutral, and abolishing discriminatory laws will lead to equality. It is normally portrayed as being in contrast to radical feminism, which focuses on oppression perpetrated through patriarchal gender relations embedded in the institutions of society. Radical feminism argues that the personal is political, exploring the divide between the public (the state) and the private (society) which is ignored or left unchallenged by liberal feminists. And there are a number of other feminist approaches, but I’m afraid that’s a whole other blog post in itself.
Tory feminism is actually two feminisms. Conservatism draws a line between politics and the community, and tory feminism, while unifying progressives and libertarians, is a hybrid of two different approaches – one for the state and one for society.
On the political side, in terms of the economy, business, the institutions of government, legislation and law, tory feminism could be described as free market liberal feminism. (There’s a thinktank booklet by an academic called Conway, which sets out free market feminism.) Take away the legal discriminations, make the political side gender-blind and let the free market do its job.
On the community side, in terms of society, the private affairs of individuals and families, the ways in which citizens interact with each other, tory feminism could be described as borrowing from other feminist traditions beside liberal feminism. It takes a One Nation model, saying that men and women might sometimes have different experiences but are equal in rationality and intrinsic value, and that the decisions individuals make should be based on their own choices.
This means that I agree with radical feminists that society is a patriarchal construct which perceives man as the norm and woman as the other. But I believe that rationality, the law, the free market, the structure of politics and debate are neutral. Discriminatory laws can be tackled with legislation and repeals. Norms and values are part of society, and can be challenged only through seeking to change social attitudes and expectations.
In short, tory feminism supports gender neutral policies, and encourages more equal outcomes through social, rather than legislative change.
(* And seeing as no one else seems to be advocating tory feminism, this may as well be the definitive definition for now.)