The recent blog posts about “Tory feminism” have been interesting. I tend not to agree with Christina Odone, but I find myself nodding at her assertion that Tory feminism is not a new and startling development. No, right-wing feminism not the “phrase du jour”, it’s not a new thing which is going to go away if you shut your eyes, and no, it CERTAINLY didn’t start with Sarah Palin. It’s liberal feminism and has been around for longer than socialist feminism or radical feminism. I got as much out of Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir as my left-leaning counterparts did. The fact that I am economically right-wing has no bearing on my passion for equality.
The only difficulty with the name “liberal feminism” is that it implies that I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats. Much as I like our Orange Book colleagues, I chose to be blue. I’m a Tory feminist – a liberal Conservative feminist.
Tory feminism doesn’t claim to be good for all women for the simple reason that it denies that women are a special interest group in need of protection. How can half the population all want the same thing? To a certain extent, saying that female politicians must stand up for the interests of women requires women to have narrow collective interests. The only things that all women are interested in are the things which all humans are interested in, such as breathing.
No, the argument should be made the other way: why are some issues considered to be “women’s issues”, and therefore pushed under the carpet? Let’s talk about childcare. By saying that childcare is a “women’s issue” or something that all women are interested in, you’re saying that there is something intrinsically female about caring for children. Childbirth may be a biological function of women, but the question of how the child is cared for is a social question. Childcare is an issue for families, not just mothers. Childcare is not necessarily an issue for all women. In order to come up with pragmatic solutions we need to stop looking at “women’s issues” in isolation. A quick fix of giving all women more money for childcare doesn’t address issues faced by all families and doesn’t speak to the complex and changing relationship between childcare and society.
Tory feminism is about individuals, not groups. We’re not all the same, and we don’t have the same needs or the same desires. Tory feminism is about encouraging individuals to make their own choices and to put themselves where they want to be. Legislation can’t magically make others treat me as an equal: I have to do that myself.