We, the Executive Board of Princeton’s chapter of the Network of enlightened Women, write in response to this week’s opinion piece “The conservative persecution complex.” We do not consider ourselves persecuted or oppressed, either as conservatives or as women. Yet the piece’s author, Bhaamati Borkhetaria, charges that “social and even fiscal conservatism in the government often directly contributes to creating an imbalance of power against ethnic minority groups and women.” She goes on to describe conservative viewpoints as “racist, misogynistic, and often ignorant.” These claims present a biased and incorrect assumption that conservatives are not people of good will, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of what conservative policy ideas seek to accomplish.
One of the most harmful trends in our national politics today is the tendency of people to assume that those who disagree with them are evil, “racist or sexist.” This cannot be assumed on face: very often those with whom you disagree are people of genuine good will who do not have negative intentions, but merely propose a different policy by which to achieve the same goal, or have a different order of policy priorities. To cite the abortion example Borkhetaria mentions in her piece, it would be wrong for pro-life individuals to assume pro-choice individuals actively want to harm unborn children rather than acknowledge the premise that pro-choice individuals genuinely seek to uphold women’s autonomy. And it would be just as wrong for pro-choice individuals to assume, as Borkhetaria does, that pro-life individuals want to “harm” women rather than acknowledge the premise that pro-life individuals genuinely seek to protect life and unborn children. It should not be assumed that someone who disagrees with you on abortion or many other issues is a sexist or bad person.
Reviewing actual conservative policies and their goals reveals that conservatism in fact seeks to empower women to achieve and thrive. For example, many conservatives oppose proposed measures like the Paycheck Fairness and FAMILY Acts that would intrude on wage negotiations and decisions between employers and their employees or mandate employers provide certain benefits. This is not because conservatives do not want women to receive equal pay or paid maternity leave, as many on the left erroneously claim. Rather, conservatives recognize that the more government mandates there are, the less individual choice and flexibility each woman has to shape her own workplace and compensation decisions.
Consider a female job applicant who does not plan to have children. Mandated maternity leave benefits would raise the cost of hiring female workers, and existing anti-discrimination laws prevent employers from having candid conversations with female applicants about their family plans. These two effects could combine to make it harder for the female applicant to find a job because employers would have no way of knowing she did not plan to have children, yet they might still assume the cost of hiring her would be as high as for a woman who did plan to have children and use maternity benefits. Or consider a young mother who may want to negotiate with her employer for a lower salary in order to spend more time working from home. Government mandates of equal pay may make this negotiation more challenging, as employers may be reluctant to pay a lower salary for fear it would appear their company has a discriminatory wage gap between men and women. These negative consequences are why conservatives support leaving salary and benefit decisions beyond government reach and to personal negotiations between individuals: we believe women will achieve better outcomes from this approach.
For similar reasons, many conservatives support lowering regulations and letting business owners, including women, pursue their dreams without burdensome government requirements. Many conservatives support lower taxes so all workers, including women, can have a higher take home pay. Many conservatives support school choice programs, such as vouchers, so that parents can be empowered to make the best education decisions for their children. These policies moreover have support from Republican women of diverse backgrounds from across the country: Mia Love, the first Black American elected to Congress from Utah; Susana Martinez of New Mexico, the first Hispanic female governor in the United States; Elise Stefanik of New York, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress; Nikki Haley, the first female governor of South Carolina and the second Indian American governor in the United States; Condoleezza Rice, the first female African American Secretary of State; Carly Fiorina, former Presidential candidate; and many others.
During the 2012 election, President Obama’s campaign released an interactive graphic titled the “Life of Julia,” depicting a fictional woman named Julia being supported from age 3 to 67 by various government programs. Some might say such “cradle-to-grave” reliance on government portrays an image of “Julia” and women more broadly as unable to support ourselves without government intervention for the entirety of our lives. Some might even call this a sexist depiction. We will assume the intention of the Obama campaign was not to portray women as weak and dependent but rather a good-willed intent to highlight policies that the campaign genuinely thought would improve women’s lives (albeit we disagree about the efficacy of these policies). We likewise hope our liberal peers will not assume conservative policies with which they disagree are born out of sexist attitudes. They are not; they rather aim to empower and support women. The upshot is clear: neither conservatives nor liberals are broadly sexist, and both conservatives and liberals want to support women and their economic and social advancement; their differences often lie in alternate policy solutions that target the same or similar ends.
Allison Berger ’18, NeW President
Rachel Glenn ’19, NeW Vice President
Carrie Pritt ’20, NeW Treasurer
Sofia Gallo ’17, NeW Senior Liaison
These are our individual views and do not represent an official stance of NeW.