Happy International Women’s Day from CPAC, where a panel of four conservative women and a moderator were trying to express “Why Conservatism is Right for Women: How Conservatives Should Talk About Life, Property, & National Security.”
This is a harder job than most people have to do, ever. The panel was striving to convince the people both inside and outside the room that women and conservatives go together like Freedom and Personal Responsibility, peanut butter and chocolate or the top and bottom halves of a red pantsuit. They spent International Women’s Day trying to explain to women outside the movement and men inside the movement why more female conservatives was a good thing.
It sounded like it has been something of an uphill battle.
The moderator, Tammy Bruce of the Washington Times, came out swinging. Democrats, she said, were infantilizing the country. That was why it was time for women to step in. (“We know about babies.”)
“There’s supposed to be some war on women,” Bruce said, turning to the panel. Well, how about it?
The panel had a range of suggestions.
“Why do we continue to allow men to talk about our issues?” asked Crystal Wright, of ConservativeBlackChick.com.
“If women in America think that Republicans and conservatives hate them, they’re not going to vote for us,” Kate Obenshain, author of “Divider In Chief,” pointed out.
It’s not like women aren’t there. CPAC, Obenshain suggested, has been “at least 50 percent women.”
But there are problems.
“60 percent of women think that we don’t understand women,” Wright went on. “Part of it is basic optics. … How did we start this conference? With one gender. … We shouldn’t have all women backed up on one day.”
“We have the message,” Marilinda Garcia, a State Representative in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, noted later in the panel. “But we lack the messengers.”
The panel shifted between pointing out why they believed that conservative values needed no alteration to apply to women and begging the party’s men not to say Idiotic Things.
“We cannot have any stupid comments this year,” Obenshain pleaded. “Think before you make any obnoxious comments.”
“It’s never cool to talk about rape and laugh,” Wright said.
Wright added later that at the Rand Paul speech, “I sat next to a woman. She and I had a conversation. … She felt alienated. She was frustrated. She asked me — what should I do?” Wright told her to get involved. “It’s sad that so many women in our party feel powerless,” she went on. “Look at all the great women at CPAC! We matter!”
And this is coming from someone who is a proud female conservative, because she thinks that “conservatism empowers me to be whatever kind of woman I want to be.”
Conservatism is great for women! (Please stop making rape jokes.) We believe in these values because they are the ones that lead to more self-determination! (Please don’t keep doing this thing where white men talk about “spontaneous abortion” and contraception.) We are the movement for women, if we could just pitch it a little better. (It is okay that we are on stage.)
A low chatter continued in the back of the room for the entire talk.
“There’s no need to be threatened by any of this,” Obenshain concluded. “In fact, the men in our movement I think get it because… At least you clapped, I hope you get it.” To become a majority movement, “we have to embrace women as leaders…. We need buy-in. Particularly from groups like CPAC.”
“When free contraception is being talked about,” Obenshain continued, “please, white men: stay behind, let the women get out there and talk about these issues. We love white men. Okay? We love older white men. It’s great, but–” well, if the movement really wanted to start to resonate, it was time to put women out there and let them talk. It’s not so hard.
Talk about backwards in heels. They do this, as Bruce said earlier, all while striving to “smile and be as attractive as we can possibly be,” because they genuinely believe in conservative values. Women don’t need to be liberals. The message of equality of opportunity is appealing. But it needs to be a team effort. Please, they urged the men in attendance, support female candidates when they come under attack — where was that support for Michele Bachmann, one of the panelists wondered — don’t make asinine comments about rape and don’t feel intimidated by the presence of women onstage. Simple instructions, really. But even they couldn’t make it look easy.
Finally the panel ended and it was time for the former Miss America.
She entered to wild, standing applause, more applause than anyone on the panel had gotten the entire time.