With fewer women voting Republican and fewer millennials attaching to traditional political institutions, some young conservative women lament that the odds are stacked against them. But their belief in freedom keeps them going. That and maybe a dozen cupcakes.
For the month of March, the conservative-leaning Network of Enlightened Women, or NeW, will field submissions of true “college gentlemen” for its annual “Gentlemen’s Showcase.” At the end of the month, the male college student with the most votes on Facebook will receive a $500 scholarship and the woman who nominates him will win a dozen Georgetown cupcakes.
The contest is meant “to honor men who are respectful on campus and show men that we do appreciate them holding doors open and being respectful,” according to Alyssa Condrey, NeW’s director of programs, who is in her early twenties. “We have a national conference and other events in the summer but this is a great way to get men involved in a traditionally women-focused organization.”
NeW, based in Washington, D.C., with 22 chapters at universities nationwide, was founded in 2004 at the University of Virginia. For women like Condrey, who tabled at last week’s 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, NeW provides an outlet for female college students who don’t identify with what members have called “radical feminism.”
“I think in a campus setting, you’re only presented one point of view,” said Condrey. “Our goal is to bring intellectual diversity to campus and see all sides of the spectrum. Not just the more liberal focus that’s often on college campuses.”
And what is so unappealing about ‘radical feminism’?
“A lot of times, more radical feminism has a victim mentality,” said Condrey. “They want to totally isolate and separate themselves from men. We don’t agree with that.”
Chandini Jha, 20, the president of Georgetown Democrats, calls herself a feminist but believes that the movement has been mischaracterized.
“The idea of ‘radical feminism’ — hating men and burning bras — that’s promoted by the media’s conception of feminism,” said Jha. “I consider myself a feminist but I don’t think of myself as a victim nor do I believe in misandry. That’s a stereotype. Feminism is about gender equality.”
Over the past several months, Democrats have branded issues like raising the minimum wage and immigration reform as women’s issues. Tying in perpetually hot button issues issues like abortion, liberal politicians have accused the right of waging a “war on women.” But Florida State University freshman Roberta Skinner, 19, thinks its the other way around.
“With the left, they try to make you think there’s a war on your body. They make women’s issues about abortion and being about pro-life or pro-choice,” she said. “But really it’s a war on your mind.”
When it comes to abortion, Skinner endorses a woman’s “right to choose,” but believes it applies to the choice of having sex in the first place, not for terminating a pregnancy. The daughter of Republicans, Skinner knows her peers might assume her politics stem from her parents. But she says her conservatism lies in ideology.
“I do my homework. I watch CNN. I watch FOX. I watch MSNBC sometimes,” Skinner said. “I watch everything, read everything and I think that limited government makes for a better society.”
Florida State University senior Jordan Jones, 21, agrees. And when NeW visited her campus, Jones found herself relating to the group’s founder, Karin Agness, currently a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.
“[Agness] was right that the conservative party is generally men,” said Jones. “The Democratic party tries to appeal to women more. But the conservative party–that’s my values. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I have to go against everything I believe in and be liberal.”
While Jha believes NeW shares some of her goals of recognizing good work and emphasizing gender equality, she doesn’t support some of the group’s tactics.
“It’s an interesting idea and it’s really commendable to recognize people for their community service and good acts,” said Jha of the conservative-minded ‘Gentlemen’s Showcase.’ “But their messaging is problematic.”
“It’s always great to include men in the conversation but you can’t use them as tokens. It’s the idea that men aren’t capable of these qualities and we need to hold some up to teach them how to take care of women better. It’s an unfair characterization of men and women.”
For Jones and Skinner, who list personal freedom at the top of their list of conservative priorities, the search for chivalry will continue. At least for the month of March.
“There’s a lot of vulgar things that go on and I think women get demeaned in the process,” said Skinner, citing MTV music videos. “When society does that, they send a message, ‘Hey, this is okay.’ And when [women] watch it, we send a message, ‘Hey, this is okay, we accept this.’”
“This event is about taking men who defy societal norms, showcase them and encouraging men to be more like that.”