Carly Fiorina's Brand Of Feminism Probably Doesn't Have Room For You
Running for president is a pretty ambitious task, but Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has taken on another assignment, too — redefining feminism. In a recent interview with MSNBC, Fiorina added to her growing narrative as the right-wing alternative to Hillary Clinton's shrieking army of harpies (represent, y'all!) by saying that it's time to take the word "feminism" back for all women. But here's the problem with Fiorina's argument — her new brand of feminism doesn't include anyone without her privilege.
"I'm tired of women who are conservative like me being dismissed by others because we don't agree with them," Fiorina told The Cycle co-host Abby Huntsman. "I think it's time to take that word back for all women, not just those who believe in the litany of the left."
OK, sure. I also feel as if there is some sort of knee-jerk reaction from the feminist movement that chalks all conservative women up as messengers of their own party which, largely, stands for a lot of principles that are anti-woman. Fiorina even pointed out that her party has a problem (and, honestly, both parties) with representation.
Sometimes the Republican party in its tone is judgmental when we need to be empathetic. Sometimes I think we need to acknowledge reality, and the reality is that women's potential still is not fully utilized in this country. And it's to everyone's advantage that women's potential be fully utilized. Not because women are better than men, but because women are half the potential in this nation.
So what does Fiorina propose as an alternative to the left's definition of feminism?
Huntsman cited comments the candidate made earlier this month about reclaiming the word. "A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses," Fiorina said during a speech at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "We will have arrived when every woman can decide for herself how to best find and use her God-given gifts. A woman may choose to have five children and homeschool them. She may choose to become a CEO, or run for president."
Huntsman then asked Fiorina if she considered herself a feminist. Fiorina replied:
Of course. I've been very fortunate. I've lived the life I've chosen. Of course, each of us only have that opportunity if someone takes a chance on us. We need education, we need tools and training, we need opportunity. And so the truth is the playing field is still not level for women in this country although women here have more opportunities than anywhere else.
OK. Deep breath here. I realize that with every word I type I am plunging deeper into the thorns of who can call themselves a feminist, which is tricky territory. I'm not here to say that conservative women can't be feminists, but I have a huge problem with the way Fiorina is casting her beliefs as a way to further women's rights.
How, exactly, can a woman "live the life she's chosen" within a system that is nothing but closed doors for the majority of women? Fiorina has an incredible personal story. She climbed the ranks from secretary to running Hewlett-Packard, but not just because she chose to do so. She has an elite education, grew up in a good home, and is now extremely wealthy.
That's the problem with her definition of feminism. Although Fiorina acknowledges that women are still at a disadvantage in achieving their goals, which is absolutely true, she doesn't offer a way to get there other than, uh, choosing to. People who came from situations similar to Fiorina's will always be able to succeed. But if you didn't go to MIT and Stanford? That's when it gets trickier.
How will we get better education? How will we get these opportunities? These are questions that many feminists are already asking themselves and fighting for on a daily basis. Fiorina knows we need it, but until some Lady God drops all of that on America's doorstep, just keep living the life you've chosen. You know, minus all the components that will get you there.
Fiorina's reinvention of feminism was likely a response to the misunderstanding that women can only be feminists if they are hard-driving career women. In Fiorina's sphere, women who choose to raise five kids at home can be feminists as long as that is what they chose to do. I completely agree. Anyone can be a feminist, no matter what they choose for themselves career wise.
But Fiorina's fairy-dust solution to feminism is hypocritical and misguided. What about the woman who chooses to have an abortion to stay focused on her chosen career path when Fiorina wants to overturn Roe v. Wade? What about the college student working her way through school on a minimum wage job — two-thirds of people working minimum-wage jobs are women, by the way — who is forced to drop out because people like Fiorina oppose minimum-wage hikes?
Fiorina's choose-your-own-adventure brand of feminism puts the burden of equality on the individual. If you're living the way you want to live, then you're a feminist — barriers be damned! And all of you who are systematically pushed out of living your dreams, I guess you don't believe in the cause.
I'll share you my favorite (Beyoncé approved) definition of feminism from the brilliant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: "Feminism: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes." Believing doesn't imply that you will magically be able to surmount the many obstacles that women face to achieving their goals. Believing means that you know that gender equality should exist and that you're prepared to fight it out until it actually does.
And Fiorina, who later in the interview with Huntsman called equal pay laws "liberal hypocrisy"? It doesn't sound like she's up for that fight.
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