Conservative feminism: a lesson in contradiction?

by Joseph Markus

The idea of the left and the right of politics is an old one. But it is not necessarily a helpful one. It

British Suffragette, c. 1910

is a typically human trait to speak in generalised terms. The idea of political directions on a broad political spectrum is a useful heuristic, enabling speakers to label and characterise and to understand a person’s politics.

Yet by endowing the ‘left’ and ‘right’ with this acontextual bag of meaning, we judge a person’s politics not by what they say, but where we—either knowingly or unknowingly—place them. Too often the label of right- or left-wing is used, and too often that label under- or over-describes the person to whom it is attached.

An Observer piece from Sunday sought to open up the idea of a ‘right-wing’ feminism. It is one that has come to maturity with the elevation of Theresa May and Louise Mensch.

You may not agree with what is to follow—and more than anything else I want some debate on this—but my question is whether this is not a contradiction. The problem, however, is that generalisations about right-wingers don’t help: not all Tories are social conservatives and pro-lifers. What I want to do, then, is to scope out which forms of political belief are compatible with the goals of feminism (accepting, also, that feminism is itself an umbrella term for many mutually contradictory stances).

The first important observation is that feminisms are opposed to domination and rulership. This may occur along the axis of gender, but it may also take place by reason of other characteristics such as race, class, sexual orientation, and so on. Each of these other factors can be inextricably tied up with gender in domination. Feminism, in order to avoid the charges of self-interestedness and myopia, must extend its analysis further than simply gender.

To count as feminist, then, a person must oppose—in solidarity with others as it is a political movement above all—all forms of domination of women.

Domination can be social, economic, cultural, political, and it can be caused by both women and men. The economy in particular has a significant bearing on the lives of women. Our economy undervalues work that mostly women perform; it also, perhaps, can be argued to impose a stridently male view of working life, which can be exclusionary.

One of the uniting strands amongst Conservatives in Parliament is their economic conservatism. Now, if feminists are opposed to all forms of domination, a question must arise as to whether a system predicated on the power of capital to do right—on market freedom and acquisitive ability—fits with that raison d’être.

My view on this is that that circle cannot be squared. A thinker—I don’t remember which one—once said that a feminist who is not a socialist lacks strategy. Following that through: is capitalism, in the form supported by an economic conservative, inherently unsuited to ending domination of every kind? To put it a different way: is a political economic system where some win, and others necessarily must lose, likely to result in the end of rulership?

Probably not.

  1. Steve Jakeman said:

    Joe your parents have foolishly pointed me at your “blog” regarding feminism and conservatism, unlikely bedfellows I suspect. Nice article, a little overblown, ah the bird of youth. But an odd photo, why choose the suffragettes to illustrate your point. You don’t truly believe the lie that suffragettes were all as portrayed in “mary poppins” no more than dick van dyke is a typical cocker nee. Try opening an eel n mash stall on sunset boulevard. Some suffragettes indeed fit the mould and were eminently supportive of ” our boys” in the first world war. Others though were a fine group of women who paved the way for the women we love and seek out today…. Your mother, Cheryl Cole to name but two.. I’d take issue much more with the articles by Sam bright whose articles have made me tired and depressed, however I have my hair to wash, so I won’t. Take care my erudite chum. Yours uncky Steve.

  2. josephmarkus said:

    Thanks Steve. The only principle behind the choice of the picture was that it had to be one from Wikipedia (copyright issues..) and Wikipedia is woefully limited in the range of recognisably ‘feminist’ pictures it stocks.

    • Steve Jakeman said:

      What are you doing up so late! Check out “the big and bouncy” website for the inevitable fusion of capitalism and feminism, who exploits who? I hear you ask. You may see my name mentioned on this site, there is a simple explanation, my previous milkman aggrieved by my cancelation of his services,(tesco home delivery) stole my identity for
      Nefarious purposes. I therefore figure prominently on a number of “adult entertainment” websites. For ” prominently” read in an advanced state of excitement. Still I’ve saved a few pounds each month on yoghurt. So who’s the real winner. That was of course rhetorical…it’s me.

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