NATIONAL HARBOR, MD—The “#UsToo: Left Out by the Left”—one of the few CPAC panels dedicated to women—came near the end of the three-day conference. The conference had already thinned out, half of the press had packed up, and even Sebastian Gorka had driven away in his black Mustang covered with American flags while young men in MAGA hats snapped his picture.
In the last hours of the conference, #MeToo would finally have its CPAC moment. The panel, moderated by Regnery Publishing’s Marji Ross, included West Virginia state representative Kayla Kessinger, writer Mona Charen whose books include Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love and Common Sense, and the Daily Signal’s Kelsey Harkness, who spent much of CPAC promoting her podcast, Problematic Woman.
I expected the panel to be a carbon copy of the other two panels on women I had already gone to, with some added talk about sexual harassment and sexual assault. It largely was, until Charen criticized the “hypocrisy” of conservatives on sexual harassment and assault, referencing the White House and mentioning Roy Moore by name.
It took a while to get there. Throughout the first half of the event, the panelists talked about Planned Parenthood, complained that anti-abortion women had been ostracized by the Women’s March and had feminism stolen from them. Kessinger took aim at so-called “hookup culture”: “Nothing has been worse for women than hookup culture and abortion,” Kessinger said. “Women on the right are trying really hard to release the women’s empowerment movement from the abortion lobby.”
Harkness wanted to build a particularly conservative form of feminism.“A different kind of feminism exists,” she said and conservatives needed to be better about communicating their empowering, pro-woman, and even feminist point of view to young women. Liberal feminists, Harkness said, taking pains to differentiate her feminism from that of, say, the Women’s March, are “hypocritical.” Their “support for abortion—which is actually killing women in the womb,” is a “version of feminism is often very selfish.” Instead of #MeToo, she suggested: “#UsToo” which is “an inclusive version of feminism.”
Harkness was proud to be a conservative and a feminist, but not that kind of feminist. “You’re not going to see me walking around [wearing a] ‘this is what a feminist looks like shirt,” she said. “The term has been hijacked by Planned Parenthood.” Conservative feminism offered a “diversity of thought,” whereas “if you’re a woman on the left, there’s only one way to be a feminist.”
This was all standard CPAC fare—claims of big tents and the belief that multiple points of view are welcomed only by conservatives who value free speech as a fundamental principle of the Republic. Liberals and feminists repress speech, while conservatives and the women of CPAC value free expression. But the mood of the panel changed (around the 33:40 mark of the above video) when Ross asked the panelists what made their blood boil.
Harkness said “hypocrisy” and Kessinger said “Planned Parenthood.” Charen, however, had a different answer.
“I agree with everything my fellow panelists said,” Charen began. “I could say that the misuse of data, like the so-called 77 cents on a dollar, which is a statistic that’s impossible to kill, even though it’s false.” “I’m going to twist this around a bit and say that I’m disappointed by people on our side,” Charen said as she segued to the White House and Roy Moore.
“For being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers in our party who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women. And because he happens to have an “R” after his name, we look the other way, we don’t complain.”
“The Republican party endorsed Roy Moore for the Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester. You cannot claim that you stand for women—”
“Not true,” an audience member yelled before Charen could finish.
She finished anyway, adding “and put up with that.”
Ross quickly followed up. “This is an interesting point,” she began before she was interrupted. An audience member yelled, “witch hunt!”
“And there are many,” Ross said, acknowledging the man’s perspective. “There’s been this explosion of sexual harassment scandals and in many cases accusation has been equal to conviction,” Ross began, but the audience was still irritated, the energy in the room had shifted.
“What has caused this sudden explosion of all of these scandals and has it been good for women?” Ross asked.
“No,” members of the audience yelled out.
The panelists tried to steer the conversation back to calmer tides. Kessinger said that the scandals were the result of the liberal deconstruction of gender norms. “It’s considered acceptable for men and women to have meetings in hotel rooms,” she said, referencing the Harvey Weinstein story. “We’ve stripped away these cultural norms that were there to protect women,” she added. “Colleges are now introducing multi-sex dorm rooms, all the while wondering why they have this rape crisis.
Harkness, perhaps more modern in her perspective, said that she thinks #MeToo “has been very important to women,” and acknowledged that many women have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault.
“Clearly this conversation was long overdue,” Harkness added. But there was a caveat: “I don’t blame conservatives and conservative women for being skeptical and proceeding with caution,” she said, as she shifted back to the Women’s March. “We just saw this with the Women’s March, when an organization launched claiming to represent all women and clearly it excluded us. I think #MeToo has a lot to prove because of the Women March to conservative women that this can be good for you too.” She offered a warning for the “establishment liberal feminists,” who are leading #MeToo. “They need to stop equating and conflating sexual harassment with sexual assault….the more they do that, they more they drive conservative women away.”
Moderator Ross agreed, adding that #MeToo is “increasingly driving men and women apart.” “It’s not good for women and it’s not good for men,” Ross said.
“We have repealed every single guardrail that used to protect women in relation to men,” Charen said. Women, she added, should know that it’s not okay to go to a man’s apartment on the first date. “That doesn’t excuse men. Many bad men take advantage of this new environment. The jerks, the louts, and rapists are getting away with a lot,” Charen said. She clarified to the nods of her fellow panelists that “assault is not the same thing as a bad date.”
Ross agreed and expressed concern for the men who might be confused by this moment. The panel was interrupted again by an audience member yelling that they needed to talk about the “good guys,” not just the bad guys.
Hardly missing a beat, Charen responded, “Speaking of bad guys, there was quite an interesting person who was on this stage the other day, her name is Marion Le Pen. Why was she here?” Charen asked. “She’s a young no-longer-in-office politician from France. I think the only reason she was here is that her name is Le Pen and the Le Pen name is a disgrace. Her grandfather is a racist and a Nazi, she claims that she stands for him and the fact that CPAC invited her is a disgrace.”
The audience offered a mixed response. “Why are you here?” a man in the audience yelled at Charen while some young men sitting in the back stood and clapped. Others loudly booed Charen.
In the final minutes, Ross tried to return to the topic at hand. “I don’t want to leave here without giving some advice,” she stammered. “What we can do to equip [young Conservative women] to feel [like we have a] pro-woman agenda?” she asked. The answer seemed clear enough, particularly after the heckles, boos and yelling about “witch hunts,” but some of the panelists tried to be conciliatory. “Value motherhood,” Kessinger suggested. Charen, unperturbed, said that “we have to separate ourselves from the men on our side who have behaved atrociously to women.” Young women, Charen insisted, “won’t listen to us until we do.”
The applause was weak as the women left the stage. Shortly after, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton took the stage and called for the arrest of Hillary Clinton.