When Carly Fiorina, notable as the holder of the shortest VP run in U.S. history, suspended her presidential bid, she invoked the vague idea of feminism.
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“To young girls and women across the country, I say: do not let others define you. Do not listen to anyone who says you have to vote a certain way or for a certain candidate because you’re a woman. That is not feminism. Feminism doesn’t shut down conversations or threaten women,” she said. “A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses and uses all her God-given gifts. And always remember that a leader is not born, but made.”
It actually isn’t as simple as feminism = doin’ what you want. I’m not a feminist because I believe in my right to eat a sandwich for two different meals. I am a feminist because I believe that every woman should get to control their lives and bodies, and because I recognize that that we currently don’t have that unchecked control.
That’s why it was so baffling to see an article entitled “The Plight of Conservative Feminists,” in The Atlantic Tuesday morning, that discussed Fiorina’s shaky feminism—which has somehow cornered her into the position of not not supporting festering Build-A-Bear Donald Trump.
Fiorina the feminist is aggressively not voting for Clinton, and so Fiorina the feminist, the article argues, has been forced to choose between identity politics and actual politics. But that isn’t a real choice for Fiorina, whose feminism—if measured in the relationship between social equity and her policies of choice—is about as substantial as a cardboard cutout of a suffragette, and whose political party is historically hostile to marginalized groups. So Carly’s Choice means she’s asking conservative women not to vote for Clinton, without explicitly supporting Trump—a stance which amounts to, obviously, supporting Trump.
Let’s say, theoretically, that Fiorina is not advocating that women vote for Trump, but that she is actively advising them to stay home. The twisted logic that would lead someone to feel confident that voter abstention is the best possible solution in the 2016 election, even when there is an objectively better candidate, is a whopper. And if she is pushing a vote for Trump, well: Is it even possible to reconcile a voter’s feminism with their support of an unapologetic misogynist? The question is pushing even Fiorina’s extra-light feminism to its limits; if she’s answering yes, with all her “you decide what feminism means to you” rhetoric, it’s just barely.
The article offers a light analysis of Fiorina’s hard problem, and then an extraordinarily light analysis of her feminism:
In the end, Fiorina and Clinton aren’t actually that far apart on the definition of feminism. Fiorina has acknowledged the existence of gender disparity, and says that women should have the same opportunity as men to live the life they choose. Similarly, Clinton has argued that women and men should have equal rights. The fundamental premise sounds the same: Women should not have to contend with barriers and constraints that men do not.
If conservative women, like Fiorina, want to vote against Clinton, in part because they believe she advocates for a kind of feminism that is harmful to women, they can do that. But if they want to see conservative policies enacted with the goal of improving quality of life for women, they will eventually have to find a candidate they can support, not just one who they oppose.
Clare Foran, the writer of this piece, is right that Fiorina would be better off finding a candidate she could support (who could that be?). She’s wrong that there is such a thing as a “kind of feminism that is harmful to women,” because that’s the whole idea of feminism. A major thing that is harmful to women is a nominee who fundamentally doesn’t respect them.
It’s fine to talk about how it is hard to be a Republican and a woman—it certainly is. But when Fiorina’s version of feminism involves either advocating not voting or voting for Donald Trump, one has to question whether or not we can even call it that.
Image via Getty.