Graphic by Sophia Childs
In an era marked by voices of the #MeToo movement and Women’s Marches it can, at times, require an enormous amount of fortitude to go against the crowd and be a voice for the less acknowledged side of the debate. Today many feminist movements are dominated by liberal-inclined sentiment and are inherently prejudiced against conservative women, who present an alternative in the empowerment of women. As such, some might say that it’s hard to be a young, conservative woman in a time where conservatism is viewed by many as winding back the clock on women’s rights. However, while many conservative women do not conform to the standard idea of feminism championed today, it does not mean that we should be excluded from the movement for holding such views. With so many strong, conservative women around the world acting as role models and paving the way for change, I believe that the view that we are campaigning against the empowerment of women is heavily misguided.
Being a conservative woman can mean different things depending on who you ask. We pride ourselves on being a broad church and encompassing a range of different people that bring unique backgrounds and views. However, the core principles and values that many of us rely on include a strong belief in individual liberty, equality of opportunity and protection of the traditional family structure. Often, being a conservative woman can mean being brave enough to stand up for these values in the face of opposition and to fight for what you believe is right. Just like any person who is strong in their beliefs, being a conservative woman means being true to yourself and your values – even when others may not agree. However, it is also about learning to respect and value the opinions of others, despite their divergences from your own.
In Australia, I believe that conservatism has a strong relationship with the empowerment of women and that this is something that conservative women are driven to continually improve. ‘Women’s empowerment’ as a general term can mean a lot of different things to different people, including when it comes to ideas of how it should be achieved. My belief is that inspiring women to feel inherently valuable and important should be the central idea of empowering women. Empowerment should not involve tearing down others who believe in different things, but should be something which brings together all women. This must be fought for regardless of how they identify or where they come from.
Conservatism does not put the empowerment of women on the back seat. Looking locally, the Canberra Liberals can boast the first majority female Liberal party room in Australia, all without the help of gender quotas. The tightknit circle of conservative women in Canberra, I believe, played a vital role in this by empowering those around them to put their hand up and have a go. It is a myth that conservative women largely follow in a man’s footsteps or that they are not sympathetic to their own cause.
Many feminist movements we see today encourage a narrative of victimhood. In the past, feminist movements were focused on achieving the rights that women were denied, such as gaining the right to vote and receiving equality in the workplace. But today feminism has increasingly turned inwards; more focused on what women cannot do and not what we can do or what we have achieved. Most modern women, I believe, have as much freedom of choice as men. However, with this incredible freedom, we should not be turning inwards, against each other, or ourselves. A woman who may be pro-life or in favour of traditional marriage should not be shamed for her personal beliefs and choices. All women should empower each other to be strong in their opinions. For every debate, there are two sides, and each should be respected.
I believe that being a young, conservative woman today means to not stand behind this narrative of victimhood, but to put yourself out there, to fight for change and to empower the women around you to do the same. Put simply and powerfully by conservative businesswoman and political figure Carly Fiorina, “a feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses”.