On Fiorina’s Conservative Feminism

To many women, the phrase “feminist Republican” appears to be a contradiction. Many of the Republican party's standard politics, such as their support of strict limits to women’s access to abortion, denial that discrimination plays a role in the gender wage gap, and opposition to mandated paid family leave, alienate women voters. But Carly Fiorina, the only woman campaigning for the Republican party presidential nomination, represents a unique challenge to traditional feminist ideology.

On one hand, Fiorina is a strong, unapologetic woman who has more than held her own in multiple male-dominated fields, from her time as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard to her current status as the only female Republican presidential candidate. Fiorina has talked about sexism on the campaign trail, criticizing a reporter who commented on her pink nail polish, calling queries about whether or not she’s running for vice president sexist, and reporting the story of when her male colleagues held a business meeting in a strip club as an example of the problems with the old boy’s network. She has responded to Trump asking “who would vote for [her] face” with grace, retorting that women have the “face of leadership.”

On the other hand, she has been one of the most outspoken candidates on limiting access to abortion, taking a hardline stance on pulling funding from Planned Parenthood. She has opposed policies that traditionally affect women in the workplace, such as federally mandated paid maternity leave and raising the minimum wage. She has also publically called the feminist movement a “left-leaning political ideology where women are pitted against men and used as a political weapon to win elections.”

Fiorina claims that one of her main selling points to the Republican party is that she will prevent Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, from “playing the gender card.” Fiorina knows that the Republican party has struggled to attract women voters, and casts herself as the antidote to this struggle.

As a self-proclaimed feminist, I have mixed feelings about Fiorina. It is hard for me not to applaud her strength, poise under pressure, and willingness to go up against the likes of Trump on a national stage. But many of her policies actively hurt the national advancement of women in the workplace, or the right of a woman to make decisions about her own body.

Women can disagree with Fiorina’s objectives and policies, and certainly should not feel compelled to vote for or support her simply because she is a woman. She is entitled to her own brand of feminism. When Fiorina brands herself as a feminist, she does have policies that back up her claims. They just are not the traditional Democratic approach to “women’s issues.” Fiorina has talked extensively about the need to create a less hostile workplace environment for women, which, based on her experience, she believes will help more women rise up in the ranks of companies. Her take on making the workplace more equal may be unconventional, but that does not invalidate her approach or her feminism.

Regarding her beliefs on abortion, some may say that one cannot be a feminist and be pro-life simultaneously. But the issue is more complicated than that, and Fiorina has stated that she has a legitimate moral objection to abortion. And to invalidate someone’s feminism because of their religion and beliefs is wrong. The feminist movement has long prided itself on diversity, and differing views are encouraged on all kinds of issues, including abortion.

Ultimately, I believe that as a nation, we do not just need strong Democratic role models, but strong female role models. It is dangerous to limit “feminism” to only liberal policies and to say that conservative men and women cannot be feminist. Fiorina’s policies do not invalidate her work in showing America that a woman can hold her own on a debate stage filled with men. I can admire Fiorina’s strength and disagree with her policies.

Emily Petillon is a first-year at Scripps and is planning on majoring in history. 

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