UNITED STATES: by Babette FrancisNews Weekly
Pro-choice feminism's NeW rival
, September 30, 2006
A new conservative women's activist group has arisen on U.S. college campuses, the Network of Enlightened Women (NeW). It is a very different breed to feminist groups marching for "Choice" (abortion rights) or "Diversity" (lesbian rights).
NeW activists bake chocolate-chip cookies and protest against campus productions of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues
- a sexually-explicit play that degrades women and implicitly promotes lesbian rape. (This play has also been performed on Australian campuses).
Now two years old, NeW is established in seven American states and has achieved the support of leading conservative women in Washington. It is a campus alternative to the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women (NOW).
The leaders of NeW recently participated in the Conservative Leadership Seminar in Washington DC, where speakers included U.S. Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, and controversial author and columnist, Ann Coulter, whose book Godless
is number one on the New York Times
Though there have been conservative groups on campus, until now there hasn't been a specific group tackling radical feminism at universities in the way Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum and the Independent Women's Forum have done in national politics in Washington.
The 'Dem Sen Fems': U.S. Democrat Senators
Maria Cantwell, Debbie Stabenow and
Hillary Clinton at the EMILY's List 2005
Majority Council Conference.
The advent of NeW is not a moment too soon, because feminist attacks on women's traditional role of mothering continue unabated. Linda Hirshman, a feminist U.S. writer on cultural issues, has told the world that she thinks staying at home with the children is an occupation "not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings". She complains at length that the feminist movement, while making some gains in public life through legal activism, has largely failed in the one area where it counts most: the family.
Writing in American Prospect
(November 2005), Hirshman admits that the real intention of the feminist movement is not "equality", but to destroy what she calls "the unreconstructed family" of a husband and wife rearing children. She writes that the goal is to see as many women as possible abandoning family life for high-level professions and politics. She upbraids women who stay at home for failing the feminist agenda, saying, "They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings."
Hirshman, a professor of women's studies, was a member in the 1970s of NOW, and today is a major donor to Emily's List - a political network of pro-abortion women in America's Democratic Party.
She complains the feminist movement has "stalled". While the "public world has changed," she says, "private lives have hardly budged." Childrearing is still seen by both men and women to be the natural purview of women. She writes of her "shock" to discover that, among those professional women whom she called the "logical heirs of feminism", large numbers were leaving their paid careers to opt for childrearing.
"Marriage is essentially unchanged," she laments. "The real glass ceiling is at home. ... Looking back, it seems obvious that the unreconstructed family was destined to re-emerge after the passage of feminism's storm of social change. This represents not a loss of present value but a loss of hope for the future - a loss of hope that the role of women in society will continue to increase."
Some of the women Hirshman has interviewed have confirmed her worst fears: they like being mothers! One declined to be interviewed because she could not leave her activities with her daughters: "We're all in here making fresh apple-pie," she said.
Ann Coulter comments that Hirshman and those who think like her are "expressing an intolerant world view that women who don't work are losers".
She adds: "Hirshman isn't just expressing an opinion about what she thinks is best; she is saying that any woman who makes a choice different from what she espouses is unequivocally wrong."
Coulter writes that feminism is losing its sway in public because it focuses on "problems that hardly exist ... while spending precious little energy on issues that indisputably have a negative impact on women: pornography, sex trafficking".
She says: "If feminists spent a fraction of the time on these issues that they spend trying to get women to get their men to vacuum the living room, the world would be a better place."
Karin Agness, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia (UVA), got the idea for NeW when she returned to college after a summer spent interning for Republican senator for Indiana, Richard Lugar, in Washington.
"I loved being around other conservative women and wanted to find more women like that at UVA," says Agness, 22, who hails from Indianapolis. "Unfortunately, all the women's groups on campus were really liberal and biased. And when I asked a women's studies professor if anybody would be interested in sponsoring a conservative women's group, she just laughed at me."
With a handful of friends, Agness launched NeW in September 2004, initially as a book club that over the semester discussed What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman
by Danielle Crittenden. But the women wanted to do more than just read and think about changing things: they wanted to take action and do it themselves.
So, on the same weekend that UVA's production of The Vagina Monologues
opened in February 2005, NeW hosted a lecture by Christina Hoff Sommers, a vocal critic of feminism and author of The War Against Boys
. Her lecture, "Sex, Lies and The Vagina Monologues
" drew a standing-room only audience and sparked a week-long debate in the student newspaper.
"The Vagina Monologues
was something at UVA that no one had challenged because when feminists say something, it becomes fact," Agness says. "It's really important for these conservative women to stand up and take on some of these issues."
Professor Ann Lane, a former director of UVA's women and gender studies program, is embarrassed that NeW got its start at her university. "I'm not opposed to the group's existence - I just don't like it," she says. "I particularly don't accept their premise that men and women occupy such culturally different spaces."
Karin Agness suggests women form book clubs before turning to activism; each chapter of NeW is autonomous - and likely to cause a stir.
In September 2004, a UVA student news magazine published an article about the fledgling organisation, complete with artwork. Recalls Agness, "On the cover they ran an illustration of a woman dressed in a perfectly ironed pristine shirt with a checkered apron, connected to a machine with 12 babies popping out while stirring her batter and reading her recipe with the headline 'Manifest Domesticity'.
"We were really portrayed as baby-making machines, and at that point I knew we were onto something. We were a threat."
NeW's spirited opposition to The Vagina Monologues
is in marked contrast to the wimpishness of Fr John Jenkins, president of the (Catholic) University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
Initially he spoke against the play saying it was antithetical to the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, and that repeat performances on campus would suggest that the university endorsed the content and message of the play. Then he caved in to feminist pressure and allowed the play to go on in the name of "academic freedom".
Bishop John M. D'Arcy, whose diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend includes Notre Dame, had asked that the performances be ended. He said he was "deeply saddened by Fr Jenkins' decision; the play reduces sexuality to a particular organ of a woman's body separate from the person of the woman, from her soul and her spirit".
A chapter of NeW (urgently needed at Notre Dame) would not go amiss in the Australian Parliament where unholy alliances of pro-abortion feminist MPs are creating cultural mayhem across party lines.- Babette Francis is national coordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.