(Originally written for the Tea Party Review Magazine, an edited version appears as the cover story of their June edition)
One hundred and sixty-three years ago, a small group of conservative women met in Seneca Falls, New York to demand equal pay for equal work, the right to own property, and the right to vote. The so called “Seneca Falls Convention” was the birthplace for all American women’s rights battles that were to follow. These “feminists” made it clear, they didn’t want to dissolve the family structure, they didn’t want to abolish religion, and they didn’t want to punish men. They simply wanted the same legal protection and control over their work product and property that men enjoyed. Their goal, in part, was to insure that through their vote, their private opinions about the governance of their community and the country carried the same weight as that of a man.
In much the same way that conservative women in the public eye and particularly in politics today, are attacked, maligned, belittled and degraded by the mainstream media, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucrecia Mott, and other speakers (male and female) at the convention were roundly eviscerated by much of the press. Some newspapers supported the concept of legal equality while doubting its functionality, others admonished women with a stern “get back to the kitchen and the laundry where you belong.” Their “womaninity” was challenged, their husbands were belittled as cuckolds, and their fitness as mothers was debated in newspapers across the country. Ministers preached sermons against the “unnatural ascent” of women to a place of equality. And perhaps most shockingly, women’s groups sprung up to picket against women’s rights!
It took nearly seventy years of conferences, speeches, marches, letters, petitions, and legal appeals for the goal of the Seneca Falls Convention to be partially realized, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote their own conscience. Though there had been some advances on a state level in a small handful of states, concerning some of the other issues, particularly the right of women to own or inherit property, full legal equality was still elusive.
One of the main stumbling blocks, preventing women from being made equal to men in the eyes of the law, were the activities of a small, vocal, radical organization, called the Women’s National Labor Union. The head of this controversial group, Matilda Gage, had originally embraced the equality movement. However, her attacks on the church and continued reference to abortion, spousal rape issues put her at odds with the largely religious political community. Because of the WNLU activities and commentaries, politicians were worried that a vote for legal female equality would be the death nill to church and family.
Two Republicans from Kansas (Senator Charles Curtis and Representative Daniel Anthony Jr.) attempted to quell the controversy and create an instrument that would grant women equality under the law without addressing the controversial social and religous issues. The proposed Equal Rights Amendment would insure that men and women had the same rights and protections under the law. The original Seneca Falls Convention and hundreds of conventions that followed outlined the harsh realities that inequality established.
In a time when few occupations were open to women, those that were paid women half of their male counterpart. The argument of the day (and an argument still heard today) was that men, as head of household, need to earn more to support a family. Of course the fact that many women were forced into outside employment in order to support a family when a spouse died was ignored. Women who found themselves head of a household (typically due to the injury, death, or the military service of their husband) faced abject poverty with little recourse. While the sentiment of the ERA seemed simple enough, Labor unions and Northern Democrats came out in full force against the Amendment, effectively blocking it for nearly fifty years.
In 1950, the Senate took up debate on the Equal Rights Amendment. Unions and Democrats claimed that their desire to block the ERA hinged on the terminology. Under the Equal Rights Amendment, women would be “equal” which the Unions and many opponents to the legislation read as “the same.” They charged that the “special privledges” offered to women by virtue of their sex would be striped and women would be forced into the draft and front lines during war times, be compelled to work “unseasonable” hours, blocked from motherhood and housekeeping duties, and forced to share a bathroom with men. Tennessee Democrat Estes Kefauver, went so far as to claim that the ERA would “eliminate rape as a crime.”
During the final hours of the debate, Arizona Democrat Carl Hayden, offered an amendment to the ERA which effectively killed the bill. The Hayden Rider as it was called stated, “The provisions of this article shall not be construed to impair any rights, benefits, or exemptions conferred by law upon persons of the female sex.” For supporters of the ERA, the Hayden Rider essentially meant that women would be deemed equal, unless some special “benefit” or exemption rendered them unequal or “equal as long as we allow you to be.” Unions and Democrats smugly declared their support of the ERA with the Hayden Rider providing them the ability to claim that they were for women’s equality while effectively keeping them from equality. Even those conservative feminist groups that had originally brought the ERA forward were forced to ask for the amendment to be rejected, due to the inclusion of the Hayden Rider.
In the early 1960’s most of the original, conservative, feminists had passed away. This left a vacume in leadership of organizations that had developed deep pockets, strong political ties with Republican politicians, and an extensive media platform. By the late 1960’s former leaders of counter culture groups, radical anti-American organizations, socialists, and communists recognized that they could better project their issues by occupying the empty feminist movement positions and taking advantage of their resources and contacts. These new “feminists” rejected the Republican Party and the Equal Rights Amendment and instead began to court union money and power and align themselves with Hollywood and the left.
Women who believed in the principles of the ERA were outraged when Republican politicians continued to reject the Amendment. Thanks largely to biased press coverage, the American people came to believe that the Republican party rejected female equality. Since the Hayden Rider version of the ERA continued to be the Amendment offered, conservatives could not back a bill that made women selectively equal. Democrats and radical, “second wave” feminists used the rejection and disinformation tactics to declare themselves as the only groups interested in women’s rights and issues. This resulted in a dramatic shift in the political landscape, with women being declared as solid Democrat voters.
In the 1840’s the term “feminist” meant a person who believed that men and women should have equal protection under the law. By the early 1970’s the same term was associated with abortion, sex without consequences, single parent families, lesbianism, homosexuality, and a rejection of traditional roles and values. The man hating, vitriol spewing, lesbian, became the face of modern feminism. Powerful lobbying organizations like the National Organization for Women (NOW), claimed the right to speak on behalf of all women and to determine which issues were “women’s” issues. To this day, these organizations continue to distort the history of the feminist movement and the conservative women who waged battle for legal equality.
As a child, I was taught that nice people, and in particular nice girls, didn’t talk about religion, politics, or money in public. Those issues were private and should be discussed only in the privacy of the home or church. It wasn’t that women’s opinions were considered less important than men’s opinions. It was simply that there was an appropriate time and place for everything and assaulting people with one’s own opinions on such personal issues as religion and politics lacked respect for others.
So when women like Gloria Steinem made sweeping generalizations as to the lack of worth of marriage, men, family, children, religion, sexual morals, and traditional values, there was no response from an embarrassed right who treated such a fundamental breach of etiquette as one would a bad smell. We simply smiled and excused ourselves from the offensive behavior. Unfortunately, this ultimately meant that the only female voices to be heard in the political arena were that of ultra liberals claiming to speak for all women. A conservative woman who might speak up was labeled backwards and ignorant. And if a man spoke up against the ultra-liberal agenda, he was branded a misogynist and chauvinist.
Unfortunately, our silence has resulted in decades of decisions being made for us that do not represent our values or our goals. After nearly 40 years of organizations like NOW, declaring that American women want abortion as birth control, the rejection of religion, open homosexuality, and a complete dissolution of marital and family roles, it’s no wonder that the media reacted with such surprise and anger when conservative women came out in force as voters and candidates for the Tea Party movement.
Decades of working hard behind the scenes to undermine family values, project hedonistic lifestyles, celebrate promiscuity, and paint America as a place for which citizens should apologize, was temporarily washed away when a woman was called to serve her country and arrived on the national stage with a baby on her hip, a rifle over her shoulder, and a Bible in her hand. Love her or hate her, if you want to know what the media and the ultra-liberals think of conservatives and in particular conservative women, you need only look to the manner in which Sarah Palin and her family are degraded, ridiculed, and maligned.
Conservative women, many who still feel uncomfortable at the idea of discussing personal beliefs in public have found new freedoms on the internet. Women in the thousands have embraced internet radio stations where they can talk, from the privacy of their own homes, with like minded people around the country. Others have taken to blogging their feelings and experiences or discussing issues on Face Book and Twitter. For the first time in history, tens of thousands of conservative women are making a stand. Not on “The View” or on the street corner, but discretely and directly into the homes of other long silent conservative families.
The Tea Party has an unprecedented opportunity to create life long loyalties and both voter and financial donor machines by truly embracing the millions of conservative women voters who have been without a political voice for decades. But it is all there to lose. If the Tea Party follows the examples set by both the Republicans and Democrats and largely ignore women voters, they can’t be successful long term. But if the Tea Party reaches out to women and considers the value of our vote equal to that of the men typically courted by politicians, they will have an impenetrable force.
As the old saying goes, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Unfortunately, the ultra-liberals have spent decades co-opting the influence of the hand of women by creating factory style indoctrination centers in the form of public schools. Sex education (as early as kindergarten), revisionist versions of history, the vilifying of whites and of Caucasian cultures, demonizing America as a global bully, labeling our capitalistic system as evil, glorifying single parent households and homosexual lifestyles, and labeling Christians as backward oppressors all conspire to limit the influence of parents and traditional values. Young girls are taught that to be a mother and home maker is lazy and selfish. Yet, a woman who works thus forcing her own children to go into childcare, is ambitious and modern. This of course helps to perpetuate the cycle and has resulted in several generations of young people without a sure moral compass or strong ethical foundation upon which to build a life. It is these very people who fall victim to the socialist agenda and that is of course the point.
Conservative voters are ready to take back control of the public schools. We are eager to return the nobility of the American work ethic to the class room and to insure that education and indoctrination are not interchangeably used terms. While conservatives want their children to understand other cultures and embrace the differences in values and belief systems around the world, we don’t want this achieved at the expense of our own traditions and heritage. America is a melting pot and children attending public schools do come from a wide variety of religious and cultural backgrounds, but this shouldn’t preclude the teaching of ethics, morals, and appropriate behavior. A Tea Party that embraces this fundamental “women’s issue” not only satisfies current voters, but insures an educated electorate of the future. Engaging women voters about fundamental changes to the public school system is a wonderful way to approach conservative women who may have avoided direct involvement with politics in the past.
But education isn’t simply about the children. Tens of millions of Americans don’t know their own history. They don’t know that conservatives created the Civil Rights movement and fought against the left for decades to win equality for minorities and women. They don’t know that feminists were originally conservatives who believed that a woman should have control over her body, her work product, and her property but were attacked (and even murdered) by Democrats and labor unions. Money spent now, before the election cycle really begins, to educate the American people about the truth of our own history can have tremendous and long lasting benefits to the Tea Party, who themselves revisited history to make a point and engage and electorate.
The Tea Party can also have a tremendous impact upon and appeal to women voters by addressing health care. While we all want to see the ObamaCare travesty eradicated, even when this goal is achieved health care problems do exist that need to be addressed. The Tea Party can gain ground by conceptualizing real, practical, working solutions for the health care problems that affected middle class families. The failure of Republicans and Democrats should be our guide. Both parties offer sweeping promises but never bother to actually create solutions. Develop and publicize a working solution, and the Tea Party can not only solidify their conservative base, but also pull in Republican and moderate Democrat men and women to the party.
There really is no such thing as “women’s issues.” Men care just as much as women do about their children. Men are just as concerned about health care and the economy as are their female counterparts. But women have been the focus of decades of manipulation and indoctrination and have largely fallen for the lies of the liberals. We have bought into the “second wave feminists” version of femininity which is more porn star than lady. We have bought into the idea that a woman who raises children and takes care of a home is “just” a housewife. Yes we may have veered off course and temporarily forgotten that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” But millions of us have awoken and are passionate about the platform for which the Tea Party stands.
And so, just as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who addressed the audience on that hot day in July, 163 years ago in Seneca Falls, New York, encouraged women to take responsibility for their owns lives and not let the continued degradation of women at the hands of others determine their worth, the Tea Party must continue to embrace and encourage conservative women to stand up, take positions of responsibility and power in the political process and be forces of positive change in their own communities.
Embrace us, include us, and succeed. Ignore us at your own peril, for the conservative woman now knows, the hand that pulls the voting machine lever rules the world.