Ah, the Tea Party, all about upholding the Constitution without looking closely at the difficulties in following to the letter a document written in 1776 and heedlessly slashing taxes without contemplating the consequences. I spend many pointless hours torn between laughing at the sheer idiocy of what comes out of the mouths of some of these folks and contemplating how in the world such crazy people have cracked their way into the political mainstream.
But there is no question that the Tea Party has opened the door for many women who would never have considered entering the political arena to step up to the plate in what has been historically a male-dominated world. So the question up for debate is whether or not this makes the Tea Party movement a step forward for feminists.
Perhaps the funniest thing, of course, is that many of the women associated with the Tea Party have …
While no movement that uses Michelle Malkin as a poster girl could fairly be described as feminist, the party has become an insta-network for ambitious women like [Tennessee Congressional candidate Lou Ann] Zelenik. Some are aspiring candidates who could never get traction within the tight, local Republican Party networks. Some are angry-mom-activist types who, like their heroine Sarah Palin, outgrew the PTA. But some would surprise you with their straightforward feminist rage. For the last few years Anna Barone, a Tea Party leader from Mount Vernon, N.Y., has used the e-mail handle annaforhillary.com: “The way they treated Hillary is unforgiveable, and then they did it to Sarah Palin,” she said. “I’ve been to 15 Tea Party meetings and never heard a woman called a name just because she’s powerful. I guess you could say the Tea Party is where I truly became a feminist.”
But Barone’s point is valid in that the visible national figures associated with the Tea Party are mostly women.
Of the eight board members of the Tea Party Patriots who serve as national coordinators for the movement, six are women. Fifteen of the 25 state coordinators are women. One of the three main sponsors of the Tax Day Tea Party that launched the movement is a group called Smart Girl Politics. The site started out as a mommy blog and has turned into a mobilizing campaign that trains future activists and candidates. Despite its explosive growth over the last year, it is still operated like a feminist cooperative, with three stay-at-home moms taking turns raising babies and answering e-mails and phone calls. Spokeswoman Rebecca Wales describes it as a group made up of “a lot of mama bears worried about their families.” The Tea Party, she says, is a natural home for women because “for a long time people have seen the parties as good-ole’-boy, male-run institutions. In the Tea Party, women have finally found their voice.”
This is where I start to question the veracity of the “Tea Party as Feminism” argument. After all, doesn’t the notion of stay-at-home wives and mothers who love their lives as mommies and wives call back a time that legions of women fought desperately to change?
An interesting counterpoint, however, is that the quintessential Lady Against Feminism is perhaps better suited to run the government than your typical male.
And so the conservative mama bear has become a fully operational, effective political archetype. She is mother as übercompetent CEO, monitoring with vigilance her own family bank account, the local school bank account, and, as a natural extension, the nation’s. “Women are sitting at home and balancing their checkbook, leaving money for groceries and utilities and fun stuff,” says Jenny Beth Martin, one of the Patriots’ national coordinators. “They realize that these things that apply to their household budgets also apply to government.” In explaining their view on the stimulus money, several Tea Party mama bears used examples they’d heard at PTA meetings. Why should the school waste money on a part-time Chinese teacher who gets full benefits? Why should the government waste money on ant farms and exotic fish?
Also noteworthy is that some of these women are not all your standard right-wing “it’s-a-child-not-a-choice-until-you-want-my-taxes-to-pay-for-its-food-stamps-and-housing.”
Local parties in Seattle, New York, and California, for example, breed more-straightforward feminists. (Remember annaforhillary.com.) Some of the women I interviewed are longtime women’s activists who feel alienated from both parties and are happy to have a fresh start. Betty Jean Kling runs a group called Majority United, dedicated to getting more women in office and fighting violence against women. Like many activists I talked to, Kling thinks social issues such as abortion are just wedges to drive women apart. (Varley, who is Catholic and pro-life, said the same thing: “We would be stupid to bring up abortion at a meeting.”)
Kling says the two parties “just throw crumbs to women” and insult them. She has given over her radio show to women Tea Party activists and candidates, and started a network of local chapters. “Each woman has her reasons for joining,” she says, “but I would like to believe that deep down she has a degree of pride in knowing that when she is voting out the incumbents she may be voting in a new woman with new ideas who will be really amenable to women’s rights.”
I’m a bit suspicious of labeling Tea Partiers as feminists just because it’s an avenue for women to enter politics. I think listening to what comes out of the mouths of most of these women would sway anyone on the “are-they-or-aren’t-they” fence (and a little immature part of me wants to call them feminists just because they speak out against the evils of feminism with such zeal).
What are your thoughts on this?