Making Space for Anti-Feminists . . .
What do you think about NEW, Network of Enlightened Women? If you haven’t heard of it, they’re a group of conservative female college students, founded in 1994 by UVA student Karen Agness. They are “dedicated to fostering the education and leadership skills of conservative university women.” What does that mean? It means they think the Vagina Monologues “glorifies” rape; feel that women’s studies “unfairly paints men as evil” and “ignores differences between the sexes,” and have a major problem with modern feminism.
It’d be easy to rip into them, given that everything they stand for is utterly offensive to me. I certainly wouldn’t be the first blog writer to attack them for trying to set women back 30 years. But, instead, I would like to take the road less traveled and tell you what impresses me about the group. Yep, you heard me.
1. They are good at organizing. They started on the UVA campus and have now spread to seven colleges in seven states including Idaho, Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama. Young conservative women in the northeast are currently trying to start them at their own campuses.
2. They understand the importance of women having their own space. Agness has said that she “hopes the group will serve as a sanctuary from college Republican and other conservative clubs,” which she says tend to be “male-dominated, career-oriented and not focused on issues of concern to women.” I give her props for figuring out how to create a place where women can run their own agenda.
3. They are right that campus women's studies departments do pretty much “ignore conservative women and their views in the syllabi and in class discussions.” That was the case, certainly, at the colleges I went too. There should be room for dialogue in women’s studies, just as there should be room for women to make all sorts of choices within feminism.
It is all-too-easy to dismiss and attack these young women who threaten my values and so much of what I stand for. But if we as feminists really believe in the right to choose, then we have to allow for women voicing opinions that we don’t like. So while I won’t be rooting for NeW anytime soon, I believe there is room for them.