The New Backlash: How Tea Party Women Have Kneecapped the Feminist Movement

Guest Posted by Retzilian

When I was a senior in college during the Reagan era I wrote an independent study thesis on “women in politics” and researched the history of what Susan Faludi, author of the award-winning book, “Backlash”, described as a foe that remains insidious, amorphous, relentless and pervasive. Not much has changed since the 80s. We have not “come a long way, baby.” Misogyny has always been a dominant flavor in the stock of political soup, and women have remained a minority in Washington: only 17 out of 100 Senators are women, and only 72 out of 435 in Congress – a whopping 17% considered a “milestone” by columnists. Worse yet, today’s roster of women running under the “Tea Party” label have not only betrayed their feminist sisters who paved the way for them to run, but represent even bigger misogynists than their sexist male counterparts.

During the presidential primaries in 2008, Clinton supporters protested their dismay that a woman was not nominated for the highest office in the land. After all, we had a woman Speaker of the House, and Hillary did put up a great fight and put “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling,” according to her own colorful metaphor. Nevertheless, did Hillary truly characterize the feminist ideal, or was she merely a carpetbagger, a poseur, another ruthless pol willing to throw real feminist principles aside to achieve her ambition?

To her credit, Hillary supported feminist issues such as equal pay, affordable health care, education, and pro-choice. Where she deviated in policy was her stance in matters of war and national security, propping up a perpetual war-state and advocating invading Iran. Perhaps, compared to a candidate like Sarah Palin, we can forgive her that because of her obvious knowledge on the subject. Sure, Hillary had feminist cred, despite her odd decision to stay with a philandering husband. She made good money as a lawyer and nobody will dispute her professional competence; but, without Bill’s coattails to ride, she would never have been elected to the Senate in a state where she would have had trouble navigating the five biggest cities and where she never resided as a constituent. Her success as a politician was only a few rungs above the way most women took office in years past: by inheriting their late husbands’ seats.

As a child of the 70s who grew up in the most active era of feminism in America, coming of age during Ms. Magazine and Gloria Steinem, I have defined true feminism as independence, not equality. Most modern women may never (in this lifetime) experience equality in terms of earning power, opportunities or physical strength, but we can be financially, emotionally and mentally independent of men on our own terms, on their turf.

Which brings me to the current gaggle of Tea Party women running for prestigious positions of Senator or Governor: Sharron Angle, Carly Fiorina, Christine O’Donnell, Linda McMahon, Jan Brewer and Meg Whitman, and the godmother of them all: Sarah Palin; fewer than three of whom are qualified to run a local school board. Yet it’s not merely their incompetence I condemn (as God knows, countless maladroit men have held high office in this country), but rather their rage against modern women and their neo-sentimentalism about an era of history that subjugated women and children and promoted wage slavery, cruelty, environmental havoc, and Gilded Age plunder.

The historically important policies and cultural changes that enabled women to succeed in America: public schools, Medicaid, equal pay laws, 40-hour work weeks, childcare credits, affordable college, school loans, legalized abortion, no-fault divorce, Title IV, Title IX, and a myriad of economic and environmental regulation that codified safety and health for all citizens are now being attacked by the Tea Party candidates as “government takeovers” and “socialism.” Yes, it is 2010, where women now wish to employ a scorched earth strategy to the very same rights and privileges that allowed them to stand in front of cheering crowds in the first place. As Alanis Morissette, another feminist pioneer would say, “Isn’t it ironic?”


  1. cocktailhag says:

    Great post… I thought Faludi’s book was one of the best pieces of scholarship of the “post-feminist” era, and I learned a lot from it.

  2. retzilian says:

    Thanks for posting. Please put a Y after Tea Part Women.


  3. dirigo says:

    It is weird, not to mention unnerving, to contemplate any or all of these women wielding power, together as some kind of coalescing force, or (Jehosaphat!) caucus within Congress.

    But might it be, as some have suggested, that the whole tea party thing will expire within one cycle, like a big wave crashing on the beach, the water and white foam dispersing and falling back from the rocks and marsh?

    They may not get along all that well once in office anyway, having to actually confront (gasp!) governing.

    Anyway, I like sea-faring analogies and utterances (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat!). I hope this one works.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I’m not betting on the expiration thing; a lot has been spent on this Republican rebranding effort, which is essentially what it is, of course, and they’re not going to throw it away. On the last part, though, you’re probably right. When they make asses of themselves, voters will notice.

      • dirigo says:

        It’ll take discipline to beat the expiration date, if there is one, and it’s fair to wonder whether these characters will even be as good as the “moral majoritarians” of yore.

        What’s the record of a herd of cats in terms of discipline?

        And like the Falwellistas, the baggers want to dictate to the party.

        Underline “dictate.”

        But the hidden money will cover a lot of bets.

  4. retzilian says:

    I think that if any of them win their elections they will have a very tough time in Washington, based on the history of women in Congress and the Senate. This is very much a boys club still (50-plus % of a population only represented by 17% of the legislature?) – and without their little index cards of buzz words (“common-sense conservative,” “government takeover”, “socialism”, “free market”, “deficit spending”, etc.) like some kind of perverted Catechism class, they will have a hard time coming up with original ideas, never mind understanding how a bill is drafted or the amount of work it will require for them, as Freshmen, to survive the life.

    I don’t think O’Donnell has a snake’s chance in hell, and Fiorina will be crushed by Boxer, but a dimwit like Sharron Angle will be be in waaaaay over her head.

    • dirigo says:

      You’re on the money when you refer to a “kind of perverted Catechism class” of institutional rhetoric.

      It’s an empty husk, so much dead weight; but the lady baggers will – what? – go along by getting along, as, in effect (with all due respect to Barbara Billingsley), a gaggle of June Cleavers, doncha know.

      They will be co-opted immediately, but then claim “success,” just as the religious right appeared to do under the humoring influence of the Rovians.

  5. The Heel says:

    Great Post, Miss Retz,
    I had different experiences with feminism and would have to conclude that in modern, California style high tech environments, gender is as much of an issue as skin color – non whatsoever. It’s all about playing the politics within the structures (see Fiorina). But I also must say that the best boss I ever had was a classy lady in her 50s. The most impressive sales person I know is a woman my age. The one owned a third of the company we worked for and the other makes solid six figures in salary.

    Your point is valid, though. The tea-bag-ladies are a breed of a kind…
    Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Dems hold both houses and in 2 years Obama getting a second term? It’s not hope but spite that makes me smile….imagine the pain those f–ed up witches would feel!

    • retzilian says:

      I’d wager to guess that the most successful women in sales, finance, and business got there because of the trails blazed by her predecessors who were instrumental in her getting affordable school loans, free College tuition in California (hello?!), safe, legal and cheap abortion on demand, and confident women role models and mentors.

      The Tea Bag Queens would have us all slaves of biology and denied not only equality, but our independence.

      I don’t think how much money you make defines your success, but as far as I’m concerned, independence is a far greater goal than “equality.” My daughters are all going to be completely self-sufficient (2 out of 3 already are, the youngest is only 14 but knows the story.)

      Basically, talented people of all stripes can make it anywhere. It’s the less talented ones we have to help out.

  6. Annice says:

    Great post Retzillian,
    I am also from the same era as you and work in a man’s world!(Automotive)
    What happened to the women of today?????? I am sometimes ashamed….