In his most recent New York Times editorial, Ross Douthat suggested that Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court was exciting, and represents a new “conservative feminism that’s distinctive, coherent, and influential.” He then waxed poetic about the reprioritisation of things like “sex and romance and marriage and child rearing,” all of which were apparently lost thanks to feminist advancements in the 1970s.
Rather than using the classic conservative tactic of invoking feminism as a liberal plot to destroy the nuclear family, Douthat is also using feminism to defend her nomination, and making it seem like it’s a victory for all women. He is not the only conservative pundit to do so this week, and he won’t be the last. Conservatives are seemingly taking pleasure in trolling the US with the fact that their latest right-wing extremist Supreme Court pick is a woman — meaningless, since her entire record is so anti-woman — and with her transparently laughable portrayal as a new type of “feminist.” They’re even trying to make the nickname “Notorious ACB” happen.
The trouble is, “conservative feminism” is not only a nonsensical term, but an oxymoron. Feminism at its core is about dismantling long-standing patriarchal power structures and protecting women’s freedom in the pursuit of gender equality. This is not what Barrett’s judicial history reflects. Rather, she has a firmly anti-choice judicial abortion record, and has referred to abortion as “always immoral,” indicating she does not seem to believe in women’s freedom to make their own choices about their bodies. There’s no philosophical wiggle room here.
Douthat, though, doesn’t care about what feminism actually stands for, and instead distorts its meaning, claiming that its “victories were somewhat unbalanced,” which is why conservative feminism is needed, so that it can ignore women’s “professional ambition” in favour of “other human aspirations,” like getting married and having children. But this is nonsense: Feminism is pro-motherhood and pro “work-life balance” because it advocates that women should choose whether and when to bear children, and fights for their equal treatment in the workplace and public sphere. RBG, a working mother and wife, certainly ascribed to that type of feminism and fought to make it possible for people across America. To suggest that Barrett’s far-right record and hostility to abortion rights and healthcare access are a form of feminism, or an adequate successor to RBG, is not only disingenuous, but dangerous.