Modern. Republican. Woman.

“How can you be a Republican? You’re a woman!”

“How can you be a Republican? You’re a woman!” The woman gaping at me like I was a two-headed gorilla in the Arctic was an elected official in the area. The words to politely answer this question didn’t quite make it from my brain to my mouth before she laughed and fluttered along to the next subject, something clearly more interesting than my personal background. I looked at my fiancé, still processing the blatantly sexist and ignorant question, and he gave me a look reserved for moments like this — an eye roll without the eye roll, as if to say “brush it off.” We shuffled away and cheerfully greeted the next politician, supporter or curious newcomer we came upon. It was the same song and dance of the typical local political fundraiser, which we attended often. The difference between our experience and that of most other brave souls that attend these events is that my fiancé is a Democrat and I am a Republican. He was a candidate for local office at the time. I, a relatively politically active individual and a supportive significant other, enjoyed attending many of these events with him.

Conversations like this one always remind me that people fear what they don’t understand. As a young, female, Republican outsider in a sea of local Democrats whose topmost credential is how long they’ve lived in their town, I feel perpetually misunderstood. In fact, I think the concept of a Republican-leaning woman is somewhat misguided, with images of Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Palin conjured to mind. While they aren’t exactly what I would call the ideal model of the modern Republican woman, the slick-tongued pollster turned White House adviser and blustering former VP candidate do give a voice to a generally misunderstood segment of our population: the female Republican.

There are several explanations I could have articulated to answer the woman’s question that evening, had I been given enough time to think and speak. It’s not every day we ask ourselves why we are the way we are, but doing so (and actually answering) can prove to be more than revealing. It can be defining and even enlightening. I’m a 34 year-old white American woman living in an urban area, with middle-class parents and a graduate degree. A candidate vying for my vote might have me pegged as a likely Democrat. They would be wrong.

I didn’t grow up in a political family. I didn’t learn the key differences between Republicans and Democrats until college. My parents didn’t talk to us about politics, candidates or government in any respect. Any beliefs I have about the government’s role in society, policy or political issues exist because of my own experiences, education and environment — not because my parents preached a certain set of ideals. So, why am I a Republican? What does it mean to be a Republican anyway?

First, part of defining and clarifying my political position means identifying what I am not. I am not an angry, embittered person who feels ignored by my leadership. You won’t find me donning a MAGA hat at a Trump rally, calling myself a “deplorable,” calling Democrats names or spewing hateful rhetoric at those I happen to disagree with. In a time when real conversations and more thoughtful discussion about solutions are needed, I personally find these actions unproductive.

What I am, however, is someone who believes government has a crucial role in American society. I don’t think any Republican could honestly argue otherwise. There is no doubt that we need a central governing body that can set and carry out policies that protect us as citizens and ensure our ability and opportunities to prosper are not threatened or squandered. Preference on the degree to which our governmental bodies carry out that mission is where I find myself on the conservative end of the political spectrum. We as Americans have a right to individual liberty, guaranteed by our Constitution. People, not the government, are best equipped to decide what is best for them and their families. People, when empowered to do so, have the magnificent ability to come together, utilize resources and work out solutions to community problems. Excessive regulation stifles people and communities, and in my opinion hinders the creation of truly innovative and realistic solutions to the problems that plague our neighborhoods, states and the nation. Some may argue that people left to their own devices without government intervention will result in anarchy and that law enforcement, as an arm of the government, is a necessary function of American society. Others may say people aren’t responsible enough or don’t have the resources to self-govern, and that social welfare programs are critical to the survival of millions of Americans. These are valid concerns. I would never advocate for a completely government-free society. But as I observe the evolution of our nation, it seems that more government is simply not the solution. Overreach in health care and education, and over taxation at the local, state and federal levels should be pared back, allowing people to have more control over things that so enormously affect their everyday lives.

The American dream is one of freedom, opportunity and prosperity. It’s my belief, and that of most Republicans, that this dream is realized through hard work, creation of opportunity and optimization of our individual human potential. Prosperity cannot be created by government, nor can it be realized through dependence on government-run programs or short-term economic stimulus packages. True economic growth and job opportunities are not born out of government regulation. People create businesses and jobs. Jobs provide income and income enables consumer spending, which results in a healthy, balanced economy. I admire Republican leaders who believe in making it easier for people to start and grow businesses in the U.S. by easing tax burdens and cutting the red tape of government regulation on businesses and corporations. When freed from prohibitive burdens and empowered to create opportunity, people and communities will find ways to thrive and work together for the life they want to lead.

Relaxation of government regulation is only one part of that formula. The other is the people and their willingness and ability to stand up, aim higher than mere survival and work toward prosperity. The word “ability” is a key word in that statement. In order to create the necessary opportunity, to be able to work hard and reach for their American dream, people must have their basic needs met. It doesn’t escape me that there are members of our society that do not have their basic needs met, or are simply not able to work for various reasons. It’s the unfortunate case in today’s America that far too many must rely on public assistance to survive. Some members of the Democratic Party measure success by the amount of funding dedicated to providing for people in these programs. For example, they describe health insurance as a basic right, and tout how many newly insured individuals the ACA enabled, but never highlight the large number of people who rely on government subsidies just to obtain that basic right. I’m not arguing the value of social welfare programs, as I recognize their importance and believe, along with most mainstream Republicans, that they are valuable and should not be eliminated. When an individual or family must rely on their own government for basic needs like food, housing, insurance or health care, there are larger systematic problems at hand that must be addressed. We, as Americans existing in a democracy, must rely on our elected officials to put in place policies that reflect the ideas and solutions that will help resolve issues and not hinder people and communities — plans that will benefit all people and enable a prosperous future for the nation.

In America we’re allowed the wonderful freedom to identify with one or any combination of belief structures. That’s part of what makes being an American such a privilege. There are many planks of the Republican platform that I agree with, including restoration of our military forces, requiring a form of ID to vote, and empowering families to decide where their children should be educated. But I don’t claim to align with every piece of the Republican platform. For example, I fully support the right of all people to love and marry whomever they wish, and believe wholly in immigration reform that allows for a more thorough, but also more efficient and faster path to citizenship. In light of these deflections, it would be easy to cast me aside as a RINO, or label me as an Independent, a Moderate or some other name more palatable than the big “R.” But I’m willing to bet I’m not alone out on this branch of the party. In fact I may go so far as to say this is where many modern day Republican women find themselves.

In thinking back to the woman’s question that evening, specifically how a woman could possibly be a Republican, I can’t help but be slightly irked at the suggestion that because I am female I am supposed to identify with a certain political party. As if the Democrats alone have my best interest, as a woman, at heart and that a vote for a Republican is a vote against womankind. Reproductive rights, access to contraception and other female-related concerns are understandably hot button issues for many women and I respect that. I don’t, however, base my existence or define myself or beliefs on the fact that I happen to be a woman.

I am not only a woman. I am a fiancée, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a leader, a writer, a runner, a reader, and so many other things that go beyond the happenstance of my chromosomal structure. I’m very proud to be a woman. I’m also proud to be a Republican. Most importantly, though, I’m proud to be an American.

Iron Ladies is a collection of the writings of conservative women for non-conservatives. The Collection for this week is here. We are also on Twitter and Facebook.

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