The Iron Ladies Origin Story
In the beginning, there was a husband’s idea . . .
It all started on April Fool’s Day. (Of course.)
For years — well three, but in early marriage three years seems like a long time — we had told friends an expat tour in London was probable. They’d stopped believing us. But on April 1, 2006, Jim got the call from his firm to go to London. By May, he lived there. I joined him with our 30 month old and 9 month old in June. (Our sister-in-law, Persephone, came along for a few weeks because she is the best.)
Soon I started writing letters home to friends and family. It was an odd endeavor for me. I had never liked writing. I didn’t learn how until law school. But then I found I could, not artistically or easily — while other writers can quickly make words do their bidding, I have to coax words into submission. But I could write.
Friends and family liked the letters and as it was 2006 when blogs were booming, my husband suggested I start an expat blog. But with two young children, I thought I didn’t have enough time. Then in early 2008 we had twins, and I really didn’t have time. But late 2008 brought the election of Barak Obama, which was a call to action for grassroots conservatives. Since we were still in London, I did not have an option to attend Tea Parties or get back into political campaigns (I had done local campaign management in my pre-kid days), and I still had four littles underfoot. So my husband set up my blog, An American Housewife in London. I had come up with the name back in 2006, as I had been using the term “housewife” defiantly since 2003 when I had left Marathon Oil.
My idea then was to be a bridge to conservative ideas and writers. A jack (or jane?) of all trades kind of gal, I thought I could have a wide variety of readers stumble upon conservative links while I was talking about something else. That was generally a failure in everything but writing practice, self publishing lessons, and widening of my own reading network. (I met EdgeOfTheSandbox at this time. Trading culture shock stories. She a Jew from the Soviet Union and conservative now living in San Francisco with kids and I a Texpat in London. She knew culture shock better than me.)
Iron Ladies was conceived sometime in late 2010, when I sought my husband’s advice on blog success. I had not yet learned how firmly non-conservatives would shun a conservative site. There would be precious little stumbling-upon in links. As for conservatives, well, I’d do a series of posts on UK defence budget and get on American Power’s blogroll only to follow with a series on breastfeeding and get knocked off of it. To solve my blog focus purpose problem, my husband suggested that I curate articles from conservative women.
It was an excellent idea that I did not do at that time for two reasons: 1) it is hard to understate how much conservative women resist the idea of identity politics. We are conservatives who happen to be women — segregating our voices seems unnatural. 2) To the extent that I saw a rationale for segregating our voices (more on that below) I did not think I had enough of a network to do it well.
Jim and I discussed and refined the idea from time to time. It just wasn’t ready (or I wasn’t). Then in the summer of 2012, Dave Swindle, then of PJ Media, contacted me. He had found my blog. They were starting a lifestyle section and would like for me to write. (I met slmgoldberg there, arguing — productively — about feminism.) Earlier that day, a writer named Ben Domenech had mentioned in his popular newsletter, The Transom, something about young men writing fan fiction. I had sent an email stating that, actually, women wrote fan fiction. He replied that I was not the first to make that observation and to join in at Ricochet.
So I started a few years writing, and learning, in conservative media, publicly and privately. Iron Ladies took a couple of conceptional leaps during that time. I recall a big one from sometime in the cold and dark of 2012/13. We were visiting London as we had moved home. I was up writing while jet lagged — an often productive state — hence the cold and the dark memory. Domenech had asked about what women would like to read. In that email discussion I put together content ideas that now guides Iron Ladies. I later guessed Domenech was brainstorming The Federalist, where I spent four years as a Senior Contributor when it started. (I met Melissa Langsam Braunstein and Georgi Boorman there, talking about everything, really.)
My husband’s excellent idea, however, remained a concept to me until Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was imminent. In a couple of exchanges with a variety of conservative women over 2013 and 2014, I worried that we would have difficulty countering the idea that Clinton and women of the left spoke for women. To know what leftist women thought, one had a choice of outlets, and they were all neutrally branded to the public eye. To know what right women thought, one had Fox News and a handful of websites, which were not only right-branded but also not representative.
I started floating the idea or parts of it in various settings. Some women were enthusiastic, but none at the publisher or power level. (That identity politics resistance.) I started to do it anyway. Concepts started to come together. Feminine without being cliché pink, sugar and spice, or anything girl power — which to my mind assumes that the not-power state is the norm, e.g. “Smart Girls Blog” assumes that “Girls Blog” is not smart. Again my husband came though with the name, at an Italian restaurant. We were supposed to be on a date night and ended up discussing Margaret Thatcher allusions. (And some Abagail and John Adams ones, which at least are more romantic.) But Iron Ladies met all of my requirements plus nods to conservative history and my own.
Then came the summer of 2015 and the contentious campaign that followed. Any plan to gather conservative women’s voices at that time was no labor of love, joy, or anything else to dwell upon. I had no desire — who would? — to bury myself in politics and culture writing, much less among conservative women when multiple factions of us were hardly speaking anymore. More to the point, where were the open minds to reach? Fear or revulsion may be negative emotions, but they are quite capable of providing clarity. And people are no more closed minded that when they are certain they are right. So Iron Ladies waited.
But as the election ended, and so many things everyone thought they knew turned out to be wrong, people and platforms fell into place. (I met Charlie, who is still undercover, and, then on Medium the final everything-clicked-into-place-person, Rachel Darnall.) Most significantly, however, a segment of the public began to seek solid news and commentary instead of the soap opera style stories they had been getting. And people were curious about what conservative women think.
In February, we just did it.
Melissa, Rachel, and I edit and manage the magazine. Susan, Sandbox, Georgi, and Andie help us with ideas. We have a tech and design team here in Houston. A few others have come and gone in the planning process, but they would prefer I don’t mention them. It could make for conflicts within conservative circles. (One might think that pitching a site designed to promote others’ writers would be welcome, but one would be mistaken. In 6 months, I’ve learned more about conservative power cliques than I wanted to know and than I figured out in 5 years in publishing. If readers sense a tone of loyal opposition in exile, at least in my writing, it is not your imagination.)
The main idea behind the magazine is the same one that it was when my husband and I first discussed aggregating conservative women’s voices back in 2010: to present conservative ideas and concepts to an audience that doesn’t naturally come by them — to feed the concurious, as Melissa named our intended audience. I added other purposes as well: to network, develop, and support conservative women writers and to provide a way for others to “hear” them in all their variety. Media, on both sides, has plenty of big personalities. That might be great for the alphabet outlets’ bottom lines, but not so much for the public’s desire, the public’s need, to be informed and to understand. We hope to fill some of those needs. And now a year later, with the off-year drubbing the GOP just took from many women canidates on the Left, curating conservative women’s voices isn’t such a bad idea for the resistant right, either.
So look around. Sign up for the weekly email. More to come.