Silent No More
Republican Women Are Not Simply Tools to Maintain Toxic Power Structures in the Party
Ariel Hill-Davis, Policy Director of Republican Women for Progress, is a Republican from Pennsylvania who currently resides in Washington D.C. Ariel serves as Vice President of Industry and Regulatory Affairs for a trade association, working on legislative and regulatory issues that impact the mining industry.
The biggest political story heading into the Midterm elections is the role women are playing in campaigns and the national dialogue. Labeled the Year of the Woman, 2018 has been a testament to the transformative power of women from all walks of life — except, of course, if you are a Republican woman. As an organization, Republican Women for Progress has grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of attention paid to Republican Women who do not fit the narrative of the GOP as the monolithic party of Donald Trump and the Tea Party. This narrative that the GOP is devoid of thoughtful, pragmatic women is toxic and inaccurate. The Republican Party is in the midst of an identity crisis and the fight for control over the future of the party includes women and men from across the spectrum.
The insistence of various media outlets that to be a Republican woman you must hold regressive policy views, buy into the traditional gendered power structures, and willfully assist in the marginalization of women and minorities robs moderate women of a platform to challenge the GOP from within. Every time media outlets write stories excluding center-right Republican women, knowingly or otherwise, it perpetuates the narrative they are alone and isolates these would be moderating voices within the party. Republican Women for Progress believes under the current two-party system the best hope for reformation is through empowering the centrist voices in each party that are being drowned out by the extremes. We learned the power of earned media during the presidential election of 2016. We know ignoring the pragmatists in favor of the shocking fringe candidates and groups can seriously impact election outcomes. The media, writ large, is doing a disservice to the general public by feeding into this skewed view of the GOP and the Progressive movement on the Democratic side.
The recent CNN “focus group” of Republican women in Florida is perhaps the most egregious example of the media’s lack of interest in providing a nuanced view of GOP women. The panel (depicted in the screenshot to the left) has subsequently, and rightfully, been called out by numerous people and outlets. Criticisms of the panel called to light the ties several of the women have to the Republican establishment in Florida, thus negating CNN’s assertion that the women were “regular” Republican voters. Outside of the benefits of toeing the party line (a topic we’ll explore in the rest of this piece), CNN did not seem interested in hosting a panel of women across the GOP spectrum. The Republican women I know, including our state affiliates and the various candidates on our Women to Watch List, were not represented in the views espoused by the Republican women on the CNN panel.
The assault on Dr. Ford’s character, questions about her truthfulness, endorsement of antiquated victim blaming, and comfort with “boys being boys” (the action version of “locker room talk”) were truly horrific to watch. In today’s environment, watching a panel of women use talking points seemingly ripped straight from the GOP 1991 defense handbook for Clarence Thomas was jarring. These panels underscore the difficulty the GOP will have recruiting women in the future. If I was a young, unregistered voter, that panel would ensure I never considered the GOP a viable political home. Frankly, the views shared are horrifically gendered, misogynistic, outdated, and if it hopes to exist in the future, have no place in the Republican Party. Demographics alone require a more nuanced and diverse platform if the party hopes to recruit Millennials and Gen-Zers into the base. Outside of the real numbers problem the GOP will encounter if it refuses to progress, there are plenty of us still here that want a party we can be proud of, one that is forward looking rather than rooted in the past.
Removing my personal horror at the panel, there remain questions over how CNN thought it was appropriate in today’s climate to put together and air such a one-sided group. How were participants chosen? Was it purposeful to film a segment so clearly designed as clickbait; and if so, why? In the fight against the narrative of fake news, did CNN realize it was playing to the worst assumptions from both sides? This segment reaffirmed the liberal concern that all Republican women are Serenas or Aunt Lydias from The Handmaid’s Tale. For conservatives, it reaffirmed the belief in CNN bias and liberal hysteria. What was gained? Certainly nothing meaningful for individuals interested in an honest and nuanced dialogue about morality, sexual misconduct, and the standards for an appointment to the Supreme Court.
One cannot hold CNN accountable however, without also addressing the elephant in the room — women’s role in the Republican Party. Much has been written about the existing and growing disparity in female representation between the Democratic and Republican parties. We, as Republicans, have a problem with women. There are many reasons for this, none the least of which are the challenges intrinsic in demanding equal space for women in groups who prize traditional values. As our society changes and we continue to push for equality though, it is incumbent upon Republican women to act in our own interest rather than continuing to act as a shield for the men in our party to behave in abhorrent, regressive ways.
We must find the courage to refuse to be used as justification for policies and stances that hurt and marginalize all women. Female candidates and operatives are asked to play ball, toe the party line, and not speak against bad policy or else they will suffer the consequences within the party. Their primary opponents will be funded and supported, they will be denied leadership roles, and the will be excluded as a result for their outspokenness. This is part of politics, but it is magnified when you are one of the only women standing in a sea of men. This catch-22 is where many GOP women find themselves, and therefore the use of women as political shields is de rigueur.
It is much less palatable today to hear a male politician slut-shame or question the validity of sexual assault charges, but by trotting out GOP women to espouse these views the party gets a pass to continue propagating antiquated opinions and policies. How many times have we heard Donald Trump respects women because he treats Ivanka, Kellyanne Conway, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders well? Importantly, these women are the exception, not the rule. The party tries to negate the need for greater equality and representation by claiming women support the status quo and they have the examples to back the claim up. The women who participated in the CNN panel are perfect examples of this strategy. How can the GOP have a problem with women when there are plenty of women willing to endorse the party line no matter how egregiously out of line it is?
We need to demand better as women within the GOP. We should not act as tools to tear down other women for the benefit of men within the party. We are not simply the token in the room that allows them the pretense of speaking in an egalitarian manner. The political establishment has long benefited by limiting the number of women in the room and rewarding the few who play ball. If the party line is a sexist or misogynistic one, it is our responsibility to make the men in our party own that line by openly voicing our disapproval. I am tired of shilling the party line that we do not play identity politics — because we do.
The GOP is currently playing the identity politics of older, white men. By refusing to claim our identities as women, we prohibit our party from having meaningful debate on issues that impact us. We can’t seek access to the boy’s club by disavowing “women’s issues” or mimicking the talking points of our male colleagues. These are our issues, stories like Dr. Ford’s are universal for women, and we need to reject our use as tools to propagate policies that limit and harm women. We owe it to ourselves, our Democratic sisters, and future generations of women to begin giving voice to our viewpoints as Republican women. If we can find the courage to condemn bad positions in our party then the least the media can do is start to tell our stories too. We are women, we are reasonable Republicans, and more of us will come out of the dark if we see others like us speaking up.