By Amanda Marcotte
The views expressed are her own.
Of all the candidates who rose and fell during the prolonged Republican primary campaign going into Iowa, Michele Bachmann took the wildest ride. Bachmann won the 2011 Ames Straw Poll in August, taking 28 percent of the vote, mainly due to conservative evangelicals who supported her strong anti-abortion views and her ease in speaking Christianese. But a mere five months later, after a disastrous showing in Iowa where she only took 5 percent of the vote, Bachmann is dropping out of the race.
The campaign has blamed sexism for her precipitous fall. It’s an accusation that hasn’t done her any favors with defensive voters, but this may be one of those rare occasions when the Bachmann camp has correctly assessed reality. As a conservative female politician with an evangelical base, Bachmann was forced to hang her ambitions on voters who believe in traditional gender roles. It’s a strategy—a woman who rejects feminism who also wants to use feminism to gain serious power–that causes cognitive dissonance for voters, like fruit-flavored beer. The novelty will generate some sales, but at the end of the day, people will return to the half-dozen other beer-flavored beers available.
The sustained culture war that has created modern conservatism has many aspects to it: homophobia, racialized resentments, hostility to immigration. But anger about feminist gains surely rises to the top, with a special anger reserved for reproductive rights that free women from the kitchen and allow them to compete with men in the workplace. Bachmann herself gloated frequently about her love of traditional male power, noting publicly that she submits to her husband and strictly forbids her daughters to take the lead with boys, forcing them to adopt a strictly passive role in dating. Unsurprisingly, her belief that women should not control when they give birth has been a major platform for her, one she routinely describes as her number one priority.
That these opinions created an initial bout of enthusiasm for Bachmann is unsurprising. For decades now, conservatives have loved an anti-feminist woman, believing, correctly, that having women express hostility to women’s rights dilutes the feminist ideology. Putting anti-feminist views in a woman’s mouth allows conservatives to argue that many women are perfectly happy allowing men to take the lead. Additionally, anti-feminist women can be used to shame feminists, by asking them why they can’t just accept the status quo like conservative women do. Many pundits and writers have made a career being the woman who opposes women’s empowerment: Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter, Beverly LaHaye, among others. As long as these women’s actions are seen as fundamentally supportive of male dominance, they’re applauded for speaking out, and make money doing it.
The problems arise when anti-feminist women start to seek real power for themselves. Bachmann is far from the first female candidate whose anti-feminist views gained her a flurry of enthusiasm but whose conservative base reneged at the last minute. That base is unable to grant serious power to a woman, no matter how much she promised to use it to disempower other women. Michele Bachmann is simply the latest conservative woman who has found that she’s trapped not under a glass ceiling, but in a glass house: stuck in the role of champion for male control, unable to get a piece of the pie for themselves.