Conservative black women bring fresh perspectives to feminism

Since my college years almost 20 years ago, I’ve considered myself a feminist. It is usually assumed that feminists are left-leaning liberals, but I am a feminist who is politically to the right of center. So, at many feminist gatherings – especially as my politics have changed – I’ve often felt like an ideological version of the ‘sister outsider’ outlined in the work of the late lesbian feminist Audre Lorde: theoretically part of the group, but a case apart. However, there are many other black feminists like me.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born feminist and former Dutch parliamentarian was recently interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. A fierce critic of Islam, which she argues undermines women’s rights around the world, Hirsi Ali also considers herself a libertarian and promotes the importance of protecting individual rights and freedom in the West. Focussing on protecting and celebrating individual rights for women, as opposed to only patriarchy and oppressive structures which assume that the woman is a victim, is what sets us libertarian feminists apart from liberal feminists.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not the only high-profile center-right black feminist. There’s also Nyamko Sabuni, the Swedish Minister for Integration And Gender Equality and member of the classically liberal/center-right Folkpartiet Liberalerna. While the Burundi-born feminist is supportive of affirmative action and is pushing Swedish corporations to hire more women at the top levels, she also believes in a stronger integration approach for Sweden’s immigrants by promoting less welfare dependency and more self-sufficiency.

There’s also Rama Yade, France’s outspoken Secretary of State and former human rights minister. When asked if she’s a feminist, the Senegalese-born moderate-conservative responded (in French): “Yes, I am a feminist and it’s not a dirty word! I don’t understand those who fear the word. The genre should certainly not be an excuse or a pretext. Feminism has opened the field of possibilities.” Secretary Yade has highlighted the plight of downtrodden women, rape as a political terror tool in countries like the Congo, and domestic violence.

However, it isn’t just African-born women who are in the black center-right feminist arena. While I had little appreciation for her while reading her work as a college student, anthropologist and author Zora Neale Hurston traversed this territory long ago. However, her center-right politics and antipathy to government intervention is either purposefully omitted or downplayed by feminist writers. In the blogosphere, my fellow Chicago center-right blogger Afrocity has joined me in promoting feminism in her posts, particularly in discussing women’s images in popular media.

There is an opportunity for us black center-right feminists to build upon Hurston’s work and to continue to bring different perspectives to black feminism. Liberal feminists often ask for big government goodies, but that can’t happen without production and wealth creation by individuals freely trading their products and services.

Another area that libertarian feminists look at is how more modest dress is now the counterculture, and how hip-hop culture has undermined the richness of black American culture that once placed more value on black women. We are also interested in how government policies – such as the Great Society, the war on drugs, prostitution laws that prosecute women but not the male customer, military rules barring women from certain positions, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military and state crackdowns on informal babysitting arrangements – have disproportionately impacted black women’s lives and undermined black women’s freedom.

Choice is an underlying theme running through black center-right feminism. However, this pro-choice stance doesn’t end with abortion, but extends to economic issues and other social issues.

We believe that women should have the right to make any choices that we desire (while enduring the full repercussions of those choices), so long as it doesn’t harm others. With our choice mantra, black center-right feminists can increasingly bring more energy and vigor to the feminist arena.