The Future of Women, Power, and Conservatism
On March 26th, Future 500 hosted a panel discussion in Washington DC. The panel examined the growing political influence of women, the changing dynamics of women on the right, and the implications of these shifts on economic, environmental, and social policy. This event was third in our ongoing Future of Ideas Series, a set of conversations between thought leaders to inspire innovative ideas addressing the issues facing our society.
The decision to focus our third panel on women was a direct result of the discussions that arose from our second event held in September, 2013, The Future of Conservatism, which focused on the changing dynamics within communities on the right, and the lack of bipartisanship in the federal government. Although all of the panelists at that event provided thought-provoking insights, the women panelists were often more open to engaging underrepresented communities, and reshaping the definition of “conservative” by embracing innovative policies. It is our belief that in order for the right to maintain relevance in an America that is shifting demographically and ideologically, it will have to reinvigorate its brand.
As we have seen from recent elections, the female vote can single handedly sway election results. The panel echoed the need for the Republican Party to change its outlook in ways that stay true to Republican values, and that appeal to women, youth, and minorities.
One panelist went as far as to describe current conservative rhetoric as “toxic”, citing the inflammatory, antagonistic tone often adopted by Republican and Tea Party leaders. The panelists generally agreed that this toxic tone is ultimately damaging the Republican Party and is alienating youth, women, and minorities, while casting the GOP as the reactionary party of “no” rather than as the party of proactive, market-based innovation. Several panelists felt that a key reason for the out-of-touch rhetoric was a lack of minority and women representation in the party ranks.
Women, Youth, Minorities & The Republican Party
There was agreement that the main problem with conservative discussions concerning women was that there are too many men discussing women’s issues. There wasn’t a consensus around the cause of the deficient representation of women on the right, however, panelists agreed that there is need and opportunity for women to take initiative and advance in politics and in business as decision-makers in the conservative movement.
Similarly, several of the panelists felt that they were not as welcome on the right because they are minorities, citing instances where their race led to assumptions about their political beliefs/conservative credentials. As with the issue with female representation, panelists agreed that this was due to a lack or representation and that more minority conservatives needed to make their way towards Capitol Hill.
Beyoncé, Macklemore, and Kendrick Lamar were all mentioned in the discussion, highlighting the growing intersection between youth popular culture and politics. Many of the younger panelists remarked that they have observed other young conservatives ashamed of their association with the Republican Party because of the wide, and often unjust, perception that being conservative means being homophobic. They suggested that the only way for the right to combat this perception would be for the right to take a more progressive stance on gay rights.
Panelists were firm in their belief that the GOP’s uncompromising stance on marriage equality and gay rights was archaic and not in line with either current popular beliefs or conservative philosophy. One panelist commented, “Progress is not bad. Equality is not bad. [The GOP] needs to catch up.” Interestingly, the majority of panelists seemed to be in favor of genuine equality rather than compromises on the issue of gay rights and regarded this as another area in which the right was scaring off younger voters.
The panelists agreed that it is time for the Republican Party to “find its voice” on the issue of climate, noting that the left effectively owns the issue of climate change. This is a concern given the overwhelming scientific evidence of anthropogenic global warming and the public’s growing concerns around climate issues. The panelists felt that conservative values are not only consistent with environmental protection, but that bold conservative ideas are more effective to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, with a revenue neutral carbon tax being mentioned as one innovative policy. However, it was also noted that as long as key Republican figures deny climate the Party could continue to lose ground in the court of public opinion and in elections.
The issue of immigration reform brought out the most debate among all the topics. There was no clear consensus on what approach the right should adopt from a policy perspective, but there was accord with the notion that immigration needs to be framed as more than just a Latino issue. There is opportunity for market-based immigration reform and this has implications for countless groups and businesses within the United States.
The conversations that came out of the panel were pure gold for anyone curious to understand the concerns of today’s conservative women. The perspective of the panelists was thoughtful and nuanced, but they certainly didn’t pull any punches and if the GOP hopes to remain relevant to the next generation of voters it would be wise to heed the advice of these women leaders.
Thanks to our guests and panelists for participating in what was a stimulating and insightful discussion.
Follow Future 500 on Twitter @future500 to learn more about our work and to find out the details of our next event in the Future Of Ideas Series.
- The Future of Women, Power, and Conservatism
- The Future of Conservatism
- Consumer Choice, Competitive Markets & Climate Protection: Can the Energy Sector Deliver?
- Women, Money, Power, Politics: Leading the Environmental, Social and Economic Charge
- Sea Change Radio interview with Future 500’s Shilpi Chhotray
- Making the Conservative Case for Sustainability
- A New Source of Jobs for India’s Rural Women? (Hint: It’s in Your Shampoo)