The women’s magazine Elle now covers the conservative movement. The longtime purveyor of fashion dispatches and essential beauty tips earlier this month presented a glamorous spread profiling a “new generation of conservative women […] stepping forward to dis feminists and cheer low taxes, guns, and motherhood.” The article maintained a tone of motherly condescension throughout its coverage of these “Baby Palins” – a motley roster of under 35s that included firearms advocate Regis Giles, Fox News pundit S.E. Cupp, and president and founder of The Polling Company/WomanTrend Kellyanne Conway.
This being Elle, and not The National Interest, the Baby Palins were sexed up somewhere between wholesome earth mothers and gun-toting vixens. Regis Giles is feverishly described by journalist Nina Burleigh while stepping up to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC):
Giles glides from chair to podium with the lithe, twitchy ease of a big cat, hazel-eyed and trailing a honey-colored mane, all 20 tawny years of her packed into a skintight electric blue stretch-satin cocktail dress. She doesn’t look like this when she’s spearing wild boar on the shores of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee or taking aim with her favorite CZ 550 rifle.
Quite apart from the glamor treatment, some conservative women have objected to Burleigh’s belittlement of their political independence and ambitions with the “Baby Palin” moniker. Karin Agness, Washington lawyer and founder and president of the Network of enlightened Women (NeW) – a campus-based conservative women’s organization, whose steady growth is testimony to the size and vigor of this demographic – wrote despondently in National Review Online:
Rather than try to understand how some women could be conservative and the arguments we have against feminism, it is often much easier to explain us all away as ‘Baby Palins’ following in Palin’s footsteps. […] The Palin brand has been so damaged by the media that the ‘Baby Palin’ label serves the purpose of quickly stereotyping and delegitimizing us at the same time. Would a typical journalist call someone a ‘Palin’ as a compliment? Ultimately, categorizing us as ‘Baby Palins’ is a way to dismiss us.
Nonetheless, whether through the lenses of Elle or the NeW, the conservative movement is currently no fusty elderly men’s club – an image that persisted for decades previously; an oft-repeated chapter of the Sarah Palin legend is how she “took on the old boys’ network” in Alaska. Indeed, there appears to be something of a wider female insurgency within the movement. Numerous of the Tea Party’s most popular candidates are women, celebrity examples being Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell, and Michele Bachmann, recent winner of the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames. Where are their counterparts on the Left, besides long established figures such as Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?
Timeworn partisan issues are receiving an invigorating, strangely feminist spin on the Right, despite what Burleigh reports from CPAC: “No matter where they land on [the political] spectrum, all the 35-and-under women I speak with define themselves in opposition to ‘liberal feminism’.” One such issue is gun rights, now framed in a discourse of female empowerment. The premier outlet of Regis Giles, the zealous huntswoman and 2nd Amendment activist, is the website Girls Just Wanna Have Guns, “the official site for those ladies who love to shoot and flaunt their guns.” The About section sells its weapon advocacy in terms of arming women against would-be (and would-be-dead-meat) rapists and muggers, who’d think twice about trying it on with the school girl with the sub machine gun:
Girls Just Wanna Have Gun’s goal is to motivate women all over the world to prepare themselves for any threat they may encounter. […] the most important thing is that women arm themselves with the right attitude and skills necessary to effectively and efficiently turn from prey to formidable defender.
This is an approach quite different from crying liberty and invoking the frontier heritage, and a far remove from the rugged rhetoric of Charlton Heston. But it is one of the numerous means by which women have been able to ride the populist wave that increasingly weighs upon elite conservative politics. It would be foolhardy to fob them off as mere “Baby Palins.”