Wednesday, via YouTube, Represntative Michele Bachmann announced she would not be seeking a fifth term in the House of Representatives, and we’d like to say good riddance. But, we shouldn’t, because Bachmann is in her own way a symbol for women.
Her entire announcement is an 8-minute video backed by power-rock chords while she monotones directly to the camera. The clip is strange and uncanny, a monologue anticipating critical reaction and writing her own history. While, to anyone on the left, this is laughable, we need to dig deeper. If we think critically, we’re forced to consider a truth the left doesn’t always love to accept: There are women who identify as conservative and they deserve role models too. Could this mean Bachmann is a conservative feminist symbol?
There is a strangeness to writing that Bachmann might both a secret feminist and a missed figure in politics. Her focus on preserving “traditional marriage” and “family values” has always been an assault on many Americans that feels like political theater and she has a loose grasp on truth, earning a spot in the hearts (and acts) of many comedians and late night hosts.
But, a critique of Bachmann’s performance as a political operative has been written about many times. What we don't talk about is the simple fact that some people like her, and it's not okay for us to ignore them because of it. She was elected to congress four times often in close races. She has a following. The Claire Booth Luce Policy Institute, an organization to promote and educate conservative women, featured her as one of their twelve great conservative American women for their yearly calendar.
Already, the number of women in Congress is too few, and it's even smaller when it comes to the GOP (for example: 6 of the 20 female Senators are Republicans). In the words of Marie Wilson, former director of now-defunct The White House Project, "You can't be what you can't see."
Don’t socially conservative women deserve a role model for those who work at high levels of government and have national recognition? The treatment of conservative women as if they are deranged or confused is just another form of prejudice; we do right wing women a disservice by discrediting their views out of hand and their role models entirely.
There are of course caveats to the status of feminist being projected on Bachmann. The newer generation of fiscally conservative and socially ambivalent Republicans has distanced itself from politicians like Bachmann who use social dogma to create political success. And, she herself has rejected that title and instead called herself just another “empowered American.” But, no one is arguing that Bachmann is everyone’s heroine or traditional feminism’s new standard bearer, only that she has been a political symbol for some conservative women, and that can’t be entirely disregarded.
It is important to temper our collective sigh of relief with the recognition that Bachmann was a four-term Congresswoman who was an unabashed voice for women in a movement that is largely male. She is in her own way, as a leader, a success story of feminism’s project to inject women into American politics and empowered them to speak their truth, even if it’s not always factually accurate.