Smile Politely

Let’s talk about white Republican women

Last week, the News-Gazette published an op-ed by Peggy Prichard, in which she argues that Republican women are silenced (by the media, by friends, by the world), and bullied for their beliefs. Opening her essay with a quote from “anonymous conservative women everywhere,” Prichard goes on to provide anecdotal evidence to support her claim, calling on friends Jill Guth, Toni Lemmon, Carol Stanek, and an unnamed friend.

In many ways, Prichard is right. Republican women face more difficulties when they express their ideologies. This is because their ideologies are not in line with current trends in American thinking and culture — Republican ideologies are out of sync with the majority of Americans. When Republican women express ideas about social and racial equality that are, at best, selfish and anti-empathetic, and at worst, harmful and destructive, they will indeed face push back from people who disagree. Disagreement is not bullying. Disagreeing with someone fervently and emphatically is also not bullying.

Calling things you don’t like to hear “vitriolic rhetoric” or bullying and shutting down conversation is not productive. Prichard requests:

Let’s stop the shaming and the name-calling and allow everyone the right to their own political views without fear of retribution. Let’s listen to each other without judgment.

Let’s unpack those two sentences, because they are quite loaded. Shaming is a natural part of engaging in a robust debate. You cannot ask for shaming to stop — shame is not something that can be bestowed upon another person; it is a feeling that is generated internally. Shame is a useful tool to instigate change; engendering shame was the cornerstone of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Civil Rights activism, a man who at the time was vilified and assassinated, whom Republicans now laud as a great man. You cannot say, “let’s stop the shaming,” when in that same breath you are trying to shame people into stopping the shaming. Name-calling is a phrase that has been weaponized to dismiss and shut down disagreement. What names are off limits? Racist? Sexist? Misogynist? White supremacist? Socialist? Anti-fascist? What qualifies as name-calling, and who decides what is or isn’t acceptable?

Prichard calls for “allow[ing] everyone the right to their own political views without fear of retribution.” This is not a statement made in good faith. We do not live in a country or a society where most people need to genuinely fear retribution for their beliefs. We do not live in a society where Republicans are assassinated or kidnapped or tortured, the victims of state sanctioned violence, or targets of domestic terrorism. If we did, Prichard certainly wouldn’t be sharing her beliefs on the front page of a newspaper. The whole point of America is that individuals are indeed allowed the right to their own political views without fear of retribution. And yet, we see a pattern among the relatively low number of threats:

There seems to be little evidence to support the idea that Republicans genuinely “fear retribution” for their political views. We presume that what Prichard is actually asking for is the freedom to express her beliefs without social consequences.

The second sentence, “Let’s listen to each other without judgment,” is meaningless. There is no such thing as listening without judgment — that is the very definition of a conversation, a dialogue. Making a judgment is not inherently moral or ethical; it is simply the process of forming an opinion. Such a statement is made to dissuade meaningful, difficult, or even partially robust conversation. Conversations are two-way streets: you listen, you synthesize the information, you respond.

Prichard also notes, “We don’t have to end friendships and cancel people over politics.” We disagree. If the policies or politicians you support adversely affect your friends or people they care about, your friends have every right to not only disagree with you, in a conversation, but to also end the friendship. You are not entitled to friendship, no matter how long you’ve been friends.

Obsession with politeness, speaking kindly, and being friends obfuscates and dismisses the content that needs to be discussed, the actual policies that affect people’s lives. For an upper-middle class white woman to expend the time and energy to write an op-ed about how their feelings are hurt is insulting to the people who are physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually harmed by the policies and rhetoric of the Republican party.

People like Peggy Prichard, Jill Guth, Toni Lemmon, Carol Stanek, and other white Republican women are firmly ensconced in the comfort of white patriarchy and supremacy. They benefit from these systems in ways that women whose identities intersect with marginalized groups are never able to: Black Republican women, for instance, will always have to reckon with their Blackness in an overwhelmingly white political party; queer Republican women will have to reckon with a political party whose platform explicitly aims to deny them the right to have equal legal rights in regard to marriage, family, and society. White Republican women are shielded by their proximity to power and wealth.

There is a lot of research and writing specifically about white women weaponizing their perceived fragility in order to suppress others; you can do that research on your own, or just watch the brilliant Michelle Wolf make the point with jokes.

We said at the top that Prichard and company might be right in feeling like they, as white Republican women, are unable to fully express their political views. Perhaps people who support racist, elitist, ableist, homophobic, and otherwise exclusive policies should be called out for holding these beliefs — they’re not right. We do not condone bad behavior; no one is going to be convinced about anything by being on the receiving end of a screaming person in a parking lot. But the respect and generosity Prichard seeks is required by all parties, and respect and generosity can only be given when they are received. You have little ground to stand on when you partake in the behaviors you condemn, and when you do it on the internet, you must be mindful: we have receipts.

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer.

Top image screenshot from the News-Gazette’s website. Photograph by Robin Scholz for the News-Gazette.

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