Yes, Henry Scanlon’s essay for The Federalist, “Why Conservative Women Are So Pretty,” is full of groaners. As my colleague Gwyneth Kelly points out, this might be the best/worst line in its self-contradiction: “They are beautiful and stylish in the way French women often are, which is to say in their own way, not in a conforming or predictable way. They all look like the girl the high school quarterback wants to date, and they are confident, relaxed, and smart, joking amongst themselves.”
And yet! There is reason for hope. Because there’s a tendency among sexists to see women who enter male-dominated cultures as insincere, as faking their interest “just to get attention” from dudes. The woman in the NFL jersey is always suspect. “There is a growing chorus of frustration in the geek community with—and there’s no other way to put this —pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention,” Joe Peacock wrote a few years ago of “fake geek girls” and “booth babes.”
Scanlon doesn’t think this at all. He sees young women at the heavily-male Conservative Political Action Conference acting happy and carefree, and thinks it’s because they feel liberated by their sincere conservative beliefs. Conservative women “are allowed to believe there is a difference between women and men, female and male, and that those differences are real, not a false cultural construct imposed by a self-interested, manipulative patriarchy,” Scanlon writes. “They don’t mind being—no, they revel in being—attractive and stylish and a woman in any way they choose to do that, and they make short, confident work of the notion that they ought to, instead, get hip to the struggle and head for gender studies class.” The idea that true liberation comes from not questioning traditional gender norms is silly. But that Scanlon accepts conservative women truly believe this is also progress.