A New Generation of Conservative Thought

Conservative women take charge

By Dr. Grace Vuoto
July 7, 2010

Ironically, the Obama presidency may be remembered as the era in which a remarkable phenomenon occurred in America: the rise of conservative female politicians.

During the Obama administration, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin penned a bestseller, Going Rogue (2009) and went on a national book-selling tour in which she was welcomed by swarms of fans across the nation. The feisty, combative and articulate Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, made headlines with her uncompromising crusade against Obamacare and the Democratic Party’s irresponsible fiscal policies. Like Ms. Palin, Ms. Bachmann is often cited by pundits as a possible presidential contender in 2012.

In addition, the primaries in early June revealed the growing clout of female conservative leaders. The former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard and a breast-cancer survivor, Carly Fiorina, is the Republican nominee for the California U.S. Senate seat in the forthcoming November midterm elections. One of the wealthiest women in California and the previous eBay president, Meg Whitman, is vying to be governor of the Golden State. And an Indian-American businesswoman, Nikki Haley, is the GOP nominee to be governor of South Carolina. Also, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is emerging as a national star in her efforts to protect the porous southern border. Hence, Ms. Palin, Ms. Bachmann, Ms. Fiorina, Ms. Whitman, Ms. Haley and Ms. Brewer are among the fresh faces that are transforming the political landscape and blazing a new trail for American women.

This wave of conservative female leaders smashes the progressive mantra that American women are mostly wedded to a pro-choice, big-government internationalist agenda. Instead, these gals are avidly pro-life, advocate small government and individual responsibility, and are national security hawks. Freedom for these women does not mean tearing off their bras, popping a contraception pill, aborting fetuses on demand and whining all the way to the Equal Employment Opportunity Office. Instead, liberty for these women means upholding traditional family values and touting the glories of God and country. These are the revolutionaries of our time.

Women are thus assuming their rightful place as agents of conservative social change. These leaders are akin to the brave and bold early Christian converts who stood against the establishment of their day and helped pave the way toward a Christian era in opposition to the paganism and barbarism of the Roman Empire.

When Jesus spread his message in Roman Judea, he raised the status of women by his teachings and by addressing them directly at a time when women were not deemed worthy of an education nor direct conversation by leaders of the faith. Among those who recognized the value of his message were his mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene, whom the Bible relates, was the first to declare she had seen the resurrected Christ.  Thereafter, women played key roles in spreading the Word, even acting as apostles. They were especially helpful in making their homes safe havens for Christians to congregate. The home became a sphere of conversion and, in an era in which Christianity was outlawed, social and political unrest.

Women in the early Christian era also played a seminal role in convincing men in powerful positions to convert to Christianity and to tout its merits. Had it not been for the example, persistence, patience and prayers of Monica (331-387), known as St. Monica, the renowned Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, may never have finally abandoned his hedonistic lifestyle to become a Church Father and a saint—and an intellectual giant of the Middle Ages. Likewise, Queen Clotilde (475-545) converted her husband, Clovis I, King of the Franks and thus paved the way for the conversion of France. Also, women provided a refuge for other Christian women who sought devotion to Christ as their life’s calling. Hilda of Whitby (c.614-680) founded a monastery  in Whitby, England. She was influential in training future bishops and saints, and was often called upon to advise kings. Such monasteries were the only avenue for women to have an education.

Women were also so stalwart in their faith in the early church that they too suffered persecution and even martyrdom. Perhaps the most gripping, and little known story, is that of Vibia Perpetua (c.181-203), who was persecuted during the reign of the Emperor Septimius Severus. She and her slave girl, Felicitas, were arrested in Carthage in North Africa. She wrote a compelling narrative of the suffering she endured, known as the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas.

As the Passion tells us, the young Perpetua was still nursing her infant child in jail when her father came to her, beseeching her to renounce Christianity for his sake and for the sake of the whole family who would also be assaulted by Roman authorities. Perpetua was told she need simply acknowledge the pagan gods and be set free. “Father, do you see here, for example, this vase or pitcher or whatever it is?” she said to him, according to her narrative. “Can it be named anything else than what it really is? So I also cannot be called anything else than what I am, a Christian.”

Although Perpetua witnessed her elderly father being savagely beaten, she still refused to renounce her faith. Approaching her final day, her father came to her one more time: He was “overwhelmed with grief,” narrates Perpetua. “He began to pluck out his beard and throw it on the ground. Falling on his face before me, he cursed his old age, repeating such things as would move all creation. And I grieved because of his old age.” Though it pained her to see how he suffered on her behalf, still, she stood as witness to the faith.  Perpetua was thrown to wild beasts to be devoured before an audience that relished the execution of Christians as a matter of sport.

In a dream prior to her martyrdom, Pepetua saw herself, standing naked, as a man, rubbed with oil and ready to fight as gladiators did. Her Christian calling liberated her from the gender roles of the era. And she understood fully the meaning of her actions: “I woke up realizing that I would be contending not with wild animals, but with the devil himself.”

Then, as now, women showed much ingenuity, brilliance, strength and perseverance in assisting men in a social revolution that overthrew the paganism of the time and embraced the gentler, more civilized and enlightened teachings of the Gospel. The names and faces have changed but the battle is daily being waged between a creed of compassion and true liberation within the joys of the traditional family and one of terror for the unborn, darkness of a selfish lifestyle and destruction of the sinews of civilization. By taking on the establishment liberal creed of the 21st century, the Bachmanns and Brewers of today are asserting the eternal and godly role of women as those who stand for the enduring truths of our Christian and traditional heritage instead of the false gods of personal liberation.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.