Although I would have chosen differently, I’ve tried to give the president the benefit of the doubt on the Miers nomination. Having said that, I note a worrisome report in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education. It seems that Miers was a key figure behind the establishment of a lecture series in women’s studies at SMU. Here is the critical excerpt from today’s Chronicle story:
In the late 1990s, as a member of the advisory board for Southern Methodist University's law school, Ms. Miers pushed for the creation of an endowed lecture series in women's studies named for Louise B. Raggio, one of the first women to rise to prominence in the Texas legal community. A strong advocate for women, Ms. Raggio helped persuade state lawmakers to revise Texas laws to give women new rights over property and in the event of divorce.
1. Ms. Miers, whom President Bush announced on Monday as his choice to fill the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, not only advocated for the lecture series, but also gave money and solicited donations to help get it off the ground.
A feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, delivered the series's first lecture, in 1998. In the following two years, the speakers were Patricia S. Schroeder, the former Democratic congresswoman widely associated with women's causes, and Susan Faludi, the author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991). Ann W. Richards, the Democrat whom George W. Bush unseated as governor of Texas in 1994, delivered the lecture in 2003.
Now I don’t think this necessarily establishes Miers as a closet feminist. Unfortunately, the pattern here is repeated continually by conservatives everywhere. Wealthy conservative donors to universities typically seek to share in the prestige of these institutions–or as in this case, to honor their friends and loved ones and encourage young students in the paths they have trod. In doing so, they give money to a school who’s own purposes may be very different from their own. . . .
I would think that it would be hard to establish Harriet Miers as a closet feminist, because it seems to me that she's an out-of-the-closet feminist, in the traditional sense (though I realize that it's not the only possible sense) of one who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. I don't know how much she's talked about it, but she's lived it — her career is that of a woman who believes that women should have the same opportunities that men do. My guesses as to other feminists: Condoleezza Rice; Sandra Day O'Connor; Clarence Thomas's wife Virginia Thomas; perhaps Clarence Thomas himself, judging by his choice of wife, and assuming that he likely admires and respects her career choices; Chief Justice Rehnquist's daughter Janet; the list could go on much further. In fact, the striking feature of this traditional "equity feminism" is how much it has prevailed in the lived experience of the conservative elites, as well as liberal elites. If it hadn't prevailed, it would be hard to find any women judges, since equity feminism was in large measure a repudiation of the view that women shouldn't become judges.
Now this is something of an aside in Stanley Kurtz's post, and later he goes on to disapprove of "left-leaning feminists." Perhaps that's what he meant to write in the material I quote as well, and didn't mean to disparage feminism of the yes-I'll-be-a-lawyer-or-even-Secretary-of-State variety. But if that's so, then why even mention "feminist" at all in the negative reference, rather than just expressing concern about the "left-leaning"?
I'm proud to be a feminist in the traditional equal-opportunity sense, and I'm glad Ms. Miers seems to be a feminist, too. No need for her to be in the closet about that. And I think it would be a serious mistake, conceptual, moral, and political, for the conservative movement to reject feminism (as opposed to affirming a sound conception of feminism).
UPDATE: Here's Stanley Kurtz's response, which I much appreciate his posting:
In response to Eugene Volokh, who argues that conservatives should not reject feminism per se, have no problem affirming the "equity feminism" backed by folks like Christina Hoff Sommers. It's the left-leaning feminism sponsored by folks like Gloria Steinem and Susan Faludi (what Sommers calls "gender feminism") that I have a problem with. The difficulty is that when academics and liberals talk about feminism, they don't mean the equity feminism affirmed by Christina Hoff Sommers. I agree that we need to do more to take the word back. Having said that, in common parlance on today's campus, the word feminist means the sort of left-feminism that considers someone like Sommers to be a non-feminist apostate. So it's a complicated word that gets used in different ways by different folks in different contexts.