- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

Now is the time for all good conservatives to stop gloating long enough to feel the pain of a certain kind of liberal. Specifically, liberals who have had it with what's left of the Left, but still find the right appalling or distasteful. These are smart people; I suspect there may be millions of them out there. And while they don't yet figure prominently in the electoral calculus, they're starting to generate some cultural juice.
Local example: a 30-something former Army officer and radical feminist military historian named Erin Solaro, and a concept she and a few like-minded sisters call "civic feminism."
I first encountered Ms. Solaro a year ago on the Net. We've bantered back and forth ever since, and it has been rather an education for a grouchy old Marine who used to describe himself as a "Keynesian feminist," after the great economist, John Maynard Keynes. (A Keynesian feminist holds, among other things, that the supply of angry women vastly exceeds the demand.) She is staunchly liberal on women's "personal" issues. But she takes a profoundly refreshing "back to the future" approach to feminism's proper goal, which is not consciousness-raising or gimme-gimme-gimme rights-right-rights, and certainly not endless, vindictive male-bashing.
The proper goal is full equality in citizenship, especially in time of war. "Women," she says, "have a stake in civilization. This civilization, that makes their rights and careers possible. Feminism has a lot to say about women's right to serve in the military. But I've never seen anything on the NOW Web site or the Ms. Boards about our obligation to defend this country because it's worth defending."
Ms. Solaro points out that, from the beginning, American feminism tried to be about more than women. Female suffrage was supposed to improve the republic. The old women's peace movement may have been naive and naively antimilitary, but it wasn't anti-male, and honestly hoped to save men's lives. The mass entry of women into the workplace was supposed to ease the financial burden on men. "Reproductive rights" were supposed to stabilize families by making sure that "every child was a wanted child."
It never quite happened that way. For this failure she cites the excesses of the '60s and '70s, and the movement's proclivity for navel-gazing. (I would add a few more reasons, especially concerning the alleged salvific effects of abortion). But her point is apt. Feminism lost its way, not only because it failed to focus on the real concerns of real women, but because it neglected or disavowed the citizenship dimension. And by this she means citizenship in its classic form the coming together of free human beings in the public world, to determine what that world should be and how to conduct its affairs.
For Erin Solaro, like the ancient republican philosophers, bearing arms is a vital component of full citizenship. (I might note here that "bearing arms" takes a variety of military and nonmilitary forms nowadays, and does not depend on integrating women into all-male ground combat units, as presently structured, something I find dubious at best.)
She then discovered who her friends were. When she talked to conservative men, and to senior officers and combat veterans, about civic feminism as a concept, they were intrigued. Meanwhile, the Sisterhood was trashing her as a fascist and proudly proclaiming it wasn't necessary to know anything about the military. All they had to do was sneer.
She has had the same experience with a book she is working on, "The Woman Soldier." She describes this part personal, part historical, part philosophical project as "a series of linked essays that examine the meaning of citizenship for women, and for women who are citizens, in time of war. It hopes to build upon the private feminism of rights to create a feminism of citizenship composed of interlocking rights and responsibilities to create and maintain a public world." Says Ms. Solaro with evident frustration:
"People get this. Editors don't. All they see is the same old polarizing. Between women and men and between women and women. My basic message is that we're all in this together. Now we have to work out what that means."
Civic feminism, then, is very much a work in progress. It's a long way from any kind of agenda. The resistance on the left is fierce. But does the right know what to do with it, and with the kind of women who might find it attractive, even compelling?
And with the men?

Philip Gold is a Seattle-based writer.


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