A debate over whether it’s more difficult to be a conservative or a woman in the United States no doubt fits into the category of “first-world problem.” Neither is very hard in comparison to, say, life on a rice paddy.
But the “which is tougher?” discussion is nonetheless hot after remarks by 24-year-old conservative firebrand Tomi Lahren during the opening session of a Young Women’s Leadership Summit. She is among the headliners at the conservative event, which runs through Sunday in Dallas.
Lahren said Thursday night that it’s not hard to be a woman in the U.S. In fact, “there’s no better place to be a woman than the United States of America,” she said.
Actually, a lot of researchers would disagree. The 2017 Best Countries report, with its impeccable methodology, lists Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Canada as its top five for women; the U.S. comes in at No. 16.
But I believe her comments regarding the difficulty of being a conservative - in particular, a conservative woman - need to be taken seriously. They give voice to an important perspective.
Lahren said young women often tell her that “one of the hardest things to be is a conservative.”
She and her followers have standing that I don’t to make that assessment. While I am solidly to the right of many of my Dallas Morning News colleagues, no one would say I have much conservative cred.
But my circle of close friends, family and acquaintances includes nearly as many conservative women as liberal ones. And they agree heartily with Lahren’s assessment. Even with a Republican in the White House and the Texas Governor’s Mansion, they say, being a conservative can feel pretty lonely in many circles, particularly women’s circles.
Just last weekend, I hosted a group of longtime friends; we’ve known each other since high school. All of them are professional women with college degrees. We are evenly split between those who voted for Hillary Clinton and those who didn’t. Between those who think Republicans are better for the economy and Democrats over-regulate, and those who think otherwise. Between those who are socially conservative - whether the discussion is “bathroom bills,” abortion or sanctuary cities - and those who aren’t.
And bluntly, despite the fact that these women all love me, more than half of them believe that the industry I work for - and in some cases my own newspaper - is slanted unfairly against Republicans. So does most of my family.
One of the most uncomfortable moments in an otherwise lovely weekend was when I pointed to a couple of news sites that truly publish fake news. Several of my guests were more interested in discussing what they see as a much bigger problem in the media: a hyper-vigilance around President Donald Trump’s every move, something they don’t believe they saw when President Barack Obama was in the White House.
Yet they don’t feel comfortable talking about their perspectives outside very small circles of trust. These are women who prefer to keep their political views to themselves because, they say, they know what the response will be: “You’re what’s wrong with women in today’s society.”
They make a good point, given this exchange:
In writing this column, I asked one of my liberal friends the same question: “Do you think, for conservative women, it’s harder to be a woman or to be a conservative?”
Her answer: “I don’t think conservative women are really women. They’re man wannabes.”
Ouch. I hope I don’t lose my female-gender card for simply giving voice to conservative women’s perspectives.
Finally, let me pivot to one of my younger friends, a thirtysomething with a cool job, someone I met in yoga class four years ago. She’s smart on the issues and can defend her conservative points. Judging by the reaction of other young women who nodded along with her comments before yoga class, many of them also are “closet conservatives.”
And, like Lahren, this Dallas woman thinks being a conservative - even worse, she says, a young conservative woman - is dreadfully difficult. And never more so than during the 2016 presidential campaign.
She might have wished for a different Republican nominee, but she voted for Trump in a heartbeat over Clinton. And like my older friends, don’t try arguing with her about Trump’s behavior toward women. Two words: Bill Clinton.
And while she has well-reasoned responses to those who might challenge her point of view with attacks such as “feminism is failing because of you,” she prefers to just stay out of those conversations.
These are all women who might not have broadcast that they were Trump supporters, but who, in the voting booth, voted Republican.
The members of my informal conservative focus groups are overwhelmingly middle-income, maybe upper-middle in a few cases. They’ve not lived with privilege, but rather known the realities of women as second-class citizens: passed over for a job, harassed in the workplace, sexually assaulted.
Yet at the end of the day, they would agree that being a woman is not as difficult for them as being a conservative.
So Lahren’s not crazy on this issue. Not even hyperbolic. She’s speaking for a lot of the women around us. Until liberals can honestly have conversations around this fact, I fear we will continue to be surprised by these “closet voters.”
Sharon Grigsby is a columnist for The Dallas Morning News.