Women of the New Right

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Rebecca E. Klatch. Women of the new right. 1987. Reprint, Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1988. 264 p. $26.95

Summary

Klatch begins her book by describing what she will be attempting to do. She believes that there are (were) in fact two types of conservative women’s movements that were occurring in the United States during the 1980’s which she labels “social” and “laissez-faire.” Right from the start, she lets the reader know the fallacies that her data inherently has – mainly that the group she will be studying is very small and could possibly not represent the overall trend of the group from a national perspective. Further, because she did most of her research in Massachusetts, a region not known as a bastion of conservatism, trends that she unearthed there may not be true of women as a whole in America. Finally, Klatch argues that the aim of her work is to “attempt an interpretative understanding of social action insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to it. The intent is to uncover these meanings, to delineate the varying bases of activism, to interpret the world views of women of the right.” (19)

In the first part of her book, Klatch takes some time to define the two distinct groups as she sees them through the lens of her research. Klatch believes that women of the social conservative movement see America “…founded upon religious beliefs and deeply rooted in a religious tradition….The family is the building block of society, the foundation upon which all of culture is maintained.” (22-23) For these social conservative women, America has lost touch with these roots and needs to reintroduce them back into society. Klatch does not argue that these women want to return to the past. Instead, she insists that the group is willing to adapt to the present but that without this foundation, America will face many problems. Gender roles are also assigned within this group; men are to go out into the workforce to make money while women stay home and raise the children.

While some of these views do cross between the two groups, the laissez-faire conservatives have quite a different take on the world and a women’s role in that world. For these conservatives, gender should not be an issue. It is ability that matters the most, particularly the ability to make money. Property and the right to earn a living are the most pressing issues that government should deal with; outside of those parameters, government should not be involved in the free market. It is through this classical liberalism perspective that these women attack the world. According to the author, “classical liberalism calls for an unfettered market, free from regulations, and a minimal non-interventionist state.” (33) It is the attack on this very liberty that the conservatives of the laissez-faire variety are fighting against.

Throughout the body of the text, Klatch examines how each group feels about three specific topics: communism, big government and feminism. While Klatch does find some similarities between the two groups within each topic, for the most part, these women come up with different solutions to the problems they face. Each sees the problem through the lens of their values and uses these values to arrive at the solution. Klatch ascertains this through the hours of interviews that she held with about 30 women. Most women were aware of what the author was attempting to do, but when at a large gathering, Klatch often attempts to fit in with the rest of the crowd in order to get a truer picture of these women and where they stand on a particular topic. Klatch ends her book with a micro-study of two women, each of who fall into one of the categories. By presenting these two particular women, the author is attempting to show that women of the right can be categorized based on her theories.

Commentary

Tom Demharter, Fall 2005

Frequently, when reading a book on a particular topic, one discovers that many of the social sciences blend together, making it difficult to tell history from sociology or psychology from political science. Because of the interconnectedness between these various sub-schools of the social sciences, how to label a book frequently becomes the most difficult decision that an author must make. While Rebecca Klatch is a Sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, her book Women of the New Right could be labeled under a number of strands within the social sciences; in fact, the publisher did exactly that, titling it as Sociology/Political Science/Women’s Studies/General Interest. Interestingly, the only thing that is missing is the History connotation, which I believe it also earns because of the time that has passed since the book has been written. Be re-examining the work that Klatch did in the early 80’s while the conservative movement was at its apex in America, historians are better able to get a feel for the mood of the nation and in particular, the people involved. It is almost as if you are reading a historical case study.

There are no two easy categories that conservative women can be lumped into. Each region of the United States has its own particular situations that allow different philosophies to diverge from the mainstream thought. This is exactly as Madison prophesized in the Federalist Papers. The sheer size and scope of the United States does not allow for hegemonic groups to arise and dominate the nation. This train of thought can also be used against Klatch’s study. Comparing Klatch’s work to that of McGirr, one can see that while there was division between the women of New England, unity in thought was the dominant theme of the Republicans in Orange County. Klatch does not take this regional difference into consideration when presenting her work. Finally, the work also seems to be dominated by her findings related to the social conservatives. Much more information is made available about their thoughts. Possibly this is because the laissez-faire women are too busy working, but it seems like that data is faulty here. Overall, the author does a wonderful job in presenting interesting testimonials about what particular women living in Massachusetts think about certain topics. Aside from that, not much information can be derived.

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