When I was growing up, I was under the impression that there were hardly any female politicians who spoke for me. Oh, one would hear occasionally of conservative, pro-life women in positions of power—in much the same sense that one would hear of the Loch Ness Monster. They were said to be out there somewhere, and some people even reported having seen them, but for the most part they came across as elusive mythical figures.
Like many girls my age, I got used to the idea that pro-choice female politicians got all the attention, that "women's issues" and "women's rights" were usually a reference to abortion, and that the number of prominent women who represented my views could be counted on one hand.
Some things have changed since then. And some things haven't.
In the last few years, one conservative pro-life woman has run for vice-president of the United States, and another for President. For a generation of women like me who were all but resigned to the idea that such a thing could never happen, that's a pretty big deal. As I pointed out in my book 'Bring Her Down': How the American Media Tried to Destroy Sarah Palin, the Palin nomination had some conservative women literally weeping and cheering for joy. Steve Duprey, former New Hampshire GOP chairman, reported from Republican convention headquarters, "There were 10 or 12 women, party stalwarts, in tears, using napkins and handkerchiefs." Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life summed up the reaction: "She's lived it! It's so satisfying as a conservative woman. When she walked out on that stage there was just this moment. It was really emotional for a lot of us."
As members of a movement that has sometimes been slow to recognize the many invaluable contributions of women, developments like these have given us plenty to cheer for. But at first glance, last week's congressional hearing on the contraception mandate and freedom of religion gave the impression that the movement might be moving backwards.
Many women were upset when they saw this photo from the hearing, demanding to know why a panel of witnesses that testified against the contraception mandate was entirely male. Maggie Karner gives a good summary of what happened on Christianity Today's website:
"What I want to know is: Where are the women?" Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) demanded before she walked out in protest. A photo of five men testifying before the panel quickly circulated on social network sites. At the Washington Post website today, Susan Thistlethwaite picked up on the theme: "Where is women's religious freedom and freedom of conscience?" she wrote. "Women can only conclude from this skewed panel that the chairman does not think they are created equally in God's image, and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights."
Then I learned that in all the drama over the religious freedom hearing, several facts—and several people—had been ignored. For instance, how many have seen this picture of the second panel of witnesses to testify against the mandate? I hadn't—not until I did some digging, because it wasn't splashed all over the Internet the way the first picture was. That panel included Dr. Allison Garrett of Oklahoma Christian University and Dr. Laura Champion of Calvin College.
As Kathryn Jean Lopez observed at National Review Online, the women who walked out of the hearing never saw or heard those female members of the panel. In fact, one could say that they saw only what they wanted to see. To a woman who grew up during a virtual media blackout on conservative females, that sounds depressingly familiar.