Tuesday, November 19th


Motherhood and Politics: Conservative Women Negotiate Ideology and Strategy

This project explores how conservative women leaders negotiate the tension between traditional views of motherhood and their desire to engage politically. This dilemma was exposed nationally when Sarah Palin, a mother of five, was nominated by John McCain to be his running mate. Fast forward to June 2011, when another conservative mother of five, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announced her candidacy for President. References to their gender and maternal statuses influenced their campaigns and generated public debates about whether or not mothers should seek high levels of elective office.  Despite the articulation and promotion of traditional views about motherhood, legions of conservative women and men supported Palin and Bachmann. This includes social conservatives who promote the belief that women should prioritize stay-at-home mothering over professional goals. So how do conservative women negotiate theologically and ideologically traditional views about motherhood with their seemingly incompatible desire to engage in politics and represent mothers? How do conservative women navigate between conservative beliefs and their commitment to be in public office and/or support other conservative women’s bids? To address these questions I interviewed conservative women leaders, including Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly and Tea Party organizer Keli Carrender, and conducted a systematic qualitative analysis of organizational documents from national conservative women’s organizations. In so doing, this research provides a lens through which public deliberations about gender roles, motherhood and conservatism can be examined.

Ronnee Schreiber is Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University. Professor Schreiber specializes in the study of women and politics. Her book, Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics (Oxford University Press, 2008) examines how conservative women’s organizations represent women in national politics. She has also published articles in Journal of Urban Affairs, Journal of Women, Politics and Policy, New Political Science, Political Communication, Politics & Gender, Queries, Sex Roles, Social History and several edited volumes. Her current project explores how women political leaders construct and represent mothers’ interests.  

Deirdre English has written and edited work on a wide array of subjects related to investigative reporting, cultural politics, gender studies, and public policy. She has contributed articles, commentaries and reviews to Mother Jones magazine, The Nation, and The New York Times Book Review, among other publications, and to public radio and television. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of Mother Jones magazine where she worked for eight years, ending in 1986. Her most current work includes a revision of For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women (Anchor), co-authored with Barbara Ehrenreich and published with a new Afterword in 2004, and an essay on the work of photographer Susan Meiselas, published in Carnival Strippers, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2003. She has taught at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism since 1988, and directed the Felker Magazine course which has won numerous regional and national Mark of Excellence awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including the national Best Student Magazine and Best Feature Article of 2009.


Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and the Center for Race and Gender


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