New ‘conservative feminist’ club wants to break barriers

The Pink Elephants have received mixed feedback

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New ‘conservative feminist’ club wants to break barriers

Seren McClain, '22, and Aoife Chow, '22, led the first meeting. Photo by Grace Mamon, '22.

Seren McClain, '22, and Aoife Chow, '22, led the first meeting. Photo by Grace Mamon, '22.

Seren McClain, '22, and Aoife Chow, '22, led the first meeting. Photo by Grace Mamon, '22.

Seren McClain, '22, and Aoife Chow, '22, led the first meeting. Photo by Grace Mamon, '22.

Kristen Xu

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For Seren McClain, ‘22, identifying as a conservative and as a feminist was never easy. Now, after founding the Pink Elephants, she is giving women with similar upbringings the safe space she never had.

Described as “a club for conservative feminists,” the Pink Elephants aims to eliminate the barrier between being conservative and supporting equality between women and men, McClain said.

“I understand that I’ve created a political association, but I did that intentionally,” McClain said. “Conservative women have, in my experience, never felt like they could dive into [feminism]. I wanted to create a safe space where you could come from a background where feminism isn’t accepted, or from a background with conservative values and beliefs. It’s not a movement owned by the opposite political party.”

Despite the club’s tagline, McClain encourages people of all backgrounds to join the conversation.

“I’m not claiming there is a thing called ‘conservative feminism.’ It’s a feminist group, not a conservative group,” McClain said. “I want people from different perspectives to come and talk with us. I want to know what they think and why they think it. That’s how my views changed — I listened to other people. I don’t want to sit around people who all think the same way as I do, because I don’t think I’ll grow in that way.”

Unfortunately for the Pink Elephants, some students who identify as both liberal and feminist feel alienated by the marketing of the club.

When Joëlle Simeu, ‘20, first discovered its existence, she said she felt unimpressed and unsurprised that yet another group that labeled themselves as conservative had joined Washington and Lee’s club roster.

To Simeu, feminism “include[s] an intersection of various identities.” She worries that because intersectional feminism may not align with some student’s views, certain men and women would be left out of the conversation the Pink Elephants advertises in their flyers.“What’s valuable [about McClain’s intentions] is that she wants to open a dialogue,” Simeu said. “That’s good. But I thought [of the club as] a group of students, particularly white women at W&L, who wanted to seem progressive but not affiliated with what feminism often has the reputation for. My worry is the fact that this club would be talking about feminism in such a way that excludes a lot of women.”

“Expecting there to be true dialogue is difficult,” Simeu continued. “The term ‘conservative feminist’ to me seems like an oxymoron. [Branding it as a conservative group] would be alienating to other groups of people that this target audience would actually benefit hearing from.”

Although the marketing of the club may push some away, it has also drawn in McClain’s target audience.

Cate Crosbie, ‘23, struggled throughout high school with piecing together her seemingly mismatched conservative and feminist views. She found a community waiting for her at the Pink Elephant’s first meeting.

“We started bringing up issues that were important to us and aligned with our views and things that we’d always had trouble aligning with in high school or years prior,” Crosbie said. “There [were] a lot of different views on the same issue. We were all coming from different angles, but we were all passionate about the same thing.”

The discussion-based format of the first meeting will be repeated monthly. McClain also plans for the club to volunteer at Project Horizon, host talks about female independence and professionalism at local Rockbridge schools and after growing membership, to invite guest speakers to Washington and Lee.

The invitation to a discussion or any event the Pink Elephants holds is open to all on campus.

“I hope [the people on this campus] at least open [their] mind to the thought that feminism and being a conservative don’t have to be contradictory,” McClain said. “I think that supporting women – that’s a super simple notion, and you don’t have to align in any particular way to support that…I just hope that they would be willing and have an open mind to include themselves and voice their opinions so that we, as newcomers, can learn from them.”

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