When the Tea Party emerged in 2009, most progressive critics characterized it as a sprawling movement of “angry white men.” But it is also a party of angry white women. Everyone in the Tea Party shares an ideology that calls for freedom from government, very low taxes, and an inchoate desire to “take back America,” both from the state and, for many, the changing racial composition of our society. But, according to several national polls and research done by sociologists Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind, unlike most such groups, between a third and a half of Tea Party activists are female. So, why have so many women been attracted to the Tea Party?
To put it bluntly, one reason is that some women love men who love guns, love men who hate the government and loathe taxes, or love men who are not afraid to voice racist and xenophobic feelings. In short, they are the intimate partners of Tea Party men.
A second reason is the role religion plays in attracting women. Sociologist Kathleen Blee suggests that there are probably more religious women than men in the Tea Party. Some of them are conservative Christians who promote fundamentalist views on abortion and homosexuality. But even those evangelical women who are not religious fundamentalists tend to see themselves as part of a “Christian Nation.”
However, a critical reason neglected by journalists and political analysts is that many women in the Tea Party have long harbored resentment against their marginalization in the Republican Party. Or they view the movement as a way to gain entry into political life. Sometimes their goal is to protect their families from perceived dangers, but often it is a way to become a leader, to be heard, and, through a new kind of conservative or evangelical feminism, to become active in the public arena or even to begin a new career. As one member put it, “In the Tea Party, women have finally found their voice.”
The current conservative movement has created many opportunities for such resentful or ambitious right-wing women. Take, for example, Darla Dawald, who joined the conservative group Resist.net in 2009. Within months, she was rewarded with a hefty monthly salary and was organizing local Tea Parties in every state capital.
A year later, in 2010, Dawald became national director of ResistNet.org, which then morphed into the National Patriot Network, of which she is now the director and which she describes on her Facebook page as a “grassroots social action network of Grassfire Nation.” (The number of Tea Party groups and their interlocking partnerships is staggering.)
SURPRISINGLY, MOST of the local leaders of the original ResistNet.org were women, although 56 percent of the members were men. However, the owner of the project was Steve Elliot, a self-described communications expert, now president of Grassfire.org, who set the group’s policy by himself. He may be an example of how men in the Tea...
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