Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate McDonnell’s Thesis Proves that “Feminism” Is Neither a Dirty Word, Nor Passe

Among moderates and conservatives, there’s a tendency to equate the word “feminism” with its most radical elements only — man-hating, anti-motherhood, “all intercourse is rape” MacKinnon-style feminism. The same moderates and conservatives who align themselves against what they call “feminism” would, for the most part, happily endorse the ideas that women should feel free to have jobs if they want them, find support for their decisions from their family, be payed the same for their work, and have access to reproductive options, from contraception to abortion (altough the latter would elicit some controversy). They’d defend those rights, without once realizing that they were defending what most feminists, male and female, define as feminism.

If I may, I submit that the reason so many of us feel so free to narrow and demonize “feminism” is that we forget the now settled, routine gains that “radical” feminism once procured. A glimpse at Mad Men, or a brief remembrance of decades past, is sufficient to remind us how recently it became permissible and common for women to be able to follow their dreams, whether those dreams involve family, professional achievement, or some mix thereof. And, lest we forget the novelty of these gains, there’s always Robert McDonnell, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for Virginia, to remind us just how far we’ve come.

In 1989, then-Regent University student McDonnell penned a thesis that labeled working women “detrimental” to the family; called contraception “illogical”; advocated for “covenent marriage” (which makes it much harder to divorce); demanded a “Judeo-Christian” focus in the public schools; and, of course, called anything other than a flat-tax “socialist.”

McDonnell claims to have changed; maybe that’s true. But McDonnell’s radical anti-feminist views place him in good company in his party, an increasingly conservative bunch that looks longingly back to a “golden era” that was only truly “golden” for some. That he once opposed women’s equality is a strike against his judgment, potentially a crippling one, and ought to matter.

As a man privileged to know brilliant, successful women, and call them friends, I consider myself particularly indebted to the triumphs of feminism, and particularly appalled by anyone who, now or earlier, would have denied them the chance to excel, or the earned rewards of such success. The lives of all are incalculably enriched by the successes of our peers, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation; who could deny themselves or their nation such gifts? McDonnell deserves to lose this election, if only as a reminder that America has since come closer to the dream of truly treating all equally.



  1. be payed the same for their work

    Actually, I think there are far too many out there who are content to let “market forces” dictate that a woman’s work is worth less.

    That he once opposed women’s equality is a strike against his judgment, potentially a crippling one, and ought to matter.

    I’d be careful here. We shouldn’t be saying that any misstep in a candidate’s past is an unqualified mark against them. The past matters when it informs the present, and in this case the candidate claims to have changed. If it is true, then I do not think we shoudl be too hard. However, he has as far as I know only claimed to have changed, and there is reason enough to believe that a Republican candidate especially would claim not to be anti-feminist when he actually is.

  2. That he once opposed women’s equality is a strike against his judgment, potentially a crippling one, and ought to matter.

    I don’t agree with that sentiment at all. It is something he wrote 20 years ago. Looking back just 5 years ago I had very different opinions to what I have now and would not wish to be judged by them. The senior thesis is a recurring subject in politics, remember Hillary Clinton’s when O’Reilly got hold of it a few years ago? He went through it looking for Marxist sentiment and found what he was looking for. The fact is that these senior theses are written by 22 year olds, who basically haven’t grow up yet. You are truly not a full grown adult until you are about 25, a lot can change in those 3 years. I don’t think you can judge someone based on the naivety of youth. Look at Robert Byrd then and now.

    1. Ben Gilworth · ·

      This was a Master’s thesis: McConnell was 34 when he wrote it

  3. Frankly, this is the first thing I’ve encountered that really starts to distinguish McDonnell’s campaign from his opponent Creigh Deeds’s. The ads they’ve both been running on TV… “I’m going to give more small business tax breaks and encourage more green jobs than him.” “No, I’m going to give more small business tax breaks and encourage more green jobs than he is!”.

    Pi, McDonnell was in his mid-30s when he wrote this thesis. It was a Master’s thesis, not a Senior thesis. Somewhat different – for starters, mid-30’s don’t qualify for “naivety of youth” anymore.

    1. Well considering how old he was, I am somewhat less sympathetic to him now. However I still think twenty years is a long time and ample for someone’s opinion to change, so I don’t doubt the possibility, I just think it is less.

      1. Certainly people can change their minds, and that’s great, but then you’d expect that change to be reflected in what they actually do. I’m not familiar with this gentleman beyond the powers of Wiki, but it would be intersting to look over his voting record and activities as Attorney General and see how deep that change is.

        His opinions on the Establishment Clause on pp. 62-63 are quite interesting as well. The whole thing reads more like a social conservative manifesto than anything you’d expect in an academic work.

        1. Actually I just noticed (I should have read closer) the University is Regent, a religious right university founded by Pat Robertson. It would have nearly zero academic merit and the only reference would be the bible.

        2. Well, Regents is properly accredited, so it’s not necessarily a bad university, even though one may disagree with its world view.

          1. Regent teaches creationism as if it were science, which automatically renders it a disgrace to the American educational system, much like its sister, Liberty University.

            1. I don’t know. Best as I can tell, Regent doesn’t have any science programmes at all, except a bit for elementary school teachers, so I’m not sure where that’d happen.

              In any case, if these universities are really that bad, there must be something wrong with the relevant accreditation standards, or the way they’re applied – and in that case, that seems like a much greater problem in itself.

              1. I’m right there with you on the standards! If these schools weren’t hiding behind religious fundamentalism, they’d be the laughingstocks they rightfully should be.

              2. My impression with a lot of these religious fundamentalist schools is they are cut some slack on the grounds they are religious, so the accreditation body is not accused of discrimination. Also, particularly in thing like law, they are taught to test. Despite having tire 4 law schools they have high pass rates of the state bar exam, so they teach them whatever they want for year sand then coach them the final year to pass the bar exam. As I said this is my perception and I really have nothing to go on as i don’t know the inner workings of the system.

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