Jill Filipovic: It's clear now that Tomi Lahren didn't know her role, and the same men who helped usher her to fame are now keen to shut her up
It turns out for all their talk about freedom and liberty, conservatives aren't willing to fully extend those values to women, she writes
Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi and the author of the forthcoming book, “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Conservative darling-turned-pariah Tomi Lahren is getting a crash course on what the right thinks of women.
Lahren, a 24-year-old known for her video monologues delivered in a brash, self-aggrandizing tone, rose to quick prominence within right-wing media. She’s young, blond, opinionated and conservative, and unafraid to use sex appeal as a cudgel. “It seems feminists are all about freedom of expression so long as the females are overweight or transgender,” she says in one video.
Being a young, attractive, conservative woman also gave her cover to make the kind of startlingly cruel comments that would have sunk other careers – suggesting, for example, that Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives (and the lives of their children) were cowards who wouldn’t stay to defend their country. “Americans stand up and fight for faith, family and freedom,” reads the text overlaid on an image of herself, which she tweeted. “Syrians run away.”
But now, after a meteoric rise, Lahren has crashed to earth. She was suspended from the conservative website The Blaze, which features her videos. According to a report in the New York Post, she has been “banned permanently.” The reason: she came out on national television as pro-choice. “You know what? I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well,” Lahren said.
Lahren, apparently, didn’t get the memo that the American right is happy with sexy women as long as those women appear sexy to appeal to men; women who have the nerve to think they have the right to their own sexual and reproductive choices, well, they are not so welcome in the GOP.
Conservative men used Lahren as the perennial example of the sexually appealing right-wing woman, as a way to imply or outright say that liberal women are ugly. That jab, of course, rests on the idea that women are only as valuable as they are hot, a standard that clearly doesn’t apply for men – Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, or most of the other Republican men populating the White House. But Lahren was happy to play along.
Where she went wrong was in thinking it was only fair that she had some say over her sexuality. As an attractive young woman, Lahren was a useful tool for the old white men who run the right-wing media when she said all the right things – when she was a vicious ideologue, cute as a college cheerleader.
That she’s not following the playbook of “sexy young thing” looking to transition to “sacrificial pro-life mother” surely enrages the men who only want to hear women talk as long as they want to have sex with them – or as long as they’re making excuses for misogyny while putting a pretty face on brutal policies.
Let’s compare: Donald Trump was pro-choice before he was anti-abortion; it’s hard to imagine this level of outrage at a right-wing man who says he thinks freedom extends to women. But men on both sides of the aisle are given more freedom to be iconoclasts. Perhaps Lahren thought her status gave her a little more freedom to speak her mind and assert her basic rights. It’s clear now that she didn’t know her role, and the same men who helped usher her to fame are now keen to shut her up.
Lahren is a successful young woman who probably realizes that the right to decide for herself when to have children will shape the course of the rest of her life – her professional future, her economic prospects, her education, her romantic life, her health. So it is for every woman, which is why legal and accessible contraception and abortion are crucial, nonnegotiable pillars of women’s freedom. Lahren notes that her support of abortion rights comes from her commitment to freedom – “I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think the government should decide what women do with their bodies,” she said.
It turns out that for all their talk about freedom and liberty, conservatives aren’t willing to fully extend those values to women. And for all their talk about free speech and all the complaints that liberal institutions shut down conservative views, they’ve been awfully quick to try and muzzle Lahren for the crime of saying she thinks a safe, legal medical procedure that has revolutionized women’s rights in America should remain legal.
Imagine the howling on the right if a liberal publication suspended a commentator for saying they morally opposed abortion – it would be used as further proof of leftist intolerance. It turns out that when it comes to free speech being used to support women’s rights, the right is pretty closed-minded.
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That there’s room in the Republican Party and in conservative media for a man who has bragged about sexually assaulting women, another who was charged with domestic violence, and a whole room full of men who are happy to take away health care for pregnant women (and the list goes on), but not for a woman who says she gets to decide what happens inside her own uterus, tells you everything you need to know about conservatives and women. If only Lahren had figured out sooner that it’s not feminists who are the problem – it’s the whole conservative ideology she pushes.