In the current issue of Vanity Fair, there’s an article by Nancy Jo Sales headlined “‘They Say We’re White Supremacists’: Inside the Strange World of Conservative College Women.” Sales profiles conservative young women at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and they’re well worth hearing out.
These women think in interesting and nuanced ways at a time when most political activists are fleeing to the extremes. And the things they say don’t fit neatly on popular platforms that thrive on outrage. On Donald Trump: “Morally, I don’t stand with him,” says 19-year-old Cammie McMahan. “He’s not moral,” says Caitlyn McKinney, also 19. “But what he represents for the Republican Party, I strongly support.”
These female students are pro-life, but they don’t resemble the cartoonish absolutists of progressive nightmares. “I think Plan B is morally permissible because conception can occur anytime in the six days after sex,” says McMahan. “So I think it’s O.K. And Plan B is, like, perfectly accessible—you can get it at Walmart and Target. If I was raped, I would do that.” Sales adds: “Cammie and Caitlyn also felt they were not in a position to judge any woman who decided to have an abortion.”
Gabby Derosier, who’s the same age as the others, is particularly thoughtful on sexual assault, Brett Kavanaugh, and Republicans. “I don’t want anyone to get their lives taken away because of something that wasn’t true—I’m on that side,” she says. “But I also know that rapes happen on this campus all the time, and lots of girls don’t even feel like they can report them because of how no one’s going to believe them or help them for lack of ‘evidence’ or whatever.” Derosier wishes that prominent conservatives would acknowledge the reality of assault against women a little more than they do while continuing to fight for due process.
Here’s what’s interesting: These women come across as calm, serious, introspective conservatives–and yet the whole point of the piece is that we’re supposed to find them “strange.” Sales makes no attempt to demonize the individual subjects of her profile. She doesn’t need to because, as far as she’s concerned, they’ve already done the job for her by aligning with the political right. As she writes at the beginning of the article: “Most mystifying of all, perhaps, is the block of young white women who continue to support the president and his party when the majority of their peers have reacted with revulsion.” She went to talk to these students “to find out how it feels to be among the most despised women in America.”
To the liberal mainstream, conservatives who are young, female, or part of an ethnic minority are anthropological curiosities. They’re strange because they exist. Every day, newspapers and magazines celebrate young progressive Americans who live their lives as experiments in redefining social, economic, familial, and biological reality. But when you stumble upon a college student like Caitlyn McKinney, who says “I don’t know how it’s liberating for women to let men see them as just another hookup. I want someone to actually think I’m special and love me”—you’ve come across a discovery on par with the mythical giant squid.
These conservative women are routinely derided on campus, and Sales does a good job of detailing it. But maybe if the media treated them as something other than oddities, things would be a little easier for them.