Married White Female

29 December 2005

Outside of Washington and evangelical circles, Concerned Women for America don’t rate much attention. That’s too bad — CWA is one of the most effective Christian conservative lobbying organizations around. Reporters and activists should take note of CWA’s initiatives, because as often as not they lead to legislation.

Last week, The Revealer looked at CWA’s year-in-review for 2005. High up on CWA’s list of “accomplishments” was teaching liberal politicians to fear “values (pro life) voters.” This week, CWA takes a more positive approach, with its list of “Evangelical Women of the Year.” Surprisingly, modesty is not a value celebrated by this anti-feminist organization — three of their twelve “heroines” are CWA executives. Two are feted for courage as talking heads on cable news. One is celebrated for bringing Bibles and “study materials” to the Katrina refugees at the Cajundome.

Special honors ought to go to Leslee Unruh, president of Abstinence Clearinghouse, who managed to make the list despite an almost hallucinatory fear of condoms. There are plenty of thoughtful, articulate champions of abstinence, but Unruh — who boasts of her White House access and her organization’s Centers for Disease Control partnership — is not one of them. When I interviewed her last year, she kept veering off message — responsible abstinence — to whisper and shout about the condoms that haunt her: “Condoms on bananas,” she moaned, her voice raising. “Captain Condom! Condom relay races!” Even on vacation at Mt. Rushmore, she told me, she could not escape them. She claims she found a machine in the women’s room that told her “seven perfect ways” to put on a rubber.

CWA salutes Unruh’s work: “experts across the ideological perspective recognize the effectiveness of abstinence campaigns.” Indeed — STD rates have spiked among teens taught the terrors of condoms.

Most of the rest of the list seems reasonable enough, a conservative organization’s celebration of accomplished conservative activists. Except for Valerie Parr Hill. Pictured hanging a Christmas ornament, Parr Hill is a QVC home shopping channel diva. That’s fine, but where’s the Jesus in that? Her evangelical accomplishment, according to CWA: “Valerie’s elegant, yet inexpensive, items are carefully chosen for women who want their homes to reflect warmth and hospitality without extravagance.”

You can’t be Christian unless your home is cozy, and Parr Hill is the woman to help you make that happen. Concerned Women for America have a Look.

Judging from the list, that Look is pretty pale. Only one of the eleven women photographed is black, and no latinas, Asians, or other women of color made the cut. It’s a distinctly bureaucratic list, too, consisting mostly of conservative nonprofit execs, affluent women who are comfortable testifying before congress. CWA isn’t interested in “‘ordinary’ women doing ‘extraordinary’ things” such as those it found on Jane magazine’s list. CWA singles out for derision activists opposed to sweatshops, industrial farming, and Wal-Mart.

It’d be easy to dismiss CWA as fundamentalists, fringe characters without the influence of even Jane. But to do so would mean overlooking CWA’s Washington lobbying power. Worse, it would mean ignoring how groups such as CWA control and define terms such as “evangelical,” “Christian,” “family,” and even “woman.” Officially, CWA says that such terms cut across racial, class, and ideological boundaries; but the aesthetic the organization puts forth presents a different picture, one that is white, affluent, married, “free market,” and “concerned” most of all about sex — how to stop it from happening.

–Jeff Sharlet