With Palin as Inspiration, More Conservative Women Making Voices Heard

WASHINGTON -- What motivates conservative women hasn't changed much since mavens like Phyllis Schafly took on the feminists as a pro-life torchbearer in the 1970s, and the Conservative Political Action Conference this week has shown that their roles in the conservative movement have only grown.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter delivered a rousing speech Saturday, and Sarah Palin, though not in attendance, has been a constant reference point at this week's annual conference in Washington, D.C.

One panel discussion, "Going Rogue: Women Changing the Face of Conservatism," took its name from Palin's recent book about her experience on the campaign trail as the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. Panel participants said conservative women still promote "family values," are pro-life and clearly still disdain the feminist movement that told girls they have to work and put off raising a family.

"Conservative issues are just better for women," said S.E Cupp, a conservative blogger and commentator, who is among a growing number of conservative women finding creating new ways of getting their voices heard through multimedia.

"Otherwise we would have been confined to the mainstream" caricature, Kate Obenshain, a former chairwoman of the Virginia Republican Party, said. She pointed to Michelle Malkin and other bloggers who have crossed over to cable news and other media forums. It shows "conservative women are unstoppable -- they've always been."

But Obenshain insists that active conservative women "don't walk in lock-step," and she encouraged the audience of predominantly college women not to "let anyone define for you what conservative women should look like.

"We don't have a litmus test."

But others say that of the thousands of attendees at CPAC this year, most generally adhere to the same ideological and political positions.

"I think we are real, traditional conservatives who happen to believe in personal liberty," said Leah Patrick of the newly established Ladies of Liberty Alliance (LOLA), a group of libertarian women whose views diverge somewhat from those of other groups at the convention.

They don't agree on issues of gay marriage -- they support it -- and think fighting for an end to the drug war is just as important as fighting for an end to bloated government. They started LOLA because they saw conservative confabs like CPAC as "dominated by men."

Still, women acknowledge that while a united front might not always be possible, they can all enjoy the fact that they have made great strides as women. For all the criticism and controversy swirling around Palin, she has helped fire up conservative women, said Zoelle Mallenbaum, a student at Wellesley University.

Conservative women are "still discredited" by liberals on campus, Mallenbaum said, adding that Palin sends an inspiring message -- that conservative women are "out there and unafraid."