Sabrina Schaeffer: Speaker, Mom, Feminist
Angeline Rosato | 2/24/16 9:50pm
| Updated 2/24/16 9:50pm
American Word Magazine
“We want to encourage a society that allows people, no matter where they start, to pursue the goals and the life they want,” said speaker Sabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), this Monday, February 8th, in the Mary Graydon Center. Hosted by AU’s Network of enlightened Women (NeW) and the Kennedy Political Union (KPU), the talk looked at various issues fought in today’s feminist movement, including the wage gap and lack of female representation in STEM careers. As a political conservative, a women’s rights advocate, and a mother of three, Schaeffer had interesting points and perspective to bring to the table.
Reflecting on her childhood in California, Schaeffer cited her parents as early role models: “They always told me I could do what my brother could do, and they were politically engaged.” Her father ran for Congress while she was attending Middlebury College in Vermont, where she received a degree in History. In an National Journal article on the IWF’s website, she joked: “…when I went to college, I was replaced by a political campaign.” The summer before her senior year, she interned at the Republican National Committee.
In 1999, she headed to the nation’s capital for her first job– an assistant position at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for former UN Ambassador Jeanine Kirkpatrick. While she did not always intend to be involved in politics, she was quickly swept in by the excitement of the 2000 election. “I was excited at the prospects of what was out there. I started writing right away, and that got me some attention. We… just went from there.”
That eventually meant returning to school. In 2005, Schaeffer received an MA in Politics as well as an MA in American History from the University of Virginia. Interestingly enough, though, she first started out in a PhD program for American History at UVA. She soon realized that the Politics Department was for her. “I didn’t want to spend my life in the archives,” she said. In the National Journal article she stated, “I knew that was not going to get me where I wanted to be.”
After her graduate studies she then continued on in the “think tank world,” working with groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, Independent Communications Experience, and Evolving Strategies. “I was never really excited about being part of the partisan efforts… I think that was probably a function of my dad…and my mom,” Schaeffer said. The two were both more engaged in the academics realm.
In 2012, she became the Executive Director of the IWF, a non-profit organization founded in 1992 to conduct research and educate on policy issues of concern to women. Advocating “equity feminism” rather than “gender feminism,” the group looks to make waves in the current feminist movement. “I hope that we are promoting a message that resonates with young women. I hope that people realize that you can be a feminist and you can believe in limited government and that these two things don’t have to be in conflict with one another.”
It’s All About the Choices
While she learned a great deal about foreign policy while working under Kirkpatrick, Shaeffer learned even more about feminism. When the former ambassador, award recipient, author, professor, wife and mother of three kids told her that “you can do anything you want. Just not all at the same time,” Schaeffer took the advice to heart. She quickly learned about the importance of evaluating trade-offs and making choices in life.
To her, having the freedom to make those choices is what feminism is all about. Furthermore, she believes it involves women recognizing their own free will in making such decisions. In her speech, she identified individuals such as Sheryl Sandberg and Monica Lewinsky as examples of women who acknowledged themselves as agents, who exercised control over their lives and circumstances.
For Schaeffer, her choices revolve around working with her husband and doing what they think is best for their family. With this, she accepts the fact that this usually means being “frequently frazzled and usually tired.” Every day, she is jumping from work and other professional commitments to supporting her kids in school and extracurricular activities and spending time with her family.
In raising her young children– her son and two daughters–, she wants to make sure that she provides all three with equal opportunities to make their own decisions. “One of the most important things is for us to teach girls and boys that it’s okay to be who they are….and to flourish in that way,” said Schaeffer. However, believing deeply in gender differences, she does not expect equal outcomes. “They are individuals, and I am going to respect their individual aptitudes and preferences.”
Gender Equality: Our Future
Overall, Schaeffer has an optimistic outlook on the nation and where it is headed. Pointing to progress in the workforce and other major aspects of society, she said, “the differences between men and women– our different preferences, our different strengths, and these different choices we’re making– they’re not holding women back. So there’s an incredibly positive story to tell about women and girls today.”