I guess it’s time for women to duck and cover, at least according to the mainstream media. For months now, left-leaning news sources and politicians have been preaching the existence of the GOP’s “War on Women.” In actuality, it’s nothing but a blatant attempt to pander to women voters. Under the liberal version of “war,” Republicans have been busy targeting women by “denying” us free birth control, aiming to restrict abortion, and de-funding Planned Parenthood. However, if that’s what war means these days, then call me a pacifist. Fighting against a socially liberal agenda isn’t exactly the textbook definition of war. However, that does not mean there isn’t another version of “war” going on in our society against women. The real “War on Women” is a horse of a different color, and it’s not coming from the GOP.

As a woman in the United States, I do see a partly unintentional cultural war on my gender everywhere I turn. However, this isn’t one orchestrated by the Romney campaign. It’s one that’s deeply embedded in our culture and fueled by the media itself, the entity which often claims to champion “women’s rights.” I can’t walk through Target anymore without being bombarded with sleek magazine covers of airbrushed women who represent our cultural expression of beauty. Magazines and television shows subliminally say to women that we are not beautiful if we don’t meet the impossible standards set by our culture. They say, “You’re not pretty enough, buy this makeup,” or “you’re not thin enough, lose 20 pounds.” In short, they’re saying “you’re not perfect enough.”

I’m sick of hearing from Cosmopolitan that I’m not beautiful or thin enough. It’s insulting and degrading. Sure, the media also places standards upon men, but they are far less restrictive. In magazines and television everywhere, women face an onslaught of superficial standards warfare.

While there has been significant pushback against the plethora of airbrushing and superficial standards for women in our culture today, it’s still present. The long-term effects of these standards still weigh heavily upon women. We are told by the shiny magazine covers that we must be perfect, thin, and beautiful to be “accepted” in society. As women everywhere try to achieve these standards, we constantly come up short because we are seeking something we will never achieve. The “perfect” body, face, etc. is an impossible-to-attain social construct. As a result, thousands of women struggle daily with body issues, low self-esteem, and even eating disorders. Additionally, when the image of female perfection is so superficial, women are often not taken seriously because our worth is appearance-based.

In short, “beauty” is synonymous with “ability.” I can say for a fact that it is much easier to succeed as a woman if you are considered attractive. It should not be that way. This is a symbolic statement that says women should be judged based on appearance, not merit or character. America is supposed to be a meritocracy, not a nation where image is somehow a golden ticket for success.

Thriving as a conservative woman in the United States is even more difficult. While the National Organization for Women (NOW) will charge into battle for liberal women like Sandra Fluke or causes like abortion and birth control, they remain silent in the face of blatant attacks on conservative women. Recently, a video emerged of union members hitting a piñata with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s face on it because of her unease with the labor movement. NOW and other feminist groups had nothing to say on the issue. Talk about being warriors for women’s rights, huh? Then, a sexually explicit photoshopped image of conservative pundit S.E. Cupp appeared in Hustler Magazine, bashing her for her “dumb ideas” such as de-funding Planned Parenthood. Hustler publisher Larry Flynt responded to the wave of complaints by defending the article and saying, “that’s satire.” Again, from feminist organizations: nothing. At least several liberal women such as Sandra Fluke have come out in S.E. Cupp’s defense. Conservative women like S.E. Cupp, Nikki Haley, and I do not receive a defense from feminist organizations (not that we need it anyway) simply because of our political stances. It is an example of another liberal double standard. NOW and other liberal women’s groups are liberal ideologues who are pursuing a liberal agenda under the guise of gender equality.

For liberal women’s groups, the answer to the “War on Women” is taking legislative and political action to support Planned Parenthood, extend abortion, increase the distribution of birth control, etc. Once again, if that’s their weapon of choice, I don’t plan on carrying anytime soon. However, for all women, not just conservative women, there is another solution to the cultural assault on women’s images and the lack of a liberal defense. We need to be the women who are so often neglected in the media: real women. We need to be women of character who hold family values while still fighting for respect from the media. We need to be examples for our sisters, friends, and children. Gender should not determine our place in society.

Culture changes slowly, but it does change. That change begins with us. Our place should be determined not based upon the media’s impossible standards or a liberal feminist ideology. It should depend on merit. I am beautiful, but not because the media tells me I am. I’m beautiful because I value myself no matter who tells me otherwise. I’m a woman, I’m conservative, and I will not take this anymore.

Amy Lutz | Saint Louis University | @AmyLutz4