Guess who’s calling herself a feminist? I’ll give you a hint: she doesn’t read much but cooks a mean moose chili, and while she isn’t a big fan of hopey changey stuff, she has been known to engage in such enlightened chants as “Drill, baby, drill.” (Though she’s been conspicuously quiet on that subject as of late.) Oh, and she’s super-mavericky, too.
Yeah, her. Sarah Palin’s taken to calling herself a feminist (never mind the fact that, during the 2008 Presidential campaign she told Katie Couric that, no, she was not a feminist)–and many other self-described feminists are none too thrilled about it.
And, frankly, I’m terrifically torn. Yes, a part of me believes that a part of the reason young women are so reluctant to call themselves feminists is because, at times, the movement has seemed been exclusionary. Elitist. Historically, such charges aren’t entirely unfounded. I have even argued that, to my mind, Feminism can be boiled down to the simple idea that women are people.
So why aren’t I jumping up and down, welcoming a woman from the other side of the aisle to the party? Well, just being a woman isn’t enough. And being a woman who’s championed causes antithetical to the interests of women as a whole certainly seems like an adequate deal-breaker, doesn’t it?
The ultimate irony may be in the event at which Palin dropped the F-bomb (upwards of ten times) itself: It was a speech given to the Susan B. Anthony list, an anti-choice group. During the speech, she said the suffragettes were the real feminists (disregarding all that’s come since–you know, like the women who fought to pry open the doors through which Palin walked to get where she is today)–and that they were pro-life. She went on to disparage pro-choice feminists, suggesting that, by championing a woman’s right to choose, they’re really saying they just don’t believe women can handle motherhood and work, and
send this message, that ‘Nope, you’re not capable of doing both. You can’t give your child life and still pursue career and education. You’re not strong enough; you’re not capable.’ So it’s very hypocritical.
Implicit in such a statement is, of course, the idea that that woman who’s capable of doing both will have the benefit of enough support from the social structures around her to make it possible to do both–an argument that’s tough to make, given, you know, the ERA that was never passed, the fact that we’re still underpaid and underrepresented, not to mention the issues of inadequate, unaffordable child care and–until recently–health care (reform of which Palin feverishly campaigned against).
But back to Palin and her F-bombs. Jessica Valenti, who made a compelling argument that Palin’s feminism is not feminism at all, but rather disingenuous pandering for women’s votes come midterm time, lays it out thus:
A related strategy for Palin and fellow conservatives is to paint actual feminists as condescending hypocrites who simply don’t believe in young women… Palin’s “pro-woman sisterhood,” however, “is telling these young women that they’re strong enough and smart enough, they are capable to be able to handle an unintended pregnancy and still be able to… handle that [and] give that child life.” (Unless of course, these young women were unlucky enough to live in Alaska when then-Gov. Palin cut funding for an Anchorage shelter for teenage moms.)
Ahem, who you callin a hypocrite, Sarah?
But then, just when you’re ready to banish her from the kingdom forever, there’s this, from Meghan Daum at the L.A. Times.
The word in question, of course, is “feminist.” It may be the most polarizing label on the sociopolitical stage (it makes “environmentalist” or even “gay-rights advocate” seem downright banal), but Palin seems to have stopped dancing around it and finally claimed it as her partner. Granted, this is a conditional relationship; there’s a qualifier here as big as Alaska…
Now, there are a lot of ways in which [Palin's] logic is contorted, not least of all the suggestion that supporting the right to choose represents a no-confidence vote for the idea of mothers leading fulfilling professional and personal lives. But putting that aside, I feel a duty (a feminist duty, in fact) to say this about Palin’s declaration: If she has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she’s entitled to be accepted as one.
Now, while a part of me agrees with Daum’s perspective, another part of me agrees with the in-your-face take offered by Kate Harding, who wrote on Jezebel that:
The problem is, words mean things. I could start calling myself a red meat conservative, or campaign for those of us who are against the death penalty to “reclaim” the term “pro-life,” but at some point, the relationship between your beliefs and your choice of words either passes the sniff test or it doesn’t. And someone who actively seeks to restrict women’s freedom calling herself a feminist is, not to put too fine a point on it, a liar. There’s a difference between a big tent and no boundaries whatsoever; if Palin’s “entitled to be accepted” as a feminist just because she says she’s one, then the word is completely meaningless–as opposed to merely vague and controversial. And I might just start calling myself a “right-winger” because I’m right-handed, or a “fundamentalist” because I believe everyone deserves a solid primary education, or a “birther” because I once hosted a baby shower.
Is she or isn’t she?? More troubling that all of this, to me, though, is this: it seems that what’s really happening here is that feminism is again being reduced to an issue of reproductive rights. Don’t get me wrong: I happen to believe a woman’s right to choose is critically, critically important–and while I find it nothing short of ludicrous to call an anti-choice argument “feminist,” something (else) about this entire debate rubs me wrong (and not just the high-school-clique-ish nature of the whole does she belong or doesn’t she question). I just think that every time we frame feminism as about abortion rights and nothing more, we take the focus off of what it’s really all about. And that is, of course, that women are people–people who deserve equal access, representation, freedom, pay, and support from all aspects of the social structures that circumscribe their lives. And while feminism may indeed be nothing more than the radical notion that women are people, a feminist is someone who puts her money (or her votes) where her rhetoric is. So, Sarah, call yourself whatever you want. But talk is cheap–and your record speaks for itself.