And that talking point is: “If you truly support ALL women’s rights then you will get behind Sarah Palin and fight for her.”
The news that a group of veteran feminist organisations have endorsed the Obama/Biden ticket (many of the organisations making the point that Joe Biden is one politician on the Hill with whom they’ve been working for decades, so why wouldn’t they?) has made some stirs amongst various commentators, who are choosing to represent this reaction as a feminism-gone-wrong narrative (hands up who’s surprised that feminism has yet again gone “wrong”?). The speakers at the news conference pointed out in various ways that the McCain-Palin ticket endorsed so many policies that were against specific initiatives of these organisations that it made no sense for them to support that ticket purely because Palin is a woman.
“One thing I’ll say about role models is that women have true equality when conservative women, liberal women, progressive women, and women from all stripes have a chance at the top,” [Eleanor] Smeal said.
“And so we are not against a woman being on a ticket for president. We wish it was a ticket that stood for women and women’s rights. Since it doesn’t, we’re opposing that ticket,” she said.
“And her personal positions on women’s issues have also been extremely negative, especially reproductive rights, and there are other issues now emerging,” Smeal added.
The idea that groups working for women’s rights would not automatically support any woman candidate, no matter what her policy platform entails, seems to be making some people angry, on the basis that Sarah Palin surely has the right to run for office, so why aren’t feminists supporting her claiming that right?
Now, is it just me, or do you also see no feminists claiming that Palin doesn’t have the right to run for the White House?
One of the collections of talking points I’m finding repeated in comments sections all over the newspapers and the blogs is displayed all in a clump in this comment from Catherine in MI:, quoted below in reaction to the above news story. Let’s pull it apart, shall we?
Unfortunately, Eleanor, you subscribe to the liberal form of feminism. Their[sic] are millions of us who grew up in the era of NOW who don’t do so.
Now, obviously to Catherine “the liberal form of feminism” means something different than what it means to feminist organisations. For those playing along at home, “the liberal form of feminism” means patient, determined advocacy working to gradually change the laws to better reflect justice and equality in women’s rights, in contrast to “the radical form of feminism” which has an ideological goal to challenge, subvert and demolish gender roles and expectations (in order to improve women’s justice and equality outcomes). There is more crossover between the two forms than this capsule explanation can outline, but suffice to say that one can be both a liberal and a radical feminist. But what exactly does “the liberal form of feminism” mean to Catherine? Read on.
The theory that the only way a woman can be fulfilled is by climbing the corporate/education/political ladder is not for everyone.
Apparently, this is what liberal feminism means to Catherine. Isn’t it interesting how working for (amongst others) women who do want to be fulfilled through elite (socially rewarded) achievement to have equal opportunities to the men climbing that ladder is painted as somehow saying that this is what all women SHOULD want? It’s also interesting that feminists advocating improved rights and protections for ALL working women is being painted as only about ambitious career-women, instead of the much larger concerns of protecting typical working women, who work to support themselves and their families, from exploitation.
I have always supported women in their endeavors. What do I get for that support? Sneers and jeers because I’m “only a housewife.”
Really, who “sneers and jeers”? Is it the same women who are speaking at that press conference? Ever? Because if they are not on the record as ever saying such a thing, then why is that relevant to responding to Smeal’s points? Obviously, if this is what Catherine perceives as the feminist world-view, then it’s no wonder she is hostile to such an attitude that makes her effort and achievements in managing a household and bringing up children appear small and meaningless. Unfortunately, I think she has been taken in by misrepresentations of feminism’s views. Feminists want women to have better support for parenting, both from society (especially from employers) and from their partners.
Now, I do occasionally see derogatory comments made about suburban housewives in progressive forums, but I think that’s much more to do with mocking aspects of the consumerist display and “keeping up with the Joneses” that is rampant in suburbia, or mocking religious dogma that women should be restricted to the role of housewife, than it is to do about dismissing particular women as “only a housewife”. People are often not careful enough in their phrasing to make the proper distinctions, of course, but the various organisations and their speakers are very careful about not denigrating housewives qua housewives.
Being a homemaker is what is most suited to my personality.
That Catherine is able to live that home-making life “most suited to her personality” is a sign that her family can be supported without her earning capacity: this choice is a sign of middle-class privilege.
I don’t put down or deride a woman who has decided that working in the dog-eat-dog world is what she wants.
Most wives and mothers in the world have not decided to work in the “dog-eat-dog world”: they have literally never ever had the choice about working outside the home, as the family needs their income as well as their husband’s income simply to survive and perhaps – perhaps – educate the children for better opportunities than their parents can pursue.
Nor do I look down my nose at working moms.
Really? Catherine doesn’t think presenting work solely as a choice is condescending to the typical working woman? Working women deserve better social support – particularly on maternity leave, family-friendly workplaces and working hours, and equal pay legislation. Fighting for better support and equal opportunities for typical working women has nothing to do with women who can afford to choose to be non-earning, so why does Catherine insist on seeing this as some sort of rebuke?
I do, however, detest women who think that their way of life is the only way for women to follow.
A broad thrust of feminist consciousness-raising over the decades has been pointing out that being financially dependent on a husband entails quite a few risks for women. Pointing out that the prudent course for women to follow is one that ensures their own financial security independently of their partner’s income is not the same as saying this is “the only way”: there’s nothing stopping women from choosing the risk of making themselves dependent. Feminism is not going to stop pointing out that the dependent course is unwise any time soon though, given the combination of (a) the squeezing of the middle class (fewer people can afford to support a family on one income only), and (b) the high divorce rate (and what about widowhood?): if you’re likely to have to earn your living again some time in the foreseeable future, it makes sense to keep your CV current with some form of paid work even when being a primary carer for young children, so that you don’t get penalised due to a CV gap in the future.
If you truly support ALL women’s rights then you will get behind Sarah Palin and fight for her.
Supporting ALL women’s rights does not confer an obligation to contribute to ANY particular woman’s enterprise. I can and do support the general idea of Palin, just like any other female politician, pursuing her ambitions for the highest office, yet I feel absolutley no need to fight for her personal success. There are plenty of other women pursuing personal ambitions, as they have a perfect right to do, whom I also feel no obligation to actively support or fight on their behalf: I’m not fighting for Paris Hilton’s success by persuading people to watch her TV shows or buy her branded product lines, for one example, and funnily enough, Paris Hilton doesn’t expect me to contribute to her enterprises just because we’re both women, largely because she knows that her ultra-femme princess persona puts quite a few people off. I’m sure Hilton would like me and millions more to give her enterprises our money, but she doesn’t demand it just because she’s a woman and we’re feminists. So why are Republican shills demanding that feminists are obliged to support the enterprises of this particular female politician?
Otherwise, you are going to be seen as just another opportunistic liberal who doesn’t walk the talk.
The only way that this “doesn’t walk the talk” accusation can hold is if liberal feminism actually does advocate exactly what Catherine claimed it does in the earlier section of her comment, viz “The theory that the only way a woman can be fulfilled is by climbing the corporate/education/political ladder is not for everyone.”
Well, it’s a nice straw-man, but feminists no more expect every woman to find fulfilment in climbing the career ladder than traditionalists expect every man to find fulfilment climbing that ladder: our social hierarchies depend on the natural variation in talents and ambition so that a favoured few reach the top and most do not, satisfied with (or at least able to tolerate) a quieter life as long as they can afford some comforts for themselves and are confident in continued opportunities for their children in their turn. The big difference between feminists and traditionalists is that feminists say that women should be equally represented at all levels of society, and traditionalists say that all the top slots in our social hierarchies public and domestic should be reserved for (some) men. The point about having equal opportunity to climb the corporate/academic/political ladder is that the upper rungs of these ladders are enormously well rewarded by society, both financially and in terms of social influence, and if the only people at the top are men then that reflects on the status of all women. The point has never been that women who have neither the talent nor the ambition for elite achievement should feel empty without them, or at least not any emptier than the men who also fall short. (Traditionalists also believe that those at the top of the hierarchy deserve the lion’s share of the wealth generated in societies, whereas most progressives believe that wealth should be distributed more evenly, a move which is anathema to the Republican party and which would definitely benefit women and lower-status men.)
Sarah Palin has grown up in a society sufficiently reformed from the traditionalist world-view that the fact that it was she rather than her husband who had the political ambitions and acumen has been rewarded rather than made a source of social disdain. She has seen opportunities for advancement and pursued them, and persuaded others to follow her, support her and fight for her. She has managed to juggle her political career with raising her family. She is obviously a formidable character with a strong will to succeed. These are all positives, and I can see why they appeal to many people.
However, she also fully supports a party and ticket platform that will make it harder for other women to access the opportunities that Palin herself has enjoyed. McCain-Palin’s policies will continue to squeeze the middle class by concentrating their tax cuts towards the rich, meaning that fewer families will be able to afford the choice of having the wife be a non-earning homemaker. Their policies will also not allow women redress in the courts for unfair pay practises, include plans to make medical coverage for working families even more expensive and difficult to obtain (and to contract the safety net available when a divorced homemaker loses the medical coverage she only had through her ex-husband’s employment, for example), and last but not least, will restrict timely and affordable access to abortion for those who wish to control the number and timing of their children.
It’s important not to dismiss Palin as if what she has achieved already is nothing. She has seen the opportunities that feminism has opened up for women, and has stepped up to the challenge and experienced significant success. But her success so far does not mean that she is ready and able for such a huge increase in responsibility over a very large nation, and it doesn’t mean that a woman who supports policies that will directly disadvantage many women in the USA, both working mothers and homemakers, deserves feminist support.