Daum on Palin on Feminism

Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Times:

She’s talking not about your mom’s or Gloria Steinem’s feminism but, as she put it, an “emerging, conservative, feminist identity.”

Using grizzly bears as a metaphor, Palin seemed to imply that the tenets of feminism — or at least the word itself — need not apply solely to liberal, abortion-rights supporting (and, by implication, gun-eschewing, gay-marriage-advocating, reusable-eco-bag-toting, dangling-earring-wearing) women. Red-state PTA moms with a love of God and country can get in on the empowerment act too.

“The mama grizzlies, they rise up,” Palin said, adding that such women “can give their child life, in addition to pursuing career and education and avocations. Society wants to tell these young women otherwise. These feminist groups want to tell these women that, ‘No, you’re not capable of doing both.’ ”

Now, there are a lot of ways in which this 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.

Tracy Clark-Flory in Salon Broadsheet responds:

In many ways, the debate over Palin’s feminist cred boils down to whether an anti-choice feminist is an oxymoron. It certainly is in my mind, but the label doesn’t belong to me any more than it does to Palin. Besides, I’m less concerned with labels than I am with actual arguments about what is truly best and just for all women. I say, let Palin hide behind her favorite new buzzword; we all well know she’s better with catch phrases than actual policy.

Me? I find Palin’s antichoice position per se less disturbing than her overall libertarian exceptionalist brand of politics as individualist triumphalism, where her feminism slides right in alongside all her other policy positions as I can do it all on my own, so you should be able to do it all on your own, so I don’t need to show solidarity with you. This political position simply doesn’t acknowledge that institutional oppression even exists – it’s just a few bad apples that you ought to stand up to, by golly gosh darn, and government needs to keep its hands out of her pocket.

Within the bounds of that extreme individualist libertarian position? I guess she’s as feminist as possible within those limits – that she is just fine and dandy with exceptional women proving themselves to be worthy of public acclaim and social rewards just as much as exceptional men. But for those who aren’t exceptional? She wants them to vote for policies which punish them for being ordinary by cutting revenue to the public purse that provides support infrastructure to people who don’t have the capacity, for whatever reason, to be exceptional. It’s astonishing how many choices to pursue individualist exceptionalism you don’t have when you don’t know whether you’ll have a roof over your head tomorrow, but libertarians always gloss over these inconvenient truths.

While Palin remains a libertarian she’s not helping the fight against sexist or any other sort of oppression, so whether she calls herself a feminist or not, she’s not on my side.

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism, language, Politics

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3 replies

  1. I’m not sure if you can be a feminist just by claiming that you are. Shouldn’t generally being an ally to other women be one of the things you should do, rather than just a narrowly defined portion of womenkind that you approve of?
    Also, since when did feminists start saying that women couldn’t have it all? Weren’t we being blamed for telling women that they could have it all just last week?

  2. Come on Mindy, you know that so long as one feminist says something (or can be misrepresented as saying something) the feminazi hivemind kicks in and thus we have all said it.
    More seriously, the catch is that it isn’t very feminist to police other women’s assertions of identity, either. If we do it we fall into the web of spin.
    They want opponents to waffle on about whether her feminist card should be revoked instead of addressing the cruelty and greed contained in the actual policies that she wants to implement.

    • Just remembered that meloukhia had a very thought-provoking post on another aspect of the outrage from some feminists about Palin’s claim to be one – that liberal feminism has a parallel history of not being allies to all women, and we should look a lot harder at that history and its current manifestations before taking on the role of arbiters of feminism for others:

      Yet, again, there are a lot of parallels with the mainstream feminist movement, where the focus is on issues that are important to white, nondisabled, cisgendered, heterosexual, middle class women. Many of these issues are important, and working on them may provide some benefits to women outside these privileged classes, but nonwhite women, disabled women, trans women (and trans* people in general), queer/gay/bi/asexual women, and lower class women are repeatedly told to wait their turn. Given that this is often said while mainstream feminists are pushing our heads underwater and saying ‘just another minute,’ it’s kind of hard to take that promise, that our time will come, seriously. And sometimes, it’s very hard to believe that mainstream feminism does not, to some extent, prop up existing social structures even as it claims to do otherwise.
      Indeed, some feminist rhetoric outright says that advancing the cause of a few women at the expense of others is a ‘victory.’
      Liberal feminists are asking why Sarah Palin, a conservative feminist, should be allowed to call herself a feminist. They also ask why so many people want to distance themselves from feminism. Well, I think the parallels I’ve outlined here answer that question pretty thoroughly, and perhaps will open a few eyes. People who are outraged by Sarah Palin’s rhetoric and demand to know how she’s feminist now have an inkling of how people in marginalised classes who don’t identify with feminism feel. Because, let me tell you, many of us are surprised to see you calling yourselves feminists too.

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