Sarah Palin’s Feminism

May 31st, 2010 at 8:50 am | 55 Comments |

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As most people who’ve read any history of the conservative movement know, new permutations of it arise anew, and from the looks of it, Sarah Palin is doing her best to create one. Specifically, she has been peppering her speeches with lines about “conservative feminism,” a term which has Washington Post writer Jessica Valenti up in arms:

But, of course, Palin isn’t a feminist — not in the slightest. What she calls “the emerging conservative feminist identity” isn’t the product of a political movement or a fight for social justice.

It isn’t a structural analysis of patriarchal norms, power dynamics or systemic inequities. It’s an empty rallying call to other women who are as disdainful of or apathetic to women’s rights as Palin herself: women who want to make abortion and emergency contraception illegal and who fight same-sex marriage rights. As Kate Harding wrote on Jezebel.com: “What comes next? ‘Phyllis Schlafly feminism?’ ‘Patriarchal feminism?’ ‘He-Man Woman Hater Feminism?’”

Given that so-called conservative feminists don’t support women’s rights, how can they paint their movement as pro-woman? Why are they not being laughed out of the room?

Now, admittedly, this is a weak argument, seeing as it’s almost completely circular and it begs the question in every conceivable way. I mean, come on, not all feminism has questioned patriarchal norms, or power dynamics, or systemic inequities. That’s just the most recent iteration, and many older feminists like, say, Susan B. Anthony focused entirely on classically liberal arguments. At this point, Valenti assumes what she’s trying to prove – namely, that all feminism has to be oriented toward “women’s rights” (i.e. abortion), and also has to accept intersectionality with gays. Neither of these things is necessarily true, and it’s foolish to pretend that they are.

But this isn’t even the most substantive problem I have with the article. Much as I’m a Palin fan, for instance, I often find it annoying how she blames her problems with the media and with liberal critics on latent sexism, something that comes far more from the feminist playbook than from anything done by, say, Phyllis Schlafly (who celebrated traditional gender roles while crushing her opponents intellectually). In fact, having met Schlafly (albeit briefly), I know she wouldn’t use that strategy, since her response when  I said she’d accomplished more than any feminist was that “The only reason they haven’t accomplished that much is because they don’t believe they can.” Admittedly, Palin’s no Catherine MacKinnon, and thank God, but is it really such a stretch to see her using some of the same victimhood-motivated claims?

What’s more, Valenti’s claim that there’s no such thing as conservative feminism, especially with regard to suspicion of men, is just flat out wrong. Exhibit A on that count is the oft-cited conservative argument against porn, especially as exhibited by people who claim that the people who watch porn are participating in “degradation,” without examining the numerous tacit premises involved in such a claim (For instance, that no one ever deserves to be degraded, regardless of the stupidity of their life choices, or that no one can enjoy being degraded, or that the degradation in question actually exists). These premises aren’t necessarily wrong, but to accept them uncritically is par for the course in feminist discourse, especially of the type Valenti celebrates.

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55 Comments so far ↓

  • Cforchange

    Diomedes has nailed it.

    As for the other column here at FF, “Feminists hate Palin”. I doubt that’s true, Palin has been called by the female population for what she is and that would be a professional opportunist. America deserves and needs more than that.

    Ramrants, why is it that your brand of anti choice rhetoric attempts to conclude that decisions are made only to benefit the mother? No man bears this knowledge. Nor can any human determine for a life incapable of communicating that this life is in fact torment free. You are overstepping. So has your contingency with it’s influence over the GOP. Fact is, you folks are content with marginal achiever candidates as long as they are anti choice. Palin proves this over and over.

  • Rockerbabe

    Most feminist are women who are married and/or associate with men. This “men suspicion” is something all women share; we are always trying to figure men out, what they want (as if we didn’t already know); do they say mean what they say, how to get them interested in us, etc.

    Feminism is of and about women and the goals each individual woman seeks to attain for herself and her family. Feminism, American style has questioned patriarchal norms, power dynamics, or systemic inequities to great success, but not complete success. We live in a society that claims every man is equal in the eyes of the law; now, in the past that just didn’t apply to female citizens . There are many laws that have allowed women to be denied the right to vote, the right to their own children, the right to equal pay and equal opportunity, the right to own property, the right to decent medical care, the right to an education and the right to enter a profession; “women’s rights” are a lot more than being able to acquire an abortion. Women have been imprisoned for campaigning for the right to vote. And just because so many do not know the history of women in the USA, only highlights the shortcomings of our society and our educational system.

    Mrs. Palin is for the most part (as far as I am concerned), a dumb blonde masquarding as a brunette and laughing all the way to the bank! Mrs. Schlafly is just another conservative women who wants for herself, what she would allow others to deny women in general. Her “intellect” is just circular; she thinks it is OK to deny women equal opportunity (and as if David could overcome the Goliaths in our society); I think she must have be AWOL during the courses on constitutional rights of citizens and she confuses societial norms with legal/governmental policies. These conservative feminist as the writer calls them are not feminist. There are the tried and true freeloaders of the world.

    Conservatives are about the status quo; feminist are about change, which in the very essence is not mutually inclusive. Most censervative women I know, never get their hands dirty with the business of getting change underway. That would be too unseemly. But, these very same women have no problem in taking advantage of the change in attitudes and the law to pursue their dreams for public office or private enterprise and often do not support other women and their endeavors for a better life.

    As far as porn goes, porn pays women very well to be degraded. People who watch porn have a problem in actually dealing with their own sexuality on some level. Feminist often decry porn as well as they should; we decry mistreatment of animals, black people, etc. Why not decry the mistreatment of women? Women are woefully underpaid in our society and that in and of itself is a form of degradation. Conservative women support the second class citizenship of women in general due to their refusal to support advancement for all women. Mrs. Palin is just a media-hound, like Glen Beck. Long on a big mouth, short on ideas that really matter.

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