Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Can Sarah Palin be a Feminist?

If you’d asked me last month, I would have said Obama had this election locked up.

His campaign had all the energy, all the enthusiasm, all the media buzz and most of the press behind it.

The coolest stars in Hollywood were supporting him and a fresh new wave of Millennial voters were poised to sweep him in.

I’m not personally on the Obama bandwagon, but most of my friends are.

I felt the culture was firmly with Obama but I couldn’t tell if this was a clear observation or simply my own distorted perception, ruined by a circle of cheeky local Democrats and my (somewhat embarrassing) obsession with New York blogs.

The New York blog culture is in love with Obama, to a degree that approaches religious fanaticism. Tired of watching GenY turn their noses up and sneer at everything important in life? Be careful what you wish for.

These kids will poke fun at anything, but bloggers who have never been serious about anything are serious about Obama.

Media stars who have made their careers being “too cool for politics” are filming sincere, passionate videos in support of Barack Obama.

The trend seemed very clear to me, but I couldn’t tell if this was a genuine cultural shift or the result of me seeing the world through blue-state glasses.

And while I was pondering the reach of Obamamania, the whole game changed.

I knew McCain had deployed Palin as a game-changer, but I’m stunned by how well it worked.

Suddenly, the media machine that had been fixated on Obama (and blithely ignoring John McCain) switched to full-on Palin Hype Mode.

McCain’s choice was so dramatic, so unexpected and so immediately effective, it yanked the spotlight off Obama and turned it, if not to McCain himself, at least in the direction of his campaign.

Republicans who had been grumbling and holding their noses as they reached for the McCain lever suddenly had a new reason to turn out — a new passion and a new heroine, hitting all the right notes and pushing all the right buttons.

Suddenly a campaign that was starting to smell like Bob Dole got a giant dose of energy and enthusiasm. The media spotlight shifted, poll numbers did a 180, and my cultural radar shifted abruptly from blue to pink.

The momentum shifted so fast, I had to reconsider my position. After months of predicting an Obama victory, it looked like McCain might be able to turn this whole thing around.

It was one thing to see my Republican friends get excited, but what really convinced me was the reaction on my blue state blogs. McCain introduced Palin and the New York blogosphere went insane.

Political ideologues won’t come out and admit being scared of a candidate — that sounds too much like giving them a compliment — but you can measure how effective a candidate is by how much the opposition hates them, and how much energy they devote to tearing them down. For example, the right’s hatred of Bill Clinton actually lends him credibility in retrospect.

It’s one thing to write a post talking about how weak and unqualified Sarah Palin is, but when you write a dozen posts, a hundred posts, a thousand posts about someone, what you’re saying tends to be drowned out by how loud you’re saying it.

The left may be calling Palin shallow and unqualified, but they’re doing it so much, so stridently and with such force, it’s actually having the opposite effect.

The crazier the opposition gets, the better Palin starts to look. This strategy won’t convince anyone in New York, of course, but the more New York hates her, the more Flyover Country starts to warm up.

In 1994, I used to whine about the proliferation of tribal politics — the notion that who a candidate is, what sex and what color they are being more important than what they believe.

Now in 2008, I believe I was wrong. Race and gender slurs are being thrown around capriciously by both sides, but if you really look at it, no one is using race or sex as their primary benchmark. I should qualify, no one who matters.

The elevation of Sarah Palin has proven an old Rush Limbaugh cliche that I never wanted to believe. Feminism isn’t about being a woman anymore. My previous (naive and out-dated) view of Feminism led me to believe that seeing a strong, confident woman ascend to high office would be a victory for all women.

That’s certainly what Hillary supporters have been telling me for 10 years.

But Sarah Palin’s appointment called that bluff and revealed the truth. Feminism isn’t about being “strong” or breaking into male power structures anymore. Feminism is a distinct political position, defined, not by who you are or where you are, but by what you believe.

Feminism is pro-choice, pro-government and culturally blue. Feminism is trademarked by the Democratic Party — part of a political package that includes items that shouldn’t be “women’s issues” at all.

Can a Feminist be pro-life, pro-market, and pro-gun?

I believe the current working definition of Feminism includes the traditional Democratic views of economics, health care and gun control. The “liberal” solutions to problems are seen as being best for kids, and by extension, essential beliefs for mothers.

I understand why abortion rights would be used as a litmus test for Feminism. I understand abortion as a civil rights issue that uniquely effects women. But what about health care and gun control? I don’t want to leave that assertion hanging. I’d like to see some women come forth and contradict me.

Is it possible for a Feminist to be pro-market and pro-gun?

I’m sounding like a Republican here, but I’m really not trying to argue about what Feminism should be. I believe the meaning of labels is determined by cultural consensus. If 70 percent of Feminists believe Feminism requires gun control and support for government-run health care, that’s fine with me.

But I want to see someone come out and say it. I want someone to acknowledge that political ideology has trumped gender. And I want to assert that this, in its own twisted way, is progress.

Written by Michael B. Duff

September 26, 2008 at 19:49

Posted in Politics

7 Responses

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  1. i think you’re conflating femaleness with feminism. feminism has *always* been a political and ideological issue and a woman is not automatically feminist just because she was born female. it was never about gender. some men are much more feminist than some women. and i’m a little concerned that you seem to think feminism is about what’s good for children and mothers, please tell me i am misunderstanding you.

    that said, with regard to palin the abortion issue is everything. if palin were pro-choice and at the same time pro-gun and pro-market, sure, i’d consider her feminist. but are there any such women? show us one and then we’ll see. but palin is not that woman. most republican women are always slamming feminism so why should feminists embrace them. but i consider myself feminist and i have no problems with citizens owning guns, and in fact i’d want to protect that right. i don’t have much opinion on the market though.

    blacks have often accused black republicans of not being black, of acting white, and it’s a similar thing here.


    September 26, 2008 at 21:22

  2. I agree with your previous poster on several points. First of all, there are a lot of different flavors of feminism (e.g. radical feminism, eco-feminism), so feminists don’t always agree. However, all flavors tend to incorporatea few central premises:
    * the right of women to enjoy equal pay for equal work
    * the right of women not to be disproportionately burdened with child rearing responsibilities
    * the right of women to make their own choices regarding their health, including reproductive health
    * the right of women not to disproportionately suffer from political & economic restriction, violence, and discrimination

    There is a difference between a woman candidate and a women’s candidate, and those fundamentals are where Palin fails. Palin feels it is appropriate to suplant the rights of women to use their own judgment when it comes to decisions regarding the control their own reproduction with her own judgment. That’s not feminist. That paternalism in a female body. And to be clear, Palin is not “pro-life” because she’s also PRO-DEATH PENALTY, which by definition is not pro-life. She’s anti-choice.

    Palin supported her local Police Department in Wasilla charging victims of rape and sexual assault with the cost of their own medical examinations, which I can say with CERTAINTY as someone who works in the domestic violence unit of a DA’s office, WE NEED to prosecute our cases successfully. Victims of rape and SA are disproportionately women and children, but Palin only supported justice for the victims who could afford it. That’s not feminism; that’s not even fundamental fairness.

    As Gloria Stenim wrote beautifully in the L.A. Times (9/4/08 “Wrong Woman, Wrong Message”) , “Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.” That’s what feminism is about; that’s what being a women’s candidate is about. Improving the lot of women everywhere. And you don’t need a vagina for that as much as you need a commitment to women’s rights.

    Which, at the end, is the problem with defining feminism as only for “strong” women breaking certain structures. It implicitly assumes that men cannot be feminists. And that’s a fundamentally flawed premise.

    I know because I married one.


    September 26, 2008 at 22:24

  3. Thanks to both of you. That’s the kind of thing I was looking for.

    The unwritten question behind my essay was whether or not a libertarian woman, pro-choice, pro-market, and pro-gun could be considered a feminist.

    If abortion is the key issue, the answer would be yes.

    On the question about mothers and children, I think that’s the justification I’ve heard most often used as a bridge between narrowly-defined traditional feminism, close to what you defined, and the broader political variety that includes health care and education.

    My primary concern was expanding the definition of feminism beyond discrimination and reproductive rights.

    Gloria Steinem does this in the article that DW mentioned.

    In the LA Times, Steinem says, “Palin’s value to those patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women’s wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves “abstinence-only” programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers’ millions for a state program to shoot wolves from the air but didn’t spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation; she runs with a candidate who opposes the Fair Pay Act but supports $500 million in subsidies for a natural gas pipeline across Alaska; she supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, though even McCain has opted for the lesser evil of offshore drilling. She is Phyllis Schlafly, only younger.”

    This laundry list goes way beyond abortion and reproductive rights. Steinem seems to imply that a woman’s candidate would need to adopt positions that most women agree with, and that would definitely include the concerns of mothers with children.

    That’s exactly the kind of “definition creep” I’m curious about. Is creationism a feminist issue? Education and oil drilling? Global warming? Based on Steinem’s list of issues, true feminist candidates can only come from the Democratic party.


    September 26, 2008 at 23:15

  4. well i don’t think a woman must support each of those issues to be feminist, but i think the only women willing to identify as feminist generally hold those views and are democratic, so it sways in that direction. feminism is a dirty word to republicans and libertarians alike, despite the fact that most republican women are the most outspoken and aggressive independent career women around.


    September 27, 2008 at 06:51

  5. The way I read the Steinem quote, she listed issues you consider independent of feminism to contrast with Palin’s ostensibly anti-feminist policies. The statement illustrates Steinem’s view of the Governor’s priorities. I don’t think Steinem was saying that a candidate must embody positions that most women agree with – I think she was saying that a candidate must not embody positions that would actively denigrate women’s rights.

    Could a woman who is pro-choice, pro-market, and pro-gun could also be a feminist? I think so.


    September 27, 2008 at 11:36

  6. Wendy McIlroy.

    Weirdly, I can’t find anything significant about her on the Web, but she’s a leading light amongst individualist feminists, and would I think qualify as someone who is pro-market, pro-gun and pro-choice.


    September 27, 2008 at 16:57

  7. Laura

    September 27, 2008 at 18:47

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