This post is my blogging equivalent of “thinking out loud” so take everything said here with a grain of salt… this discussion is hard!
I don’t like Sarah Palin, lets make that clear. In fact, I don’t like her so much that at first I was very happily and vocally joining in with the “Sarah Palin is not a feminist” crowd. However, since my initial gut reaction, I’ve had a bit of an (unpopular) change of heart. In fact, I think Sarah Palin, could actually be a feminist.
Hear me out, let’s start by defining feminism for a quick second.
Feminism “refers to political, cultural, and economic movements aimed at establishing greater rights and legal protections for women.” (Hooray for Wikipedia!)
My feminism goes beyond this and focuses a lot on challenging gender norms, racism, and homophobia as well [intersectional feminism, as I defined it earlier] but I suppose I can’t be so conceited to believe that my feminism works for all feminists.
I think the feminist blogger who writes Angry Feminist Doc says it best:
First, no one is such a Good Feminist as to be able to take away someone else’s right to call themselves such. I believe “feminist” is an identity marker that people choose to apply to themselves. Some people who advocate (who may strongly advocate) causes we may traditionally associate with the feminist movement do not choose to adopt the “feminist” label. We do not force it upon them. And we don’t have the right to be snatching it back from someone (including Sarah Palin) who has chosen to adopt it.
Palin is a woman in politics, in a decidedly anti-woman party. She’s a feminine woman in politics, who fairly consistently calls out the pundits who feel the need to criticize her based upon her body and her femininity; though I may not agree with her politics, I do agree that her intelligence has nothing to do with her looks. She’s a mother who has chosen to devote her time to politics, while her husband takes on the role of primary-caregiver – and she’s willing to defend that choice publicly. All of these actions are, in my opinion, very feminist ones and I must give credit where credit is due.
However, if Sarah Palin is a feminist, I am going to hold her to the same standards that I hold all feminist leaders… and if I am holding her to those standards, well, then she has a lot of apologizing to do. Forcing rape survivors to pay for their own rape kits will never be a feminist act because it is an act that allows rapists to get away much easier, and a society where rapists are free to rape is one that is very unfair to women.
You know what else is not a feminist act? Supporting legislation that eliminates women’s options, like anti-abortion laws. A better way for Palin to live out her commitment to “protecting life” would be by helping organizations that give assistance to pregnant women who cannot support their pregnancies, but want to, by giving them monetary and material aid, medical care, and so on that will allow them to deliver and then raise healthy babies, or deliver and then put those babies up for adoption [awkward sentence is awkward.] Another route would be supporting laws that help women to get better health-care and more information about their sexuality, to prevent those unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
However, pushing a no-sex-outside-of-marriage and no-abortion-ever, for everyone, agenda is not a feminist act because it ignores the many unequal social structures that make living an abstinent lifestyle with no access to abortion much, much harder for some women… plus it forces one set of morals (specifically, Christian ones) onto a diverse population – again, not fair, not equal. Presenting this as an option is fine, but presenting it as THE ONLY VALID CHOICE is not so fine, and not so feminist.
Expanding this beyond just Palin: I think it is possible to be anti-abortion [but not anti-choice] while still being a feminist, just as I think it is possible to be religious and a feminist, or conservative and feminist, etc. because even movements that stand at complete opposite ends of the spectrum have common ground. For instance, anti-choice and pro-choice advocates all have a vested interest in reducing the amount of unwanted pregnancies (and, thus, the amount of abortions) so why not work together on that goal? Being against abortion doesn’t automatically make you anti-feminist (for instance Susan B. Anthony certainly didn’t like abortion, but she kept her focus on dealing with the cultural limitations that lead to abortion, rather than simply making it illegal*) just as being an advocate for abortion doesn’t automatically make you a feminist.
Furthermore, religious feminists often work very hard to chip away at the misogyny inherent in many religions (at my Catholic High School I witnessed a lot of this) which is a feminist goal that I respect. As a feminist who tries very hard not to force my world-view onto others, I love the idea that we can all come together as feminists, to work towards a society that allows everyone to freely live the life they imagine; your utopia may not match mine, but in so many ways we can work together to inch towards a world that is better for all of us (god, I am an idealist.)
While metaphors like the following are funny (and seem very accurate) I also find them problematic:
Here’s a story. My late dog, Lucille, hated bananas. But more than that, she hated my dad’s late dog, Guinness, getting anything edible that could be hers. So one day, my dad drops a banana chunk on the kitchen floor, and we both watch Lucille pick it up in her mouth, make a face, then drop it again. Guinness swoops in for the banana chunk, at which point Lucille immediately picks it up again — only to remember it grosses her out and drop it. But then Guinness moves in once more, so she growls and picks it up. Except… still gross. Drop. Swoop. Grab. Ew! Repeat. Comedy gold, as long as you had nothing invested in that banana chunk.
This is what I think of whenever I hear people talk about conservative Christian women “reclaiming” feminism, or blaming those mean and nasty “traditional” (read: “actual”) feminists for keeping them out. You don’t even want the fucking banana. But you’d rather turn it into a lump of mush that nobody wants than let anyone else have it.
What if they want the banana? Don’t we want them to want the banana?
Feminists can come in all different varieties. We all have one common denominator (equality between the sexes) but then we all put our own spin on that denominator. I’m not going to agree with all feminists… but that doesn’t mean they’re not feminists, and telling them that they are not certainly isn’t going to help us to have a productive dialogue. More helpful, would be to hold them accountable as feminists and get them to explain how their actions are contributing to a society that allows equal opportunities for everyone, while also looking for common ground and ways that we can work together.
The bottom line? As far as I am concerned, if you want to be a feminist then we should want you to be a feminist, and encourage you to claim that title… but if you’re going to claim it, you better live up to it in every way you can and be ready to examine your actions (yes, all of them) through a feminist lens. I’s not sure Palin is there yet, but I do hope she gets there one day.
* Full-disclosure, this post comes from a blog that my partner and I just started. It is a blog that makes an earnest attempt at dispelling lies disseminated through our culture, from all sides of the political spectrum, in an unbiased manner.