Why Sarah Palin isn’t a feminist…

As a young woman who rooted for Hillary and who frequently uses offensive advertisements to educate people about the various “-isms” I have recently been asked the following question (on more than one occasion): “But you’re a feminist…why don’t you like Sarah Palin? Or, Don’t you think she deserves some credit for her accomplishments? Why the feminists hatin’?”

Well, it’s quite simple, really. She’s not a feminist. At least not to me. Has she benefitted from the social advancement of women that has taken place over the last 90 years? Of course. Is she a model of how a woman CAN have a career and a family? Sure (all First Dude comments aside). The issue here is not to confuse achievement with worldview. Sarah Palin has admirably advanced up the political food chain from her early PTA bake-sale mom days to major VP candidate. Pat on the back, way to go. She’s a model of what women CAN do today. But feminists are upset because, despite the fact that her success is a nice example/story, it primarily stems from the work of our foremothers that Palin would just assume toss out with the bathwater. Feminism is a worldview, an epistemology, a framework for politics and policy that values certain things above others. As Palin’s politics show, she’s not a feminist.

A little clarification is in order. Ask any feminist what the “F” word means to her/him and s/he will have a different answer. So this post is about MY interpretation of feminism and how I use it in my research, teaching, and life. For me, feminism is directly related to humanism and what Carol Gilligan would term an “ethic of care.” The idea is that feminism argues for the voices of women to be heard and for fair treatment of all men and women. It doesn’t stop there, at least not for me; feminism argues that if we look at relationships of power and domination among different social classes of people (obviously men and women being one, but not the only one), then we can begin to unravel the myriad inequalities that many individuals face in their lives. In that sense, by expanding the argument beyond men and women to question inequalities based on sexuality, class, race, and gender (to name a few), feminsm becomes humanism.

Second, I view feminism as arguing for an ethic of care. Now, this idea has been criticized plenty for reinforcing stereotypes of what makes a “good” woman. I’m not arguing about good or bad women. To me, feminism brings an ethic of care to the table, and this is important. In her short play about women rebuilding after war (Necessary Targets), Eve Ensler depicts images of women as the rebuilders, the nurturers, the ones who reconstruct the physical, mental, and emotional bodies after tremendous destruction. This is not to say that this isn’t man’s role. I don’t want to get bound into that argument. (Repeated disclaimer: This is what feminism means to ME.) In more practical terms, this ethic, and feminism in general, reminds us to consider the ways in which our relationships with others (intra/interpersonal, social, political, etc.) improve (or not) their quality of life. It should remind us of the value of education, our obligation to the environment, our commitment to future generations, our respect of our bodies (and, more importantly, of others). I do not take the stance that all women are inherently “caring” — in fact, we know otherwise. But I do take the stance that feminism, as an epistemology, should advance the notion of caring as it calls for social justice, the end of discrimination, and, as bell hooks states “a world where recognition of mutuality and interdependencey would be the dominant ethos, a global ecological vision of how the planet can survive and how everyone on it can have access to peace and well-being.” (Feminism is for Everybody, pg. 110)

Based on the above arguments, then, Sarah Palin is not a feminist. She triumphantly totes her adorable son around, the son that she decided to have despite knowing he would have Downs syndrome. The key word there is decided; she had a choice, and would prevent other women from having that same choice. Her utter lack of concern for the environment (polar bears, etc.) flies in the face of feminist/humanist concerns. And we all know about the charging for rape-kits.

She may be a successful woman, but being successful does not automatically make a woman a feminist (Ann Coulter?). There are plenty of successful women that will vehemently deny that f-word. The bottom line is that her politics are not grounded in a feminist framework in ANY way. At its most abstract level, feminism reminds us that there are other viewpoints than our own, that there are other experiences than our own, and that we must commit ourselves to being open to understanding and caring about all of those around us. Feminism, and feminists, clearly see that Palin’s unwillingness to blink, should she get that 3 a.m. phone call, flies in the face of all logic with reckless abandon; they see that Palin does not respect the bodies and choices of all women; and they see that she is willing to quickly puppet the outdated, war-hawkish, patriarchial bullshit that we’ve all heard for the last EIGHT years.


4 Responses to “Why Sarah Palin isn’t a feminist…”

  1. 1 Tim Vogler
    September 23, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Good answer.

  2. 2 valerie's blackberry
    September 23, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Oh come on! That’s it?!

  3. September 28, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I could not agree more with this assessment of Palin. To me she is a colluder who seeks to benefit from feminist activism while at the same time undermining the core of feminism itself.

  4. September 28, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    We agree. Benefiting from feminism does not make one a feminist, and we’re also tired of the questions about why we’re not supporting Palin, because after all, she’s a woman.


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