On Friday, McCain announced his choice for a running mate. He chose Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
According to CNN’s John King, McCain met with Palin only one time before deciding that she was his pick, leading one to believe that he chose her because he believed that one vagina could substitute for another. Clearly his aim was to appeal to the disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters. Some women will embrace vagina solidarity, and support McCain because he chose a colluder as his running mate, and others will be enraged because Palins political positions are resoundingly anti-woman.
Palin is not a feminist, though she has benefited from feminist organizing. Were it not for generations of struggle, she would not have the ability to vote, much less run for political office. The Feminine Mystique was written with women like her in mind, and yet if she were elected her decisions would lead to a reduction of women’s rights. The irony of this has not been lost to me, nor I suspect on many women who today are asking how a pro-life woman could possibly represent women’s needs.
Palin is not only staunchly pro-life, she is pro-death penalty, and anti-gay marriage. No matter how many images we see of her shooting guns, or rocking her newborn, her record of conservatism is at odds with everything that feminism stands for. Sarah Palin is not only anti-feminist, she is, as I already mentioned, anti-woman.
Now, the sexist attacks have started against her already. There is a website called VPILF, and Limbaugh has referred to her as the “babe” on the ticket. What is quite clear is that until Election Day, the Alaskan governor will come under attack by the patriarchal media. Gender will be used as an excuse to construct her as someone who is unqualified. Despite Palin’s political position the one thing that she can count on is that her race will counter some of the vitriol that will be aimed at her. Therein lies one of the obvious differences between her and Michelle Obama.
Sarah Palin has been on the national stage for less than twenty-four hours and already feminists are rushing to her defence. The rallying cry of the day is, attack the issues not the woman. Shakesville, Feministe, Alas, a blog, and Feministing all have posts attacking the media for its willingness to reduce the Governor based in obvious anti-woman rhetoric and misogyny. Many other feminist blogs have today issued the same sort of rallying statement, whether or not they agree with Palin’s political leanings. Melissa at Shakesville states, “I will defend Sarah Palin against misogynist smears not because I like or support her, but because that’s how feminism works.”
Seeing this support for Palin should give every feminist a feeling of warmth and solidarity, unless of course you are a woman of colour, or, more specifically, an African American woman. From baby mama, to lynching, to the racist New Yorker cartoon, Michelle has had to combat race and gender stigmatization. Yet, until recently, there has been little defensive reaction from the feminist blogosphere.
The attacks against Michelle have been so scurrilous that one African American woman blogger was inspired to create the Michelle Obama Watch so that the world could bear witness to the ways in which the social construction of black womanhood has come to be used as a weapon against her.
The most constant assault that Michelle receives is the insinuation that she is an angry black woman. I cannot speak on behalf of Michelle as to the veracity of this opinion, however I can state that even if true, especially considering the state of race relations in the United States, why is this a problematic emotion?
Black women have historically occupied the bottom of the race and class hierarchy. bell hooks theorizes that black women have no institutional other. A black man may be oppressed by race in the public sphere but he can still return home and beat his black wife. A white woman may be oppressed by gender but she can still use racism against a black woman. If black women feel a sense of anger at our abuse, exploitation and marginalization it is our due.
It is racial privilege that has stopped white feminists from speaking out boldly against the attacks on Michelle in the media. Though feminism is supposedly a movement about advancing the goals of women the disclaimer is that “woman” has been understood as white. It is this racial privilege that will cause feminists to rally around Palin despite the fact that if elected she will seek to roll back Roe V. Wade, one of the major legal accomplishments of feminist organizing. It is this white privilege that will cause many white feminists to vocally defend Palin, while remaining silent about the treatment of Michelle Obama.
This election has made public the fissures that have existed in feminism since feminist organizing was begun. Black women have cried into the night ain’t I a woman, and white women have answered, “when it is convenient you are.” That Michelle Obama regularly espouses views that are more in line with feminist theory is seemingly unimportant, her body relegates her to that of second class citizen.
There may be 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling but it will never be shattered until all women are deemed worthy of defence. All women matter.