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Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama: hypocrisy in mainstream feminism

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.

19 thoughts on “Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama: hypocrisy in mainstream feminism

  1. I understand why the feminists disagree with some of Sarah Palin’s views, like abortion, and I understand their disappointment at loosing Hillary as the first female President, or Vice President. But, now they have a real chance to elect the first ever female Vice President. A woman who exemplifies so many amazing qualities, including her successes and 85% approval rating as Alaska’s governor, mother of five, and the whole nine yards. In addition to breaking the glass ceiling, Palin can finally bring about tremendous reforms for women.
    As International abuses keep coming to light regarding women’s rights, including everything from burkas, to white slavery, to honor killings, you would certainly think that women would be tripping over themselves to elevate one of their own to such a high position. What a shame the feminists are so petty that they can’t see the big picture, set aside their conflicting grievances, and make a couple of concessions, in order to progress in such a big way.

  2. So, only pro-abortionist women can be feminists? You write “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.” You are basically saying that feminism doesn’t exist without abortion – your issue with Palin is not about feminism, rather it is about abortion. Contrary to the ‘needs’ of the radical left, a women’s “needs” don’t include abortion, which is why Palin didn’t have one. Why try to play semantic games and say one thing while meaning another – cut to the chase and deal with your view of abortion as the key issue. Holler as loud as you want from left field, it’s a long way to the mainstream homeplate.

  3. Give me a break. Let’s not start with the “real feminists don’t support abortion” stuff again.

    A feminist may not choose abortion for herself, but she would never FORCE this choice onto another human being (and women are human beings, something that the pro-forced pregnancy supporters essentially deny by attempting to hold their bodies hostage).

    Enough of this.

    Gina, if you think people are “petty” because they don’t wish to become brood-mares, then there’s really nothing to say.

  4. RE: Comment #3 by Stephen Johnson, stating that “a woman’s ‘needs’ don’t include abortion.”

    Only each individual woman can decide what her needs are regarding a pregnancy. I’m a conservative Republican and not even a feminist, but even I can acknowledge that only each individual woman has the right (or privilege) to decide for herself whether to have an abortion. The only limit I myself would place on abortion is that fetuses that show brain waves on EEG are to be considered under the protection of the larger community and are not to be aborted. But until fetuses show brain waves on EEG, then my own view of abortion is that pregnant women have the right or privilege to decide to abort the fetus.

  5. You cannot simply vote for someone because they are a woman, Sarah Palin ideas are way to extreme, if you are raped by someone she believes you should keep the baby, they are going to take away your rights as a person to choice whether keep the child or abort, she was for the bridge to nowhere and now she is against it, look at the issues when casting your vote and every time there is a democrat in the white house the economy is good

  6. I don’t know if one can be pro-life and be a feminist by a feminist’s definition, but I do know that Palin seems to be striking a chord with people in general, and apparently women in specific.

    Democrats have once again nominated an elitist. They have nominated elitists every time since 1988 with Mike Dukakis with the exception of Clinton.

    Palin is the every woman. She looks slightly frazzled juggling career and family. She loves her husband and seems to be generally enjoying herself. She’s not whining about being a victim, she is just marching ahead doing what she needs to do to get things done.

    She showed this in her speech. The irreverence and sarcasm showed a woman comfortable in her own skin. She’s not an elitist, she’s not a Washington insider, and she honestly looks like she doesn’t give a shit.

    A lot of people wish they were as self assured as she is.

    So the average voter can relate to her. That she reminded them of Obama mocking them at a San Francisco fund raiser where he said something along the lines of them having to cling to religion and guns in uncertain times insulted the hell out of them. Palin should recount that line at least five times in every speech.

    Is Palin a feminist? I guess that depends on what litmus test gets applied. Not all women believe in abortion, so why is that a litmus test? If it is, then she is not a feminist.

    But if a feminist is someone who goes out and succeeds in a career while raising a family with a partner on equal footing, then I would say that she is.

    It’s not my call, and I really don’t care. I am intrigued by the candidacy and look forward to a new stiletto heel dropping on a regular basis between now and election day.

  7. Geoff, it isn’t about “believing” in abortion. It’s about deciding whether someone has the right to do it. Do you see the difference at all?

    Also, I am honestly and completely troubled by the repeated implication that “Barack Obama is elitist.”

    What is the basis for this statement?

    Could it possibly have something to do with the fact that people like Karl Rove want to tell white Americans that “this black man thinks he’s better than you”? I think it does.

    Obama’s mother was only 18 when she gave birth to him. His father left his family. He fought for the things he has in life.

    I call BS on “elitist.”

  8. She’s not an elitist, she’s not a Washington insider, and she honestly looks like she doesn’t give a shit.

    If she really doesn’t give a shit, that’s a bad sign for us all. For 8 years, we had someone who didn’t give a shit. Look where it’s gotten us.

  9. RE: Comment #7, Mr. Woollacott’s remarks on comparative ‘elitism’ of GOP and Dems and on Sarah Palin’s speech.

    Elitism: Almost by definition, any American officeholder from state governorship upward is part of the American political elite, regardless of prior personal background. As governor of an oil-rich state, Sarah Palin holds a unique place among American state governors and has enough political and fiscal clout in Alaska to make her personal background irrelevant. Her quality of being ‘every woman’ is purely superficial. ‘Every woman’ doesn’t have Sarah Palin’s political and fiscal power. To call Sarah Palin ‘every woman’ is to call her a stage prop.

    But it is true that Sarah Palin is not YET a Washington insider, so in that sense she is not an elitist, whereas Barack Obama, a U.S. Senator, is indeed part of the Washington establishment, and the GOP will rightly make hay out of that.

    On Sarah Palin’s convention speech: Her speech was entirely written by McCain’s staff. The “irreverence and sarcasm” were written in by McCain’s staff, although Palin, a former TV sportscaster, delivered other people’s words effectively.

    McCain’s staff has also announced that, henceforward, Sarah Palin’s only activity on campaign will be reading written speeches, presumably prepared by McCain’s staff, because “She might make a mistake” otherwise. To my mind, this indicates less a lack of confidence in her poise and lucidity than it indicates a possible rift between Palin and McCain on policy, likely on immigration, which McCain does not want to reveal before the election.

    RE: Comment #8, Capt. Janeway’s noting Rove’s exploitation of white racial anxiety.

    That’s what troubles me about McCain’s pick of Palin for VP: It gives white racists a plausible cover for voting against Obama. Slate.com reports that, according to polls, white women voters are being drawn to Sarah Palin. Some of that shift may be due to white racial anxiety, and, if so, that may actually win the GOP the election. That’s depressing.

  10. We have known since slavery time that the feminist movement does not support Black American women. They only court the very notion of our existence when it is convenient for their (whiter) cause.

  11. I just love this lady.She will be a great help to the republican party.She is a lady of class,respect,and truth,but most of all will not take any bulls— from any one.Mrs. Obammas could only dream about becoming a women like her.She has proven her self and she will be the one for you democrats to try to beat.GOOD LUCK!!!

  12. What an ignorant, factless, citationless, article. Martin ignores generations of white women who have bent over backwards to advance the rights of black women. There has been major outrage over the way Obama has been treated by white feminists. I’m a “WOC” and I’m embarassed by this persistent, ungrateful attitude that poisons the feminist movement. Without white women’s courageous efforts, especially in the last few decades, we would all be screwed. Take a look at how women are being treated by men in our home and ancestral countries. Would you rather be there or would you rather be here where Michelle Obama is our nation’s first lady and, overall, is adored by the media?

  13. NMSC, you’re so right. Whenever I see this picture I think to myself, “Look at that ungrateful Black woman just ignoring all those gracious white ladies trying to help her!”

  14. “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.”

    People in the states aren’t divided into either black or white. A woman of color, therefore, does not mean black/African American.
    She could be Asian, middle Eastern, Aboriginal, Latino, etc.
    It is not just black women who are victims of racism as well as sexism. It includes all non-white women.
    Also, I kinda find the tone of your article really harsh although I generally agree with what you are saying.
    But to me it sounds more like you are attacking white women( and ignoring non-black women of color) instead of defending black women’s rights.

  15. Someone by the name of Gina posted this comment which I find really laughable:

    “A woman who exemplifies so many amazing qualities, including her successes and 85% approval rating as Alaska’s governor, mother of five”

    LOL a rat at the laboratory I work at just has bred 12 tiny little rats. Just like Sarah Palin, she( the rat) is mothering so many offspring right now. So let’s elect this rat as the next US president 😀

    The mentality of pro-forced pregnancy, Palin defenders like Gina goes like this: Women aren’t human. They are baby-making factories and the more they reproduce for men, the greater their worth.

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