As the first woman nominated by the Republican party to the vice presidency, Sarah Palin has achieved a form of celebrity status. It is simply not possible to tune into any news program for an extended period of time without seeing an image of her, or catching a daily sound bite. Publicly we have become obsessed with discussing her virtues and her failures.
Many feminists actively supported Hillary Clinton and so when Palin implied that she could be substituted for Hillary many looked at her credentials and declared her resoundingly anti-feminist. With the introduction of intersectionality, modern feminism has expanded to cover the life experiences of a diversity of women.
No matter what feminist theory one chooses to advocate, each focuses on improving the lives of women through the validation of women’s agency and the affirmation of women’s bodily integrity. When we consider Palins positions from a feminist lens, she is clearly not a feminist.
Some in the media have taken the rejection of Palin by feminists to mean that somehow she is not considered a woman by us.
Jim Quinn stated on the September 15th broadcast of the The War Room with Quinn & Rose,“If you don’t agree with the feminist scolds, then you’re not a real woman — even if you are a very feminine working mom. But even if you’re an actual man, never mind a childless feminist who looks like a Bulgarian weightlifter in drag, you’re a real woman solely because you nod your head like a windup clapping monkey every time you read the latest editorial from Ms. Magazine.”
However, there is a large difference between declaring someone anti-feminist and declaring someone a non-woman. Whether someone is feminine, or the “state” of their body, has nothing to do with their gender identity. The commentary on the part of Quinn is nothing more than inflammatory hyperbole meant to reduce the validity of feminism in women’s lives. It speaks volumes that he could not reference a professed feminist making the claim that Palin is indeed not a woman.
Unfortunately, Jim Quinn is not the only male media personality making this sort of claim. David Brooks in an opinion piece for the New York Times wrote, “The feminists declare that [Sarah Palin]’s not a real woman because she doesn’t hew to their rigid categories.” Again, this is yet another declaration without referring to an avowed feminist.
What is quite clear from these commentaries is that neither man has a working understanding of what feminism means, and yet each felt free to speak in ignorance. That their thought process is merely a performance of male privilege is clearly not understood by them. Both felt free to refer to feminism as rigid and this specifically does not recognize the importance of aforementioned intersectionality to feminist thought or theory.
Palin is a problematic figure, not because she is a woman, but because she is a woman who has internalized patriarchal values. As an individual, believing that life begins at conception, and that abortion is murder is not in and of itself a non feminist belief. The pro life stance becomes anti-feminist the moment that said belief is transferred to another body. Feminism is about validating the choices of women, respecting privacy and a woman’s bodily integrity; therefore by applying ones belief to the body of another, Palin is participating in an anti-feminist belief system.
Palin makes no apologies for her belief system. Unless the mother’s health is in jeopardy, she believes that a woman should be forced to carry the child to term. Even her running mate, McCain, makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest. Forcing a woman to give birth to a child that was conceived through a criminal act necessarily preferences not only the child but a patriarchy that is intent upon viewing women as walking incubators.
Another stance that causes feminists to take issue with Palin was the billing of rape victims for rape kits while she was mayor of Wasilla. Charging a woman to identify her rapist cannot be reasonably claimed as an act supporting women, or society at large. It is in our best interest as a community that any and all rapists be imprisoned so as to reduce the possibility of further attack.
Rape is a violent act and does life-long damage to most survivors. In a state where rape occurs 2.2 times the national average, to demand that women pay for the investigation is to boldly declare that women don’t matter. I can say this unequivocally because other victims of crime are not charged for investigation, only rape victims. This sends the message that woman are either somehow at fault for the sexual violation, or that men deserve to have continual access to women’s bodies.
Even if these were the only actions that Palin took it would be enough to declare her anti-woman and anti-feminist. Unfortunately, she took further measures to ensure that the women of Alaska would remain second class citizens. According to Newsweek, Palin cut funding to Covenant House by 20% . Covenant House provides residency for teenage mothers so that they can make the adjustment to parenting and learn valuable skills like money management.
“Palin has also voided funds for two other similar projects during her tenure as governor. One, a provider of the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Program, would have provided additional breastfeeding and nutrition support to low-income rural women, for a total cost of $15,840. Another, the Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s student housing and daycare facility project, would have built a childcare facility and family-style housing units for students pursuing vocational education in Anchorage, most of whom come from rural areas.”
To be clear, none of the aforementioned actions undertaken by Palin in office conform to feminist ideals. Though she herself claims feminism, as a member of the notorious anti-woman group Feminists for Life, her brand of support equals a reduction in women’s social status as well as entrapment to our biology. She is no more a feminist than Phyllis Schlafly or Rush Limbaugh.
Even with all of her clearly anti-woman beliefs, Palin is still a woman. She identifies as female and discursively this how her actions have been interpreted and dissected. Despite the harm that she has done in her position of power, and her false identification, it is feminists who on a daily basis seek to defend her from sexist attacks. Feministing, Feministe, Shakesville and Womanist Musings (my site) have spoken out repeatedly when she has been reduced to a body for male consumption, all without embracing her politics.
Feminists in the mainstream media have also loudly vocalized their contempt for sexist language that has specifically been aimed at her. If this is a sign of feminism turning its back on a woman in need, what must our support look like?
Feminists are not a group of angry women refusing to accept Sarah Palin without cause. We stand behind our principles and denounce sexism aimed at her, but that does not that we need to embrace her because she has a vagina.
Patriarchy has become accustomed to colluding women who refuse to act in their best interest and unfortunately, despite the obvious bullying behaviour of men like Jim Quinn, and David Brooks, we will not be convinced into supporting a woman that clearly advocates an anti-feminist agenda.
If Palin wants the support of feminists then she needs to support a feminist politic. No amount castigating on the part of the agents of patriarchy will cause a devoted feminist to support an act that is ultimately limiting to women.