Squashing squashed biweekly
Sat Mar 28

Sarah Palin and the Feminists: What went Wrong


Antifeminism, who (evidently) speaks with the royal we (presumably from nostalgia for a grander, more hierarchical era) has finally provided the long awaited explanation of feminism’s perceived ills. You can read it here—but the short version is that a lot of self-identified feminists said a lot of mean things about Sarah Palin. It concludes:

Why and when did feminism stop being about the advancement of all women?

If this is the primary issue, we can clear it up right quickly. Feminism, both now and in the past, seeks to eliminate forces that stand in the way of full equality for women. This does not mean that somebody whose beliefs run counter to that of the movement receives feminist support solely for being a woman. There was some debate in the feminist community as to whether Palin represented the new face of feminism—and the overwhelming (though not unanimous) answer was no. But let’s spend a few minutes investigating why feminists didn’t line up behind Palin.

There are a handful of issues where Palin comes down on a different side than the bulk of self-identified feminists. (Abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, abstinence only education, same-sex marriage, and so on.) But the real nail in the coffin for Palin and feminism is that Palin really didn’t seem particularly interested in any of feminism’s ideological goals. Did Palin want to look closely at how social structures contribute to gender discrimination? Does she have a demonstrated commitment to rooting out sexism and investigating its causes? Aside from being a symbolic presence, how would Palin’s election have changed gender expectations? Palin could have gotten away with any number of policy differences, so long as she had persuaded people she was committed to a core feminist thesis. She did not.

And frankly, feminists are people too. A lot of people’s dislike of Palin may have had nothing to do with their feminism. Palin went out of her way to anger a lot of people on the left. At that much, she succeeded brilliantly.

But surely the perceived mistreatment of one not-terribly-successful Vice Presidential candidate can’t be the sum total of your grievances against feminism. What else have you got?

I think Dan’s right on this one. (Was the dig at AF strictly necessary though?) Society has been working on this women’s rights thing, and we’ve come a long way. While a lot of people feel that we’ve done the hard work, we’re basically close enough to equal rights. Feminists disagree intensely, and spend a lot of effort convincing people there’s still a problem, which is a daunting task. I think Sarah Palin gives off the vibe of ‘Look how far we women have come! We’ve made it! We’re done!’ This is not helping to convince people that women are still badly oppressed. I think AF is on the side that the worst of the inequality is gone, and I can sympathize. That makes it feel a little like feminists are inventing problems and forcing them on others. But feminists are very earnest that things are still slanted against them, and I have to respect that earnesty (if that’s a word).