COLUMN: Conservative feminism is a wolf in a Sarah Palin pantsuit

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

It took me a long time to identify as a feminist.

As a girl growing up in the 1990s, I was told I could do anything a boy could do as long as I stayed in school and off of drugs. I could own my own company, join the military or become president of the United States. I’ve never been denied anything because of my sex: a job, an education or the right to vote.

Because of this, there was no real reason for me to embrace feminism, and it's only been within the past year or so that I've taken an interest in learning more about women's rights. For one reason or another, I realized how important, to me at least, it is to protect Roe v. Wade and fight for lesbian rights. I read stories of domestic abuse and violence against women in the military. I discovered that women aren't fairly represented in music videos, movies, television and magazines.

I got angry, and then I decided a better use of my time would be to learn everything I could about feminism. From my studies, I’ve read about forms such as liberal, Marxist and radical feminism. However, last week, I ran across an article in Newsweek, dubbed "Saint Sarah," written by religion editor Lisa Miller that reintroduced me to this concept: Sarah Palin says she’s a feminist.

I vaguely remember from the 2008 election Palin telling Katie Couric she was a feminist but then telling Brian Williams she wasn’t going to label herself. We all get nervous in front of the camera sometimes.

On the cover of the magazine, Palin is photoshopped with a glowing halo of light around her head, and one look at the sell line under the picture gives you a pretty clear picture of the gist of the article. “What Palin’s Appeal to Conservative Christian Women Says about Feminism and the Future of the Religious Right,” it says.

“Oh hey, you know, sure,” I said to myself in my best Tina Fey-impersonating-Palin voice when I saw the article, and then I shrugged it off. However, as I’ve said, I need to learn everything I can about feminism, conservative feminism and all.

Once you wade through Miller's intro, nearly 300 words of the Trig story, or how Palin was shocked to discover she was pregnant with her latest child and considered, if only for a minute, terminating the pregnancy, you’ll learn the appeal Palin has for conservative women. She’s educated, she has power and a good dose of influence, but she does it all while maintaining an anti-abortion stance.

“Christian women are, like women in all parts of our society, increasingly powerful in the world," Miller states in a column for the Washington Post. "… conservative Christian women, like women everywhere, are working harder. They're divorced, they're single moms, breadwinners, out in the world, struggling. Sarah Palin's example speaks to them because she embodies the kind of achievement and power you can attain while remaining pro-life.”

According to the article, Palin is picking up all the women that feminism, because of its abortion-rights stance, has left behind. Or, depending how you think about it, and according to Jezebel, Palin is picking up the anti-abortion rights women who rejected feminism. What she’ll do for these women, besides outlawing abortion, repeatedly telling the Trig story and calling them “mama grizzlies,” (Palin's feminism is so mommy-focused, I'm beginning to wonder if it's possible to be conservative and childless) remains to be seen.

If the skeptic in you isn’t stirred by now, allow me. Palin is not a feminist. She’s merely using the word to rally religious women and unite them under the same issue they’ve been united under for years — anti-abortion rights. However, this isn’t stopping feminists from criticizing  Palin for throwing around the word “feminism.”

“It's not a realization of the importance of women's rights that's inspired the change," Jessica Valenti states in a Washington Post column. "It's strategy. Palin's sisterly speechifying is part of a larger conservative move to woo women by appropriating feminist language. Just as consumer culture tries to sell ‘Girls Gone Wild’-style sexism as ‘empowerment,’ conservatives are trying to sell anti-women policies shrouded in pro-women rhetoric.”

I agree. You can’t be a feminist whose only item on the agenda is to stop abortions. There’s already a name for that. It’s called being anti-abortion rights. Palin’s feminism is nothing more than an old argument in disguise. She gets points for recycling, but that’s about it.

Miller also states that feminists should embrace this conservative feminism because “their sheer numbers will make things better for women everywhere.” I’m thrilled that the religious right is at least playing with the idea of focusing more on women’s rights. However, it’s important to note that they don’t embrace most issues that one would generally recognize as feminist.

As Miller states in the article, conservatives aren’t generally focused on birth control, sex education or gender discrimination. And what about lesbian rights? Last I checked, those weren’t priorities for conservatives.

If feminists embrace Palin feminism, and abortion is somehow made illegal, would things really be better for women everywhere? Outlawing abortion won’t stop women from getting them. It will only put them in dangerous situations. If conservative feminism takes off, will the abstinence-only education as a replacement for sex education in our schools really benefit young girls?

I have no doubt that Palin can gather support, especially with the help of inspirational stories such as the one of her unexpected pregnancy. But that doesn't make this idea any more legitimate.  “... This idea that the Christian right has gained so much ground because liberals and feminists are out of touch with the ‘real America’ is fiction," Jezebel states. "… It's actually because charismatic people like Sarah Palin go out there and tell people whatever they want to hear without being bound by logic or facts. If they can inspire pure faith and loyalty, they can get people excited about the idea of a theocracy with liberty and justice for all, and a pro-woman patriarchy, and a unicorn in every pot. That doesn't make any of it real. It doesn't make Sarah Palin a feminist. …”

If Palin really does plan to focus more energy on women’s rights, she needs to do some research and come up with a plan that includes more issues other than abortion. Her supporters deserve that much.

If her brand of feminism really is nothing more than anti-abortion speak, someone either needs to award her for an ingenious, yet deceitful, political strategy or get her a dictionary.

Amanda Woytus is the managing and calendar editor for Vox Magazine and a copy editor for the Missourian.

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Elizabeth Poudevigne June 29, 2010 | 4:49 p.m.

"You can’t be a feminist whose only item on the agenda is to stop abortions."

You suggest Sarah Palin doesn't support any feminist ideas. You are incorrect.

Sarah Palin is pro-life, yes. She also believes in contraception, equal pay for equal work, and rejects the idea that women can't lead. More fundamentally she supports the right to be treated like a human being and not a piece of flesh.

The caricatured boogeyman painted in some corners of the media is just fiction. Palin is a model of the independent American woman, who manages a messy life but can still fight her own battles and hold her own with the big boys. How is that not feminist? How is having a new image of female empowerment a bad thing? If she were a Democrat I bet you'd love her despite her pro-life views.

Stop trying to dictate what women must believe, and start supporting women who make up their own minds. That's what independence and equality are all about.

(Report Comment)
Elizabeth Poudevigne June 30, 2010 | 12:49 a.m.

Why was my comment deleted?

(Report Comment)
Elizabeth Poudevigne June 30, 2010 | 12:56 a.m.

Regardless of why my prior comment was deleted, my point remains: you are wrong that Sarah Palin supports no pro-women positions. She supports contraception and teaching it, supports equal pay for equal work, and believes women are capable to lead. More importantly, she believes that a woman has a right to be treated like a human being and not a piece of flesh.

This is feminism; this is female empowerment. Sarah Palin supports the election of women rather than the election of those who spout the approved policies for women (and then toss them under the bus when the time is right). I find her very liberating.

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock June 30, 2010 | 6:15 a.m.

To clarify for anyone just coming to this conversation ...

Ms. Poudevigne's original comment was temporarily taken down because she originally registered under an alias. She agreed to have her account restored under her real name, as per the Missourian's comment policy.

Thanks, Ms. Poudevigne, and welcome to our online community.

Jake Sherlock
Opinion editor

(Report Comment)

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