Summary: There are plenty of different schools of feminism, including some that are in conflict with others. Sarah Palin often sounds like she belongs to the “difference” or essentialist school of feminism from the 1970s and early 1980s. That’s legitimate feminism but it also puts her in pretty stark opposition to, say, equally real (and in my opinion more legitimate) classic NOW-style feminism, radical feminism, 2nd-wave feminism, equality feminism, 3rd-wave feminism, libertarian feminism…
Cool distinction about people like Sarah Palin and feminism from Lindsay Beyerstein over at Big Think
Arguing about whether Sarah Palin is a feminist is like arguing about whether a framed pile of cat puke is art. It’s a pointless semantic dispute. Why not save time and concede the premise? Okay, it’s art, but it’s the worst art I’ve ever seen.
I think that works pretty well. Maybe 10-15 years ago Michael Moore had a television series where he did his Bowling for Columbine/Roger and Me schtick in generally nicely-paced 10-15 minute segments. I didn’t see very many episodes (I’m not sure how many episodes there were) but in one of them he managed to get himself invited on a skeet-shooting trip with the wives of a bunch of conservative Republican congressmen.
He seemed to get along well enough with them, and they with him, but at one point he made a leading statement like “you know, I didn’t think women could be so handy with a shotgun. You’re better than a lot of men I know.” There was a little general laughter and one or another of the women said something like “women can be better at a lot of things.” He said something like “maybe some of you could run for Congress, you might be really good at that too.” And the women just sort of clammed up and looked at each other like that was a terrible idea. And that seemed like the point where he wore out his welcome.
Fast forward to today and, thanks in surprisingly large part to Sarah Palin, I don’t think Moore would have gotten the same shocked or embarrassed silence were he to try the same stunt now.
Which means that on the one hand you can’t deny that Palin’s done as much to increase the space in which gender isn’t a barrier to political office as, say, Hillary Clinton has. Probably more than, say, Nancy Pelosi.
On the other hand, her policies and the policies of the women she’s promoting are…
Anyway, that’s why I like the way Beyerstein put it.
I just gotta say, by the way, that from a rhetorical perspective it’s actually a really good idea to say that Palin’s a feminist, even while saying she’s the worst feminist you’ve ever seen. The idea that feminism is a monolith is so ingrained. It’s ingrained only in ardent anti-feminists but even among people who if you were going down a checklist would come out better qualified as feminist than, oh, say, Palin would. Acknowledging Palin as a perfectly real but regressively-conservative feminist, like acknowledging Donna Hughes or Ann Althouse as feminists who are also regressively neoconservative or callously libertarian, might make it a lot easier for the vast majority of people, mostly other women, who excuse themselves with “I’m not a feminist but…”
Because an awful lot of the time the “but…” isn’t the position of the majority of feminists in the first place.
Update: In comments TLT added an excellent point: “[I]n the process of trying to argue that Palin isn’t a feminist you’d almost be forced to reduce feminism to a checklist of beliefs and behaviors (as anti-feminists frequently do) just to demonstrate that she fails the test.”