Palin: Feminist Role Model or Not?

Posted by Katherine | November 3, 2008 – 9:50 am
Feminism spoken here sign
[gaelx / Flickr]

Since Sarah Palin joined the McCain campaign, there’s been vociferous disagreement over her feminist cred. Is she blessing or blight to the cause? To catch up on the debate, here are a few recent strands.

Wendy describes herself as a “conservative, home schooling mom” with a “smokin’ hot, hard workin’” husband. She loves and prays for Sarah Palin and considers her the “most energizing thing to happen to politics” in her lifetime. Wendy is proud to hold Palin up as a role model for her daughter.

She is a real feminist. She has not ridden anyones coattails to her current position. She has made her way in a male dominate world WITHOUT exhibiting distain for the males of our species or pouting about unfair treatment. She fought the good ‘ol boys in Alaska to gain her seat, cut a better deal for her state with the oil companies, and she did with a kid on her hip, a husband doing shift work and her hair in a ponytail. She knows the real power of womanhood comes not from being like a man, but being the woman God designed you to be.

Wendy also sees in Palin — and admires — patriotism, every-momness, underestimated smarts, and grace.

GayPatriotWest (aka B. Daniel Blatt), who blogs at Gay Patriot: The Internet Home for the American Gay Conservative, argues that feminists should be cheering Palin for appealing to a traditionally non-feminist group:

Sarah Palin has galvanized American social conservatives, those least responsive to the feminist message.

Shouldn’t feminists delight that conservatives have made a hero, a role model, of a woman? Doesn’t the Alaska Governor remind young girls that they can succeed in positions of power and responsibility?

Now, to take up GayPatriotWest’s point, here’s a man examining whether, as a woman, Palin should be running at all. Prompted by Clinton’s and Palin’s candidacies, Jesse Phillips, a Pastor-In-Training at Metro Life Church in Orlando, Florida, turns to the Bible for guidance.

Searching scripture reveals various commands for men to lead churches and homes. Women are called to follow the men in leadership. What you will not find, however, are commands for women to submit and to not have leadership over men in civil government. […]

The belief that if you cannot lead a family or church means you cannot lead a nation assumes that it is harder to lead a nation than a family or church. The Bible, however, teaches us the opposite. […]

Many politicians believe that government is more important and has more authority than the church and family. This is why they find it incredulous that a Christian could believe a woman could be a submissive wife and devoted mother while holding political office. Granted, it would certainly take impressive godly character to do so.

Jesse doesn’t reveal whether he thinks Palin is up to it or whether he feels female political leadership is a positive thing. He does say that women can “flourish” in government positions. Also that Biblical values rather than gender should inform our votes.

Nineteen-year-old Dolly is a utilitarian and a fierce student of feminism. She believes Palin is a “strong, confident woman” but by no means a feminist. For lots of reasons — among them the fact that Palin represents only one slice of her gender:

[W]hile she may like to identify as “your everyday, average hockeymom” (and portray herself as the representative of some monolithic, interchangeable group known as “women”), she is actually identifying as a white, middle-class, Christian, conservative woman. So, in stating that she is the embodiment of every woman, she is actually othering all women who don’t fall into her social location. Women of color, working class women, lesbians, transgendered, and bisexual women, women who aren’t Christian, etc. feel disconnected from this “everyday hockeymom” meme.

Latoya Peterson is a cool4pro guest blogger at Feministe and Racialicious. She refutes, by using Condi Rice as a parallel, the notion that a strong woman is necessarily an advocate for women. (Thanks, Robin Amer.)

Condoleezza Rice is black. She knows this. She understands this. We have gone through similar struggles. But that does not mean she reached the same conclusions, and it does not mean she will use her position to advocate for other blacks.

Sarah Palin is a (white) woman. She knows this. She understands this. Many women can see themselves in Sarah’s narrative, as they have gone through similar struggles. But that does not mean she has reached the same conclusions about women’s rights, and that does not mean she will use her position to advocate for other women. (Of any color.)

Beppie, a guest blogger at Hoyden About Town who “reads feminist blogs to help her procrastinate think,” sees in Palin her own unfeminist compromises, and it makes her squirm.

I’m scared of the deal she’s made with the patriarchal world she lives in. […] I know that, every day, I make deals too, and Sarah Palin reminds me of this and makes me uncomfortable. Certainly, I haven’t made exactly the same deals that she has—I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-comprehensive-sex-ed, I’m pro-free-speech, and all that good stuff. But I still make them—deals to create the illusion that I’m slightly safer and slightly less human.

Palin, to me, represents a part of myself that I’m afraid of, a part of myself that I don’t like admitting exists. She represents what I might have been, had I grown up in a conservative family, and she represents the person that I am anyway, every time I smile when I’d prefer to frown, every time I giggle when what I really mean is, “Get the fuck away from me,” and every time I close my mouth when I have the right—and sometimes the obligation—to speak out.

Does confessing it on a blog count as a step in the right direction?


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