I was going to dress up as Gov. Sarah Palin for Halloween this year. The best Halloween costumes are easily identifiable, and Palin makes for a veritable feast of stereotypes Eskimo, soccer mom and the ever-popular MILF among them. And while it wasnt the most original idea, I thought it was pretty hilarious nonetheless.
But then I remembered that Im a feminist.
Palins political rise has confounded feminists, raising questions of what actually constitutes feminism and how large of a role abortion rights should play in the feminist identity. Pro-life feminists have historically comprised a minority of self-declared feminists. Conventionally, in pro-choice speak, a womans right to complete control over her body is a crucial part of feminist ideology. The emergence of Palin and her anti-choice group Feminists for Life, however, has left us slightly speechless or perhaps even more outspoken. At the very least, the modern feminist movement is being forced to question its right to exclude women on the basis of this singular aspect of womens rights.
Pro-life feminists claim among their ranks Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Mary Wollstonecraft, all who allegedly shared the belief of mainstream pro-lifers that personhood begins at conception and abortion is thereby a violent crime. Pro-choice feminists, of course, respond that female control over all aspects of reproductive health is essential to equality, compulsory pregnancy is a violation of womens human rights, and without safe and legal abortions, women will take to unsanitary, harmful methods to have an abortion. Theres a small glitch, however: Pro-life feminists also contend that abortion is the result of a patriarchal, oppressive society that capitulates to male values. Hm. Patriarchy. Oppression. Male values. These sound oddly familiar. In fact, most pro-life feminists are also proponents of comprehensive sex education, easy and affordable access to contraception and full, healthy sexual empowerment of girls and women.
Palin, however, is not one such proponent. Therein lies the rub: She isnt a proponent of a womans right to choose, emergency contraception or comprehensive sexual education.
Amid accusations that Palin is riding the coattails of feminism straight to the White House, one has to wonder: Is she giving anything back? The Republican Party seems to think so, claiming that shes broken the glass ceiling through her nomination and willingness to withstand criticism (apparently theyve forgotten Geraldine Ferraro back in 1984 and, oh, Sen. Hillary Clinton). She does manage a family and a job simultaneously, and its always a reflection of hard work when women enter the political domain. Unfortunately, she doesnt support other women. After all, shes on the ticket with Sen. John McCain, and he opposed the Fair Pay Restoration Act and supported cuts to the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Irrespective of her stance on abortion, I have a difficult time believing Palin is truly a feminist. Still, I feel the need to defend her from time to time. I do not find her remotely qualified for the job shes campaigning for, nor do I enjoy the way she trumpets her lack of experience and education. But neither of these stems from her status as a mother of five or a self-proclaimed hockey mom. The sexism that trails mere feet behind Palin threatens, at any moment, to overtake her candidacy. The hottest VP buttons, her MILF status, the repeated references to her clothing and shoes, the implication that she should be at home taking care of her children all of these threaten the strides, however small, she has made for women. Shes certainly no Hillary, and we neednt support her because shes a woman, but we do owe her the gender-neutral consideration we give other political candidates.
What all of this means, of course, is that Ill have to find another Halloween costume that doesnt conflict with my feminist principles maybe someone really powerful and strong, like Princess Jasmine.