Conservatives Use Sexism To Attack, Undermine Feminists

Illustration for article titled Conservatives Use Sexism To Attack, Undermine Feminists

When I wrote my first real post about Sarah Palin as the Republican's Vice Presidential nominee, I noted — as many others were noting and have since — that she was hardly the candidate with the best or even remotely complete record on women's issues like reproductive choice or pay equity. I did so even as my email inbox was crackling with false emails about her family and comments from supposed liberals about everything from her ability to parent a special-needs child and govern at the same time to variations on the pretty-can't-be-smart theme.Within 24 hours, I snapped and replied to some unwitting e-mailer that I found the comments disgusting and that what we really needed to think about was who we were trying to convince — and what we were trying to convince those people of. Well, if the polls that show women flocking to the McCain ticket and the response she's engendering from conservatives is any sign, we've convinced some people of one thing — that many feminists are feminist only to other feminists. Now, naturally, few of these conservatives are exactly noted feminists themselves, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist (or a Wasilla mayor) to smell an opportunity to marginalize feminists or point out hypocrisies obvious enough to drive a wedge between liberal feminists and the very women that many of us have been trying to convince to vote for Barack Obama. Take Michelle Malkin, for example — hardly the kind of opinionated conservabloggier that I tend to agree with. Last week, she pointed out the opprobrium that rained down upon Sarah Palin's head for working late into her pregnancy, returning to work early and staying in a demanding job while parenting a special-needs child. She also pointed out that plenty of it came from female journalists who themselves have children and extremely demanding careers. Of course, she called them hacks and water-carriers for Obama, but that's Malkin for you — and it doesn't make her point less valid or accessible to the women that Obama needs on his side. Then there's noted feminist scholar Jonah Goldberg, who manages to decry sexism and feminist hypocrisy even as he compares feminists to "stuck pigs" and says that one might resemble "a childless feminist who looks like a Bulgarian weightlifter in drag." But, he also hits up Gloria Steinem's OpEd, Cintra Wilson's screed and professor/columnist Wendy Doniger's truly offensive statement that Palin's "greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman." Because, really, there's no better way to win over independent women voters than to question their gender because of their political or religious beliefs. Women on the left should not be denying one another's womanhood because of disagreements about abortion and religion anymore than we should be allowing men like Rush Limbaugh to decide who is or is not a feminist. The problem with Goldberg's piece is not his glaringly offensive stereotypes and generalizations about feminists, it's that he can say all kinds of offensive things about mannish, childless women and it's still only barely as shocking as a feminist saying a person cannot be a Republican and a woman at the same time. And the latter bit is the only thing that's going to get a lot of traction in Central Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado and Michigan among the women that have swung every election for the last two decades. Libertarian Cathy Young (who really could never annoy me as much as Goldberg or Malkin) writes a far more reasoned and compelling piece today in the Wall Street Journal asking why feminists hate Sarah Palin seemingly beyond reason. She hits some of the same shock quotes as Goldberg before her (and me before him, actually) and says that, from her perspective, Palin's "pro-life feminism [and] small-government, individualist feminism" is more attractive than a kind of feminism that requires government intervention to achieve equality. That's the kind of argument that will play well with independent women voter. It also makes its point about the feminist "hatred" of Palin without reverting to stereotypes about looks and doesn't dismiss the notion that choice is a concern for American women. This is far, far more convincing to the people that need to be convinced — you know, those 30-40 percent of voters in the middle — than arguing that Sarah Palin isn't "really" a woman. Finally, even Elle's political blogger, Lucy Morrow Caldwell, gets in on the action, chastising South Carolina Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Fowler for saying that Palin's "primary qualification seems to be that she hasn't had an abortion" (even as she mucks up Fowler's position in the party). Caldwell also says that no one ever suggested about Obama that "his race was the only reason he'd become a candidate in the first place," a statement that is not entirely true, as Geraldine Ferraro no doubt remembers. But few people are going to take the time to point out these inaccuracies in the politics blog of a fashion magazine, and the issue of feminists "bashing" Palin for gendered reasons allows Caldwell to gloss over the part where she herself would be "more cautious [than Palin] on certain foreign policy fronts" in favor of hitting up the mean, mean feminists. It's not like I don't understand where the anger is coming from. I have heard often enough from liberal women that they don't understand how women can even be Republican...without, of course, ever actually asking one and listening to the answer. I also understand that, in the absence of comprehensive public record of Palin's stances on issues like pay equity or government-funded childcare, it's easy enough to attribute McCain's (bad) stances on those issues to her, especially since, as his running mate, they in effect are her new stances on those issues — and it's easy to conflate hating her positions with hating her as a person. For many women, she seems to be trying to have it both ways, to trumpet her family values and her careerism in a way that Republicans have often bashed other women for doing. But, most of all, I think the attacks are coming from a place of insecurity that Palin (and all that comes with her) might soften the McCain campaign enough for him to triumph in November. And so if we rail against her, if we play the game of politics by their supposed rules and castigate her for the things conservatives have castigated liberal women for for decades (see: Hillary Clinton) then maybe they won't vote for her and him. The problem is that each party stands by its own hypocrites (see: Congressmen John Mutha and Jim Moran on the left and Senators David Vitter and Larry Craig on the right), so all we're doing by bashing her is inspiring a defense by her ideological compatriots and re-branding feminism as something that defends only liberal women against bias (and that denies a woman's womanliness if she dares to disagree politically, which is straight out of the Republican play book). That's not my feminism and that's not my idea of equality — and, for a lot of moderate women, it's not theirs either. Polls Show Big Shift To McCain Among White Women [Reuters] Is Sarah Palin a Feminist? Friday Feminist Fuck NO. [Feministing] Sisterhood of the Protected Female Liberal Journalists [Michelle Malkin] Feminist Army Aims Its Canons at Palin [National Review] All Beliefs Welcome, Unless They are Forced on Others [Newsweek] Why Feminists Hate Sarah Palin [Wall Street Journal] Right Angles [Elle] S.C. Dem Chair: Palin Primary Qualification Is She Hasn't Had An Abortion [Politico] Ferraro's Obama Remarks Become Talk of Campaign [NY Times]



The GOP claims to hate affirmative action -because it causes the wrong people to get hired for a job. Sarah Palin is the most egregious case of affirmative action I've ever seen in my lifetime. (a place formerly occupied by Clarence Thomas.)

What is sexist is hiring an utterly unqualified person for a job because they have a vagina.

I've worked my whole life for equality for women - and that means I'm treating Sarah Palin in the same way I treat her equally reprehensible running mate. No special treatment for her vagina, and no special treatment for Mr. 5.5 years in a POW camp. They both deserve the kind of scrutiny that most of the media is too afraid to serve up.