Posted by: Allyson | September 10, 2008

My Brief Commentary on Sarah Palin

With just about every blog I read talking about Sarah Palin, I haven’t had much to contribute, except for the occasional agreement in the comment box.  And I think that’s perfectly fine.  I haven’t felt the need to talk about her, so why should I?  But then something happened this weekend that gave me something to say.

I was talking politics with my mother.  Bad idea.  But I did it anyway.  So my mom is not planning to vote for the McCain/Palin ticket – she’s too disgusted by the Bush administration (she’s currently undecided and is researching 3rd party candidates).  But she nonetheless thinks that Sarah Palin’s VP nomination is the best thing for women since the 19th amendment.  I do not agree.  We got into a pretty heated debate over it, which involved my mother telling me that “feminism comes in many forms” (as if I don’t already know that?).  I told her I knew that, but I also think that you can’t be a feminist if you believe that a rape victim who gets pregnant should be legally barred from getting an abortion.  She countered that, while that is an unfeminist way of thinking, Sarah Palin can still call herself a feminist because . . . wait for it . . . she has children and still has a career.

*headdesk*

So here is why I do not think Sarah Palin’s career status makes her a feminist.  1) Because her total-anti-choice stance pretty much invalidates any other feminist aspects about her, at least in my mind.  2) Because working outside the home when you have kids is in fact not really all that feminist.  Why isn’t it feminist?  Because the argument over career choice has a lot of class bias inherent in it.  I’m not saying that choosing career/kids/both has nothing to do with feminism.  But we can’t claim that Palin is a feminist just because she balances kids and a career.  Why?  Because there are so many women who can’t choose to balance kids and a career. 

I work with two women who work not because they choose to, but because if they don’t, their mortgages won’t get paid, their kids won’t have school supplies, and everyone will go hungry.  My own mom once confessed that she at most wanted to work part-time after my sister and I grew up.  She works full-time not because she is a feminist, but because she has to.  My own mom claims that balancing work and kids makes you a feminist, when her own career decisions were made more out of necessity than feminist choice.  Women who have the choice to stay at home or not are in the minority.  And so, while the career/family balance is still a relevant discussion to have in feminist circles, what one does in terms of careers and children is not necessarily decided out of feminism.  More often than not, you make the “choice” because the only other option is to go hungry or get evicted.

So anyone who says that Sarah Palin is a feminist based on her child/career choices reveals a deep classism.  And I think it’s insulting to say “wow, look what she can do!” when there are millions of women doing the same thing every single day.  No, they may not be governors or VP candidates.  But they’re working long hours, or dangerous jobs, or pursuing unfulfilling careers because they need to.  Sarah Palin isn’t increasing visibility for those mothers, the ones who can’t make a choice about work or not.  She’s not doing anything to help them.  And her status as a working mom sure doesn’t make her a feminist.  It makes her someone who is lucky to afford a spouse who can stay home, lucky to have a husband willing to stay home, lucky to afford all the childcare she needs.  And feminism has nothing to do with luck.

Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like.

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Responses

  1. Let’s not forget how she gained fame and money in the first place – through her looks. From beauty princess to sports reporter to… etc. I believe that feminism might frown on this sort of self-made exploitation. and she still does it, allowing herself to be referred to as “hot” or a “vixen”. She welcomes overt objectification which masks whatever skill she may have, and distorts honest assessment of her performance.

    Palin’s presence also masks the other problem – Cindy McCain said that she would be a “more traditional” (read: hostess-y) First Lady, with eyes pointed like daggers right at Michelle Obama, 21st centruy woman, and Hillary Clinton.

    Michelle Obama, who actually studied and worked to get to where she is using her mental abilities, being criticized for her intellectualism. And no wonder, honor for those who use intellect is in short supply in the Republican Party – Bush, Palin, Cindy McCain, Alberto Gonzales. Where is the honor for the REAL John McCain (pre-2003), who was the people respected because of how he thought?

    That’s the bigger issue: is feminism about the perception that women CAN reach an equal position, or that they are judged using the same standards, and still reach those positions? If the former, then your mom is right. If the latter (which I believe), then she is patently wrong.

  2. I guess african american women are all feminist then. Not saying that they aren’t, but if that’s all it takes…

  3. Thank you, and I’ll be linking this from our “Why Sarah Palin is Bad for American Women” post at the CA NOW blog: http://www.canow.org/canoworg/2008/09/why-sarah-palin.html


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