It sure is interesting to see conservatives adopt the banner of feminism now that Sarah Palin is on the ticket. I can’t help but shake my head every time I hear or read one of them say, “Had she been a man…” — simply because conservatives have spent the past century or so totally dismissing that line of argument. I guess when it’s a woman on their side — you know, the side that wants to do away with most of the gains that women in this country have made, and that traditionally shames women like Sarah Palin who are “careerists” — it’s valid. And for not offering our full-throated support to Sarah Palin — a woman who is anti-choice, anti-contraception, anti-education, pro-gun — we’re the hypocrites.
At least that’s the story the Wall Street Journal is sticking with. Because, see, sexism is so bad that in order to fight it, you should start your op/ed off like this:
The glummest face Wednesday night might have been, if only we could have seen it, that of Hillary Clinton.
Imagine watching Sarah Palin, the gun-toting, lifelong member of the NRA, the PTA mom with teased hair and hips half the size of Hillary’s, who went … omigod … to the University of Idaho and studied journalism. Mrs. Palin with her five kids and one of them still virtually suckling age, going wham through that cement ceiling put there exclusively for good-looking right-wing/populist conservative females by not-so-good-looking left-wing ones (Gloria Steinem excepting). There, pending some terrible goof or revelation, stood the woman most likely to get into the Oval Office as its official occupant rather than as an intern.
It is hypocritical, I think, to speculate about Palin’s choices in having her children (i.e., “Why didn’t she go to the hospital sooner when she was giving birth to Trig?;” “Why did she go back to work three days after having a baby?”; “How is she going to manage being a mother of five/mother of a special needs baby/mother of a pregnant teenager and be the VP?”) when we would never do the same to a progressive female politician (and let’s be honest, we wouldn’t). So I would be a-ok with everyone on the left knocking off that line of questioning. “How is she going to do it?” She would be Vice President of the United States. She’d have more resources on-hand than the vast majority of women in America. As the governor of a state she has a lot of options. She’s coming from a position of extreme privilege. That’s how she does it.
What I’m more interested in is how she (and all those male politicians who also have kids — remember them?) is going to make the kinds of resources she’s had access to available to all of us. I’m interested in how she’s going to help other working parents, single parents, young mothers, and women who are trying not to become mothers just yet.
Women’s lives, our choices and our health are constantly analyzed and used as political fodder. Whenever I hear someone criticizing Palin for going back to work “too soon” after having a baby, or “endangering” her fetus by getting on a plane instead of going to the hospital when she thought she might be in labor, I can’t help but think of the women are prosecuted for murder because they used drugs during their pregnancies and gave birth to still-born babies. I can’t help but think of paternalistic laws that attempt to criminalize pregnant women who do things like smoke. I can’t help but think of Justice Kennedy’s dissent in the infamous “partial-birth” abortion case, when he said that the procedure should be illegal because in his opinion, abortion was certainly bad for women’s mental health, and we should be protected from ourselves. It’s scary, but that’s the path we go down when we start thinking that because we read a news article somewhere, we know more than a woman and her doctor about her individual circumstances, her health, her choices, and her character.
Mothers everywhere are judged and shamed for making the “wrong” choices. But some mothers — single mothers, mothers of color, poor mothers, immigrant mothers, non-hetero mothers — have it worse than others. For all her talk about “family values,” the real hypocrisy isn’t that Sarah Palin has a pregnant teenage daughter or that she’s a working mom — it’s that the families she values are of a particular kind (and even then, her way of “valuing” them is mere lip-service). And of course, it’s not just Palin — marginalizing women, people of color, low-income people, LGBT people, and immigrants is the GOP party line. They’re all about “family values,” so long as your family was on Leave it to Beaver.
And they’re all about feminism if they can use it as a stick to beat the left with. Palin got to where she is today at least in part because of the paths paved by feminism, and yet she undermines women’s rights at every turn; she talks about her brave “choice” to give birth to a baby with Down syndrome, but wants to take away that choice from everyone else (and cuts funding to special-needs kids to top it off); she claims to value small government and individual rights, but opposes the fundamental right to make choices about your own reproduction, and wants the government to stick its nose in your bedroom and your doctor’s office (not to mention her extreme spending and milking the federal government for all it would give her).
So there’s a fair amount of hypocrisy in the conservatives creaming themselves over Palin and denouncing criticisms of her as uncalled-for sexism when sexism has been their bread and butter for a good long time now. And whenever I hear one of them say “Had she been a man…” as a defense, I think of a better hypothetical: “What if it had been one of Obama’s kids who was pregnant instead of one of Palin’s?” (assuming, of course, that Obama’s kids were slightly older). [I also know I'm hardly the first one to throw this argument out there, but I haven't been reading other blogs at all, so I can't point you to who else has made this case better than I have; feel free to leave links in the comments].
So while conservatives are embracing their new-found feminism by comparing Sarah Palin’s hips to Hillary Clinton’s, they’re also busy relying on one of their other tried-and-true political fall-backs: Racism. Jamelle covered one instance earlier; because I am somehow on radical anti-choicer Jill Stanek’s email list, I came across another this morning. After her usual “Obama kills babies and I testified about it” schtick, Stanek writes:
Obama heard my testimony three separate times and still led the opposition against a bill geared to stop hospitals from shelving abortion survivors to died in soiled utility rooms.
It is black versus white in more ways than one.
It’s just like a cowboys and indians movie!
Paul Krugman has a great column up today about Republicans exploiting voters’ resentments towards cultural elites as a way to secure votes for McCain. It’s worth adding that the GOP has long relied on tying that resentment to the threat posed by uppity black people and uppity women.
And it’s going to be a long election cycle.
- The Answer to Your Question is “No.” by Jill October 6, 2009
- Ross Douthat tries to understand teh sexism. by Jill July 6, 2009
- Before The Speculative Commentary Gets Out of Hand by Lauren September 1, 2008
- More on the Sarah Palin rape kit controversy by Jill September 15, 2008
- …and yet somehow this isn’t getting quite the same attention as Jeremiah Wright by Jill September 5, 2008