Sarah Palin, the moose-slaying maverick turned GOP VP candidate turned reality star from Alaska, has never been an advocate on behalf of her fellow sisters. She has advocated against a woman’s right to choose (even in cases of rape and incest), against gay rights, charged rape victims for rape kits as Mayor of Wasilla and is anti-sexual education (among other things). But when it comes to wooing women voters, Palin pulls the f-card: feminism.
Since 2006, Palin has been a member of Feminists for Life, an organization formed upon the belief that the original feminist leaders were anti-abortion and that in carrying on their name, modern feminists should not support abortion rights either. This narrative is misguided (intentionally). Clearly, stances of the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Mary Wollstonecraft were as a result of their environments and the time. Abortion was not safe in the early 1900’s and especially not in the 1700’s when Wollstonecraft was around. If I had lived in that time, I would likely have been against abortion because it often harmed women. Anthony and Wollstonecraft would not support a woman’s right to plan her family in contemporary times. Why? Because if they had then they wouldn’t be feminists. For further explanation see this.
Palin was selected as John McCain’s running mate primarily to win the female vote and specifically those Hillary supporters who were upset that she lost the nomination. What McCain failed to understand was that it was not Hillary’s anatomy that intrigued women (and men), it was her record, her conviction and her ability to lead. Palin lacked all of those things and the comparison to Hillary is quite offensive, actually. But alas, Palin campaigned hard as a “pro-life” feminist and even received support from progressive women, including President of the Los Angeles National Organization for Women, Shelly Mandell.
But I take issue with the notion that Sarah Palin is a feminist and, for that matter, that conservative feminism even exists. How could it be? By its very definition, conservatism does not match up with feminism. Conservatism touts gradual and minimal change in society. Some conservatives want to move back to the way things were. That does not work for feminism. Feminism is about breaking boundaries imposed upon us by a traditionally male dominant society. Feminism is the belief that men and women are inherently equal and that we can only achieve equality. If conservatism champions tradition and patriarchy is the tradition, then how could someone claim to be a conservative feminist? That would be a monumental oxymoron.
Conservative women, like Sarah Palin, are just feminists when it is convenient to them. When Planned Parenthood was in danger of losing federal funding earlier this year, conservative women politicians such as Palin and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, stood up and spoke out against Planned Parenthood. Under the Hyde amendment, no taxpayer dollars are allowed to be appropriated to pay for abortions. True, Planned Parenthood provides abortions — along with pap smears and HIV screenings. Palin and Bachmann had a great opportunity to stand up for an entity which is extremely vital in safeguarding women’s health, a clearly feminist goal, but instead invoked their conservative beliefs that contraception is unnecessary and even evil.
How can conservatism work alongside feminism? Can it? And if so, why do conservative values seem to trump feminist values among politicians?