Thursday, June 10, 2010

Are Sarah Palin and Carly Fiorina Feminists?

Cathy Young, in an article on the Boston Globe's online site entitled "Right to be Feminist," argues that Feminism must not exclude right wingers like Sarah Palin from the feminist label as most leftist feminists are doing. The issue turns on whether a left wing (neo-Marxist) view of the world is essential to the meaning of feminism. She says:
The latest Sarah Palin controversy has to do with feminism. In a recent article in the Washington Post, feminist author and blogger Jessica Valenti blasted the former vice presidential candidate for “adopting the feminist label.’’ Valenti believes that any talk of a conservative version of feminism is a cynical right-wing ploy to fool women into supporting reactionary antiwoman policies. But while Palin may be far from the best spokeswoman for conservative feminism, the idea itself is essential to feminism’s health.
Young appears to be thinking pragmatically and strategically about a political movement based on what she says next:
If feminism is typecast as a left-wing movement, this automatically limits its appeal in a country with center-right politics. Feminist writer Naomi Wolf noted this nearly two decades ago when she urged the movement to drop litmus tests that excluded millions of women because of their positions on environmental policy, guns, gay rights, or abortion. Wolf argued that the beliefs of conservative and Republican women who champion female autonomy and achievement should be “respected as a right-wing version of feminism.’’
Here "female autonomy" seems to function as the ideological heart of feminism. But later in the article she gets down to the real heart of the controversy:
Above all, Valenti is incensed that women who don’t believe women are oppressed dare call themselves feminists. Feminism, she says, is “a structural analysis of a world that oppresses women, an ideology based on the notion that patriarchy exists and that it needs to end’’ — presumably in America and not, say, Afghanistan. But this definition dismisses out of hand the can-do feminism that celebrates female strength and achievement and appeals to vast numbers of women. It also suggests that feminism has an interest in portraying women as oppressed to perpetuate itself.
This worldview that sees women as oppressed virtually by virtue of being women is the real, beating heart of contemporary feminism. To the extent that it is such, Sarah Palin (or any other high achieving woman under the current system) could never be a feminist. Her success is not based on manipulating her victim status, so it threatens the worldview that women cannot succeed because of "patriarchy."

Young concludes by arguing for a conservative feminism:
Yet the audience for a different kind of feminism — one that seeks individualistic and market-oriented solutions, rather than big-government-driven ones, and focuses on women’s empowerment rather than oppression — is clearly there. The women who embrace it are likely to transform both feminism and conservatism. The feminist movement ignores them at its peril.
It seems to me that the contemporary feminist establishment espouses an ideology that is so different from this conservative vision that no useful purpose is served by calling them by the same label. Feminism is simply out of date, out of touch and out of time. Sarah Palin and Carly Fiorina are successful, accomplished and conservative, so it seems more than a bit odd - maybe even patronizing - to call them "feminists."

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