Lois Romano, columnist for the Washington Post, recently discussed Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin’s impact on the upcoming elections and said that her candidacy sent a jolt through traditional liberal women’s organizations as she tried to redefine feminism. He suggested that the old feminist movement has become detached from the hockey moms Palin personifies.
‘The mother of five and former beauty queen is the antithesis of the bra-burning militant libbers of the ’60s, and she is adamantly antiabortion,’ Romano wrote. ‘Yet Palin has grabbed the feminist label vigorously and has been hailed as one by the thousands of supportive women who wave their lipstick tubes at her rallies.’
The first time the word feminist appeared in print was in 1895, in a book review of ‘The Grasshoppers’ that was featured in the ‘Athenaeum.’ The word was used to describe a woman ‘who has in her the capacity of fighting her way back to independence.’
Whether the Republican vice presidential nominee can be described as a feminist has ignited a national debate.
During an interview with Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News, Palin called herself a feminist who believes in equal rights and opportunities. Earlier this month on NBC Nightly News, however, Palin responded to Brian Williams’s question about being a feminist this way:’ ‘I’m not going to label myself anything. And I think that’s what annoys a lot of Americans.’
For the deputy communications director at the California Republican Party, Kevin Roberts, although Palin’s nomination as the first GOP female vice presidential nominee is historic, the mainstream media have not only chosen to ignore it, but have also thrown sexist charges against her during the campaign.
‘There is a double standard in the questioning of Sarah Palin’s ability to be both a mother and a vice president by the media,’ Roberts said. ‘Barack Obama has two young daughters but no one questions his ability to be both a father and a presidential nominee.’
Even though Roberts is confident of a GOP victory in the presidential election, he believes Palin will remain a prominent figure in national politics. He considers that her popularity and her ability to energize the Republican base have caused an onslaught of attacks.
In the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, Palin’s numbers seemed to reflect a different reality. While 55 percent of the respondents said they do not feel she is qualified to serve as president, marking a five percent increase since the last poll, 47 percent of voters see her negatively, compared to 36 percent who have a favorable opinion of her.
For the president of the California National Organization for Women, Patricia Bellasalma, Palin is not a feminist in any sense of the word. Even though she acknowledges that there have been moments of sexism in the campaign against the GOP vice presidential candidate and Michelle Obama, she said that Palin’s pro-life stance, even in cases of rape or incest, jeopardizes women’s rights.
Bellasalma thinks that Palin is a distraction by the Republican campaign, but believes rational voters will study the issues and vote for the best candidate.
‘The women’s movement is not about the individual leaders, it is about the agenda,’ said Bellasalma. ‘Our agenda is simple, to fight for the rights of women and demand equality. Sarah Palin does not fight for those principles.’
For the director the Institute of Gender, Globalization and Democracy at CSUN, Jane Bayes, Palin’s candidacy represents a contradiction of feminist ideals.
‘There are many definitions of what a feminist might be,’ said Bayes, also a political science professor. ‘Parts of what she has to say I call anti-feminist, then another side to her that is feminist. She is a combination of two contradictory ideas.’
According to Bayes, Palin’s characteristics that are feminist center around her role as an activist and a confident leader. Feminists are trying to get other women to have the confidence and ability to get things done, and from that perspective she is a feminist.
Another side of Palin, however, is strongly anti-feminist, Bayes said. Despite the fact that she is considered a feminist by many, her strong opposition to abortion could be interpreted as an anti-feminist view.’
This year’s presidential election is historic not only because a black man is the candidate for the Democrats, but also because Sen. Hillary Clinton broke through the nation’s political glass ceiling by mobilizing women. For Bayes, there is no question that Palin would not be the nominee if Sen. Clinton had not ran in the Democratic primaries.
Breny Mendoza, professor of gender and women’s studies, thinks that Palin is part of the movement of conservative feminism, which differs from the fundamental ideals of feminism because its supporters are pro-life and anti-choice.
‘Women in the Republican Party are using the word feminism to describe what they do,’ said Mendoza. ‘They have appropriated the discourse of feminism and made this contradictory and paradoxical claim to the word.’
According to Mendoza, it is not possible to reconcile Palin’s contradictions as a feminist, because this generation identifies with third wave feminism and believes in a contradiction of terms as part of the concept of feminism, such as being against abortion.
‘We thought (feminism) was a movement against the status quo and changing gender relations,’ said Mendoza, who says feminism in America has been on the decline and that’s why anyone can define the word. ‘But this is not what conservative feminist operate under, that’s why they can call Sarah Palin a feminist’hellip; making it acceptable in the mainstream.’
‘Feminism is a diverse and nuanced movement,’ she added. ‘Liberal feminism is the most accepted because it says that the system and the world are OK, the only problem is that women are not in the positions of power in that system. This does not address the need for a transformation of the system.’
‘Sarah Palin is not a typical liberal feminist and that’s what has people on the left so angry. She has both a career and a family but that label doesn’t apply to her,’ said Nancy J. Spero, the San Fernando Valley Regional Co-Chair of the Republican party.
Palin is qualified to be vice president and has excited the Republican base in an unprecedented way, added Spero.
‘The media have been so vicious in the coverage they’ve done on her. It’s just unbelievable. This whole thing with her clothes being bought is ridiculous. Why isn’t anyone asking how much the male candidates spend on their clothes?’ said Spero.
Spero is confident in the Republican ticket’s chances of winning on Tuesday, adding that it will be the right choice and that Palin has become a major force in the party.
June Kwon, a gender and women’s studies and political science double major, however, believes that nothing about Palin can be labeled as feminist, in particular her extreme pro-life beliefs.
‘People can look at Sarah Palin and be drawn to the fact that she is a female vice presidential candidate,’ said Kwon, also a member of the Women’s Studies Student Association. ‘However, we have to see the context of how she’s being used, as a political strategy by Republicans. It was very insulting when McCain chose her because he assumed that simply because she is a woman, all women would vote for her, not because of her experience.’
After Mendoza asked her students to evaluate if Palin is a feminist, she noticed that most of the people who saw her as an anti-feminist were men. Although the majority noted Palin’s hypocrisy, still some in the class saw her as a feminist.
‘Feminism has been stolen by conservative forces. It has been stolen by Sarah Palin and the neo-conservative movement. We need to take back feminism,’ concluded Mendoza.
Feminist Majority Project lists the voting record for the candidates: The Feminists for Obama website lis
ted key legislation pertaining to womens issues and how each candidate voted. ‘Obama/Biden are running on the strongest platfrom for women’s rights of any major party in U.S. history’ – Eleanor Smeal, President of Feminist Majority. – Biden wrote the historic federal Violence Against Women Act that provided federal right of action for abused women. McCain voted against it. – Obama/Biden support womens right to choose and pro-choice Supreme Court judges. McCain/Palin oppose womens right to choose, pledge to overturn Roe v. Wade. Palin opposes legal abortion in cases of rape and incest. – Obama/Biden co-sponsered and voted for Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to reverse the Roberts Supreme Court decision on sex discrimination in 2008. McCain opposes the act, which was filibustered by a majority of Republicans. – Biden voted yes for Funding for Office of Violence Against Women, he was among a coalition of 75 bipartisan Senators. McCain voted no.
– Obama/Biden support comprehensive ‘age appropriate sex education.’ McCain opposes it.