October 31, 2008 / Uncategorized

Sarah Palin: a Rorschach for Feminists


Feminist eruptions about Sarah Palin have been stunning. Eve Ensler went ballistic. NOW endorsed an all-male ticket and disavowed Palin. Gloria Steinem contradicted her January op-ed argument. Naomi Wolf spun off into a paranoid fantasy. Feminists urgently circulated petitions full of false claims about Palin. When I sent friends information and links correcting these claims—shouldn’t that reduce fear and allow a saner conversation?—two who wrote back were outraged. Friends who normally speak in dulcet tones were suddenly pitched an octave and decibels higher, unable to converse in the normal rhythm of give and take.

I began asking myself, what is going on with feminists as they rationalize lining up with their misogynist Party/candidate while engaging with this new rorschach named Sarah Palin? How is it that feminists—the Americans most caricatured, distorted, misunderstood, and demonized by the Right and by the Left—are themselves caricaturing, misrepresenting, and demonizing a woman whose policies and beliefs offend them? Is it too much to ask that they at least get their facts straight, and not push rumors and unexamined claims as if they were gospel? How is it that Hillary supporters who have aligned with the DNC’s selectee are exhibiting some of the behaviors they formerly excoriated in Obama devotees (e.g., self-righteous judgmentalism, and the rejection, denial, or trivializing of information unfavorable to their guy)? Is it just too uncomfortable for them to bear the cognitive dissonance entailed by their second choice?

As to those pesky facts: Palin favors contraception. Despite Ms. Gandy’s claim that NOW would not endorse Palin because of her anti-abortion position, as governor and mayor, she never attempted to promote legislation that would weaken or alter abortion laws. Palin tripled (not cut) special needs funding, did not try to ban library books, and has not pushed creationism in schools, only opined that students be allowed to discuss it along with evolutionary theory. Contrary to Charlie Gibson’s inquisition and ABC’s egregious, libelous cropping and editing of not only his interview with Palin but also of the video clip he referenced, she does not see the Iraq war as a mission from God. She asked Alaskans to pray that what our troops, our leaders, and our country are doing there is part of God’s plan. Or, as Lincoln said, to pray that we are on God’s side. Many of our past presidents have expressed similar sentiments, and the world didn’t end.

Exactly how does trashing Sarah Palin—a savvy, self-made woman with whom so many non-elite Americans can identify—advance the feminist agenda? And how far has that agenda advanced these last 40 years? Sexism is still overwhelmingly invisible, misogyny (literally, hatred of women) does not constitute a hate crime, feminists are ridiculed rather than honored, and gender asymmetry is not even on the table. This appalling state of affairs testifies to the depth and comprehensiveness of patriarchy as well as to the limitations of extant feminist strategies.

In her September 19 and 24 letter to NOW PAC members, Ms. Gandy tells us that, “Palin dismisses talk of sexism as whining and says women just need to ‘work harder’ and ‘prove yourself.'” Certainly Ms Gandy knows as well as I do that women who break barriers often feel they have to ignore the sexism and garbage that is heaped on them. They cannot even name what is going on. Why not? If they do, they are called whiners and ridiculed for “playing the victim.”

Worse yet, this double bind is perpetrated not only by the usual suspects, but also by many leftist feminists and self-proclaimed “postfeminists” who denigrate real feminists who are trying to change the many ways women are brutalized by patriarchy. The intention and the result of this leftist/postfeminist ideology is to erase the harsh realities of sexism and misogyny, and deny the validity of women’s experience of them—and that is what I call anti-feminist as well as anti-woman.

The truth is this: A woman can’t deal with sexism solo. She has to have a Greek Chorus to amplify, interpret, and spin with, for, and about her. And, after 40 years, there is no Greek Chorus for women at the national level. Nada. Zip.

  • There is no feminist voice in the Old Media, let alone a feminist perspective informing all the media. The media are totally androcentric in their framing of all issues. Women who are allowed face time either see the world as their male bosses do, or tread very carefully with their small departures.
  • The DNC never had Hillary’s back, never became her Greek Chorus. They not only betrayed their best candidate in 75 years, but they also betrayed the many constituencies for whom she has a long record of fighting.

And here comes Ms. Gandy adding another layer: dumping on Palin for taking the position that female public figures are routinely forced into because establishment feminism doesn’t have her back, and have not been able to make it possible for her to do otherwise.

After 40 years, feminist organizations and spokeswomen have not been able to create a cultural context that would make it impermissible to attack women and perpetrate the kind of vicious misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton and now at Sarah Palin. It would be a tall order given that patriarchy has been organizing our social world and our culture for 5,000-6,000 years. The only good news here is that the behavior of the DNC has made it transparent to many of us that we’ll never get there by being an appendage of the DNC and held hostage to Roe.

If establishment feminists had any real clout with the DNC, Hillary would be taking the oath of office on January 20. Rather than attacking women candidates who don’t fit their precious self-image, leftist so-called feminists and those wondrous postfeminists should get over themselves. If they had done that a year ago, Hillary would be on her way to the White House, and we wouldn’t be in this mess of opting between which set of candidates scares us less.

Sarah Palin is a rorschach for the Left and for feminists. She has exposed the boundaries and implicit rules for inclusion in their clubs, thereby sparking a much needed dialogue about what feminism is and can be. She has thrown into relief the limitations of establishment feminist strategies, and blown open the door to alternative strategies. Sarah Palin arrived on the national scene at the moment when many Hillary supporters were recognizing an old political truth: If you can’t walk away from the table, you have no bargaining power. If you have no alternatives, you will get nothing but crumbs.

© 2008 by Artemis March.

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