Feminist she ain't

By Abby Seeskin

As I read Jens Tamang’s opinion piece last week arguing that Sarah Palin is a feminist, my overwhelming feeling was that someone needed to explain to Mr. Tamang precisely what feminism is. Feminism, contrary to Tamang’s assertions, is not something simply dominated by the “bourgeois academe.” Feminism is not just about women trying on masculinity by cutting spending and gutting deer. And thirdly, feminism is not a “wounded movement,” as Tamang boasts authoritatively.Indeed, feminism is still alive and well (as is sexism), but it looks different than the second-wave feminism that Tamang seems to think is still entirely relevant to today. Third-wave feminists have built upon the work of second-wavers to better address how multiple forms of oppression inform one another and create an overarching hegemonic system. Thus, comparing Sarah Palin to the feminists of the 1960s is not only passé and uninformed, but also serves to illustrate how stuck in the past Sarah Palin is.

In the classic feminist primer, “Feminism is for EVERYBODY!” bell hooks asserts that “[F]eminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” That is, anyone-regardless of gender, race, sexuality, nationality, class, ability, etc.-has the capacity to be a feminist; alternately, possessing a vagina does not necessarily make one a feminist. hooks writes, “Feminists are made, not born. One does not become an advocate of feminist politics simply by having the privilege of having been born female. Like all political positions one becomes a believer in feminist politics through choice and action.” And Sarah Palin certainly has not made political choices and actions to work toward ending sexism.

One only needs to examine Palin’s politics to see that. Tamang seems to have no interest in doing that, as he claims, “[I]t’s [Palin’s] persona that’s revolutionary, not her politics.” I have no idea why Tamang might think that it’s more important for a political leader to have a “revolutionary persona” than “revolutionary politics.” Didn’t Josef Stalin have a revolutionary persona? Not that I at all want to argue that Palin is akin to Stalin, I’m just pointing how vague and ridiculous this assertion is. What, after all, is so revolutionary about an inarticulate governor (see: Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric interviews) who makes George W. Bush look like Einstein? Oh right, I remember now! Sarah Palin: a pitbull with lipstick ending sexism one gutted deer at a time.

If Tamang actually took more than two sentences to address Palin’s politics (which really is what we should be talking about, considering that she is a politician who could be our future president) he would not be able to uphold the argument that Palin is a feminist. Sarah Palin is anti-choice, anti-comprehensive sex education, anti-woman. I say anti-woman, because rather than challenging gender norms and working to end sexism, Palin both plays into her Miss Alaska image and upholds (and works to create) legislation that limits the choices of women.

It is not feminist to refuse to teach your children safer sex practices, and it is not feminist to force your teenage daughter to carry her fetus to term and marry her high school boyfriend. It is not feminist to force a woman to pay for her own rape kit when she has just suffered what potentially is one of the greatest traumas of her life. It is sexist to demand that teenage girls practice abstinence to protect their “purity.” It is sexist to insist that a woman is responsible to carry a baby to term, regardless of whether she was raped, is a teenager, is financially stable enough to support raising a child. It is sexist to suggest that women who were raped and/or sexually assaulted are partially at fault for what has happened to them.

Sarah Palin certainly benefits from feminism (indeed, a woman could not have been a vice presidential candidate 50 years ago); she is also a target of sexist rhetoric (as is Hillary Clinton). But to call Sarah Palin a feminist herself undercuts the important work that feminists everywhere do everyday to ultimately work toward a freer society for all people.

Abby Seeskin ’10 can be contacted at [email protected]