Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Makes a Feminist?

The rise of Sarah Palin and the "Mama Grizzlies" has raised a lot of heartache among those on the left as to whether these conservative women can call themselves a form of "feminist". More precisely, the heartache is about whether certain political viewpoints about women's issues can be labelled feminist or anti-feminist, and which these might be. This led to a debate among the online magazine Slate's female writers.

To begin with, it should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard me opine on the subject that Sarah Palin and her satirical shadow, Christine O'Donnell, are morons with a number of vile beliefs that lead me to think they might be leftist plants sent into the world to make conservatives look awful. (And shame on the conservatives who actually embraced these dolts) And I agree with the first Slate writer's argument that Palin is more a product of feminism than a pioneer--she doesn't seem to be pushing any "feminist" goal except the idea that a woman can soar in the GOP, and frankly there are far better examples than Palin (to name one--Condoleeza Rice).

But first, to use my definition of "feminist"--the notion of gender equality rather than female subservience--what political stances would make someone "feminist"? A lot on the left think this is best accomplished through legislation or court action, but what about a libertarian notion that free markets and private activity will do more for female empowerment than any government action? Even if you disagree with it, does that make such a view "unfeminist"? (After all, if libertarians reject the idea of government action to solve any other social ill, isn't it more consistent for them to assert the same for feminist causes?) So what is it that is particularly unfeminist about a "conservative" feminist agenda--unless it in fact argues in favor of female subservience?

Needless to say, Nora Ephron's short quote managed to pack a lot of stupidity in few words--that one cannot be a feminist if one does not support a right to abortion. That's the sort of narrow minded issue-snobbery I've come to expect from Hollywood. Regardless of your opinion on abortion, if you can't accept that just maybe there are pro-lifers who are guided by beliefs OTHER than the hope that they can make things needlessly difficult for women who find themselves pregnant, then maybe you need to open your narrow mind for a while.

It would seem to me that if you favor equality, you're an egalitarian regardless of the means you favor to achieve that--and there's plenty of room for argument about the proper means. Is that not the same standard for defining a feminist? Or should any person be able to take a broad ideal and define anyone sharing that ideal by whether they agree with your preferred means? Because then perhaps "patriotism" could only be defined by adherence to certain practices. And we know how that turns out.


  1. I think "feminism" means different things to people today than it did thirty years ago. It's not at all an uncommon thing for a female politician or business executive to say "I'm not a feminist." Well, if you're not a feminist, why aren't you at home in the kitchen? Even if you don't want to call yourself a feminist (for whatever reason), why are you so unwilling to admit that it's the feminist movement that enabled you to occupy the position you hold? A position that would otherwise be denied to you based on nothing more substantial than your gender?

    So, yes, they're feminists, even if they, and others, don't call them that.

  2. MSnay--the term often gets misused by both "movement feminists" (basically, feminists who adopt leftist principles and consider any deviation to be "unfeminist") and many right wingers who associate feminism with those "movement feminists". That is, a lot of women don't want to be associated with that screeching campus protester who tried to ban chicken as a male oppressor food because only female chickens lay eggs or some nonsense, so they say they're not a feminist. But if you instead define the term by its core meaning, you'd have those women saying "well, I'm a feminist, just don't lump me in with THOSE nutjobs". (Same as a lot of conservatives have to say when lumped in with the Palinites!)