Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Frontier of American Feminism

This afternoon I confessed, "The main reason I'm so excited about Sarah Palin is in the way she's positively energized the Republican base."

While true, I should add that I'm absolutley blown away, frankly, at
the radical feminist response to Palin's nomination as the GOP vice-presidential running mate.

If you haven't yet, be sure to read Michelle Cottle's case study in the depressing feminist lament, "
A Bad Year For Feminism: Can Someone Please Tell Me What Happened?"

I think women of the contemporary left are
feeling simply violated that a conservative mother from a non-contiguous outback state could credibly claim the mantle as America's top female politician. It has to be a shock, which explains the vehemence that accompanies attacks on any and all facets of Palin's version of the feminine mystique.

But don't take my word for it. Check out
Camille Paglia's perspective, which endorses Barack Obama, but celebrates the audacity of Sarah Palin's gendered power (via Allahpundit):

Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment.
Kay Hymowitz, who we might expect to be more favorable to a GOP-style feminism, in any case, confirms Palin's feminine muscularity:

Whatever Palin’s political impact, her cultural significance is profound. For better and for worse, she introduces a new and likely long-running cultural type to the national stage—the red-state feminist.

Of course, the feminist commentariat, primarily coastal and upper-middle-class, has been quick to deny that Palin is any sort of feminist at all. Yes, Palin can boast political success, activism, authority, and self-confidence in front of an audience of 37 million, and, though less widely discussed (perhaps because so profoundly envied), an egalitarian marriage of the sort that has become the foundational principle of feminist utopia. But in most other respects, especially her position on abortion, she has struck female media types as something more like the Anti-Feminist. She is a “humiliation for America’s women” (Judith Warner for the New York Times) and a tool of the “patriarchs” (Gloria Steinem for the Los Angeles Times).

But the crucial point here is that Palin never wanted to be part of Steinem’s club, and in that respect she speaks for many of her sex. The large majority of women—surveys have put the number at somewhere around 75 percent—shy away from calling themselves feminists, even while supporting some movement goals like equal pay. The primary reason for their coyness: feminism’s ambivalence at best, and hostility at worst, toward motherhood and marriage. The refuseniks may or may not remember that Betty Friedan described full-time motherhood as a “waste of human self” and home as a “comfortable concentration camp.” They may or may not be able to quote Steinem on fish and bicycles. But on some level they understand that the framework of establishment feminism has motherhood, and often marriage, as the menacing 300-pound security guard whom men have hired to stand in the way of women’s achievement.

Palin represents a red-state version of feminism that completely deconstructs this framework. Sure, part of the red staters’ identification with Palin is a matter of lifestyle. Blue-state feminists live in big cities and suburbs; Palin lives in South Podunk. Blue staters’ kids play soccer; Palin’s play hockey. They have WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER bumper stickers; she’s a member of the NRA. They dine on sushi; she eats salmon that she caught and gutted. If you’re an Iowa toll collector married to a refrigerator repairman, Palin may well be your gal by reason of her origin and leisure activities alone.
But let's conclude this review with Paglia once again, who nails the secular demonology theme regularly showcased here:

The witch-trial hysteria of the past two incendiary weeks unfortunately reveals a disturbing trend in the Democratic Party, which has worsened over the past decade. Democrats are quick to attack the religiosity of Republicans, but Democratic ideology itself seems to have become a secular substitute religion. Since when did Democrats become so judgmental and intolerant? Conservatives are demonized, with the universe polarized into a Manichaean battle of us versus them, good versus evil. Democrats are clinging to pat group opinions as if they were inflexible moral absolutes. The party is in peril if it cannot observe and listen and adapt to changing social circumstances.
You go, girl!