Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back to the Future: Backlash and Palin

I have been slowly working my way through Susan Faludi's book "Backlash" about the backlash against women's rights in the 1980s. Fauldi argues that during the 1980s (and during other eras of backlash against the women's rights movement) pop culture, the media, and politicians claimed that feminism had gone too far, that women's liberation was damaging to them, and that the solution was to roll back the clock and return to an era where women have less equality (sometimes classing this return to less equality as "real empowerment").

At the same time I'm reading this book, I've also been thinking a lot about the U.S. presidential race and the prominent role gender has taken. Many people have pointed out the absolute ridiculousness of assuming that people will automatically transfer their vote from Hillary Clinton to Sarah Palin. There has also been plenty of discussion about how sexist criticism of Palin is unaaceptable.

When I came across the passage in "Backlash" regarding the curious anomaly of the anti-feminist woman (ie, the woman who says women's place is in the home from her office in Washington) and the role she plays in politics in the 1980s, what Fauldi had to say spoke to me about Palin and how the Republican party is using "feminism" to advance an anti-feminist agenda,

The New Right women were, in some respects, the reverse image of their more progressive "yuppie" sisters who got trapped in the backlash eddies. While mainstream professional women were more likley to voice feminist principles while struggling internally with the self-doubts and recriminations that the backlash generated, the New Right women were voicing anti-feminist views---while internalizing the message of the women's movement and quiety incorporating its tenants of self-determination, equality and freedom of choice in their private behavior.
If the right-wing activists at Concerned Women for America seemed less anxiety ridden about the "price" of their own liberation than the average liberal career women, maybe that's because these New Right women were, ironically, facing less resistence in their world. As long as these women raised their voices only to parrot the Moral Majority line, as long as they divided up the chores so that they could have more time to fight equal rights legislation, the New Right male leaders (and their New Right husbands) were happy to applaud and encourage the women's mock "independence." The women always played by their men's rules, and for that they enjoyed their esteem and blessings of their subculture. On the other hand, working and single women in the mainstream, who were more authentically independent, had no such cheering squad to buoy their spirits; they were undermined daily by popular culture that parodied their lifestyle, heaped pity and ridicule on their choices, and berated their feminist "mistakes."
The activists of Concerned Women for America, like New Right women activists elsewhere, could report to their offices in their suits, issue press releases demainding that women return to the home, and never see a contradiction. By divorcing their personal liberation from their public stands on sexual politics, they could privately take advantage of feminism while pubicly depoloring its influence. They could indeed "have it all"---by working to prevent all other women from having that same opportunity.

To me, this passage succiently sums my problems with Sarah Palin wrapping herself in feminism's flag. She claims that she's putting another crack in the glass ceiling (see Ann's post at feministing linked above for my other problems with this line) while aligning herself with a candidate that is opposed to legislation that would ensure equal pay for equal work. She claims that Bristol's choice to keep her baby is a private matter while joining a ticket that believes the state's interest in a fetus trumps the individual women's right to make the same decision privately. (In other words, as long as the choice is the right choice and made by her daughter, it's private. If it's one Palin and McCain disagree with, it's a public matter.)

Palin has benefited from feminism's advances; that doesn't make her one.

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