False Feminism: Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman

16 Jun

You know, this has been said time and time again. But a woman candidate is NOT the same as a feminist candidate. And I know that many of the CFC’s beloved readers are not suffering the delusion that Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin are feminist advocates.

So why am I up in a tizzy about this, today of all days, when there are many pressing matters at hand? Well, it’s because there are many pressing matters at hand. And I don’t want to watch the mainstream media and blogosphere continue to reckon with the feminist bonafides of these decidedly anti-women presidential contenders (presumably, in the case of Sarah Palin who hasn’t declared her candidacy yet). What is really going on here?

I believe that the root of this confusion is actually a deeper rift in the feminist community/movement. As Carmen Vasquez wrote in “Towards A Revolutionary Ethics,”

“We can’t even agree on what a feminist is, never mind what she would believe in and how she defines the principles that constitute honor amongst us. In key with the American capitalist obsession for individualism and anything goes so long as it gets you what you want. Feminism in America has come to mean anything you like, honey. There are as many definitions of Feminism as there are feminists, some of my sisters say, with a chuckle. I don’t think it’s funny.[i]

It isn’t funny. Feminism is an action. An action that requires solidarity with others who do not shared your lived experience. An action that is NOT merely about equality with men. As CF ReninaJ just put it so aptly:

“Feminism is not about being equal to men. All men are not equal. A black man  from 135th street with a Harvard MBA does not have the same social capital as a Black man from 135th street who just got out of Rikers. Full stop.”

So then what are we talking about here? Why is there any confusion at all about whether feminism is about equality, and whether Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin (and Barak Obama, for that matter) are feminists? Well, take a look at an image from the homepage of the website of anti-choice group, Feminists for Life.

That looks like a “feminist” image, doesn’t it? Woman as superhero, a quintessential feminist trope. So, what is going on here?

It’s a problem with relying on a loosey-goosey definition of feminism. Feminism that focuses on defining women as autonomous individuals and centers on personal freedom OR feminism that focuses on equality with men are limited because they gloss right over the action-element that is KEY: as defined by bell hooks and many others, feminism is the struggle to end sexist oppression. It is an ACTION, not an identity or a lifestyle.

As we know, shared biology does not mean a shared commitment to dismantling sexist oppression. And that is the crux of this whole thing. Feminism is not about “living your best life.” It’s about de-centering yourself so that we can all live our best lives. It’s about being part of a political movement that does not privilege one definition of woman. A movement that resists imperialism and capitalism.

And here is an important point: if we’re going to resist imperialism and capitalism we have to challenge the sexism we see around the world. Not by defining feminism for women who live elsewhere, but by lifting up their struggles against sexist oppression.  Take for example, the French Muslim women’s struggle against the banning of the veil. It is a contemporary struggle that brings to light the importance of understanding the intersectionality of women’s lives. It’s a complicated issue, but not one that can be fully understood through a singular (read: western feminist) lens.

But here’s the beautiful part: anyone can be a feminist. When feminism is defined in a why that it reminds us about the diversity of women’s experiences it can be truly revolutionary. It can center the voices and experiences of women that have been marginalized.

I don’t think that running for president and shouting about equality of opportunity for women counts. So, Michelle and Sarah stop falsely and disingenuously allying yourself with feminism. We’re on to you.

[i] Vasquez 1983, p.11.

6 Responses to “False Feminism: Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman”

  1. Rosemary June 16, 2011 at 1:33 PM #

    Thanks for writing. I agree that these loosey-goosey definitions of feminism lead to problematic conclusions such as “making choices is feminist,” as though it’s impossible to make choices that are not feminist. Or like saying that Sarah Palin is a feminist just because she is a woman in a male-dominated field (politics), as though she didn’t gain much of her power/prestige by buying into a patriarchal/sexist agenda. In Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks states that her definition of feminism is the struggle to “end sexism, sexist exploitation, and sexist oppression” (pretty much the same thing you said) – couldn’t agree more!

  2. Chris June 16, 2011 at 9:08 PM #

    Thank you for writing this.
    The popular media defines feminist as anything that does not conform to their self-defined roles for women, especially women who are pro-liberation and pro-change. The white-male-dominated media have, by their characterizations, made “feminist” an epithet to hurl at women who do not conform to their self-defined stereotype.
    It’s strange that now they are applying this word to females who are neither pro-women or pro-progressive. It seems that the male elite feels that it is losing its control over the citizenry.
    I do not support Bachman, Palin, or their ilk. I welcome discussion of womens’ issues, especially related to race, income, and socioeconomic status.

  3. lala June 18, 2011 at 5:44 PM #

    Bachman and Palin are arguably the two dumbest women in America.

  4. Alyssa Crow August 11, 2011 at 10:00 PM #

    You can’t be pro-life and feminist. It just doesn’t work.


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