A woman can enjoy the rights that women's movements have gained for us without being interested in seeing those rights extended to women in general. A woman can be pro-self, but not be in favor of bettering the lives and opportunities of all women. Such a person is pro- a woman perhaps, but not pro-women.
So what does it take to be a genuinely pro-woman politician? My criteria are these:
1. A pro-woman politician must actively defend women's equality.
Yes, that means that they must support bills seeking to close the legal loopholes that allow companies to continue discriminatory pay practices forty-five years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act. The McCain campaign reports that Palin would not support a change in the laws that allow companies to pay women less for equal work - she does not support the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
2. A pro-woman politician must defend the rights of diverse types of women.
Since women come from all ethnic and social backgrounds, a pro-woman candidate has to defend the rights of women from backgrounds different from her own. That means that a pro-woman candidate should seek to protect the rights of poor and working-class women as well as the rich.
One way to support lower-income women is to push for universal health care, so that all women have health insurance. A pro-woman candidate would help insure pregnant women and help women have access to safe and effective methods of birth control. The McCain-Palin plan would go in the opposite direction, forcing more Americans to buy private insurance and potentially making finding any insurance difficult for women with 'pre-existing conditions.' Since we know that many insurance companies define pregnancy as a pre-existing condition, the McCain-Palin plan could make paying for pregnancy much more difficult for expectant mothers.
3. A pro-woman politician works to ensure that women are protected from violence, assault, and hate crimes.
That's right, a pro-woman mayor would fight to keep victims of sexual assault from having to personally pay for the investigation of the crime committed against them. During Palin's time as mayor of Wasilla, the city billed victims for their own rape kits. Obama, on the other hand, sponsored and passed legislation in the state of Illinois that really works to support victims of sexual assault, making it so that:
...if you report the assault to the police within 72 hours of the crime and if you file a claim application within two years of the date of the crime, you can be reimbursed for out-of-pocket medical expenses, loss of earnings, psychological counseling, and loss of support income due to the crime.For me, Palin doesn't fit the pro-woman criteria. Which leaves us with only one question:
Is supporting a woman candidate an inherently feminist act?
Well, yes and no.
Yes if your support of a woman candidate reflects your belief that a woman's capacity to be a good leader is equal to a man's, and that the particular woman for whom you're voting is the best candidate for the job.
No if your vote reflects your belief that a woman would be the most effective tool in eroding women's rights.