Monday, October 6, 2008

So, What Does a Feminist Look Like?

Really though, what on earth does a feminist look like??

On the one hand, I don't like telling people that they aren't a feminist. If somebody chooses to take on that label, I hardly feel I have the right to take it away from them. We all know there are as many different kinds of feminists as there are different kinds of women.

On the other hand, there has to be some sort of consensus about what sort of person represents feminism, doesn't there?

But, then, who decides what makes somebody a "real" feminist? Is there a checklist we should all carry in our pockets to whip out whenever somebody says they're a feminist? Do we list all of the issues and positions and then say they need to match 75% to be qualified?

See, this is what goes on in my head whenever I think about this, which is why I've hesitated to write about it.

But now we have this video with the president of the L.A. chapter of NOW endorsing Sarah Palin, claiming "America, this is what a feminist looks like."

Is this what a feminist looks like?? She brings up some interesting [feminist] points: Title IX and equal pay (do we actually know Palin's real position/record on this?). And, of course, she is a woman in power and a working mother, which is worth something, however much or little.

But what about abortion and birth control? What about charging for women for their own rape kits? What about having her husband play an important role in her governorship? What about the unacceptably high rates of rapes and domestic violence under her leadership?

Now I feel like one of the people I don't want to become -- the feminism police. But what are we to do? Do we need a whole new label or a whole new movement? Should consider an approach that's seen as pro-woman rather than just feminist, as Habladora suggested?

What do you all think?

(Cross-posted at Jump off the Bridge)


Habladora said...

Really, I'd say that in order to be feminist, one has to be pro-woman. The way we usually come to have different feminisms is that people have different ideas about what's best for women. Take this president of LA's NOW chapter, for example. She would probably defend her endorsement of Palin by saying that having women in office will necessarily better women's lives. I disagree, so perhaps our feminisms are different.

Palin, though, is not a feminist in my mind because she is not pro-woman. To answer the 'equal pay' question, she's on a ticket that opposes the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and also spoke against it (somewhat awkwardly) in her interview with Couric. Most of her policies seem to be anti-woman, which is part of her appeal with conservative voters.

The NOW LA president repeated makes the same mistake in logic in her endorsement speech: she asserts that because Palin has benefited from a movement, ruling, or law that she necessarily supports those same movements, rulings, and laws. No one can argue that Palin benefited from Title IX, but that doesn't mean that she supports it. Right now, it benefits her more as an individual to promise to fight similar education amendments - her party does not like them (did you notice the tepid applause?).

I still maintain that a woman can be pro-self and not pro-women. Such a person is not a feminist.

Kekla said...

I'm shocked by this endorsement, particularly coming from a woman who claims to be a lifelong democrat, and an organization that I've previously believed to be pretty progressive. Sure, getting women into high office is always a victory, but it's not the only kind, and it seems like NOW should know that. I've yet to hear Sarah Palin make an argument for how she would put the White House to work for women. We already know she's anti-choice and against sex ed, so for any feminist organization to endorse her...seriously? Wow.

Incidentally, how is it that Shelly Mandel only specifically endorses Palin, not McCain? What does that say? Mandel also says nothing concrete about what Palin plans to do for women, even though she mentions equal pay, etc. I'm not convinced.

The symbolism of having a woman in power is meaningless if Palin is only working to take power away from the rest of us.

Habladora said...

It is just Shelly Mandel who has personally endorsed Palin (and, so, McCain as well), not LA NOW. California NOW has been working overtime to try to make that clear (here). Of course, the question for LA NOW is - what now? What do you do when the president of your group starts making very public statements that lead the public to believe that your organization has made an endorsement that it has not - an endorsement that, in fact, many members oppose?

frau sally benz said...

Thanks, Habladora, for mentioning that it was her personal endorsement and not that of LA NOW. I forgot to specify.

Kekla's point about her endorsing Palin, but not necessarily McCain, is really at the heart of the matter as far as the endorsement goes. That's why I wonder about Palin's own personal position, as opposed to McCain's. Though the fact that Mandel can basically ignore McCain and his positions entirely just to endorse a woman worries me.

daedalus2u said...

I would say that to be a feminist one has to be pro-self-determination of women. If you are not that, then you are not a feminist.

Sarah Palin is not a feminist. Women who support her are telling us that they don’t want self-determination and are supporting Sarah Palin so that she and John McCain will take that self-determination away through Supreme Court picks. Such women are not feminists.

Amelia said...

May I borrow some of those links in a post about Sarah Palin on my blog? Linkage will be provided, if I get permission. Especially since I also discuss some of the issues Habladora addresses.

Habladora said...

Link away, Amelia, you all are our blog buddies... ;)

Kekla said...

You know, I listened to the clip twice before I first posted, and both times I heard Mandell say that she was there as an individual, but I misunderstood it to mean that regardless of her position as president of LA NOW, she personally felt strongly about the endorsement. I feel a little foolish. (And I'm sorry I doubted you, NOW!)

I'm surprised Mandell felt comfortable identifying herself by her position title in the endorsement. I'd like to beleive it was a mistake, but she must have known it would mislead people. Everyone has a right to her personal political opinion, regardless of her employer. However, I've worked in politically-oriented non-profits and I know that no matter how much argument goes on behind the scenes, when you step into the public eye it is your responsibility to claim and to sell the position of the organization. It's as simple as that. If it grates against your moral fiber that much, you resign.

Not-So-Normal-Mom said...

Really-if Palin is a feminist, I'm not sure that I want to be a feminist any more. Can I have my membership dues back??? ;-)

daedalus2u said...

To be a feminist, one can't just be "pro-woman" by one's own standards. One has to be pro-self-determination of women. That is "pro-woman" by the standards that each woman has for herself.

There are plenty of people who say they are "pro-woman" and want to protect women from making what they consider bad choices "for her own good". Such people are not feminists.

One can believe that the only happy woman is the woman who is barefoot and pregnant and taking care of her man and his children. A feminist can believe that and choose that lifestyle for herself, but if she attempts to impose it on other women, she is not a feminist.

Anonymous said...

Although I own the t-shirt that claims "This is what a feminist looks like," I think we should be far more concerned with what a feminist ACTS like.

Like many of the commenters above, I agree feminists need to be pro-woman but I would add that feminists also need to be pro-inclusive, pro-equal to everyone - to all races, sexualities, body sizes, genders, etc.

To me, feminism is about all of these intersections, and one must fight for social justice at every level. It irks me when someone, for example, claims to be a feminist in one breathe, and then makes a racist comment in the next... or when someone refuses to concede that other markers of identity are just as important to consider as gender. I suppose this puts me out of the historical mainstream take that sex/gender needs to be primary.

frau sally benz said...

feminists also need to be pro-inclusive, pro-equal to everyone - to all races, sexualities, body sizes, genders, etc.

I don't think I could agree with you more. I was explaining this sentiment to my guy one day. We started talking about something or other (maybe transgender issues?) and he said "why do you have to fight for everyone? that's not what feminism is" and I said "that's what MY feminism is." I can't figure out why people who experience one oppression can't empathize and understand the others.