Thursday, September 11, 2008

Are All Women Pro-Woman?

Historian Estelle Freedman of Stanford University recently commented that Sarah Palin is different from the female politicians who came before her; Palin is one of "...a younger generation who assume that she can aspire to do anything." Indeed, Palin is of a generation of women that watched shows like Bionic Woman, The Carol Burnett Show, Wonder Woman, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show during childhood - programs that presented (white, middle-class, attractive, straight) women as smart, strong, competent, and able to succeed at anything from stand-up comedy to crime solving. When she was 9 years old, Palin probably cheered as Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs at tennis. Palin states that she grew up in a household where her parents assured her that "...this is America, and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity." So does that mean that she is necessarily a feminist, or necessarily pro-woman? Is every woman pro-woman?


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.


Radical Reminders said...

This is a really well thought out and written post, thanks for all the links re: Palin's stances... the more i read about her the more it scares me that there is an actual possibility she might be our next vp (and even president!).

Actually, polls found that the Obama/Biden ticket better understands the issues and concerns important to women...

Unknown said...

Well said! This situation just makes me upset. They're trying to say that by default, she's for women's rights because she's a woman? Just like Clarence Thomas, I guess...

BTW Habladora - I posted the parenting submission on my blog.

ghatvhi said...

It's impossible for me to even comprehend how people, such as McCain and Sarah Palin, can be pro-life, against gay marriage and even against sex education. How can Sarah Palin, a woman, be in support of her own subjugation? These conservative perspectives maintain the outdated and completely mislead patriarchal society that we live in. I absolutely agree that Palin is a huge disappointment because although she is a woman she is far from pro-woman.

daedalus2u said...

Good post. Supporting Sarah Palin and helping her to acquire political power which she will use to the detriment of women, their partners and children is an anti-feminist act. Supporting Sarah Palin as a human being to help her live her life the way she wants to live it is a feminist act.

Charging victims of rape for the rape kits used in their investigation is outrageous. It absolutely is punishing the victim. That is fining a woman because she was raped and wants her rape to be treated as a crime.

Anyone who considers Sarah Palin to be a feminist has no clue what that means and isn't a feminist themselves.

Anonymous said...


I'm so glad I found your's a great summary and clarification of the 'problem' of Sarah Palin as a "woman" candidate-- she's a woman candidate but she sure as heck isn't a feminist candidate!

What I especially appreciate is that your clear statement of "The Problem w/Palin' is that you make it easy for me to see the parallel between being a feminist candidate vs. a candidate who happens to be female, and a 'black' organization vs. an organization that happens to have a lot of black employees.

This is a distinction I've been trying to draw on my own blog,
The big difference, I argue, is that a black organization AND/Or a feminist candidate, acts on a sense of obligation to improve the situation for its/her community. Lifting as we climb, as they say.

[ I apologize for digressing...and don't want to distract from this post... just keep this in mind for later.]

Anonymous said...

This is frames the argument brilliantly. I do not believe that Palin is Pro Woman. She is only constructed as such to aid the GOP. Anyone who has take even one womens studies course or identifies as a feminist/womanist would spot the fake that she is right away.

Aviva DV said...

After reading your excellent post and all the thoughtful comments, all I can really add is to say thank you posting this. I think it's an incredibly important point about Palin, one that, inexplicably, some people still don't seem to completely grasp.

Jessica said...

I just saw this and it made me think of this post. A rally in Alaska for women who don't think Palin is pro-woman. Here's a link with info and pics from an AK blogger:

Anonymous said...

I am no fan of Palin, for the reason's the blog and commenters before me articulated so well.

Send McCain a message that she is the wrong choice for this country, and sign the petition at "Women Against Sarah Palin":