Richmond College '10
Given the multitude of attacks on Sarah Palin regarding her feminist credentials, I feel compelled to come to her defense. The hardcore feminists reading this article would likely question my credentials as a carrier of a Y-chromosome to even comment on such an issue. While there may be truth in that sentiment, I still have been privileged to be surrounded by many important women in my life that are similar to Sarah Palin and whom I consider strong representatives of the female gender. These women have ranged from my mother and grandmothers to close family. In coming to Sarah Palin's defense I in turn believe I am coming to the defense of the many women I have seen excel in the home and the workplace.
The attacks on Mrs. Palin have been wide and varied, from many different angles and forums. The nationally renowned feminist leaders and commentators have been very vocal in their disdain and condescension. For example Ellen Goodman, a columnist for the Boston Globe, chalked Palin off as a "supermom" and someone who believes that women should simply do everything for themselves. Despite all her snarling, Goodman at least highlighted the fundamental debate circling around Palin and the feminist movement.
Goodman discusses a deep split in feminist ideology between "those who think a woman can have it all as long as she can do it all ... by herself, and those who think that it is neither wimpish nor whiny to push for some help." The debate has swarmed toward a discussion on whether the best way to pursue feminism is through governmental support or strong, individual women who advocate for themselves. This is certainly a debate worthy of consideration. Goodman admits that there are two sides to the argument, but dismisses the side she disagrees with.
In terms of the broader debate, Palin is certainly in the individualist camp. She sees obstacles, and rather than circumventing them, she bull-rushes them. Instead of carrying a high-powered Yale law degree like Hillary Clinton, she came from a modest educational background. She did not grow up a part of the east coast, liberal, Ivy-League-fueled feminist movement. She decided to get married and have children. Her original plan was not to become a career politician. Interestingly, she became involved in public service as a reaction to her dissatisfaction with corrupt Alaskan politics. She ran roughshod through the GOP machine in Alaska which coincidentally was almost entirely dominated by men. Palin ran for offices against male candidates, attacked incompetent governmental employees and eventually became one of the most popular governors in Alaska's history.
This debate has proven to be not only global, but local. In the Collegian last week, an article appeared entitled "Sarah Palin: Anti-Woman 'Feminist.'" The author cites several examples of policies that Palin has endorsed or pursued that seem to hurt women. The first one is the now infamous "rape kit" that the male police chief Charlie Fannon (whom Palin appointed when mayor of Wasilla) required rape victims to buy for evidence gathering purposes. Ignored in this example was the fact that many states were following similar practices in efforts to cut back the out-of-control costs of law enforcement by making the victim's insurance company cover rape kit costs. Also glossed over is that Fannon said he believed that ultimately the perpetrator should pay for the costs surrounding the crime. If ultimately accused of rape, then Fannon believed the criminal was on the hook for victim compensation. It must be remembered that Palin appointed Fannon and he enacted the policy. She did not directly institute the policy and later proved her disappointment with Fannon (admittedly not only over the rape kit but for a multitude of reasons) by not endorsing him when he ran for mayor after she left office.
Also, the argument that Palin contradicts herself in supporting contraception but not comprehensive sex education is weak. Most socially conservative women believe that sex education should take place in the home instead of at school. The author dismisses Palin's belief in such a system sighting her daughter's teen pregnancy as evidence that Palin does not teach her kids proper contraception at home. I would caution against a classic case of correlation not necessarily breeding causation. Palin very likely did speak to her daughter about safe sex. As most of the parents I have talked to will tell you, warning after warning does not necessarily prevent kids from ignoring your advice. Every mistake made by a kid cannot be directly linked to bad parenting.
As Cathy Young, a noted writer about gender issues, opined in the Wall Street Journal: "You'd think that, whether or not they agree with her politics, feminists would at least applaud Mrs. Palin as a living example of one of their core principles: a woman's right to have a career and a family." Palin may be no Hillary Clinton, but that does not mean she is not a woman and does not care about women's rights. Her solution may be different than others for how to best advance women's rights, but that does not mean she is anti-woman. By discrediting her feminine credentials, the feminist movement is in danger of polarizing many women who support her and her beliefs.
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