Who is a feminist?
Heather Robinson and Jennifer Ginsberg: We've been asking that question since reading "Going Rogue," Sarah Palin's autobiography, and after reading columns by prominent feminists deriding the idea that the former Governor of Alaska is a feminist.
Many of these columnists do not clearly explain why they believe Palin is not a feminist. But they suggest that her bid for vice president was a slap in the face to women. Their writing is filled with personal digs, referring to Palin, for example, as a "moose-killing former governor and mother of five," and "Caribou Barbie."
When we posed this question to a friend, the reaction was scorn. "Palin is a pathological liar!" she exclaimed with disgust.
"Based on what?" There was no response. We can only assume this was a conclusion drawn from a left-wing media source.
Another friend responded, "She's absolutely not a feminist. She used her sexuality to get to the top."
"Why?" we asked. "Because she's beautiful? Because she entered a beauty pageant when she was 19 to pay for her college tuition?" No response again.
Women don't come out and say they don't consider Palin a feminist because she's pro-life, because she made the brave choice to give birth to a baby with special challenges, or because she's religious. But we believe those things (perhaps along with her beauty, and the fact that she hunts, and she's managed to have both a successful career and a family) are what's eating them.
As pro-choice, politically independent, vegetarian women, our views are not perfectly aligned with former Governor Palin's, but we read "Going Rogue" with an open mind -- and much pleasure.
In the book, Palin writes about how she grew up hunting and fishing alongside men. She also explains that for many Alaskans, including Native Americans, hunting is primarily a source of sustenance, not sport, and they use every part of the animals they kill. These organic and free-range animals have lived natural, healthy lives before they died -- more than can be said of the hormone-fattened and tortured creatures that wind up on most city-dwellers' plates!
She describes being a lifelong athlete, starting in high school, when as a varsity basketball player she was a beneficiary of Title IX -- federal legislation that ensured girls the same educational and athletic opportunities as boys.
Ironically, her stint in a beauty pageant (which self-proclaimed feminists mocked her relentlessly for) was merely a blip in her life. She decided to enter the pageant as a last resort because the prize was money towards college tuition. Coming from a middle-class home, she didn't have the luxury of her parents footing the bill, thus she worked her way through college.
In "Going Rogue," she describes how strange the whole beauty pageant experience was, especially since she was a tomboy and an athlete. But she managed to succeed despite her discomfort, hence she received the college scholarship. Another reason to hate her, we suppose!
After her first child, Track, was born, she worked part-time as a sports reporter at local TV stations in Anchorage and -- because she and her husband needed the income -- spent some weekend days working as a commercial fisherwoman on Bristol Bay.
Not long after the birth of her second child, Bristol, she went on to serve on the city council of her town, Wasilla, Alaska. She did not hesitate to irritate the mostly male members of the council and local politicians, whether it was voting her conscience on not raising property taxes or nursing 1-year-old Willow while at an all-male business meeting. If that example of Palin balancing motherhood and career does not encapsulate the spirit of feminism, we don't know what does!
As Mayor of Wasilla (after six years on the city council), her accomplishments included getting the city's main roads (which had been dirt!) paved, and attracting national chain stores to open in the town.
Her most important achievement as governor was taking on the entrenched interests of Alaskan politicians and energy execs. She was considered by many to be the most popular governor in America, with an approval rating above 90 percent.
Suffice it to say, she ended up exposing the corruption of many "good old boys" who were lining each others' pockets at the expense of the taxpayers. Ultimately, she opened the bidding process for a huge natural gas pipeline, saving the taxpayers billions.
All her life, this woman competed with men on an equal playing field, and in terms of concrete achievement, has done far more than many feminists who stick within their own homogenous enclaves and, frankly, spend a lot of time complaining.
It's true Mrs. Palin is pro-life (although in Going Rogue she writes about her long-time membership in Feminists for Life, "a group of pro-life feminists who do not oppose contraception").
Like many other feminists, we don't completely agree with her on this issue. But nor do we agree with the position of some feminists that abortion should be not only safe and legal, but available into the third trimester at taxpayers' expense. Feminists do a disservice by discouraging women's sense of responsibility and glossing over the painful complexities of the issue, even to the point of dehumanizing the unborn child. However, we wouldn't discount these women as feminists, despite our differing views.
If feminism's overall goals are advancing women's freedom and empowerment, and promoting equality with men, we should have a great big inclusive tent that welcomes different religious and personal philosophies. We can recognize there is room for significant disagreement in our ranks, but that we share some core values.
In years to come, technology may radically alter the way we view issues like abortion. It's tragic that the real definition of feminism, a doctrine that advocates equal rights for women, has become blurred over this single issue.
While one may disagree with Palin's views, it is unfair to hate or belittle one of our country's only female governors, someone who inspires huge numbers of people, including American women.
Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, we recommend reading "Going Rogue" with an open mind. It's the story of a woman who went from pulling her toddlers in a sled as she campaigned door to door for a seat on the city council of Wasilla, Alaska, to changing her baby's diaper moments before giving her convention speech as the Republican nominee for vice president of the United States.
If that's not a story of a strong, multitasking woman and feminist, then who qualifies?
|Heather Robinson is an independent journalist who specializes in writing about the Middle East, profiling offbeat characters and humanitarians (not always mutually exclusive), and helping readers happily navigate life. A committed vegetarian, she aspires to live close to the land one day, but for now enjoys living in the heart of New York City. Check out more of her work at heatherrobinson.net|
|Jennifer Ginsberg is a Los Angeles mother, writer, and addiction specialist with over 15 years of experience in the fields of alcoholism, addiction, and recovery. After receiving her MSW from the USC School Of Social Work and MAJCS from Hebrew Union College, Jennifer served as the clinical director of a 120 bed drug and alcohol treatment facility. She also co-developed an addiction prevention program for Jewish youth, which has been implemented in synagogues nationally. Jennifer now works privately with people who are impacted by the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol and writes about all topics related to motherhood, addiction, and women in politics. Read more about her life at angstmom.com|