Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin 2, or I Think We're All Post-Feminist Now

Back in the day, I always voted for the woman. I can tell you exactly when that day was, too. It was my first year of college, and I was faced with a long slate of names of people running for student government, none of which I recognized. So I went right down that list with my pen, first checking off all the women, then the visible minorities.

Ah, those were the days.

Not so much.

I don't know when I stopped automatically voting for the woman, but I bet it had something to do with Hopefully Not About to Again Become A Red State, where there was a good-sized contingent of women politicos (politicas) whose values had nothing to do with anything I cared to vote for. It probably also--theoretically, rather than practically--had something to do with living through the 80s as a feminist, and realizing the profound limitations of feminism as it had been construed, not by its original founders, many of whom were incredibly sophisticated about issues of race and class, but by a whole lot of white women in the years thereafter. In other words, I realized that gender, though always important, is not always of prime importance.

Fast forward to this morning.

Let's be clear (and not at all original): the only reason John McCain chose Sarah Palin is that she's a woman. If her name were Stuart Palin, and she had been governor of the battleground state of Alaska--not!--for two years, she would not have flown to Dayton this morning. Sure she's conservative, and smart, and popular, but she's the new governor of Alaska. Not so much the VP demographic, except that she's a girl.

Which means that John McCain, the Republican candidate, presumably as anti-affirmative action and identity politics as they come, just went whole hog for the identity ticket. Whereas I told my girls that Obama chose the person who would be best for governing, not necessarily campaigning, and that I wholeheartedly approved, McCain made his choice purely instrumentally, based on nailing down the conservative Christian votes and trying to seduce those PUMAs (who appear, from what I've been reading in the non-mainstream media, to be not quite so many as the mainstream media would have us believe).

I'm sure there are people out there who vote solely based on identity (choosing the woman, the Black person, the Christian, regardless), and I'm sure there are people who do, as the pundits believe, vote on likeability (I bet I'd do just fine chatting with Palin on the sidelines of a soccer game, just as I did with all my conservative Christian friends in that state where I used to live) (that parenthesis was not at all facetious--I did have conservative Christian friends, and I quite liked them, but we never talked politics, just teachers and homework and Halloween costumes). But I'd like to think there are other people besides me who vote the issues.

(Or at least, who first consider the issues, and only then turn to identity and likeability. Because I was fine with Hillary on the issues, just like I was fine with Obama, which meant that I could then think about things like effectiveness and likeability, which meant I didn't vote for Hillary, though I also didn't vote for Obama because he was Black.)

But let's get back to feminism. Lately I've been hanging out with some smart, savvy, political young women of color who feel pretty much the same way I do when it comes to most things political. Except that I am a feminist and they are not. One of them said, last time we discussed it, that the term just makes her sad. And I get that: if you're a young woman of color, feminism as it's been lived out (not just portrayed) in American culture can be pretty unwelcoming (see Seal Press and WAM, Pandagon, et al [oh god, I just can't find the perfect link, try Jackie back in April to start]).

Sarah Palin is the apex of the best and worst of feminism. That a 44-year-old mother of five could be a governor is because of feminism at its best: women now have opportunities and the capacity to achieve in ways that were unimaginable 40 years ago. That John McCain would choose a woman as his running mate simply to grab women voters is a manifestation of feminism and identity politics at their worst--pandering "choices" designed to get the powers that be what they want.

So you know, at this point, I'm really fine with letting feminism go. I'll still call myself a feminist, but I'm not going to go out on a limb for the terminology, though believe you me I'll always go out on a limb for the rights of women. But I'll also be limb-climbing for the rights of people of color, immigrants, the poor, children, gays, whoever needs their rights the most at any particular moment. And I don't really care what you call me or it. In fact, I lost interest in the politics of symbolism and labels a long time ago. What I care about is justice and fairness and basic human rights and economic viability for everyone (let's just lump education, health care, and housing under economic viability).

And that's why I'm still voting for Obama.


Dawn said...

I really hate that your whole feed doesn't come through in my feedreader because I left google reader to come read this and now I have to go back IN to my feedreader to share it because that was one fine post. (Except that among some of the conservative Christians I know here in surely please god don't go red state you can't talk Halloween costumes because Halloween is for Satan. Of course they're mostly homeschooling conservative christians so they're already fringier than fringe.

Kelly said...

I often think that if I had finished my secondary education I would be able to express myself about these most important issues maybe half as succinctly as you do.

Lucy said...

I was exasperated about the whole thing, so I thought 'what would Becca say'? Thank goodness you got it so exactly right. There is an article about the cynicism of the choice on Huffington Post, too(by Linda Bergthold)- here's the address but I dunno how to make it a link - that explains why Palin will lose the election for McCain.

Here's the extent to which my inner anti-feminist is popping out: How would she replace McCain when she has a disabled infant? And actually I do not even know if that's anti-feminist or just reality. On top of the lack of experience, horrible politics, and absolute obscurity, I was really floored that a mother in that situation would take on such an overwhelming responsibility. Here's Biden's son, describing his dad's priorities, and then here's someone who chose - and I fully support her choice! - to have five children, agreeing to an exorbitant time commitment.

How utterly insulting and fundamentally wrong.

Libby said...

yes, yes, yes! If I were a PUMA (and, like you, I'm not sure there are so many of them anyway) I'd be insulted by this choice. Because I think it suggests that he thinks women--Hillary supporters in particular--are stupid.

Lauren said...

At our house, we do feel insulted. I was not at all surprised he picked a woman I just thought it would be someone more experienced and less crazy conservative. I agree it's so wonderful that feminism has enabled her to be governer of the state she loves and am proud of that. However, committing to VP IS more of a time committment and is that really fair to her young children? Most people in that position, with children, have older children, not infants. Though, her DH could be the SAHP, but can he leave his commercial fishing business to live in D.C.?