Left-wing feminists have a hard time dealing with strong, successful conservative women in politics such as Margaret Thatcher. Sarah Palin seems to have truly unhinged more than a few, eliciting a stream of vicious, often misogynist invective.</i>
On Salon.com last week, Cintra Wilson branded her a "Christian Stepford Wife" and a "Republican blow-up doll." Wendy Doniger, religion professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, added on the Washington Post blog, "Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman."
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. Yet some feminists unabashedly suggest that her decision to seek the vice presidency makes her a bad and selfish mother. Others argue that she is bad for working mothers because she's just too good at having it all.
In the Boston Globe on Friday, columnist Ellen Goodman frets that Mrs. Palin is a "supermom" whose supporters "think a woman can have it all as long as she can do it all . . . by herself." In fact, Sarah Palin is doing it with the help of her husband Todd, who is currently on leave from his job as an oil worker. But Ms. Goodman's problem is that "she doesn't need anything from anyone outside the family. She isn't lobbying for, say, maternity leave, equal pay, or universal pre-K."
This also galls Katherine Marsh, writing in the latest issue of The New Republic. Mrs. Palin admits to having "an incredible support system -- a husband with flexible jobs rather than a competing career . . . and a host of nearby grandparents, aunts, and uncles." Yet, Ms. Marsh charges, she does not endorse government policies to help less-advantaged working mothers -- for instance, by promoting day-care centers.
Mrs. Palin's marriage actually makes her a terrific role model. One of the best choices a woman can make if she wants a career and a family is to pick a partner who will be able to take on equal or primary responsibility for child-rearing. Our culture still harbors a lingering perception that such men are less than manly -- and who better to smash that stereotype than "First Dude" Todd Palin?
Nevertheless, when Sarah Palin offered a tribute to her husband in her Republican National Convention speech, New York Times columnist Judith Warner read this as a message that she is "subordinate to a great man." Perhaps the message was a brilliant reversal of the old saw that behind every man is a great woman: Here, the great woman is out in front and the great man provides the support. Isn't that real feminism?
Not to Ms. Marsh, who insists that feminism must demand support for women from the government. In this worldview, advocating more federal subsidies for institutional day care is pro-woman; advocating tax breaks or regulatory reform that would help home-based care providers -- preferred by most working parents -- is not. Trying to legislate away the gender gap in earnings (which no self-respecting economist today blames primarily on discrimination) is feminist. Expanding opportunities for part-time and flexible jobs is "the Republican Party line."
I disagree with Sarah Palin on a number of issues, including abortion rights. But when the feminist establishment treats not only pro-life feminism but small-government, individualist feminism as heresy, it writes off multitudes of women.
Of course, being a feminist role model is not part of the vice president's job description, and there are legitimate questions about Mrs. Palin's qualifications. And yet, like millions of American women -- and men -- I find her can-do feminism infinitely more liberated than the what-can-the-government-do-for-me brand espoused by the sisterhood.
Here's how it works, folks. Feminism has been hijacked by liberals. If it is a conservative principle or initiative or program it cannot possibly be pro-woman because, well, it's coming from conservatives! This phenomenon has already been experienced by black Republicans; they're told that they're not 'authentically' black because they are conservative. Likewise, it seems, you are not really a woman if you are conservative. Don't believe me. Go back up to the top and reread that quote by Wendy Doniger.
Here's the liberal feminist response: Not all women are lucky enough to have husbands like Todd Palin. Some don't have husbands at all, and they shouldn't have to. They should be able to have a career and a family even if they don't have that kind of support system within the family. So where else could that support system possibly come from, other than the government? The companies only want to make money... they don't care about Sally Singlemom who needs free daycare and pre-K. So the government must be present to make these companies do the right thing. We're not all Sarah Palin.
And here's my response: If you want to look out for Sally Singlemom, that's fine. But don't belittle and de-womanize those women who do have the support systems, who do have the Mr. Mom or the live-in grandma or the extended family circle. Don't exclude women who have it all because they don't fit your stereotypical idea of what feminism is or should be.
Conservatives are the most generous people in America. Include conservative women in your ranks and you increase your resources a thousandfold. You make for a stronger power base, and one that can be taken seriously by folks on both sides of the aisle. Continue on this path of declaring female conservatives not worthy of the name "woman", and you only marginalize yourself that much more.