07 June 2010

Sarah Palin: Feminist?

In the last couple of weeks, feminist and progressive blogs have exploded with Sarah Palin's claim that she is a feminist. Many people say: No! No, she can't be a feminist. She's anti-choice. Palin is anti-woman.

And, while I sympathize with these viewpoints - I, myself, have been a feminist with the view that there is no such thing as feminism that denies women reproductive freedom - I have to pause.

Who the hell is the feminist identity police? Who gets to say who is in and who is out? Where is that line drawn?

Because there have been feminists doing and writing things that I find abhorrent since the dawn of the term feminist. Lets not forget our own history here - this is the movement that has had various factions or members:
  • Kick lesbians out of consciousness-raising groups in the 1970s because of bad PR and the "Lavender Menace"
  • Abandoned voting rights for American women of color during US and UK suffrage
  • Punished and loudly proclaimed that femmes and butches were not welcome in the movement
  • Accused trans women of being "psuedo-women" who violated women's bodies in their transition
  • Completely ignored a horrifying history of forced sterilization on women of color
  • Ostracized mothers and parents and told them that their children were not welcome
  • Condemned sex workers and working class women surviving peripherally through the sex trades
  • Took their "knowledgable Western feminist" ideals to other countries and denied women their own voices

And this is a partial list. Want me to go on? Half of these things have happened with prominent feminist figures in the popular media and blogs in the last year. I don't get to distance myself from the likes of Mary Daly's horrifying transphobia or the Lavender Menace of the 1970s, no matter that I find them as appalling as anything (yes, anything) that Sarah Palin has said.

Western feminism has a load of problems, all versions of it. Although I identify as a queer radical feminist with strong postmodern socialist leanings, that doesn't mean shit to the average person. The distinction between me and all of the people I just described is meaningless to most people and, although I disagree deeply with what they say, they are feminists. Feminists with bad politics? Certainly. Bigoted feminists? Absolutely.

But, in some ways, I'm with RMJ's post, at least in part: Sarah Palin is a feminist, actually - because she works against women. I'm not claiming that it's uniformly true, but to condemn her simply because she has the sins of our foreparents (and, frankly, an amazing number of our contemporaries) and because she is a conservative is to erase the deeply-problematic history behind an identity that means a lot to me.

I don't like that Sarah Palin is a feminist. But, then again, I don't like that a significant number of prominent bloggers are feminists. That doesn't mean they aren't, just that I wish that we could more clearly delineate a movement that they wouldn't want to spread their awfulness through.

But we haven't. And to ignore that is to put our heads in the sand, never to fix the problems.