Rebecca Walker
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Monday, September 22, 2008

The Power of Palin

 
My Huff Post post this morning:

The Power of Palin

Sarah Palin became mayor of her town, governor of her state, and has now secured the Vice Presidential nomination for the Republican Party of her country. She accomplished this using the basic doctrine of feminism: female empowerment.

Many feminists are now trying to distance themselves from the result of their own work by launching scathing critiques of Sarah Palin, conservative women, and anyone else with the audacity to point out the connection between Palin’s rise and the last forty years of feminist ideology.

This is upsetting for some to realize, but the fact is, this hacking away at unwanted results is nothing new.

Fifteen years ago I wrote To Be Real and have since written and lectured on the necessity of inter-generational power sharing within feminist institutions, the full integration of men into organizations working for gender parity, and the necessity of finding commonality with women who don’t hold progressive views.

In response, I’ve been attacked, undermined, and politically abused by some of the very women I sought to serve.

I’m not the only one. Many have fallen out of the graces of the feminist establishment because of their critique of it. But in Sarah Palin, this habitual distancing of women who don’t serve the progressive feminist agenda has reached its apex.

To date, feminist think-tanks, powerful feminist icons, and the leadership of major, national women's organizations have done the dirty business of policing feminism. A couple of years ago, for example, I was asked to deliver the keynote address at the National Women's Studies Association.

At the address, I told a room full of a thousand representatives of Women’s Studies programs across the country that we, as a community, were going to have to be more open, more tolerant, and more inclusive of women and men who do not share a progressive agenda. I specifically discussed the need to reaffirm our commitment to biological family, a trope successfully manipulated by conservatives, including Palin, but dismissed by the left.

A shouting match ensued, during which many of the leadership present reeled at what they perceived to be the inappropriateness of my comments. The organization then followed up with a nationwide mailing of their newsletter, which included an article suggesting that I must have been on drugs to raise these issues. They were so unconcerned about undermining my credibility among women's studies programs, I had to threaten a lawsuit to get them to write a simple retraction. The message was, "Don't book Rebecca Walker for any paid speaking engagements in women's studies programs nationwide."

The audacity of this vindictive silencing and other examples of political exclusion, has created the very vulnerabilities now being exploited by Palin Power. Sarah Palin looking like a progressive, thinking like a conservative, and hiding from public scrutiny, is nothing more than conservatives exploiting the breach created by feminist leadership. This shrewd politic, crafted by right-wing think-tanks, individuals, and organizations is a turn-about of a page taken directly from the feminist playbook. Sarah Palin is being presented as the new and improved, moosehunting Gloria Steinem.

No matter who wins the election, feminism is going to come out of it with a bloody nose, and women will be at odds with each other at a level we have never seen in the history of our country. One thing is for sure though, if McCain wins, the proponents of Palin Power will feel confident that they exploited feminist vulnerabilities using feminist tactics, and won.

The writing of the inevitability of Palin Power has been on the wall for many years. The feminist leadership's attempts to silence the messengers have left entire generations of women vulnerable. At some point I hope that those who credit themselves with the advancement of female empowerment will take responsibility now as they have in the past for what is going on in the national discourse about women in this election.

I believe the outcome of all of this will be the true catharsis, not the one labeled “for progressive women only.”
 
 
 

17 Comments:

Blogger Cerulean Bill said...

I agree with just about everything you say. Just about.

You write very well.

9/22/2008  
Anonymous Eowyn said...

Finally, a feminist who talks sense. I've always thought it ironic that militant women (who monopolize the "feminist" moniker) who espouse female power & choice are downright vicious about non-Left women. So much for feminism. It turns out that "feminism" is just another word for intolerant hate-filled Bolshevism.

9/23/2008  
Blogger Danielle said...

Wow, that was a great post. I wish someone would have told me ten years ago that this election would fold out the way it has. I would have been VERY intreagued!!!

As someone who has been through crap with feminists in my life myself, I read about your experiences and almost cried. It was hard enough for me going through that kind of thing outside of the limelight. I can't imagine going through it in the public's eye. You are brave to be where you are now.

9/23/2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then I guess black leaders and the Civil Rights Movement should be criticized for giving us Clarence Thomas?

9/23/2008  
Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

This post has been removed by the author.

9/23/2008  
Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

This post has been removed by the author.

9/23/2008  
Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

Actually, I do think movement leadership (really, at this point, "progressive" black people), should look critically at their distancing the black mainstream from people like Colin Powell, Condaleeza Rice and yes, Clarence Thomas. Ostracizing them for their conservative views and in effect marginalizing them in the black community has not served them or the larger community. In fact, it has allowed important thinkers to be kept apart and much more able to be used against each other--at points when we should be looking for commonality rather than difference. Seeing Sarah Palin as some sort of feminist traitor does nothing to bring her, or any other conservative woman, closer to supporting progressive ideologies. What it does do is set women against each other--in one big massive cat fight. A strategy of congratulations are in order to Sarah Palin, not attack. She was smart enough to get up and thank Hillary Clinton FIRST. Feminists should have followed up on that, not by voting for McCain, but by underscoring the role feminism has played in her rise--and asking her to reach across the aisle to support issues we all care about...like equal pay. Then it would be on her, if she refused, to manage her damaged image, not on us to manage ours for demonizing her. We've got to get smarter, people.

9/23/2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is a big difference between recognizing Palin's success as a result of past feminist activism and criticizing Palin for anti-feminist views. After all, feminism is inclusive of a set of particular political perspectives and policies that advance the civil, political and economic rights of women. Being critical of Palin's stance on these policies is completely justified.

9/24/2008  
Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

This post has been removed by the author.

9/24/2008  
Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

I agree there is cause to go head to head with Palin on her views if you disagree with them--and people absolutely should. That should not include disavowing that her rise is connected to feminism. Clarence Thomas' rise is connected to the civil rights movement, after all. People who do not want to admit that do a disservice to their own stated goals of freedom for all. Furthermore, the definition of feminism seems to shift according to circumstance. When some women say they don't feel comfortable with the label, they are told by self identified feminists that they must be "masochists" because all feminism means is equality between the sexes (this is actually a direct G Steinem quote, that if you aren't a feminist, you're a masochist). I haven't heard Palin saying women are not equal to men. However, once one begins to identify a conservative woman as a feminist, suddenly feminism is a larger ideological framework. Which is it--equality for all women regardless of their views, or empowerment of women who hold a specific set of views? Arguably, it is both, rather than either, but then you must allow for the reality of that. There is also a reasonable argument that one should choose a definition and stick by it.

9/24/2008  
Anonymous Varneer said...

Kudos for this. Nicely put.

9/25/2008  
Blogger Larry Jones said...

I'll defer to you on matters of who's a feminist and what's the correct way to be a feminist. Maybe Sarah Palin is one, but she is definitely not an acceptable candidate for Vice President. In the best of times we have to look for someone qualified to take over with no notice. Watch her stumbling, confused, clueless interviews with Gibson and Couric for evidence of her lack of preparedness. No one is being sexist or antifeminist when they say (as I do) they are horrified.

I think Palin's rise to prominence is not a matter of feminism, anyway. Parallel to the growth of feminism and the greater understanding that women are and should be equal in all things has been the growth of fundamentalist Christianity and the attendant belief that only the true believer deserves a seat in government. Palin's appeal to this constituency is what got her on the Republican ticket.

And you want progressive feminists to stop "...hacking away at [this] unwanted result..." and embrace Sarah Palin? Why would any progressive, feminist or not, do this? On the face of it, your argument seems to make sense: Our struggle is starting to pay off -- the Republicans have nominated a woman! But there is substantial evidence that Palin's politics and policies (making victims pay for their own rape investigations, for example) are not feminist, and would in fact set back the cause of equality.

In any case, I think there are enough hyperconservative "feminists" who support her. We don't all have to.

9/26/2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: "She accomplished this using the basic doctrine of feminism: female empowerment."

Why do you say that? Palin didn't use female empowerment as issues in her previous campaigns. She ran as a "reform" candidate, then and now, which is just an updated version of social housekeeping.

Even now, she says she was just a "PTA Mom/hockey mom" who got involved in politics. In other words, she's not ambitious or anything like that. We're supposed to believe she just kind of fell into politics because she wanted to help her children.

9/26/2008  
Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

This post does not suggest that I or anyone else should support Sarah Palin or her views.

This post is about the dangers of gender myopia and ideological arrogance.

9/26/2008  
Blogger Larry Jones said...

In my experience, feminism is political, and progressive. Its most strident opponents have been and still are those on the other end of the spectrum: social conservatives. Generally speaking they'd like to roll back most of the advances made by generations of feminists. I don't feel tolerant toward them. Sarah Palin is one of them. The neocons have cynically put her up for VP, trying to get support from feminists, who are rightly withholding it. Tolerance has to work both ways, or somebody gets dumped on, as I'm sure you know. Palin has no history of tolerance in her public life.

Gender myopia? Does that mean I'm near-sighted in these matters because I'm a man? Or does that mean not being able to detect gender except at very close range?

9/27/2008  
Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

This post has been removed by the author.

9/28/2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was raised by a progressive feminist mom in Texas and I see Palin as pretty depressing. I have dealt with super christian cheerleader women like her in high school and I dealt with policing idenity politics feminists in college so I can see both sides of the issue and neither side is pretty.
But Palin is like Bush in drag to me- and will probably preside over another oil oligarchy. However, I agree with a lot of what you posted and I worry that the left's underestimating the issues you brought up could cost us another election. I like Obama but when he made that comment about guns and religion in SF, I groaned. I think Palin is highly unqualified and I loathe this idea that badass pistol packin' mamas are only republicans (did everyone forget Ann Richards? Now that was autheticity)- I think the McCain camp has used brilliant Rovian tactics to turn feminism on its head.
I don't think people should be afraid to criticize Palin though. I have mainly heard Republican men say "She's hot!" (so what- can she govern?) While Hillary got slammed on her outfits, looks, age, etc. While I understand your points about intergenerational issues and feminism- I often look around (and I am gen X) and wonder if feminism died. It seems like today things like stripping are seen as "empowering". But after surviving the indenity politic wars of the 90's maybe Palin is the backlash wakeup call. I thought Bush was enough of a wakeup call but apparently not. The whole thing is so cynical.

10/01/2008  

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