There are a lot of folks on the Left (Amanda Marcotte being only the most egregious example) who are irate about Gov. Palin claiming the word feminism for her own; they aren’t all quite as open as Marcotte in coming out and arguing that feminism must of necessity equal hard liberalism, but that’s essentially what they say. By their playbook, you can’t call yourself a feminist if you don’t vote Democrat.
Now, their reason for arguing this appears to be a desperate effort to keep women unreflectively voting the Democratic party line—and perhaps equally importantly, to keep male politicians who want to appeal to female voters toeing the Democratic party line as well. After all, if you can keep it the cultural dogma that “women’s issues” are liberal policy positions, then you can pre-emptively define any conservative politician as “anti-woman,” and pre-emptively dismiss any conservative female politician with whatever epithet suits your fancy.
There’s a problem with this strategy, however, as the Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play: increasingly, the word “feminism” is becoming negative and unappealing, even to women, and even to liberal women, as Megan Daum points out in the Los Angeles Times this morning. This is why she writes,
I feel a duty (a feminist duty, in fact) to say this about Palin’s declaration: If she has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she’s entitled to be accepted as one.
I say this as someone who’s unabashedly called herself a feminist (in public and in print) ever since, years ago, I established my own definition of it. In a nutshell, it goes like this: View men and women as equals; see your gender as neither an obstacle to success nor an excuse for failure; laugh at yourself occasionally; get out of bed in the morning; don’t forget to vote.
As you can see, this mission statement applies to men and women, liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, the freshly shaved and the hairy armpitted. I may have opinions about abortion and other social issues closely associated with women’s rights, but I see them as a separate matter from the question of whether I call myself a feminist. Plenty of others will disagree on that.
But from the looks of things, Palin shares this interpretation with me (likely the only thing we share). . . .
Is there a place in politics for “conservative feminists”? According to my definition of feminism, it would be hypocritical to say no.
Daum’s agenda is to drive women to reclaim the word “feminism” by opening it up and refocusing its meaning on the core idea: View men and women as equals; see your gender as neither an obstacle to success nor an excuse for failure.
This is, I think, a profoundly important attempt. C. S. Lewis observed many years ago that when Christianity comes to be valued primarily for the arguments it offers for one’s political agenda, it will eventually be swallowed by that agenda, and that’s no less true for feminism. People like Marcotte need to realize what Daum is beginning to realize, that using the concept of gender equality as a lever to enact a political agenda will cause—and is causing—people to value gender equality itself less. In particular, it’s causing liberals to value gender equality less; anyone who doubts this need only look at the treatment of Sen. Clinton and Gov. Palin during the 2008 presidential campaigns. I appreciate Daum’s article for Gov. Palin’s sake and the sake of conservative women, no question; but I appreciate it for the sake of liberal women, too. Whether they realize it or not, they need it just as badly.