Archive for September, 2008

Would I Be Less Offended if Palin Were a Man?

September 20, 2008

Like many in my circles, I was horrified when I learned about Sarah Palin’s beliefs and several of her actions as Wasilla Mayor and Alaskan Governor: the Evangelical leanings, the anti-reproductive rights stance, the sanctimonious way she uses “hockey mom” as a badge of purity and goodness, the belief that things like war and pipelines are sanctioned by God, the attempt to use her power as Mayor to ban books at an elementary school, the homophobia… But this is par for the course from a conservative Republican. As McCain’s running mate, did I really expect anything else?

Well, yes. I expected to hear these sentiments from the lips of a man. When I believe that we should judge individuals on their words and actions, regardless of what group they belong to, am I actually holding Palin’s gender against her?

The McCain camp cries sexism every time Palin is questioned on her integrity or experience. Conservatives claim hypocrisy that the feminist movement hasn’t jumped to her support. But backing a candidate just because she’s a woman is just as bad as refusing to vote for a candidate just because she’s a woman. A new Palin-inspired tee shirt reads “A Woman Candidate is not Necessarily a Woman’s Candidate.”

We can applaud the fact that she’s a powerful woman, a mother of five who successfully Governs Alaska while tending to a Downs Syndrome infant, attending church, and toting kids the ice rink. She’s the epitome of a working mother, and a woman in power who doesn’t back down from a challenge. All of that is great. But it becomes harder to more obviously applaud her bid for U.S. Vice President when she appears to have been chosen (after a 15-minute meeting and a telephone call) as a pawn to the men who desperately want McCain in the White House.

Was she chosen as the best person to lead the nation should anything happen to a 72 year old cancer survivor? Or was she chosen as the perfect emblem to entice women and ultra-conservatives – those demographics whose ambivalence about McCain might otherwise keep them home on election day – or worse defect to Obama? (Well, the women anyway.)

She toes the party line and can help him win. She is acceptable, is so perfect, because she looks exactly like men and conservative women want her to. She’s pretty, she’s feminine, and she’s all about God and family. She’s a barracuda who is ready to spar with the enemy, but won’t make waves with her own.

So why aren’t feminists giving the credit conservatives feel she deserves? And why do anti-feminist beliefs coming from a strong independent woman bother me so much?

There’s obviously a disconnect in the way conservatives and progressives think about women, about sexism. What is sexism, really? Because when feminists and conservatives breach the issue, they seem to be talking about two different things.

The McCain campaign recently claimed sexism on Joe Biden for calling Palin “good looking.”  This was actually a misrepresentation because Biden, when pointing out an obvious difference between himself and his opponent, said “She’s good looking.” It was a humorous dig at himself. He also called Obama good-looking and made a joke about his own appearance next to the younger Senator. Still, if spun to denote that Biden believes her femine attractiveness is her only valuable trait – that’s sexism.

But how does her own, enthusiastically supportive voter base treat the Governor? Well, there’s the sycophantic and oddly news-based  VPILF.com, there’s the Sarah Palin sexy school girl action figure (to be fair the company also makes ultra buff verions of McCain, Edwards, Spitzer, and Obama – who is featured sans shirt), and a full-body silhouette of Pain (think mud flaps on an 18-wheeler) with arms and one leg wrapped around a drilling rig and the flattering assertion, “I’d drill that!”

CNBC’s Donny Deutch praised Palin with the following:

There is the new creation that the feminist woman has not figured out in 40 years of the feminist ideal that men can take in a woman in power and women can celebrate a woman in power. Hillary Clinton didn’t figure it out. She didn’t put a skirt on! […]

She [Palin] talked about energy. Didn’t matter! Today everybody’s running in circles — we want to have her over for dinner. I trust her. I want her watching my kids. I want her laying next to me in bed. That’s the way people vote.

So, “men can take a woman in power” as long as she wears a skirt? As long as she’s attractive enough to “mate”? Opt for a pant suit and you’re screwed?

This is the difference. Sexualizing a woman isn’t celebrating her. Feeling comfortable with a woman when she conforms to what pleases (not threatens) you, is not a feminist ideal. When women need to be what men want, that’s not progressive and it’s not good for women.

Feminists respond to things that truly empower women, and satisfying male fantasy – or the fantasies of anyone else, isn’t it. Although the way Palin’s male brethren respond to her attractiveness is clearly sexist, this isn’t a judgment on her. Her attractiveness in itself makes no difference anymore than someone’s unattractiveness would. In fact, elevating the importance of a woman’s level of attractiveness to men is precisely what brings you into the realm of the offensive.

Palin isn’t automatically embraced by feminists because being female is not a criterion for inclusion. Plenty of males support feminism and plenty of females don’t. Feminists care about Palin’s views, and her views on women’s issues is what makes her so unacceptable to progressive females across the country.

Yet hers is a predictable worldview for a Republican running mate. Why is it that when women say and believe things that degrade their own sex, it’s so much harder to deal with?

Consider the infamous Phyllis Schlafly, whose best-of quotes might include

“Sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women,”

“Sex education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions,”

or

“Feminism is doomed to failure because it is based on an attempt to repeal and restructure human nature.”

Or how about Charlotte Allen who received attention for a recent Washington Post article entitled “We Scream, We Swoon, How Dumb Can We Get?” – women who seem to disparage their own gender to the end of being accepted by God or the males in their lives, or both. In a sort of “See? I get it. Women are dumb! I know my place. I’m different from all those other dumb females. I think like you!”

If Mike Huckabee were standing at McCain’s side repeating all the anti-women convictions we heard last fall, I’d be angry and I’d be writing about it. But when a woman says these things, and is mistaken for a “new creation of feminism”, it’s a whole other phenomenon, one tinged with confusion, and betrayal. Maybe it’s that she’s being mistaken for a feminist, or that a conservative woman as Senate tie-breaker poses one more hurdle to women’s legislation, or that there’s a feeling of assumed self-delusion about such views in a woman, or it could be that she comes in such an appealing outer envelope I worry that no one will bother to rip it open to read what’s inside.

Or maybe it was just the blind-sidedness of her candidacy and with time a female anti-feminist in such potential power will look and sound to me just the same as the male anti-feminists in power now.

Sarah Palin has a right to believe whatever she likes. She even has a right to try and take away my rights as a woman and citizen: to use her power to eliminate sex education, reduce my access to birth control, prevent me from obtaining a safe and legal abortion even if I were raped or my life were in danger, teach creationism to my children, strip away the rights of homosexuals and transgenders (and attempt to cure them with prayer vigils), and wage war, drill for oil, and do anything else she chooses in the name of God.

If the country votes for these beliefs in November, we will get what is coming to us. And a new “feminism” may even be born. (In other words, VOTE!)

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Feminist or “Fetalist”? Feminism in Light of the ’08 Campaign

September 18, 2008

Feminism has become the new buzzword this presidential election cycle. First Hillary fought hard to shatter that ultimate glass ceiling, then Sarah Palin emerged as a “new face of feminism“, despite holding views that are antithetical to those of most self-described feminists.

Hillary was criticized by Palin herself for pointing out gender-bias during the primaries, yet feminists are being regarded as hypocritical for not supporting the potentially first female Vice President of the United States.

Which got me wondering – what is a feminist?

Palin’s beliefs on sex education, birth control, abortion, and GLBT issues make her decidedly un-woman friendly to the majority of feminists. Yet Palin considers herself extremely woman-friendly and thinks the other side has everything all wrong.

What’s going on? Can there be a Christian conservative feminist?

I struggled with this one. Does believing abortion is murder and that the government isn’t responsible for enforcing gender equality mean that you are against the empowerment and equality of women?

Palin is a member of Feminists for Life. It’s a group that believes “women deserve better than abortion” and strives to “systematically eliminate the circumstances that drive women to abortion.” The latter sounds pretty good. Except they don’t.

The group lobbies for a program of federal grants for pregnant or new parents (or those preparing to adopt) who are students so they don’t have to sacrifice their education in order to support a child. They also oppose family caps for women on welfare. However it seems that, in FFL’s world, financial burden is the only circumstance that provokes women to choose abortion. The site speaks nothing of sex ed or contraception, except when it condemns them. In an article on rape and incest, it mentions birth control:

“birth control counseling and abortion often indirectly contribute to the victim’s sense of shame, guilt, and blame for what is happening, since she is told to “take control” and “be responsible” for her “sexual activity,” implying that this situation is indeed within her power to control.”

Who tells a victim of incest or rape that they should have used birth control? Or implies that she “take control” next time by carrying rubbers around just in case? That’s so offensive, it’s sickening.

A 2005 piece by Kathy Politt in The Nation investigates FFL and interviews its president, Serrin Foster. Foster advocates a ban on abortion in all circumstances, including rape, incest, deformity, or when the life or health of the mother is at stake. She makes the thoroughly debunked assertion that an abortion ban would stop abortion altogether and make women safer overall, she ensures her members are “medically informed” by erroneously telling them that abortion causes breast cancer, feels the contraceptive pill is an ” abortifacient” and birth control in general “doesn’t work” for teenagers or swing-shift nurses who lose track of their body clock.

Feminsts for Life isn’t actually about improving the lives of women, nor even addressing the circumstances that lead to abortion. It sounds great to say women need more help juggling babies and education and careers, but in what practical way does FFL represent feminism?

Politt concludes her piece with the answer:

Exposing the constraints on women’s choices, however, is only one side of feminism. The other is acknowledging women as moral agents, trusting women to decide what is best for themselves. For FFL there’s only one right decision: Have that baby. And since women’s moral judgment cannot be trusted, abortion must be outlawed, whatever the consequences for women’s lives and health–for rape victims and 12-year-olds and 50-year-olds, women carrying Tay-Sachs fetuses and women at risk of heart attack or stroke, women who have all the children they can handle and women who don’t want children at all. FFL argues that abortion harms women–that’s why it clings to the outdated cancer claims. But it would oppose abortion just as strongly if it prevented breast cancer, filled every woman’s heart with joy, lowered the national deficit and found Jimmy Hoffa. That’s because they aren’t really feminists–a feminist could not force another woman to bear a child, any more than she could turn a pregnant teenager out into a snowstorm. They are fetalists.

Feminist historian Estelle Freedman told NPR that conservative women (have been known to) appropriate the term for political gain. If you say you’re a feminist, but the nice, family-oriented kind, people hear what they want to hear. Without examining too closely, women believe you’re one their side.

Yet even this can backfire. To the right even of Palin the tag “feminist” is raising some disapproving eyebrows. Olivia St. John of World Net Daily writes that Palin’s decision to work outside the home is a direct contributor to her teenage daughter’s pregnancy. She is accused of gauchely “(stealing) the spotlight” as her husband and children look on from the shadows and further reprobated as “legitimizing the societal phenomenon of the career-centric absentee mother.” I guess you can’t please everyone.

Palin is an accomplished, intelligent, successful woman. She manages a career and a family in a way that appears enviable. She could even become the very first female Vice President of the United States. But Sarah Palin will not make the country better for women. No matter what she says, or what FFL wants you to believe, Sarah Palin is not a feminist.

Wasilla Update – Palin Originated Rape Kit Policy

September 12, 2008

Thanks to Jacob Alperin-Sheriff of Huffington Post’s Off the Bus, another layer is uncovered in the Mayor Palin Rape Kit Debacle. Sarah Palin has adamantly denied knowledge of the practice (an embarassing admission in itself), while the campaign tries to dismiss the issue as a long-standing bureaucratic procedure that somehow slipped through the cracks.

However, thanks to unearthed documentation on Wasilla’s annual budget, we learn that neither of those assertions is true. In fact, the policy to charge victims for rape kits originated under Palin when Police Chief Charlie Fannon (specially-appointed by Palin when she took office) slashed the typical allotment from the department’s budget in 1999. Palin’s signature appears on the finincial documents that illustrate this change.

So Palin approved the new policy and, according to Tony Knowles – the Alaskan governor who made the policy illegal in 2000 – Wasilla was the only city in the state to implement such a practice. When they were forcd to repeal the policy, Fannon went on the record in protest – decrying burden on the taxpayers. His estimate was as much as $14,000 per year.

I guess the burden of a concurrently built $1.3 million (see comments) $15 million hockey rink was more palatable.

Under Palin, Victims Charged for Their Own Rape Kits

September 9, 2008

Haven’t had much time to blog lately, but this was too stunning to pass by. Thanks to this piece at Huffington Post, we learn what shouldn’t be so surprising coming from an evangelical in power – and yet it is. Palin was mayor of Wasilla Alaska from 1996-2002 and, until a state law banned the practice in 2000, Wasilla charged victims of rape for their own rape kits.

In case you’re not aware, a rape kit is the physical exam and collection of bodily evidence taken from the victim in the hours following a rape; it allows for the forensic testing essential to pursue prosecution in a crime whose prosecution is already stacked in favor of the defense. A traumatized woman brave enough to make it to an ER following her attack in Wasilla would be granted the examination only if she could pay anywhere from $300-$1200. (It was billed to her insurance where possible.)

Did Wasilla charge for fingerprint dusting at the scene of a burglary? Special fees for bagging evidence at the scene of a mugging? When someone was murdered, was the victim’s family billed for the bodily exam? Did the Wasilla police department charge a victim for examining any scene of a crime? Only when that crime scene was a live woman’s body and only when the crime involved sex. This can be rationalized only considering an unspoken assumption that the victim is somehow to blame. Something she said, something she wore, someplace she was.

Not such a jump for an evangelical who is a huge supporter of “abstinence only”. Palin has said that “explicit sex education programs will got get my support.” Explicit? What kind of education do you give by being vague? Palin also spent twenty years at the Wasilla Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church where they speak in tongues, believe in the imminent rapture, and pray to cure homosexuality. Although Palin switched to the more moderate Wasilla Bible Church several year ago (no tongue-speaking at least) she since, as governor, renamed the street on which the Wasilla Assembly of God sits after its founding pastor, Rev Riley.

Okay, maybe Palin wasn’t fully aware of the policy to charge victims of sexual assault for their own rape kits. Maybe it wasn’t on her radar?

Not likely.

When Palin took office as Mayor, she ousted the sitting Police Chief (a move so contested it brought about clamor for a recall) and replaced him with Charlie Fannon. Fannon would become the most vocal opponent to the legislation, passed by Governor Tony Knowles in 2000, that made it illegal for any law enforcement agency to bill victims for the costs of examinations conducted to collect evidence of a sexual assault. He went on the record saying the law “unfairly burdened the taxpayer.” Again – why not charge for the investigation of other crimes? Why just rape?

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) 60% of all sexual assaults go unreported. What’s one more hurdle to speaking out? RAINN also reports that, factoring in the unreported assaults, only 1 in 16 offenders go to jail.

So how much rape reporting is happening in one of the least populated states in the country? In 2000, the year Knowles’ legislation passed, Alaska had 497 arrests for rape. This post at Daily Kos does a great job of contrasting the “burden to the taxpayer” against Alaska’s exhorbitant earmarks during Palin’s term as governor.

Fannon argued that the

“new law will cost the Wasilla Police Department approximately $5,000 to $14,000 a year to collect evidence for sexual assault cases,”

as if collecting evidence for sexual assault isn’t already the responsibility of the police.

There are many disturbing things about Palin – more specifically about McCain’s decision to choose Palin as his running mate. As others have said, this isn’t about Sarah Palin; it’s 100% about John McCain.

There has been a lot of talk about the McCain camp not vetting Palin enough – instread pouncing on her after one breif meeting because of her selling points. I worry that the campaign has been aware of a lot more than we suspect and just didn’t care. McCain has issues with his ultra-conservative base, many of whom wouldn’t recognize victim blaming in regard to rape if victims were emblazoned with bright red letters. There will also be those swayed by the image of hockey-mom, loving wife, god-fearing citizen: conventional in many ways Clinton was not. And let’s not forget those desperate for a way to rationalize voting for McCain when they had been planning to vote for Clinton while being loathe to broach the subject of race.

That law in Wasilla was the epitome of the repression of women and backward thinking about sex. The question is…will anyone really take notice?