Palin's recent speech at the Susan B Anthony Fundraiser has some people calling her a chauvinist in feminist clothing. In between praising Reagan, the troops, the NRA, and of course the Tea Party, she claimed the title of feminism for conservative women. But don't worry, she still insulted feminists in general while doing so. The crux of Palin's argument? That allowing women to get abortions is bad for women, and therefore it's true feminism to oppose abortion.
Her argument taps into a debate as old as feminism itself: can two groups want opposite situations for women, both firmly believe what they want is best for women, and yet both claim the feminist title?
Enter Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.org. Valenti critiques Palin's speech, and she makes a lot of excellent points in her critique. Namely, that Palin simultaneously insults and embraces the term "feminist," at times claiming the title and at other times rejecting others who claim the title. As Valenti also points out, Palin claims that "these feminists" tell pregnant women they aren't capable of carrying a child full-term, without providing any evidence that feminists say so, and without even defining who "these feminists" are.
And that's my complaint about Palin's argument in general. I don't hear any evidence in this speech to support what she's saying about "other" feminists. Even pro-abortion-rights feminists don't tell women that they have to get an abortion, but that's what Palin's implying they do. She also never defines what she means by "pro-life." Are we talking no abortions ever, under any circumstances? Are we talking restricted access to abortion, only as a last resort if the mother's life is in danger? Those who think the pro-choice, pro-life debate has only two options are buying into the myth of a polarized, black-and-white world.
Enter Valenti again... Now, in her defense, Valenti's article provides much more evidence to support her claims. And Valenti obviously has a better grasp than Palin when it comes to rhetoric and the principles of strong writing. But when it comes to prejudice and logical fallacies, she is right there with Palin, spearing strawmen and strawwomen left and right.
Prejudice is more obvious in Palin: she insults liberals, The Media (I assume Fox News is no longer a form of media?), and "Pro-Women's Rights Feminists." It's typical Palin rhetoric: you're either good or bad, with us or against us, a true feminist or a radical feminist (though she does admit that even "East Coast University Feminists" have a right to their opinions). The Good Witches / Bad Witches perspective is tempting. If you misrepresent your opponents they're easier to tear down. For instance, according to Palin "left-wing feminists" don't like her because she has a large family. Because everyone knows feminists hate women who have the audacity to give birth.
Valenti's logic is just as fallacious when she turns feminism into a restricted club. Her article dismisses conservative feminists outright, saying that if they oppose abortion rights, they oppose women. And Valenti makes me just as angry as Palin makes me, when she says that feminism is about equality and fighting patriarchy. I'm all for fighting unhealthy forms of patriarchy and promoting equal opportunities. But I spend a lot of time trying to convince people that feminism is about elevating women. Period. Not just elevating our position in relation to men. If all we wanted was equality, we could just make everyone poor and illiterate. Equality is good, but not the only goal of feminism.
I appreciate what each of these women is trying to accomplish. I'm willing to take their word for it when they say they want what's best for women, and wanting what's best for women is a prerequisite for feminism. Paradoxically, they're both right when they say that wanting what you think is best for women doesn't make you a feminist. Many people think genital mutilation or being treated like property is best for women. There is no easy way to determine who the true feminists are, as Valenti herself acknowledges.
But no matter how worked up we get, we cannot promote an Us and Them mentality. To do so would mean buying into the very notions that make sexism and racism possible. And as bell hook has pointed out, the Us and Them mentality prevents true progression.