I could not have been more annoyed when Sarah Palin called herself a “feminist.” It wasn’t because I think a hairy-legged, Diva Cup-loving separatist in Berkeley should get to decide what a feminist is. (I am quite sure she would take one look at my mani/pedi and send me back to the gallows for more pubic hair braiding.) No, it pissed me off because, while there are some aspects of Palin’s life that actually are rather feminist—she’s a woman in a traditionally male job, she’s a working mom with a mostly-stay-at-home husband, etc. — she went co-opting the word “feminism” as if its hers and hers alone. As this clip of Palin appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” illustrates, she uses the term “feminist” to suit her needs while at the same time trashing “women’s rights groups … and those [who] do not empower women.” Oh, so now you’re telling us what feminism is, lady who believes abortion should be illegal, gays and lesbians shouldn’t marry, and youngsters should be taught abstinence instead of comprehensive sexual health?
Thankfully, the feminists of America need not worry our pretty little heads about the next arch-conservative swooping in: Michele Bachmann has already come right out to say she is not a feminist.In an interview with The Daily Beast‘s Kirsten Powers (a Fox News analyst), Bachmann declined to call herself a feminist but instead said that she is “pro-woman and pro-man.” Bachmann added, “I’m a woman comfortable in her own skin. I grew up with three brothers. My parents didn’t see us [as] limited [by gender]. I would mow the lawn and take out the trash; I was making my own fishing lures. I went along with everything the boys did.”
OK, what does that even mean—”pro-woman and pro-man”? Being pro-woman is feminist and guess what, so is being pro-man. Feminism is about empowering both/all genders to be their authentic selves without pressure to conform to scripted roles … which is exactly her definition of her parents not wishing to have their kids “limited” by gender.
Am I arguing Michele Bachmann should cop to some feminist beliefs? I guess I am, a little bit. By nature of being working mothers and public figures, women like Palin and Bachmann do hold some feminist beliefs — in addition to being against many issues mainstream feminists stand for — and it bothers me anytime anyone eschews a label that I myself wear proudly. I think it’s detrimental to voice feminist beliefs and not name them, thus further obscuring what feminism stands for.
For what it’s worth, I partially agree with Los Angeles Times op-ed writer Meghan Daum who says that “if [Palin] has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she’s entitled to be accepted as one,” but also partially agree with Feministing.com co-found Jessica Valenti, who wrote “if anyone — even someone who actively fights against women’s rights — can call herself a feminist, the word and the movement lose all meaning.” Both are valid points. But I don’t suppose Bachmann ever will flip-flop on the feminist label like Palin did. Bachmann is a nearly-lifelong evangelical Christian, and many in that faith strongly believe in male headship of the household and woman as helpmate. My instinct is to assume she breaks that mold by being a politician, but who knows how Bachmann and her husband conduct themselves in their private lives. In any case, the word “feminist” is, generally speaking, an anathema in that culture.
And I suppose it’s just as well she keeps her mouth shut on the subject, lest the loud-and-proud feminist sect go for Round 2 on the “can conservative women call themselves feminists?” fight.
What do you think, readers? Does it bother you when uber conservative women call themselves feminists? Or does it bother you when they don’t?