Sarah Palin, Abortion and Exclusive Feminism

“What you should say to outsiders is that a Christian has neither more nor less rights in our Association than an atheist. When our platform becomes too narrow for people of all creeds and of no creeds, I myself shall not stand upon it." Susan B Anthony, A Biography, by Kathleen Barry

While today the issue of religion is much less overt in the defining of feminism as it was in Susan B. Anthony's time, apparently political beliefs are the new form of narrowing feminism to the movement's own detriment.  There have been quite a few "Sarah Palin is NOT a feminist" posts recently, many of which go on to define rigid exceptions to and requirements of feminism.  While I don't agree with plenty of what Sarah Palin has had to say, I think this general form of attack is pretty divisive and contributes to why Feminism is still struggling to take hold en masse.  Rigid definitions push away women who don't necessarily prioritize the same things as left-leaning feminists, and those constructions simply narrow the pool of people fighting for women's rights in the feminist collective.

Many women are pro-life, in fact, the most recent Gallup poll on abortion (released May 25, 2010) shows that there are more pro-life than pro-choice women in our country.  There was a 5% increase in pro-life women last year, revealing that 49% of women polled were pro-life, while only 45% were pro-choice.  The change was even more drastic in men, with a 10% decrease to 39% who remain pro-choice, and 54% who identify as pro-life.  And, since feminism is seeking to reach both men and women, the percentage of our total population is relevant: 51% of Americans are calling themselves "pro-life" on the issue of abortion and 42% pro-choice - the first time since 1995 a majority was pro-life.  

I know, polls aren't 100% accurate - but these results are from a respectable organization and at the very least should cause us to take pause and ask ourselves, is abortion really going to be the "be all end all" of what we will "allow" to define feminism?  Especially if doing so excludes potentially the majority of our population from joining us?

This post isn't about whether or not Sarah Palin is a "feminist" - it's about the evolution of a more exclusive feminism and why that's a hindrance to the movement.

This blog post's attack of Palin focuses largely on her conservative views (namely funding social welfare as the "government needs to keep its hands out of her pocket") - an attack that applies to many women who vote conservative.

When Palin was first announced as McCain's VP choice, Feministing noted that it was great the GOP had chosen a woman, but went on to say "gender isn't everything", and looked to Palin's politics.  Well, she wasn't chosen as a democratic representative, she was chosen as a Republican candidate, she was never going to have liberal views.  Palin's ascension in the GOP and political world may not be something left-leaning feminists can relate to on a political level, but on a feminist level Palin has provided a role-model for right-leaning women with similar beliefs, and potentially opened the door to a more inclusive feminism than left-leaning women would have been able to achieve through exclusive definitions of what empowered women are allowed to believe and advocate in order to be feminist.  

A few days ago Jessica at Feministing asked, "So, simply declaring oneself a feminist is all that it takes to be a feminist? Methinks not."  My question in relation to Palin is, why not?  Because she has different priorities than left-leaning feminists?  

In response to a comment, Jessica clarifies
"I didn't say that conservatives can't be feminists - I said people who fight against women's rights can't be feminists. And like I said, you can't just declare yourself a feminist - or any other party to a social justice movement - while fighting directly against said movement."  

I understand how pro-life beliefs are very much in conflict with the pro-choice movement, which is part of feminism, but how is pro-life fighting against the entirety of feminism?  Abortion isn't the only feminist issue, and to define feminism so severely along such a divisive line is to diminish the movement's accessibility, and, in the end, its efficacy.  People may not all believe as strongly in every element of feminism as others, but that shouldn't diminish their willingness to contribute to the movement in ways they do believe.

Annabelle for The New Agenda responds to the feminist coverage of Palin succinctly and eloquently: 
"My biggest issue over the outbreak of this the short-sightedness of women ... who purport to support progress for women, and yet attack one of the biggest symbols of that progress simply because their belief in left-feminism allows them to dictate who can and cannot be a feminist."
Palin surely stands up in opposition to many of the political issues dearest to my heart, my advocacy and my life, but I hardly think that she should be lambasted for it.  She's standing up, speaking her mind and defending her beliefs in a largely male-dominated political world, exposed to sexist media and judgment.  Part of the feminist fight for equal rights and opportunities for all women is to provide those opportunities to all women, regardless of political or religious beliefs, race, sexual orientation, class, ability, etc.  Instead of attacking her, we "left-feminists" would be better served appreciating the vigor and vitality she has provided the feminist movement amongst conservative women, and do our best to incorporate and engage conservative feminists into aspects of feminism where we both intersect.  

I'll admit, I don't understand nor can I relate to people who are anti-choice - but the fact is, those beliefs are held by a sizable portion of our population.  If they are not allowed to be feminists as a result - if "feminism" has to be liberal, left-leaning, democrat - it erases and marginalizes a large percentage of women (and men) in our country who could bolster feminism, and instead serves the purpose of dividing women so patriarchy can continue to conquer. That exclusive definition of feminism is short-sighted and can only hurt the progression of our nation into a more inclusive, feminist state.

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