Is Sarah Palin a "Double Dutch Feminist?"

12/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Beverly Wettenstein New York City-based journalist, national public speaker, media critic and woman

Sarah Palin is living the feminist dream. She came of age post-Title IX to play with the Wasilla Warriors HS basketball team. Graduating from college, she worked as a sports reporter at a local TV station. She was elected the first woman governor of Alaska in 2006. Less than two years later, she was appointed the first Republican woman vice presidential nominee, nearing the ceiling Geraldine Ferraro cracked as the first woman VP nominee on the Democratic ticket in 1984. Her husband, the champion Iron Man/househusband, has a flexible work schedule and shares responsibilities for the children and home.

In her acceptance speech, Palin said, "It was highly noted in Denver that Hillary made 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. It turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all." Will she shatter the glass ceiling for all women?

Palin cited Sen. Hillary Clinton and Ferraro in her speech. Ferraro was a three-term member of Congress, with three children aged 22, 18 and 20. She had worked her way through college and attended law school at night, while teaching third grade. Upon graduation, she stayed home for 14 years to raise her children and then became an assistant DA. Thousands of women and men have been working toward this landmark event for all women since the mid 1800s.

Clinton was the third woman to compete in the major party primaries. Her name was put in nomination at the convention to recognize her historic race and more than 1,900 delegates. Shirely Chisholm, an African-American, got 152 delegates at the DNC in 1972. I wish Palin had recognized Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to be nominated at a major party's convention, at the RNC, in 1964, and got 27 delegate votes. Smith was the first woman elected to both the House (1940 to 1949) and the Senate (1949-1973), as the longest-serving woman.

Sarah Palin personifies the feminist manifesta. The Webster dictionary defines feminist as: the prinicple that women should have political, economic and social rights equal to those of men." Yet, opponents to women's equality have massacred the word "feminist" to create a popular pejorative.

The Sunday after Palin's VP announcement, her interview with Maria Bartiromo aired on Meet the Press. Tom Brokaw asked, "Would Sarah Palin consider herself a feminist?" Bartiromo responded, "Not a feminist. A champion for women."

Cindy McCain explained to a More magazine reporter, "I'm not a feminist. I am an independent Western woman!"

John McCain on Fox News Sunday, said Palin "is a direct counterpoint to the liberal feminist agenda for America." Actually, there would be no women voters if the maverick, reformer feminists had not fought for women's suffrage for all women.

In her interview with Charles Gibson, Palin acknowledged that she was "a beneficiary of Title IX." At a recent campaign stop, Palin said, "When I was a girl, Congress passed Title IX. That law allowed millions of girls like me to play sports. And I have never forgotten that we owed that opportunity to the feminists who came before us."

When Brian Williams asked if she was a feminist, Palin answered that she wasn't going to label herself, but wanted to be seen as an advocate and friend for women in the White House. "I do believe in women's rights and equal rights." Are "Hockey Mom," "Maverick," and "Reformer" more acceptable labels? She told Gretchen Wilson that someone called her a "Redneck Woman" and she thanked him.

Sarah Palin and Cindy McCain, both women of accomplishment, are following in the footsteps of many pioneer, independent Western, Eastern, Northern and Southern women feminists who built the bridges to enable them -- and all women -- to fulfill their ambitions today. Maverick, reformer feminist leaders made sacrifices -- and risked ridicule -- so that future generations of women could vote and run for office and own a home, property and a business.

"Change is the operative word for this year's campaign by both parties. Women have been shortchanged historically for years. When Ferraro was nominiated in 1984, women earned 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. Today women earn 78 cents on the dollar.

I've coined the term "Double Dutch Feminist" to identify women who are jumping between the Feminist and Conservative rope lines, to their own benefit. I have yet to learn of one woman who said, "I am not a feminist. I cannot accept the rights they've won for all women."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, mother of seven, led the first women's rights movement for almost 50 years and organized the Seneca Falls meeting in 1848. She crusaded for women's suffrage, property rights, equal wages and dress reform. In 1895, Stanton was honored by 6,000 people on her 80th birthday at the Metropolitan Opera House. "I am well aware that all these public demonstrations are not so much tributes to me as an individual as the great ideas I represent -- the enfranchisement of women."

Only one of the founding mothers present at the Seneca Falls meeting was alive to vote in 1920. Charlotte Woodward had been a 19-year-old glove maker who arrived in a horse-drawn wagon. She was among the 68 women and 32 men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments.

Women born after the 1960s are often not aware of the struggles to secure the opportunities that were denied their mothers and grandmothers. They are the true beneficiaries of the second wave of the women's movement, beginning in the 1970s. Indeed, they got the new rights without the old fights for equality, waged on their behalf.

When I speak around the country on "A Woman's Place in the 21st Century," young women tell me they don't vote because they don't connect to politics. I explain that before hard-fought legislation was implemented, women couldn't secure a credit card, home mortgage or small business loan in their own name -- without their father's or husband's consent. Women weren't admitted to Ivy League colleges, service academies, graduate and professional schools. Women weren't eligible for college athletic scholarships, marathons, the Olympics and professional sports. Women could not wear pants to work, to school or restaurants. Job "Help Wanted" ads were separated by sex.

Research has confirmed my own findings that less than 10% of the references in new history textbooks are about women. Anonymous may be a woman! I consider myself a populist women's historian. My mission is to popularize women's history, which is rarely recorded or reported. Hence, I created the "Women in History and Making History Today - 365-Days-A-Year Database" and "A Woman's Book A Day Journal".

The image and perception of women in society is informed by the news coverage of women and vice-versa. As a women's advocate and historian, speaker, journalist and media monitor, I noticed the deficit of women as major magazine cover stories subjects. In a news store, my five-year-old nephew immediately identified magazines and videos for "boys" or girls" based solely on the cover image.

Hence, I determined to create my first annual "Women and Major Magazines Cover Stories Monitor." My study found that eight women merited full cover story photos on the total 200 issues of Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek, and Time, in 2006. Currently, I am completing my 2007 Magazine Monitor. Most importantly, I invite the public to join me in monitoring magazine cover stories and writing to the magazines. It's so easy, a child can do it!

The View TV show, now in its twelfth season, epitomizes the advances women have made in TV and society. The show's existence and success are due in part to affirmative action and diversity legislation led by women activists. Prior to the 1970s, women had to look outside the TV box for career opportunities. The program's goal is to showcase women of different generations, backgrounds and perspectives. The current five co-hosts represent diverse opinions and include two African-American women and three comedians. The show is closely monitored daily by the media. The fact that they have become a "Hot Topic" in the news and national conversation themselves, indicates the acceptance and growing role of diverse women in the media and society. They are pioneer women in their own spheres of influence.

In 1974, Barbara Walters was officially designated the first woman co-host on Today. She became the first woman co-anchor of a daily evening news program in 1976. That year she moderated the final debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. She is co-creator, co-owner, co-host and co-executive producer of The View.

In 1971, Walters became the host of Not for Women Only, the prototype daytime women's program for The View. This was in direct response to the 1970 Federal Communications Commission ruling that required affirmative action in radio and TV, but deliberately excluded women. Two years after much lobbying, women were finally included in affirmative action employment and TV programs for women, as a condition for broadcast license renewal. The Equal Employment Act was passed in 1972.

Whoopi Goldberg, the current moderator, was the first woman to host the Academy Awards solo, in 1994 and in 1996, 1999 and 2002. She was the second African-American woman to win the Academy Award, for Ghost, in 1990. Yet, somehow they didn't include her in last year's Oscars retrospective. Goldberg was the first woman to win the Kennedy Center annual Mark Twain Prize for Comedy. She is among the few who have won an Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Emmy.

Walters first saw Joy Behar when she performed at a birthday party for Milon Berle twelve years ago. Behar was the first woman roastmaster at the Friars Club in 1997. The Friars admitted their first women members in 1988, when legislation mandated that private clubs admit women. Phyllis Diller dressed as a man to sneak into the stag Sid Caesar Roast in 1983.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck represents the younger, post-Title IX generation and Conservatives. She co-captained the women's softball team for two seasons at Boston College, class of 1999, and earned an athletic scholarship in her senior year. It is a testament to Walters and the co-hosts that the presidential campaigns value their platform to reach women voters. Hasselbeck and her husband were among the 131 guests invited to the only white tie White House State Dinner for Queen Elizabeth.

Laura Ingraham, a radio host and conservative political commentator, has noted that she is against affirmative action. However, she did attend Dartmouth College a decade after it was the next to last Ivy League institution to admit women undergraduates. Women comprised less than 25% of the University of Virginia Law School students when she graduated in 1991. I don't know if she graduated first in her class. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O'Connor graduated at the top of their law school class (Stanford 1951 and Columbia 1959, respectively). They were denied jobs as Supreme Court law clerks or in private law firms. Their only offers were to be a law secretary. Ingraham was clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. Thirteen of the current 37 Supreme Court clerks are female.

In short, not to skirt the anti-feminist issue, some women exploit affirmative action for personal gain. Thus, they achieve success the old-fashioned way, through well-positioned mentors, with emphasis on the first syllable. Have you noticed that many of the mostly blond ambition tour of conservative women commentators never run out of material -- until they get dressed? Ingraham appeared on a 1995 New York Times Magazine cover story about rising young conservatives in a rising leopardskin miniskirt.

Are these the new WMDs: Women of Media Distraction from the real issues of women's equality? Is it sexism only if it's about women in your own party?

Palin is being heralded as a role model for working mothers. In 1920, Ella Alexander Boole ran unsuccessfully for the Senate with the slogan: "Send a mother to the Senate." She won more than 150,000 votes. Sen. Patty Murray (Washington) campaigned successfully for the US Senate in 1992, as "a mom in tennis shoes," with the support of 10,000 volunteers.

If "pro" is the opposite of "con," is progress the opposite of Congress? A stag Congress may lead to stagnation. In the current Congress, women hold 87 (16.3%) of the 535 seats; 16 (16%) of the 100 seats in the Senate and 71 (16.3%) of the 435 seats in the House. Nancy Pelosi is the first woman Speaker of the House. Pelosi, a mother and grandmother, was elected to Congress at 47, when her youngest of five children was 16. Prior to 1992, "the Year of the Women," no more than two elected women had served in the Senate at the same time.

Currently, six Senators and 13 Representatives have children under 18. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers gave birth to a son with Down Syndrome in April. These working mothers represent the 70 percent of mothers with school-age children who work outside the home. This summer Congress opened its first nursing room.

Eleanor Roosevelt was 36 when she was allowed to cast her first vote. More than 35 million eligible women did not vote in the 2004 election. Less than 47% of the women aged 18 to 29 voted in 2004. This is a groundbreaking year with the first viable female presidential candidate and the first female nominated as VP in the Republican party.

Girls in America will never again ask, "Can a girl grow up to run for VP or President?"

Christine Gregiore was elected Governor of Washington in the closest gubernatorial race in history. She won in a final manual count by 133 votes out of 2.8 million cast.

Please turn out. Don't tune out. Vote for yourself and future generations of women.

"Celebrate Women Every Day!" This Week in Women's History:

Oct. 26

Born 1947 Hillary Rodham Clinton First American First Lady (1993-2001) who was elected to public office. First woman elected statewide in NY, as first woman Senator for NY, in 2000; reelected in 2006. She was the first woman in 2008 to be a presidential candidate in every primary and caucus in every state; received 18 million votes.

Born 1911 Mahalia Jackson First "Queen of Gospel Music." Honored on US Postal stamp.

Oct. 27

Born 1924 Ruby Dee Actress and her husband, Ossie Davis, awarded American National Medal of the Arts. At 84, she was the second-oldest actress Academy Award nominee, "American Gangster," in 2008.

Oct. 28

1958 On this day, Mary G. Roebling became the first woman stock exchange governor, of the American Stock Exchange. At 30, she was the first woman to head a major US bank, Trenton Trust Co., in NJ. Cofounder, of Women's Bank in Denver, in 1978; the first national chartered bank founded by women.

Oct. 29

Born 1938 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the "Iron Lady," was elected the first woman president of an African country, in Liberia, in 2005.

1945 On this day, Anna Rosenberg was the first woman to receive the Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian award and the first woman awarded the Medal for Merit in 1947. She was adviser to Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

Oct. 30

1968 On this day, Kathy Kusner, 29, became the first woman licensed jockey in US, after mounting a successful legal case. Show Jumping Hall of Fame, 1996.

Oct. 31

1854 On this day, the 128 female US postmasters received the same pay as men; the first profession to establish pay equity.

Born 1860 Juliette Gordon, founder of the Girl Scouts in US. Her home in Savannah has been designated a National Historic Landmark. US Postal stamp. Federal building named for her in Savannah.

Born 1896 Ethel Waters, first African-American star of a national radio show. Second African-American Academy Award nominee. Grammy Hall of Fame. US Postal stamp.

Nov. 1

1848 On this day, the Boston Female Medical School opened with 12 students. Twenty six years later, merged with Boston University School of Medicine, to become one of the first coed medical colleges in the world.

Beverly Wettenstein's "Women in History and Making History Today - 365-Days-A-Year Database"