While November 4th represented a great day for Barack Obama, it was a terrible day for women.
America may be ready for a Black president, but we're certainly not ready for a female vice-president--especially a feminist one who refuses to submit to the old boys network that plagues D.C.
Despite the fact that Sarah Palin declared, "I'm a feminist," to Katie Couric, the feminist elite refuses to accept her into their ranks. And, yet, the problem lies not in Palin's politics. Rather it is the archaic, outdated framework within which they continue to work, and their obsolete modes of analysis, which prevent feminists from Gloria Steinem to Isabella Allende, from Eve Ensler to the "Women Against Palin" netroots movement from seeing the radical identity politics that define Sarah Palin. I argue that the language and policies of Sarah Palin contain a revolutionary feminist ideology, which must be unpacked with precise and probing analytical tools. Below the surface of the Hockey Mom monologue, lies a revolutionary discourse, a Palinist, if you will, manifesto pointing to policies that defy the orderliness imposed by patriarchal ideology and practice.
Avoiding the Question or Avoiding the Patriarchy? Changing the subject or Changing the subjugation?
During the Vice Presidential debate Palin told Joe Biden: "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also." This was largely dismissed as an attempt on the Governor's part to change the subject.
And yet there is a perfectly plausible and viable Feminist/Recasted Translation:
I refuse to submit to the oppressive linear patriarchal question and answer normative convention. Instead I will engage in a cyclical, stream-of-consciousness dialogue, in the rich, and feminist, tradition of Virginia Woolf.
To Be Feminist or Not to Be: That Is the Question (or Is it the Answer?)
While she declared she was a feminist to Katie Couric, recently, Palin has come out against classifications. She explained to Brian Williams, "I'm not gonna label myself anything, Brian...And I think that's what annoys a lot of Americans, especially in a political campaign, is to start trying to label different parts of America different, different backgrounds, different...I'm not going to put a label on myself." Echoing the sentiment behind the "labels are for jars" motto commonplace among Liberal Arts college feminists, Palin is not only cracking the glass ceiling--she's fracturing the crystal myth of a monolithic, uniform, and constant feminism into a million little inchoate pieces.
Rape Kits: Insensitive or Incentivizing?
One of Palin's most controversial policies, charging rape victims for their rape kits, is arguably a feminist, while harsh and even punitive, position. By charging rape victims, Palin is challenging the infantilization of the female victim as helpless and vulnerable. Palin refuses to enable women as they retreat into the state of victimization to which society confines them. By treating a woman as a responsible individual capable of making rational decisions and financial transaction, Palin empowers potentially disempowered female victims with a sense of ownership and agency. This policy also offers a radical economic re-envisioning, an antithesis of the the male-as-bread-winner model.
A Barbie Doll or A Doll's House? The Tanning Bed Installation and $150,000 Shopping Spree.
Palin has also been criticized for installing a tanning bed in the governor's mansion. Whether or not this amounts to corruption is irrelevant for our purposes. And the latest scandal has been the $150,000 expenditure on Palin's new wardrobe. Both of these supposed "extravagances" can be reread as expressions of 4th wave feminism in which women actively exploit their own beauty and sexuality. Instead of feeling forced or reduced to sexual beings, women can instead empower themselves by transforming tools (beauty and sexuality) of oppression and dismissal into tools of empowerment and advantage. Surely if a woman chooses to show off her bronzed skin and chooses to put resources into an attractive and flattering wardrobe, she is not being victimized. For a more extreme position on empowerment through sexuality, see the sex-positive movement's feminist defense of sex workers. As an extreme example we could refer to the case of Natalie Dylan, who auctioned off her virginity to cover her tuition expenses, explaining, "I think empowerment of women is picking yourself up and doing something on your own to better yourself." And can't Bristol Palin's own pre-marital pregnancy be seen as an expression of her own sexuality, a sexuality which refuses to be confined by social mores and the bourgeois convention of marriage? Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that Palin's own resistance to convention influenced her daughter's nontraditional behavior?
The Personal Is Political
Perhaps the greatest problematization of the uni-dimensionality of the feminine, is Palin's role as a mother. The mother of five children and an expectant grandmother, Palin is inextricably linked to her maternality. And, yet, much like Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, Palin resists the professional versus maternal false dichotomy. Her bold identification as both challenges the brutalizing binary which imprisons women in one role or the other. Like Whitman, she asks, Do I contradict myself? You bet! she answers, Through her feminist deconstruction and reconstruction, Palin contradicts and creates a new synthesis defined by-- or rather inspired by contradiction.
Special Needs: Hypocrisy or Pragmatism
Who can forget Palin's moving speech during the RNC, when she said, "To the families of special needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House."
A friend to the special needs community Palin has a history of curtailing funding for that very population. While cynics accuse Palin of playing the "special needs mother" card, I argue that she is balancing her maternal and political commitments in a deeply radical and feminist way. Palin refuses to sublimate her maternal role to her political one just as she refuses to sublimate her political role to her maternal one. While her baby Trig has Downs syndrome, Palin's compassion towards her own child does not reflexively translate into a political compassion towards other special needs individuals, or, by extension, their caretakers and/or parents. Is this not just the sort of repositioning and shifting which feminists make as they negotiate the unruly uncharted seas of materno-politicalism? Palin's inconsistencies are the lifesavers dropped into the choppy waters of a male-dominated political realm. Palin's identity is fluid and dynamic. The mother of a child with Downs syndrome, Palin the mother is an advocate of the special needs community, while Palin the politician as an ally of the special needs community is much less straightforward, dipping and diving beneath the unitary surface. Palin's treatment of Trig demonstrates the rich and original feminism that defines her political and personal identities. Personally, Palin places a high premium on family values and motherhood; yet in order to actualize herself politically, Palin must resist those very maternal instincts, While many mothers, or fathers, siblings or caretakers, may be horrified at the thought of a sleep deprived child, Palin challenges the rigid man-made, Euro-centric sleeping patterns we are led to believe are natural and healthy for children and infants. As the son of a vice-presidential candidate, Trig Palin has certain privileges and certain obligations, the discreteness of which are blurred, as is so much we can admire and emulate in the public-private feminist fluidity and creativity that is the Palin self.
Family Values and the Madonna/Whore Complex
Yet the most complex facet of Palin's identity can be seen in her positioning vis a vis sex and sexuality. A strong advocate of traditional family values, Palin opposes gay marriage, and supports abstinence only education. Yet her daughter Bristol, who became pregnant at 17 and is planning on getting married, has become a poster child for the failings of abstinence only education and the hypocrisy of the Christian right. But perhaps it is those who adopt this parochial view who fail to realize the true significance of this seeming contradiction. What Palin is doing is, once again, truly radical. Most people who criticize the Christian right's family values positions do so from the outside. It's very well for a secular feminist who doesn't believe in the institution of marriage anyway to reject this model. But Palin's rendering--or re-rendering--is all the more powerful precisely because of its authenticity. She does not reject family values and the sanctity of marriage per se, but rather she redefines them and creates a new framework which allows for shifting class dynamics and the realities of post industrial sexuality and sexualization. Palin exalts the sanctity of marriage even if that marriage is between a pregnant minor who conceived her child out of wedlock. In doing so Palin adopts and adapts the heteronormative narrative which privileges straight marriage over gay marriage. At the same time, she infuses the sanctity of marriage with a refreshing sexual frankness. In layman's terms, so what if Palin, the mother of a knocked-up unmarried young woman, supports a constitutional ban on gay marriage? Is that really such a contradiction? Is it not our own prudishness and our own attempt to square off round ambiguities that prevent us from accepting a position which is both sex positive and moralistic? Puritanical and promiscuous? Bristol engaged in premarital sex. Her youthful marriage, many pregnancies, and palpable chemistry with Todd suggest that Palin too is sexually adventurous. But does a healthy libido disqualify women from holding traditionalist and even reactionary positions? Are we still trapped in the Madonna/ Whore Complex whose shackles we claim to have broken?