11 September 2008

No, The Political is Personal

Over my work-related period of radio silence, a LOT has happened. Well, really one thing - Sarah Palin. My initial reaction was to laugh out loud - the tone deaf choice of an unknown, un-vetted, completely unqualified women just to un-subtly lure those crazy old leftie ladies who were still grumbling about Obama winning over Hilary? Literally, could McCain's campaign go anymore horribly off track?
But her immediate and aggressive acceptance among right-wingers started to shake my convictions that this was the last nail in the coffin. It was a bait-and-switch! She's not really there as a Hilary replacement (though she is certainly bouyed by the energy and conversation created by Hilary), she's there to energize the base, to allow Republicans to actually like their ticket. And worse yet, she's their Obama. Just as Obama brought many previous non-voters from ubran and working class backgrounds into the fold, Palin is the kind of candidate who appeals to the Red State "little guys" who have been seriously sidelined since the loss of Huckabee. I cringed, I got worried, but it's all still politics and the game can change at any minute. And, let's remember, as much as the outcome is deadly serious, this part is still just a game.
Then two articles I read today brought up a far deeper sense of dread. In the Washington Post's piece on the way that Palin has become the new fluffy celebrity, this campaign's Paris Hilton, a woman on the street is quoted as putting forth the mind-exploding idea that

"She exemplifies what a genuine feminist is," said Elizabeth Hauris, who owns a company that manufactures cloth diapers. "She's pro-life, pro-family, nurses her son, carries him in a sling, which epitomizes the idea of close attachment."

Actually, that's nearly exactly the opposite, honey. Feminism is supposed to be about women NOT being strapped to their babies (literally or figuratively) and I'd venture that if there are only two things all feminists agree on, one of them is that we necessarily must be pro-choice.

This kind of co-opting of this campaign's legitimate suge of feminism was annoying when it came from talking heads and GOP aparatchik, but it's absolutely terrifying when it comes from the ground up. Rebecca Traister, as always, have an insightful and balanced take on this new zombie feminism.
In this strange new pro-woman tableau, feminism -- a word that is being used all over the country with regard to Palin's potential power -- means voting for someone who would limit reproductive control, access to healthcare and funding for places like Covenant House Alaska, an organization that helps unwed teen mothers. It means cheering someone who allowed women to be charged for their rape kits while she was mayor of Wasilla, who supports the teaching of creationism alongside evolution, who has inquired locally about the possibility of using her position to ban children's books from the public library, who does not support the teaching of sex education.
She goes on to say "But if we inadvertently paved the way for this, then the Democratic Party mixed the concrete, painted lanes on the road, put up streetlights and called it an interstate. The role of the left in this travesty is almost too painful to contemplate just yet." But, the thing is we have to contemplate it NOW.

We need to take a hard look at why these women feel alienated by real feminism (or the strange, fractured version that trickles down to them through the media) and why they are starving for validation of their more traditional choices. While we've all been fighting at the far edges, pushing our rights further and further towards equal, the Right swooped in an co-opted the middle ground. Smart Women Everywhere are already debating whether ironic cupcake baking is good or bad, but most women are still struggling through the real life choices of work and motherhood and how far expectations and mores have changed in just a single generation. We've left these women behind, we haven't done the best service by them because we barely even see them and they barely even see us. Their idea of "feminism" has been so distorted by everything from FOX News to Saved By The Ball and the Pussycat Dolls that it's no wonder so many young women, who are actively reaping the benefits of feminism, don't even know it and outright reject that label.

This is not to say the front line should fall back, it is vitally important that we keep pushing forward. But we have to shore up the rear, too. We have to ensure that women who choose to take on more traditional roles for themselves feel included and can see how much we are already helping them with work and pay issues, health care and family leave issues, and other day-to-day concerns. And it's possible - after all, don't we all know women who are in just that position? Women who did choose to scale back or leave work all together when they first had children, but who are no less feminism because it and already enjoy the validation of their choices by the friend family and peers?
We have to make sure that we don't lump all career moms into one big basket of scorn and pity in an effort to avoid taking steps backward. It's going to mean a lot of work - teasing out the signs from the signified, putting out messages for everyone along the path, and still knowing when to fight hard against the Palins of the world who want to force us into a state of choicelessness - but it's clearly time to start digging in before feminism becomes any more diluted and convoluted.