Clark Carlton is a politically disaffected Orthodox paleoconservative philosophy prof. He’s slipped onto my “back burner” for a while, but he lately has been making enough sense on public affairs that I was looking forward to his long-promised controversial thoughts on the pro-life political movement. Continue reading “How to end abortion on demand”
It should be no secret that I am not a fan of Sarah Palin, but among her defects is not patent falsity as a feminist, as Jessica Valenti’s column at the Sunday Washington Post alleges. Valenti careens around like a pinball deprecating all things Palin, but in my opinion falls short of making the case that Palin’s feminism is fake.
Pro-life feminism is something I happen to know a few things about. It captured my attention 25 years or so ago when I heard a recording of Sidney Callahan, a distinguished social psychologist, teacher, and syndicated columnist in moral psychology, state the case for it. It had a humane and compassionate angle that I found very attractive personally. (I regret that Callahan’s talk seemingly not available online; I believe I ripped it from tape to MP3 and could share it with anyone interested after checking copyright more closely.)
So I became a supporter of Feminists for Life before it had a political action committee — not a member, as I think there’s something creepy about a man saying he’s a feminist (it strikes me as being on roughly the same level as “Hey, baby! What’s your sign?” or “Want to come up and see my lithographs?”) — even though some of its positions were well to my left at the time. (I also supported the “Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians” who intuited that they were particularly vulnerable to selective abortion should a “gay gene” ever be identified.) I have received the Journals of FFL for decades as a result. Valenti can sneer at the “debated notion that first-wave feminists were antiabortion,” but I’d rather have the affirmative than the negative of that in a debate.
I now consider the support of the Susan B. Anthony list, the FFL-affiliated PAC formed years later, a reliable indicator of a bona fide pro-life candidate who is not (necessarily) wedded to the religious right. I give essentially nothing to the National Right to Life Committee or its PAC these days, but in most election cycles, I’ll pore over SBA List endorsements for candidates, almost invariably women, whose positions (and odds) seem especially good, and then I’ll support them modestly. (Public records of such giving has gotten me labeled an anti-choice fanatic by the brain-dead denizens of Journal & Courier online comboxes.)
I probably could go on, but suffice that I know whereof I speak when I say that Valenti is either consciously lying or fabricating factoids when she alleges that pro-life feminism is a cynical ploy adopted only after “protesters realized that screaming ‘Murderer!’ at women wasn’t winning hearts and minds.”
But, of course, Palin isn’t a feminist — not in the slightest. What she calls “the emerging conservative feminist identity” isn’t the product of a political movement or a fight for social justice.
It isn’t a structural analysis of patriarchal norms, power dynamics or systemic inequities. It’s an empty rallying call to other women who are as disdainful of or apathetic to women’s rights as Palin herself: women who want to make abortion and emergency contraception illegal and who fight same-sex marriage rights. As Kate Harding wrote on Jezebel.com: “What comes next? ‘Phyllis Schlafly feminism?’ ‘Patriarchal feminism?’ ‘He-Man Woman Hater Feminism?'”
So let it be clear: Valenti considers abortion (and “emergency contraception,” but I repeat myself) and same-sex marriage among the sina qua non of feminism. That marks her as a “radical feminist” or something close.
In radical feminism, if you’re not tying “power dynamic or systemic inequities” to “patriarchal norms” — if, for instance, you tie them in the slightest to such phenomena as the Chamber-of-Commerce types pushing to get women into the marketplace in the early 20th century in order to suppress wages, or the prudent self-protection rendered more urgent by no-fault divorce and its effective abolition of marriage — you’re a fake feminist. I’m all in favor of words having somewhat precise meanings if possible, but as a few of my links to Wikepedia in this posting demonstrate, “feminism” as of today can follow a lot of different adjectives.
“So God made man; in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them.” Human equality does not require identity of aptitudes and roles (though it is dangerous, if not outright wrong, to apply generalizations to specific people). A gifted athlete is no more or less fully human that a gifted scholar. A layman is no more or less human than a pastor or priest. Men and women are of equal dignity even if they are measurably different — and not different merely in the matter of some plumbing that only matters on special occasions.
Feminists for Life essentially embraces a form of what apparently is known today as difference feminism, or cultural feminism or new feminism. I have a little trouble getting worked up over the label, or holding myself out as expert in the taxonomy of feminism. But having followed them all these years, I know that the proper valuing of women for the common good is a bona fide concern of Feminists for Life.
So is Sarah Palin a fake feminist? Well, she’s to the right of many SBA-endorsed politicians. And I’m ready to believe that just about anything about her is fake. But I draw the line at credulously falling for an empty screed like Jessica Valenti’s column.