Rebecca Traister has an article about Sarah Palin in Salon where she asks: “how did I, a die-hard feminist, end up terrified at the idea of a woman in the White House?”
What Palin so seductively represents…is a form of feminine power that is utterly digestible to those who have no intellectual or political use for actual women. It’s like some dystopian future … feminism without any feminists.
Traister is a great writer and I heartily recommend the article.
But I couldn’t help but feel a whirling sense of deja vu.
Back in March, the Shameless Team and I had the pleasure of attending WAM. There we heard the legendary Helen Thomas assert that feminists should vote for a female candidate, just because she’s a woman.
At that point, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I was in a woman of colour in a room that didn’t have a lot of women of colour.
At the same conference, the very ugly rift between grassroots feminists of colour and grassroots non-anti-racist feminists was brought to the harsh light of day. And it was that weekend when I really started to feel worried, and a little heartbroken, that the movement I’d poured so much of my life into, didn’t - at present - feel like it was for me anymore.
McCain picked a woman to run as his VP on purpose - in the hopes that Republicans might be able to pick up female voters who were still holding to that dream of a woman in the white house. But when Traister says in her article, “Plz, Palin is a woman but that doesn’t mean anyone should equate her with feminism - in fact, please don’t,” I am reminded of how I felt about Hillary.
When Hillary was running for presidential candidate, a lot of women, and a lot of anti-racist feminists, couldn’t get excited about Hillary in the White House. There were many things about her bio and politics that alienated women of colour and their allies. But there was the sense - from mainstream old school feminists like Geraldine Ferraro and Helen Thomas and also from our third wave peers - that Hillary being a woman was a top reason to vote for her, and that it was very UNfeminist to not support her.
Clinton is not Palin at all! I admire many things about Hillary Clinton and would much rather have her in the White House than Palin.
In the same way that Clinton’s campaign pushed her gender - among other things - as a good reason to vote for her, the Republicans are now doing the same for Palin.
And now feminists of all stripes find themselves in the same position that many anti-racist feminists found themselves in earlier this year (oh the irony!): pleading to the public that a candidate is not pro-woman, simply because she is a woman.
It’s hard not to get your hopes up when you’re part of an underrepresented group, and someone who looks like they might be one of yours, gets vaulted onto the stage. I admit that part of why I got excited about Barack Obama was his race - he’s even mixed race like me!
I am hoping this time round that Sarah Palin will teach us that biography and identity are not reasons enough to support a candidate - and that we shouldn’t entreat others to do so.
But I’m not so sure.