The wrong turn (1): ‘half a feminist vote'

Rosemary Bechler
23 October 2008

Isn't it time to draw the line when Mary Beard, whom I greatly admire, inanely supposes on Women's Hour that Sarah Palin deserved ‘half a feminist vote'? Which half: what feminist? What on earth did she mean?

There have been various attempts to equip with arguments American Republican determination to win over the women's as well as the rightwing evangelical vote. None of these bouquets for the Vice Presidential candidate venture convincingly beyond the crudest form of the equal opportunities claim that women should be able to procure and pursue traditionally men's jobs in a traditionally masculine manner - they should be able to win power. This doesn't begin or end with Paiin, of course. Indeed it is a straightforward diversion of the media blitz around Hilary Clinton's campaign which also did its best to leave the impression that ‘feminism' is a movement solely oriented towards electing women into high office.

Read more on similar themes from 50:50

Resolution 1325

Nobel Women's Initiative

Anne Marie Goetz on Pathways of Women's Empowerment

Women and WarTo pluck two blog comments out of the ether: ‘The idea of feminists willing to look to the right changes not only electoral politics, but will put more women in power at lightning speed'; ‘There is a point where all of our issues, including abortion rights, are made safer not only if people we vote for agree with us - but when those people and our society embrace a respect for women and promote politics that increase our personal wealth, power and political influence.' More sophisticated attempts offer no more to chew on. Here is Chrystia Freeland, the FT's US managing editor, warning Democrat voters against a complacent rejection of what Palin stands for: ‘Supporting a woman for high office because of the symbolic power of her success is not crazy either! If the word ‘woman' makes us think of President Clinton or Vice-President Palin, rather than Paris Hilton or Laura Bush - your daughter may have a better chance getting that job on Wall Street!' (Palin is a true feminist model, FT, 2, Sept.'08.)

This last message may be somewhat compromised by the recent drubbing undergone by ‘winner-take-all' finance capitalism. But the point remains the same, as it does in the following comments from Camille Paglia, for all her inventiveness:

‘Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand-new style of muscular American feminism... Our president must also serve as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, so a woman candidate for president must show a potential capacity for military affairs and decision-making. As a dissident feminist, I have been arguing for 20 years that young American women aspiring to political power should be studying military history rather than women's studies with their rote agenda of never-ending grievances.'

Grappling for an image to convey the way that Palin ‘combined male and female qualities' Paglia settles for describing ‘the gun-toting Palin' as ‘a brash ambassador from America's pioneer past' when ‘women faced the same harsh challenges and had to tackle the same chores as men, which is why men could regard them as equals - unlike the genteel, corseted ladies of the eastern seaboard'.

Do we really need more American military leaders - male or female? There is an added frisson, perhaps, around the fact that such an elision of male and female qualities can be achieved by a mother of five who retains some sex appeal - ‘you can have it all!' - but what does this equal opportunity really offer anyone in the world in terms of progress? Is its promise very far removed from that of a Time Out notice for a recent instalment of the TV series, The Tudors: ‘Reformation feminism seems to be the subject du jour, with women breathing down men's necks this week to carry out their evil ambitions to the full... At least the sex is a bit more interesting, with Henry and Anne battering each other senseless before a bit of cutting and strangulation. Kinky.' [TO September 11-17 2008]

In the second section, Rosemary Bechler discovers some US feminist IR thinking that opens her eyes

Part three. Let's retrieve the Greenham Common experience

In part four Rosemary Bechler looks at women and war-mongering

The wrong turn, part 5: The swerve

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