Danielle Bean, a wife and mother of eight, is editorial director of Faith & Family magazine and author of My Cup of Tea, Mom to Mom, Day to Day, and most recently Small Steps for Catholic Moms. Read more of her blogging at Faith & Family Live and DanielleBean.com.
Is Sarah Palin a feminist? In a piece titled The Fake Feminism of Sarah Palin, feminist author Jessica Valenti asserts that anyone suggesting that she is should be laughed out of the room. What disqualifies her? The fact that she is pro-life, of course:
“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 women who are disdainful of or apathetic to women’s rights, who want to make abortion and emergency contraception illegal, who would cut funding to the Violence Against Women Act and who fight same-sex marriage rights.”
But are we willing to stand by and let abortion proponents like Valenti define feminism? Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parkers is not. To the question of whether or not Sarah Palin is a feminist, she says you better believe she is:
“Earlier feminists were almost universally pro-choice and have dominated political debate until now. Having access to abortion was viewed as the only way women could have full equality with men, who, until recently, couldn’t get pregnant ... The reason Palin so upsets the pro-choice brigade is because she seems so content with her lot and her brood. One can find other reasons to think Palin shouldn’t be president, but being a pro-life woman shouldn’t be one of them.”
Of course it shouldn’t.
I find it beyond ironic that after decades of fighting for a woman’s right to be heard, “old school” feminists like Valenti are now telling pro-life women to shut up. They would put limits on what we are allowed to call ourselves, the kinds of questions we are allowed to ask, and our right to meaningful participation in politics. All because we give voice to the unpopular truth that women deserve better than abortion.
“So is it possible to exclude women such as Palin from feminism if we don’t have a conclusive definition? Absolutely. If anyone—even someone who actively fights against women’s rights—can call herself a feminist, the word and the movement lose all meaning. And while part of the power of feminism is its intellectual diversity, certain things are inarguable. Feminism is a social justice movement with values and goals that benefit women. It’s a structural analysis of a world that oppresses women, an ideology based on the notion that patriarchy exists and that it needs to end.”
As Kathleen Parker points out, Valenti’s narrow definition of “feminism” disqualifies even Susan B. Anthony, the suffragette widely recognized as a founder of the feminist movement.
I have never been one to readily embrace the label of “feminist,” simply because it’s a loaded word. But would-be silencers like Valenti have convinced me: Pro-life, pro-family women need to re-claim the word “feminist” and bring it back to its original meaning.
As Kathleen Parker says, “Equality, after all, means that every woman has a voice.”