Sarah Palin, Feminist?

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One reason why Sarah Palin has shaken up feminists is because she is not your typical successful woman. When we criticize her, we’re accused of only being for one kind of feminist: the pro-choice, liberal feminist. Conservative women accuse us of being exclusive, of not allowing certain types of women into the fold.

There is something to what they say. Which is why women like Sarah Palin belong to groups like Feminists For Life. They create their own brand of feminism. And when traditional feminists are confronted with examples like Palin, we’re hard pressed to say what’s so bad about her without alienating thousands of women who are like her.

The confusion comes from not completely understanding what it means to be a feminist. Most people criticize feminists for not being for all kinds of women, no matter what their choices or lifestyle. It’s true that feminism has alienated women because it has seemed to prefer single women over women in traditional marriages, non-mothers over mothers, liberals over conservatives, and putting men down rather than building them up.

Most people have their minds made up about feminists and it’s not a pretty picture. We’re shrill, unattractive, bitter, maladjusted, unable to get and keep a man. Some of us may be any or all of these things, but feminists don’t hold the patent on them. Plenty of non-feminists can fit the same description. What differentiates feminists from non-feminists is their ideology. Feminists believe in self-determination and taking responsibility for your own life. They believe in cooperation between the sexes, not warfare. They believe that no one has the right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do.

But implicit in all those things is the belief that woman have the right to make their own decisions, and that includes the right to conceive or not conceive a child and the right to bear or not bear a child. Not all feminists approve of abortion. But they are dedicated to their conviction that no other person, male or female, should have the right to tell them what they may do with their bodies. The answer is not to criminalize abortion: the answer is to show women that they have options. Birth control and abortion on demand have to be two of those options. So does marrying, raising the child alone or giving the child up for adoption.

Someone like Sarah Palin appears to be on higher moral ground because she did not have an abortion when she found out that she was carrying a child with Down’s Syndrome. But there is another morality to be considered: that of being able to make responsible decisions. Sarah Palin’s circumstances are such that she can handle having a special needs baby. But what about a woman who is on welfare? Do the taxpayers want to pay for her baby? (It’s ironic that pro-lifers are often against single mothers receiving welfare.) What about the woman who is barely a child herself? The unmarried woman? The woman who is in an abusive relationship?

It’s too easy to superimpose our lives on those of others and say that because we could have that child, they should be able to. That just isn’t the case. And the child who is unwanted or neglected or abandoned has a hellish life ahead of him or her. We have to trust adult women to make the best decisions for themselves and their future, and yes, even for the lives of their children.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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