Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Who Speaks Feminism?

Rebecca Traister has a very interesting piece on Sarah Palin and her co-opting of the language of feminism.

She writes:

"Harking back to (an imagined version of) first-wave feminism, Palin has been distorting second-wave ideology with a dastardly Opposite Day formulation in which those who support reproductive rights do not believe women capable of mothering and working simultaneously....."

Traister continues:
"If the people most interested in owning "feminism" are Republicans, women and men who don't believe in a woman's right to control her health, or to receive the healthcare and economic support she needs, or to benefit from labor policies and protections that would enable her to work and earn to her full capacity, then I fear -- as I feared back in 2008 -- that feminism will be theirs."

The problem for the Left is one of perception: Can we find language that can be used to demand feminism stand for creating opportunities, acknowledging difference, establishing standards for health, workplace security, day care, and general equality and escape the dreaded label of "Political Correctness"?

Traister asks:

"But more than those of us who are already declared feminists need to think about how we feel about women's social progress, its place in history and on the political spectrum; and those of us who have already thought about it a lot need to decide whether we're ready to express ourselves in aggressive ways, to act sure when we aren't sure, curt when we'd rather be considered, and mean when we'd prefer to be kind. Because though feminists rightly like to say that we don't draw prohibitive lines, that we don't have membership checklists, we are about to be called upon to draw a stark, crude line."

This is an important question. We've seen the Right hijak the language of the progressive movement, to claim the interests of the working man as their own. Traister rightly wonders if we'll just sit quietly and watch as Sarah Palin does the same with the language of feminism.

Traister hopes not:
"There has to be a move toward ownership from other Democrats, from those women and men who have perhaps not yet named themselves feminists -- and perhaps who don't want to for very good reasons -- but who also do not want to see "women's rights" come to mean the exaltation of fetal life over female life and religion over science, who don't want to see "women's liberation" divorced from notions of equal opportunity and instead reframed as Ayn Rand-ian survival of the richest or most privileged."

Is there a way to use public language in a way that doesn't banish all difference but demands attention and draws clear unequivocal lines? If Traister is right, Palin is throwing down the gauntlet to many of us who consider ourselves feminists. I hope those of us on the left find a way to answer her back and say, "You wanna have this fight? We'll have this fight. Oh, you betcha." And when someone someone says someone on the left is "just being PC," I hope the publis debaters have the balls to say, "Puh-lease" and move on.

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