Can Sarah Palin Really Be a Feminist?

Image courtesy of Photobucket defines the word "feminism" as "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men." Merriam-Webster's entry is similar: "The theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." Check a few others and you'll see the definition is pretty uniform. Nothing is mentioned about a requirement that a feminist be someone who supports abortion rights.

Recently, Sarah Palin has added to her pit-bull-with-lipstick persona by embracing the mental image of a mama grizzly bear, trying to energize her sister conservatives into becoming activists, claiming the title of "feminist" for themselves.

And there are plenty who are crying foul.


Not surprisingly, traditional feminists -- those who fought the long (and still unfinished) fight for equal rights, an end to gender discrimination, and the right to make our own reproductive decisions -- claim that Palin can't be a feminist because she opposes abortion rights. Palin's new embrace (or her attempt to usurp, depending on your perspective) of that feminist label has again raised the question many have asked for a long time: What does it really mean to be a feminist?

For me, it means that I have the right to make decisions for myself, especially when it comes to my body -- just as men have had the right to do since, say, the dawn of time. The feminist movement was born from the idea that men, be they husbands or lawmakers, shouldn't have the right to determine the details of women's lives, especially how and when to have families. What Palin is calling "conservative feminism" is more narrowly drawn, calling on girls and women to embrace the idea that they can have children and be active outside the home as long as they rely only on their own bootstraps for their own success.

Sorry, Sarah, but while bootstraps are all well and good (and I've used mine plenty, thank you very much), there also needs to be a true support network among all women before any form of feminism wins the day.

Interestingly, it's not just the Palin crowd that's been trying to redefine feminism. During the 2008 presidential election, many young women claimed they could be feminists without being obligated to vote for a woman candidate, forsaking Hillary Clinton in favor of a man (who, by the way, still has a long way to go to prove his own feminist bona fides). But I digress.

Here's the thing -- while Palin likes to tout that she didn't choose abortion for herself when she found out her then-unborn son Trig had Down syndrome, she considered it. She considered it because it was her choice -- a choice she doesn't want other women to have. She's proudly proclaimed that her daughter Bristol chose to keep her baby when faced with her unwed teen pregnancy. But she had a choice. And that's one of the unspoken underlying principles of feminism, isn't it -- having the right to choose, to have control over those decisions about our own bodies. The right to make all our own choices, just as men have always had.

Just as Palin and her daughter had.

So, if one is going to claim the feminist mantle, I have to conclude that you have to be willing to say that all women have the right to self-determination. It's about choices and we don't all have to make the same ones.

I don't have to be a mama grizzly to stand up for what I believe is right or to defend how I view the world as a feminist. But touch the things I believe are my daughter's birthright and I might have to channel my inner wolverine.

Joanne Bamberger also likes to hang around the blogosphere writing about politics at her place, PunditMom. She finally finished her manuscript about how women -- progressive, conservative, and in-between -- are revolutionizing the world of politics through social media!

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