This column, posted Sept. 18, 2008, is Copyright © 2008 by Mary Meehan
Palin as Pro-Life Feminist
Leading feminists were shocked and dismayed--and flummoxed,
Instead of welcoming their sister to the campaign, key feminists tried to blast her back to Alaska. It was like the moment in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland when the Queen of Hearts discovered Alice and screamed, "Off with her head!"
Now, though, the sisterhood has second thoughts. Palin's popularity among women voters--especially working moms--gives them pause. They may realize that it seems odd for feminists to attack so vehemently the candidate who may become America's first woman vice president. And after watching the governor in action, they may feel Sen. McCain deserves credit for welcoming a strong woman to his ticket. They may also have grudging respect for the wily old guy's political smarts and daring in doing that.
Columnist Camille Paglia of Salon.com, a feminist and supporter of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama for president, calls Palin "a tough, scrappy fighter with a mischievous sense of humor" and admires her "can-do, no excuses, moose-hunting feminism." While Paglia supports legal abortion, she defends Palin's right to be a pro-life feminist. Feminism, Paglia contends, "should not be a closed club requiring an ideological litmus test for membership." She says there is "plenty of room in modern thought for a pro-life feminism."
It happens that Feminists for Life of America claims Gov. Palin as a member. The group continues a pro-life tradition that goes back to the feisty American feminists of the late 1800s and early 1900s--women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul. The Anthony-Stanton newspaper of the late 1860s, The Revolution, was clear and strong in its opposition to abortion. Alice Paul, who was still active for women's rights in the 1960s, called abortion "another way of exploiting women." Taking the lives of female babies before birth, she thought, did not benefit women.
Ignoring Paul's warnings, the "second wave" of American feminists broke with the pro-life tradition. Yet huge numbers of American women, then and now, see abortion as a tragedy for both women and children. They agree with Palin that "a culture of life is best for America" and that there should be more support for adoption and "other alternatives that women can and should be empowered to embrace, to allow that culture of life."
Palin's critics don't mind talk about alternatives so long as the bottom line is absolute "freedom of choice." Yet the freedom to take the life of another human being is one that many women don't want. They are genuinely anti-choice on this issue. And most people, including feminists and liberals, are anti-choice on many issues (assault and battery, child abuse, spousal abuse, drunk driving--to name just a few). Most of us do not worship at the shrine of choice.
Many women say they were heavily pressured to have abortions. Often the pressure comes from boyfriends, husbands, or parents. But it also comes from society in general. Despite our supposed sophistication today, the scarlet-letter tradition dies very hard. Did you notice the snide comments about Gov. Palin's pregnant daughter by back-fence gossips on the Internet? And the less-than-welcoming attitude some have toward Palin's infant son, who has Down Syndrome? Bad attitudes and heavy social pressures account for many abortions in our country.
The Palin family gives an excellent example of welcoming children to the grand adventure of life. And the governor promises that, if elected vice president, she will be an advocate for the families of children with disabilities. This promise should be welcomed by all and copied by other candidates of both parties.
The presidential campaign now offers a great chance to explore nonviolent alternatives to abortion. Feminists for Life activists have much experience in making college campuses more friendly to pregnant and parenting students. News of their steps forward, and the obstacles they still face, can help others on the learning curve. Their approach can be adapted to the workplace, too, where it could make life far better for both parents and children.
Let's move this ball down the field.