Don’t miss Michelle Goldberg’s analysis of the feminist history in Sarah Palin’s new book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag. Apparently, it gets worse after the diabetes-inducing title. I agree with Goldberg that “[i]n some ways, it’s a good thing that Sarah Palin calls herself a feminist. It means that, even among conservatives, women’s equality has become a normative position, the starting point for debate. It means that feminism has gone from something that the right wants to destroy to something it wants to appropriate. That’s progress, of a sort.” This is indeed a new development–Phyllis Schlafly’s days are over, for now, and it would be even too intellectually dishonest for Palin to pretend that feminism had nothing to do with shaping the possibilities of her political career.
However, Palin is all wet when it comes to American history in general, and as Goldberg explains, feminist history in particular: she claims Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a devout Christian–a woman who once said that “[y]ou may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded women,” and who wrote her own version of the Bible. (Truly, this is more laughable than the people who try to re-claim Thomas Jefferson as a godbag.) Palin repeats the flimsy lie that Susan B. Anthony was anti-abortion, and she repeats the distortions of Margaret Sanger’s work and career by claiming that she advocated “Nazi-style eugenics.” (She cites the esteemed historian Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism on Sanger.)
Of course this is idiotic, but no one who buys or reads Palin’s book really cares about actual, factual feminist history. However, I don’t think it’s impossible to write an intellectually honest history of feminism from a libertarian or conservative point of view. American feminism, after all, has been very much focused on the individual and her relationship to the liberal state, and except for the radical feminist offshoot of the Second Wave of the 1960s and 1970s, it has never incorporated a Marxist analysis. Feminist intersectionality–the analysis of class and race as well as gender in describing how power works in the U.S. both historically and today–remains for the most part an academic feminist enterprise that’s satisfactorily neutered and penned into college and university classrooms. And Third Wave feminism–whatever that is–appears to be dominated more by postfeminist fantasies of “choice” and “empowerment”–the idea that whatever an individual woman “chooses” is feminist and “empowering.” (That’s Sarah Palin exactly!)
Mainstream feminism in the U.S. has for the most part been relatively bourgeois and ultimately not that threatening to the structure of American society. This is why conservatives and even right-wingers like Palin are staking their claim on feminism.