Professor Palin's history of feminism

Sarah Palin

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.

0 thoughts on “Professor Palin's history of feminism

  1. I’m looking for a good one-book history of women in America, and the same for feminism in America. Do you know anything? It would be a great help to me. Thank you.


  2. [N]o one who buys or reads Palin’s book really cares about actual, factual feminist history.

    No one who buys or reads Palin’s book really cares about actual, factual anyfuckingthing. They just want reinforcement of their emotionally satisfying delusional grievances.


  3. “No one who buys or reads Palin’s book really cares about actual, factual anyfuckingthing. They just want reinforcement of their emotionally satisfying delusional grievances.”

    Touché!! Couldn’t have said it better myself.


  4. GayProf, my vaguely informed sense of her opinions on “civic and social equality” is that she believes it’s largely been achieved for women (hence, her rise to prominence and the rise of several conservative women in politics this year) and, if anything’s setting that back, it’s amoral liberal feminists. But the way she promotes a selective and implicitly white version of American history and her recent rehashing the arguments against Michelle Obama’s summer 2008 comments tells me that equality in general isn’t at all something she’s concerned with.


  5. Here is a blog post featuring true quotes from Sarah Palin on feminist issues

    I’m all for people calling misogynist attacks on Palin. Which, I think, is what you fancy yourself doing. But posting snippets of out of context quotes is not analysis and provides no real information about Palin’s worldview or policies or what political agendas she promotes.

    And I’m particularly irritated that on a blog as good and feminist as this you’d come forward with a post that implies the instant criticism of Palin is wrongheaded and partial because it stems from misogyny. There is no support for that implication.


  6. True, Susan B Anthony didn’t say much about abortion. However, her business partner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, apparently was against it. According to Wikipedia: “In a view different from many modern feminists, Stanton, who supported birth control and likely used it herself,[75] believed that abortion was infanticide, a position she discussed in Revolution.”

    Also true that Stanton wasn’t really much of a Christian. On the other hand, one of the themes of first-wave feminism was prohibition, a leading proponent of which was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, headed by the axe-wielding Carrie Nation. Odd that we don’t hear much about her as a feminist leader from the academic crowd. As I read American history, prohibition and suffrage went hand in hand (see Boardwalk Empire for example). I think Carrie Nation and Sarah Palin would have understood each other very well, both being activists who don’t mind smashing things to get things done.


  7. I think Carrie Nation and Sarah Palin would have understood each other very well, both being activists who don’t mind smashing things to get things done.

    What “things” do you think Sarah Palin wants to “get done”?


  8. Well, maybe she’ll take her lil’ ole’ figurative hatchet and smash the glass ceiling that both liberals and many conservatives seem to be invested in preserving at all costs. She has had more shit thrown at her so far than any American politician in recent memory (including Richard Nixon, Dan Quayle, George Bush and, yes,Barack Obama) and she’s not only still standing, she’s proud and rambunctious. You folks should have let Hillary Clinton get ahead when you had the chance! Now you’ll have to settle for Sarah being the trailblazer! Ain’t irony a bitch!


  9. Yeah, I understand that she is oppressed by liberals, non-Real conservatives, and the lamestream media and yet is still standing proud and rambunctious. My question is what “things” she wants to “get done” in her role as an “activist”.


  10. CPP, I think JDB is saying that if Palin gets elected president she’ll thereby smash a glass ceiling with her figurative hatchet. Maybe that’s one of the things she wants to get done. She also wants to make a lot of $$ from Fox News and paid speeches. Those are two “things” that our heroine wishes to “get done.”

    After that, I got nuthin.’


  11. It would serve the Democrats right, quite frankly, if the first woman Prez were a Republican. They’ve done less than zero when it comes to grooming and promoting major women candidates. In fact, they did worse to Hillary Clinton than any right wingers had to do in 2008.


  12. Hey Jack,
    Haven’t heard from you since the midterms, I wondered if you could offer some insight as to whether the bright young things of conservative feminism (Angle and O’donnel, you know the ones that were actually trying for a position of power) were going to be running for office again in 2016.


  13. Pingback: Monday Morning Palinpalooza « Liberal Rapture

  14. “No one who buys or reads Palin’s book really cares about actual, factual anyfuckingthing. They just want reinforcement of their emotionally satisfying delusional grievances.”

    Please, PLEASE, do not underestimate her supporters, or her. The end result of that will be President Palin.

    To the point of the original post, has there been any politician who was not all wet when they attempted historical analysis? It strikes me that the only thing remarkable about this is that the politician in question is a female, conservative, pseudo-feminist.


  15. Profane–I take your point about all politicians using a highly selective view of American history to their own ends. However, I thought Palin’s use of feminism bore comment on this blog. As I tried to suggest above, there’s a case to be made for a conservatarian feminist history–I’d probably still argue with it, but it’s a damn sight more intellectually honest than the hit job Palin apparently did in this book.

    But, to your larger point about underestimating Palin: as you know from more than 2 years ago, I completely agree with you. Dems have laughed and laughed for years about big dummies like President Reagan, President G. W. Bush, Governor Schwartzenegger, and now Palin. They laugh, and Republicans win, because apparently laughing and *feeling* intellectually and morally superior is more important than winning to Democrats. (See Bob Somberby at for more along these lines. I’m mostly just paraphrasing Bob here.)

    They laugh, and the Republicans eat their lunches and steal their lunch money for a decade. And still, they laugh.


  16. In some ways, the conservatarian history of feminism is just the history of feminism. By this I mean that there were may 19th and 20th century feminists who may have recognized a kindred spirit in Palin, at least in the socially conservative sense. Many feminists were classist, racist, socially-conservative, ultra-Christian, heteronormative (and how!), etc etc. Feminism in the US has always had a troubled relationship with class and race, especially, and most feminists today are honest about that, because feminism is an ever-evolving social justice movement that at its best is able to look at its own past with dispassion and honesty, in order to create a better present and future. You don’t need to lie about your past in order to have pride in where you came from. It’s one of the hallmarks of conservative “histories” that one can’t bear any nuance/ all history as propaganda. (After re-reading the post, H’ann, I’ve realized this is all a bit “What she said.”)

    As for Palin using the term feminist, I’m on the fence about it. I agree that it seems important that she’s making the term mainstream, especially as someone who has so obviously benefited from the feminist movements of the past (whether she acknowledges this or no). But on the other hand, it icks me out to think about the word being contorted into a postfeminist framework – as Historiann points out, about “empowerment” (see previous post on this too).


  17. Please, PLEASE, do not underestimate her supporters, or her. The end result of that will be President Palin.

    Where do you get the idea that I “underestimate”? Believe me, I am quite aware of the history of delusional grievences being leveraged into electoral success of the Republican Party.


  18. CPP,


    Please, PLEASE, do not underestimate her supporters, or her. The end result of that will be President Palin.

    I cannot lie: I cannot give a crap. All the hysterical handwaving about Palin got us: Obama. Meh. Six of one, half a dozen of the other at this point.

    Palin is a bog standard right-wing conservative. There’s nothing particularly scary about her that’s worse than, say, Romney, or Jindal, or anybody else from the right who might run and win. If she runs in 2012 it will be her Hollywood facade hiding her hard right politics facing off against Obama’s Hollywood facade hiding his more-right-than-center politics.


  19. Pace Comrade, your original comment implied universal willful ignorance on the part of those who read or buy Palin’s book. If that is not your position then I stand corrected.

    What’s with you humanities fuckers and all this greeke “pace” shitte? English not good enough for you?

    Anyway, my position is indeed that those who read or buy Palin’s book because they see Palin as an inspiring potential political leader are universally willfully ignorant. Can you please explain how this is inconsistent with not underestimating the capacity of these willfully ignorant greedy selfish pigges–i.e., the usual aggrieved white right-wing suspects–to actually drive electoral outcomes?


  20. Historiann, please don’t lump in Schwarzenegger with those other guys! He’s actually a moderate. Supported a lot of moderate aims, attempted to work with the f-ed up state legislature, supported environmental claims California made, not a social conservative etc. Is the state pretty messed up? Yeah, but it woulda been anyways. I think a true measure of his effectiveness is his incredibly low approval rating and how both libs and conservatives here hate him. He’s the last moderate we’ll see for a while, and one of the few nationally recognized repubs that is not a neo-con and not afraid to go his own way. Probably because he can’t run for President, but hey, whatever works.

    I agree Palin winning office would be just to the libs who are ignoring her and ignoring her appeal, but I’m not sure democrats have really rejected women more than anybody else has. No it’s not the righteous party of all the minorities and underserved people. I think you all have your expectations set a bit too high for political parties. I didn’t expect Obama to be some great savior. I’m pretty satisfied with the way he doesn’t blow off our international obligations, okay with waiting it out a little longer to leave the middle east (because leaving early as in Gulf War I or as in the Soviet-Afghanistan war were clearly not good choices either) and am glad we haven’t already gone to war with Iran or North Korea at this point. The healthcare thing wasn’t great, but it’s probably better than what we have. And it looks like Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell will get repealed. No the world isn’t perfect, but he’s still a politican, and he’s done better than McCain would have on the things I care about.


  21. So sorry I’m late arriving. Not that the eminent historian JDB cares, BUT, good grief, Carrie Nation had nothing to do with the WCTU. Her organization was the Anti-Saloon League. Entirely different. We don’t hear about Carrie Nation as a feminist leader because, well, she wasn’t. (I’m not sure JDB is wrong, however, in comparing Carrie Nation with Sarah Palin–except I don’t think Carrie Nation parleyed her notoriety into quite so much money.)

    And while it’s certainly possible Stanton considered abortion infanticide, it’s also worth noting that actual WCTU members defended women who committed infanticide. They considered infanticide an unfortunate but understandable outcome when men raped or seduced vulnerable women. In fact, if you read the coverage of cases of infanticide in the late 19th century, there was a lot of sympathy for the women involved–which might give Stanton’s position an unexpected nuance.


  22. That’s right, Mamie–thanks for the correction. (I’m not a modern historian after all–I’m not as attentive to the details post-1820 or so as I should be!) Re: abortion and infanticide–from what I understand, some feminists in the 19th C were against abortion not because it killed fetuses, but because abortion in dodgy, unsterile conditions killed *women,* who were put in desperate circumstances for the reasons you list.

    FrauTech–Schwartzenegger might not be in the same strain as Reagan, Bush, and Palin, but he’s a Republican whom the Democrats laughed at and mocked all the way to his victory party. That was the only connection I meant to imply: instead of being taken seriously, he was met with derision.


  23. Mamie, when you say that “Carrie Nation had nothing to do with the WCTU”, are you sure you have your facts right? Quoting from a biography of Carrie on the PBS web site,
    “While Carrie Nation was certainly among their most colorful members, the members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1874, left more in their wake than strewn glass. Once the largest women’s organization in the country, the WCTU concerned itself with issues ranging from health and hygiene, prison reform, and world peace.”

    Her Wikipedia entry also mentions that she founded a local chapter of the WCTU in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. If these folks are incorrect, perhaps you could send them a note and get their info corrected. I’m not a historian, but if this is wrong it should certainly be corrected–and who better to do it than a prominent woman historian, so that folks such as myself will not continue to be misinformed?

    More from her PBS biography:

    “Between 1900 and 1910 she was arrested some 30 times after leading her followers in the destruction of one water hole after another with cries of “Smash, ladies, smash!” Prize-fighter John L. Sullivan was reported to have run and hid when Nation burst into his New York City saloon. Self-righteous and formidable, Nation mocked her opponents as “rum-soaked, whiskey-swilled, saturn-faced rummies.”

    Quite a gal, and her gift for invective reminds me a lot of Sarah!


  24. Using the royal “we” now, CPP? I am a little disappointed that I haven’t been able to provoke your usual juvenile torrent of cussin’ on this thread. Maybe next time?


  25. How did a thread on feminist history turn into a pi$$ing contest between a couple of doods?

    And here I was, trying to start a catfight among the gurlz.


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