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Sarah Palin and the Feminist Revival

Posted on May 18 2010 10:00 am
Amy Siskind is the President and Co-Founder of The New Agenda, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls.
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A month ago, The New Agenda called on Sarah Palin to embrace her gender in an op-ed at The Daily Beast. And did she ever.  Talk about stand and deliver!!!

Three days later, Palin was out stumping for Rep. Michele Bachmann, proclaiming: “Someone better tell Washington that that pink elephant is on the move…”  The footage of the rally was beautifully reminiscent of Hillary’s rallies in 2008 – a female candidate with a wall of women behind her.

And Palin just picked up steam from there.  While the leadership of the Republican Party fumbled around over Arizona’s new immigration law, Palin has stood, unwaveringly, by and with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

Shortly thereafter, Palin endorsed Carly Fiorina in her bid for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate – this despite a backlash from supporters over not choosing the Tea Party favorite Chuck DeVore. The Fiorina endorsement took courage and loyalty – both of which are lacking in our current day political paradigm.

This past week, Palin again backed a woman when she endorsed Nikki Haley, candidate for governor of South Carolina.  Those of you that follow The New Agenda Blog know that we have been keeping a close eye on Haley, who along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, we’ve written are women to watch on the road to the White House.

Of equal notability is what Palin has not said.  She could have come out fists swinging like many in the Republican leadership when President Obama nominated Elena Kagan; but she has skillfully held her tongue – deflecting her criticism by blaming the mainstream media for not educating us on Kagan.  This by the way is a point that Politico totally muffed in their weekend story which refers to Palin as Sister Sledgehammer for targeting incumbent Democratic women. That story-line is almost 2 months ago old, and Politico has completely missed the shift.

We commend Sarah Palin for supporting women and embracing her gender.  Brava!  That is truly the way forward for our women leaders.  And noteworthy in contrast to some women leaders in the Democratic Party like Speaker Nancy Pelosi who have sought to undermine female candidates.

But there is a worrying aspects in Palin’s new approach:  she has fallen into the trap of making abortion a centerpiece and trying to rebrand “feminism” into a conservative mantra.  Blech and more blech!  If you want proof positive that this is a losing strategy, look left to the largest national women’s organization which has seen its membership dwindle (to 10% of its peak).  And look at polling data that suggests that only 20% of women are willing to use the word “feminist” about themselves (and 17% said they would welcome their daughters using that label).  And, a New York Times article yesterday on Kagan revealed a similar finding:

One of the questions posed by the older lawyers was whether younger lawyers saw themselves as feminists. Many said they did not. “The older women were aghast…”

This mantra is simply not appealing to the vast majority of today’s women.

What will appeal to today’s women is this:  supporting women and speaking out on women’s issues that impact us all.  Issues like the UVA murder and ticking bomb crisis of teen dating violence; “clitoral relativism”: nicks condoned on our soil by the American Academy of Pediatrics;  Iraq’s admission to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (and President Obama’s silence) and so on.

We will be posting the video footage of our interview of The Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut, author of Notes from the Cracked Ceiling at our May 6th event.  In the interview, Anne told us that she asked several senior officials of the Democratic Party which women in their party could reach the White House – none could suggest a single name!

When the audience asked Anne about 2012, she suggested that there is only one possible hope for a woman reaching the White House in 2012 – Sarah Palin (I know many New Agenda readers want to also see Hillary on that list, but that was her answer).

If Palin’s going to get there, she’ll need to learn from Secretary Clinton’s mistakes, carefully chronicled in Anne’s book, and get women voters on board early. Palin’s recent actions of supporting women and embracing her gender are definitely putting her on the right track. And if she can speak out on the issues impacting all women – our common ground – she will truly be unstoppable in 2012!

Cross-posted at The New Agenda Blog.

image credit: Lake Crazy

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