I am trying to figure out when I stopped being a “real” woman. For the last week, every newspaper, blog and television newscast I have seen or heard has blathered on and on about John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate for the US Presidential elections. In that short period of time, there seems to be a vast divide between two camps: those who support McCain's decision and those who think that Barack Obama now has the presidency sown up and placed in his back pocket.
Much of the commentary has been an outright attack on Sarah Palin; the vitriol has come from left-wing feminist stalwarts, like Gloria Steinem, Maureen Dowd and Arianna Huffington, who seem to think that John McCain and Sarah Palin are trying to send women backwards a few hundred years in terms of equality. The fact that Sarah Palin does not support abortion and is open about her love for her husband seems to be at the heart of these venomous statements.
The thing is this, I consider myself to be a modern woman. I vote in every election. I have no problem speaking my mind. I teach my daughters that they need to “find their power” (usually when one of their brothers has done something they don't like and I tell them to deal with the situation themselves). I tell all four of my children that girls and boys can do almost anything. I do not feel that I am somehow less worthy than any man simply because I carry two X chromosomes. I believe that women have the right to vote, to work outside the home and to accomplish as much as they can in this world.
But I do not support abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, cloning or embryonic stem cell research. I feel that there are things that men can do that women simply cannot, and vice versa. The fact that I agree with many things that Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan and countless other women fought for seems to be completely discounted when I mention that I am also a firm believer in the teachings of my faith. And because of that, I am somehow considered to be less of a woman; no longer a “real” woman, because a “real” woman must believe in the right to choose, in assisted suicide, in condoms for every 14 year-old and that “intelligent design” is only for those poor saps not fortunate enough to know that we are all descended from a pile of goo.
For years, I have listened to, and sometimes engaged in, the debate between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers. I fall in the latter category. That I stay home with my four young children while my husband goes out to work has caused some consternation among family and friends over the years. I am, after all, a modern woman. I should want to contribute to our family income and to society. That says it all right there. Not working for a paycheque means that I am not a contributor to the world, and therefore, not a real woman.
Many times I have wondered how women can tear each other to shreds over the choices we make and still consider ourselves the gentler of the species. Now, once again, it is an us-versus-them showdown, and this time it is not just working mothers against the stay-homes, it is pro-choice (read: pro-abortion) in a knock-'em-down-drag-'em-through-the-mud slugfest with the pro-lifers.
As a woman born in 1968, I was raised in the late 1970s and the 1980s to believe that it is normal for young women to want to sleep with anyone and as many men as they can, to terminate unwanted pregnancies and to choose whether or not the baby I did decide to have deserved to live in the first place. In short, I was raised to believe that it was alright for me to play God with my body. Sarah Palin's decision to keep her unborn child does not signify to me that she is behind the times and less of a woman, and I fail to see how anyone could rationally take that point of view. The very essence of being a woman is our ability to bear children. As the mother of four myself, how could I look at my children and pick which one should not have lived? Should Sarah Palin now be asking that question? Does her youngest child deserve less than any other child because he was born with Down's Syndrome?
For those of us who believe that the Palins made the correct choice, Sarah Palin stands as a testimony to what a real woman looks like. One who is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, one who is ready to take on the nay-sayers and prove that she does have the strength, courage and intelligence to play with the big boys. A woman who, at the end of the day, remains completely and wholly dedicated to her role as wife and mother. In short, Sarah Palin is a role model for all of us and the kind of real woman I want to be. And I'm a Canadian, not an American!
Barbara Lilley is a writer and mother of four living in Ottawa, Canada.