Does it still exist in the form it has since the early days of the
movement? Is there a new feminism (as even Pope John Paul II referred
to in some of his writings) that has replaced it by a newer movement?
Or….is that term too laden with imagery and deeply ingrained in the
cultural mindset to even be revived?
The Economist has raised it in this interesting piece about America’s feminists. But who are they?
THIS was supposed to be the year in which America’s
feminists celebrated the shattering of the highest glass ceiling. They
had the ideal candidate in Hillary Rodham Clinton, a woman who had been
tempered in the fires of Washington. And they had every reason to think
that she would whip both the young Barack Obama and the elderly John
But it was Mrs Clinton who got the whipping. She not only lost an
unlosable primary race. She was dissed and denounced in the process.
All true enough. It has been an astonishing defeat.
Mr McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running-mate
has turned the defeat into Armageddon. Mrs Palin is everything that
liberal feminists loathe…
Gloria Steinem, the founder of Ms magazine, says that “Palin shares
nothing but a chromosome with Clinton”. Kim Gandy, the president of the
National Organisation of Women, dismisses her as a “woman who opposes
women’s rights”. Debbie Dingell, a leading Michigan Democrat, said that
women felt insulted by the choice.
And those are just some of the mentionable things being said about her by liberal feminists. Here’s another, odd one.
Sally Quinn, a writer for the Washington Post, has even
argued that, given the size of her family, she cannot possibly be both
a national candidate and a good mother.
That’s just intellectually dishonest, at best.
But is feminism really faring so badly? American women
are certainly under-represented in public life. They make up less than
20% of governors and members of Congress. The number of women on the
Supreme Court has recently fallen by half, from two to one, thanks to
Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement. But what Ms Steinem regards as the
most “restricting force” in America is nevertheless getting ever less
restrictive. Some of the most culturally conservative states in the
country, such as Kansas and Michigan, have female governors. In 1998
women won the top five elected offices in Arizona. Mrs O’Connor was
arguably the most powerful voice on the Supreme Court for decades.
Projections show that by 2017 three women will graduate
for every two men. The meritocracy is inexorably turning into a
matriarchy, and visibly so on many campuses: the heads of Harvard,
Princeton, MIT, Brown and the National Defence University are all women.
Those are some stats. Now some interesting analysis…
One reason why younger women did not coalesce behind Mrs
Clinton in the same way as their mothers must surely be that they have
simply become accustomed to living in a world of opportunities.
It’s a new generation, and some of the older ones don’t want to give
up the battle. Maybe Palin is to older angry feminists as Obama is to
older angry civil rights activists. Just maybe.
In her idiosyncratic way, Mrs Palin also represents the
fulfilment of the feminist dream. She demonstrates that gender is no
longer a barrier to success in one of the most conservative corners of
the land, the Alaska Republican Party. She also proves that you can be
a career woman without needing to subscribe to any fixed feminist
ideology. Camille Paglia hails her as the biggest step forward for
feminism since Madonna.
Okay, not sure about that one…
But if feminism means, at its core, that women should be
able to compete equally in the workplace while deciding for themselves
how they organise their family life, then Mrs Palin deserves to be
treated as a pioneer, not dismissed as a crackpot.