It really isn’t that confusing

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 22:59 EDT
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It took me far too long to work up the enthusiasm to watch this video I just posted about Joe Biden’s and the VAWA. It was 6 minutes, and I thought I knew all I needed to know, and so I didn’t watch it until today. That was a mistake. I did learn some things from it (mostly how Biden had worked much harder on this legislation than even I realized), but mostly I was impressed at how much they managed to accomplish in 6 minutes—the video humanizes the issues, addresses the common objection to law enforcement interfering with domestic abuse (which is that the responsibility belongs to victims to leave), promotes the Obama/Biden ticket, and more interestingly, makes an argument for the good that government can do when politicians take their job to work for the people seriously. In the face of the power-mad blitzkrieg of bullshit coming from McCain/Palin, I can honestly say this video felt refreshing.

It was also a stern reminder, which I hoped I didn’t need, of what should be feminist priorities when it comes to engaging in electoral politics. Luckily, McCain’s gamble with Sarah Palin—that she would be a shiny distraction from his viciously anti-woman policies for Clinton supporters with hurt feelings—mostly failed. (Luckily, Palin was also picked apparently to pander to right wing illusions, and especially right wing men’s fantasies, and she’s succeeded amply at that.) Still, a few women have been lured by the “Ooooh, shiny” effect. Unfortunately, one of them is Elaine Lafferty, who wrote an article she apparently thinks is feminist, but is actually stunningly condescending.

Palin is more than a “quick study”; I’d heard rumors around the campaign of her photographic memory and, frankly, I watched it in action. She sees. She processes. She questions, and only then, she acts. What is often called her “confidence” is actually a rarity in national politics: I saw a woman who knows exactly who she is.

I’ll be frank. If a man wrote this, it would indisputably read like the writer is describing a 4-year-old who can spell her name right. Palin asks questions! She remembers stuff! We should all fall to the floor writhing in amazement at what this remarkable woman above all other women can do. Next you’ll be telling me that her vagina hasn’t interfered with her ability to read. Seriously, she calls her a brainiac. Because Lafferty suddenly seems to believe that having the skills that you need to graduate high school is enough to catapult a woman to genius status. If asking questions makes you a brainiac, then ordinary, everyday women must need help tying their shoes.

I can’t even begin to register the disappointment I feel when I see someone who used to be an editor at Ms. Magazine fall for the McCain/Palin claptrap. It’s deplorable that some people are sexist to Sarah Palin and call her a cunt. But in the grand scheme of things, Palin is by far the bigger misogynist, and her supporters see it and eat it up. Witness:

I won’t get into another tirade about how these images of disembodied fetuses that apparently hang out in balloons and have more brain power than newborns and, apparently, full grown women are inherently misogynist images that erase the autonomy and labor of women.

I think a lot of feminists actually feel attraction towards the shadow feminism that the right wing has constructed and that Sarah Palin currently represents, a pseudo-feminism that Renee has deemed that of colluders, who are women that sell out other women and kiss up to the patriarchy. Often, right wing women feel that they don’t “need” feminism, because they are extraordinary and can compete in the world of men without equality. Right wing men around them are happy to feed this belief,* a long as it suits their purposes, even if they secretly believe that even extraordinary women can’t keep up with an average man. I absolutely see this quality about Sarah Palin, and in a sense, it’s attractive to feminists. Because what right wing colluders and feminists often share is a sense that we’re restricted by gender roles. But our methods of fighting back are completely different. Colluders play along, deciding that being treated as better than other women (but worse than men) is a great consolation prize for their perceived specialness. Feminists fight for justice.

Well, most of the time. And then sometimes they get entranced by right wing antics like Lafferty did here. It’s a tendency that haunts feminism and should be guarded against. The fact of the matter is that power hungry right wing women only share ambition with feminists, and nothing more.

If feminism means anything, it certainly should mean equality for women, not ass-sucking the tokens who are brought up precisely to put the rest of us down. This should be basic, and apparently it’s not, but Obama/Biden are the actual feminist ticket, because their policies align with feminist goals more than the McCain/Palin ticket. And it’s not just about abortion rights. It’s reproductive justice—they support policies that help women avoid getting pregnant when they don’t want to be and have healthy pregnancies when they want that. It’s support for an international view of women’s rights. The Democrats don’t have the same hostility towards the U.N. that Republicans have, and will work with them in their various programs to alleviate worldwide poverty through empowering women. It’s about women’s economic status, and not just because Obama/Biden are supporters of aggressive legislation to ensure equal pay for equal work. In the more catholic view, as rated by a group of economists, McCain fails women and Obama generally supports them.

The fact of the matter is that while Obama and Biden could always be a little bit better, they’ve gone to the mat for women more than they had to. Obama, as we see now, took a giant risk in standing with Planned Parenthood and NARAL against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, a bill that was designed precisely to haunt any politician who stood against it because it was a stalking horse for abortion rights. He took a bigger hit voting against than he would have voting for it, but he stood firm for women’s rights, and for that I’m grateful. In the Senate, Obama has been a leader in using congressional powers to expand birth control access and education. Biden didn’t have to be the champion of the VAWA. I mean, it’s obvious looking back that you couldn’t have come up with a better piece of legislation that would move from being controversial to being a given, but who knows if he realized that at the time? Contrary to what you might think, neither man has been the down the line follow the pack male Democrat, but both have stepped out and provided leadership. I do believe and have seen with my own eyes that men can care about women’s issues deeply, and act on them. And I think that Obama and Biden are those kind of men, after having spent months following them and doing some research on violence and reproductive rights. And I’m not going to let a couple of pissants calling Sarah Palin a “cunt” distract me from who the real feminists are in this race, and who is indifferent and outright hostile to women’s rights. With that, I leave you this reminder.

*Sometimes it’s true. Some right wing women are particularly sharp people, smarter than the average bear. But the ugly fact of the matter is a lot of those who think they’re extraordinary are just extremely useful, and may even have below average intelligence. *cough* K-Lo *cough*

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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