Feminism Is Not a Moral Position

I see a lot of folks talking about how Palin is a step back for women or a colluder in the oppression of women or a terrible choice for vice president because she should be staying at home with her children, not because we believe that a woman should stay home with her children but because that’s what conservatives believe and it’s perfectly okay to hold them to their own standards.

I, myself, think that Palin represents a mixed bag in terms of feminism.  On the one hand, the policies she stands for are, at their heart, deeply anti-feminist and this, in the face of her so clearly benefitting from feminism–with her, oh you know, getting to go to college, having funded sports she could participate in while in high school, being able to have a career (or two or three), and then getting to be governor of Alaska–it is tempting to flip her off every time she comes on the television screen.  After all, she didn’t achieve these things based solely on her own merit, but because other people fought long and hard so she could have those opportunities and it would be nice to see her acknowledge that and act to give those same opportunities to other women, instead of fighting for policies that would roll back our accomplishments.

However, and therefore on the other hand, feminism is not a moral position (see here for all the times we’ve talked about this before, with this being the first.).  I quote myself rather than repeat myself:

If women are asked to be active–to kill someone, to fight someone, to torture someone, to escape from someone–and they are stuck with these gender prescriptions, we can’t access the right to be active through being men; we must access that right through being immoral. (Oh, Mary Magdalene, now it’s clear why you are commonly thought to be a prostitute, even though there’s nothing in the Bible to suggest it of you!) But the three things are so closely linked that the feminists and anti-feminists both are not seeing the activity and immorality; each in her own way is seeing it as a problem of women wanting to be (or just becoming) too much like men.

(We can see the flip side of this phenomenon when men who are wimpy or sticklers for rules are called pussies, linking moral behavior and passivity with womanliness.)

Obviously, I can’t speak to the anti-feminists. In a perfect world, all the anti-feminists would renounce for themselves all the gains the women’s movement has given them, chiefly among them, wide-spread female literacy, and I wouldn’t have to worry about them reading this.

But, to my fellow feminists, I say, feminism is not a moral position. Of course, there are many different kinds of feminism, but, broadly speaking, feminism is about women’s rights to participate fully and equally in society. And as much as that means it should be conceivable that we be soldiers and congress people and CEOs, it must also mean that it should be conceivable that we be killers and torturers and child molesters. [emphasis mine]

I’m not trying to equate Palin with killers and torturers and child molesters.  But I’m trying to say that it is a victory for feminism that she (and Marsha Blackburn and that ilk) have political power.  Does it suck that they act like this power came to them solely because they deserved it and worked hard for it?  Yes.

But feminism is not a moral position.  As a feminist, I am not asking the world to make room only for women who advance the policies that I like.  I am demanding that the world make room for all women, even the ones I don’t like.

There are a lot of charges of hypocrisy being throw around these days, but let me remind you that it is the height of hypocrisy to champion women’s rights and feminist positions, but only for the right kinds of women.

I am a feminist because I believe that, if the world were more hospitable to women, my life and the lives of other women would be better.  That’s my end goal.  To stretch the idea of who constitutes a full, grown-up human being with full rights wide enough to accommodate women.

And it is a cringe-worthy irony that, as that happens, it means that women who I strongly disagree with will be in positions powerful enough to thwart me in achieving my goals.

But feminism is not a moral position and I don’t get to pick and choose which women get to benefit from it and what that benefiting will look like.

5 thoughts on “Feminism Is Not a Moral Position

  1. I’ve always liked one definition of feminism, “The belief that women should be allowed to be just as mediocre as men.”

  2. Since we’re doing feminist definitions, and I’m reading Feminist Theory from margin to center, here’s my favorite from bell hooks:
    “Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression.”

    I like it because it doesn’t presume that men have equal opportunity (or equal mediocrity) among themselves (what, no racism? no classism?), which women could ostensibly catch up to. It just claims that sexist oppression exists, and it is feminist to wish to end it.
    By that definition, Pallin is no feminist – though she stands on the shoulders of them.
    Luckily, there are ways to oppose her without oppressing her. Criticize her awful awful politics, not her personal life. Don’t vote for her ticket. And so forth.

  3. Right — hooks’ definition of feminism cuts the legs out from under the “what about teh menz and their needz” derailment. Oppressive distinctions based on sex exist, they are harmful, and we can figure out how to do things differently and better — that’s a perfectly sensible, inclusive, optimistic idea.

    I’m less convinced that feminism necessarily has to be a struggle. A lot of opportunities get blown when we’re convince ourselves that oppositional politics is the only way we can go. There are times that nothing else will work, but the necessity of change (even small change) is too urgent to miss any chance we can make. What looks like a half loaf or a crumb to me might feed some other woman who now starves, you know? I guess that’s a strategic issue, but I’m more incrementally minded as I get older.

  4. IJust for the record (for the sake of nitpicking), I kind of like “struggle.” I think it suggests a perpetual, active movement between two poles… and in my brain, that doesn’t always have to be an opposition. Sometimes I think feminism is best defined as a practice of questioning the status quo. hooks gets that.
    But, as you said, the main point still stands.

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