On September 4, feminist icon Gloria Steinem shared her views on Sen. McCain’s now infamous running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. I’ve seen news reports lately where some are saying that feminists need to reevaluate what it even means to be a feminist now that this ultra conservative, Feminists for Life member has been brought to the surface as the voice for the women of our nation.
Although I’ll admit to being initially offended at the Republican trumpets blaring that Sarah Palin is the modern day face of feminism, I let this thought resonate a bit while wondering if in my liberal ways, I have been somehow inconsiderate to the views of my fellow women… women who are pro-life, women who are pro-guns; in short, women who are just as deserving of their opinions as I am, but who stand for different ideals than I do. I wondered if in the time that I have spent promoting and working for women’s rights, I had somehow silenced my fellow sisters.
This alone, to me, is an interesting notion… the idea that not supporting Sarah Palin and recognizing her as a feminist somehow makes me less of an advocate for women. Feminism is about equal rights for ALL women, not a lucky few. My being a feminist does not mean that I have the desire to chastise Gov. Palin for her views and call her inferior for disagreeing with me; it simply means that I have the right to disagree with her. Equal rights means equal opinions. That said, if Gov. Palin is pushing to overturn Roe V. Wade and only teach abstinence education, then that is impeding on my rights. Just because there is the right to choose, it doesn’t mean that women who define themselves as pro-life are tied down and forced to have abortions. It does, however, mean that if Roe V. Wade were to be overturned, women who are pro-choice would be faced with dangerous and criminalizing choices.
Let’s take a look at sex ed, for example. Teaching children about sexuality in schools does not mean that they are being encouraged to have sex. I know that for me, personally, the sex ed at my school made me want to cross my legs tighter than ever. It wasn’t because they tried to scare us either– it was because I was informed and I knew the consequences of teen pregnancy and unprotected sex. I got to carry around Baby Think It Over (aka my little Maximus) and because of the education I had received, I knew how to keep that plastic baby from morphing into something all too real and more than I could handle at my age and maturity level.
Sexual education based on FACT means that youths are learning about the biology and emotions that go into being a human. Parents have the ability to talk with their children, and they are absolutely welcome to talk to their sons and daughters from a values perspective should they desire. They can, of course, talk with them about not having sex before marriage; it’s their family. We can say that they will teach them the facts as well, but honestly, how many are informed enough, and on top of this, comfortable enough, to talk to their children about birth control, STIs and safe sex? Providing sexual education in our schools is part of allowing our nation’s youth the opportunity to make healthy and informed choices. There is a separation between church and state for a reason, and our health classes should be about FACTS. Science is for the classroom, the values can be discussed at home. Abstinence only education programs leave the science to those who are often uninformed and unwilling to talk about the touchy topics. Forcing this into our schools as the only option is not showing our youth respect. It is not giving them the whole truth. This is not feminism.
And how is it that just because we may disagree with this high-profile woman, we are somehow less of feminists ourselves? That we are asked to question our own definition of the very word “feminist”? The answer is, we are not less of feminists! We are exercising our right to CHOOSE. Part of all this is also having the right to disagree. It’s that level of respect that acknowledges there are different strokes for different folks. It does not mean choking your ideologies down the throat of your neighbor… it is showing your neighbor that you believe in his/her own ability and capacity to choose.
Feminism is about knowledge and empowerment. If I am to vote for a woman, it will be because she reflects what I believe in… it will be because she represents what America stands for– freedom, independence, and yes, choice. Sharing the same organs is not enough to make Sarah Palin my choice, but never doubt that I am grateful to have that very option of being able to choose. We should all be grateful for this, and we should do our damnedest to preserve it.
To speak to this point, I give you Ms. Steinem:
Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.
Steinem, like me, supported Sen. Hillary Clinton. She now supports Sen. Barack Obama. Please check out what she has to say. This is one of those times when I think our society truly needs a reminder of what a feminist looks like. Can a conservative be a feminist? Yes. But it’s one thing to be conservative in your own lifestyle, it’s another to dictate that it is the golden way for all. Our nation was founded on the ideals of freedom, and in these trying times, we should not forget that the power to choose –on all fronts– is integral not just for ourselves, but for that very freedom of our nation. We must preserve this right, as this is truly a part of liberty and justice for all. With this in mind, let’s make Gloria proud. Get that new pie bakin’ already.