Wednesday, October 08, 2008


In the movie, "The Princess Bride," Inigo Montoya says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." I think the national conversation about Mrs. Sarah Palin and feminism is another instance of a word being used whose meaning is in doubt.

Feminism has an appeal because it touches upon fairness and equality. People are differently abled, but nobody is better or worse just because they're a man or woman, black or white, Jew or Greek. I've always thought feminism was about this sort of equality.

Rush Limbaugh coined the term feminazi some years ago to describe "liberal, pro-abortion fanatics." It should be noted that he intends by this usage not a synonym for "feminist," but he describes a specific set of political policy aims. Can you assert equality of the sexes without asserting liberal, pro-abortion policies?

Recently, Camile Paglia has written that Mrs. Palin is "reshaping the persona of female authority." Ms. Paglia is a feminist and an intellectual who enjoys straying from the establishment group-think about what constitutes feminism.

Perhaps we need to distinguish between "feminist" and "establishment feminist" to avoid Rush's feminazi term. Certainly, Mrs. Hillary Clinton is an establishment feminist, but she is no fanatic. But Mrs. Palin is not an establishment feminist.

What prompts this outburst is an essay that I read by someone named Katie Granju who does not like Mrs. Palin. More accurately, after acknowledging Mrs. Palin's accomplishments she thinks it wrong that Mrs. Palin act "like all of these opportunities and open doors just fell into her lap because of her own good luck and hard work." Ms. Granju seems to think that Mrs. Palin owes ideological fealty to establishment feminists. (This sense of "you owe me" is a great way to live a miserable life and become a miserable person.) Presumably brave Norma Rae was out there toiling in some factory, or brave Erin Brockovich was toiling in some legal aid office, or a dozen other brave movie scripts were written so that forever after, all ambitious women would kneel and kiss the ring of establishment feminists.

Feminism's legitimacy comes from equality. However, establishment feminists seem to think that they are more equal than other women. It is fair to include or exclude people from the abortion movement based upon their pro-choice vs pro-life positions. But equality is not abortion. And equality must also be between women, too.

Establishment feminism is a postmodern phenomenon, as such it is preoccupied with power. Equality and power are often conflated in this case. Thus establishment feminism encounters an existential threat when an empowered woman does not share their policy aims. Her very existence suggests that a woman needs an establishment feminist like a fish needs a bicycle. I think this explains Palin Derangement Syndrome.

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