The floodwaters of the 2012 presidential election have begun to seep through the cracks of the dam holding them back. Mainstream candidates such as Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gengrich and Michele Bachmann have announced the formation of exploratory committees. This is truly an interesting time in the world of politics.
Since Margaret Chase Smith (1964) and Shirley Chisholm (1972) appeared as presidential candidates and Hillary Clinton made her bid in 2008, women are appearing more and more as contenders for the presidency. The year 2008 also brought into the picture one Sarah Palin, who emerged as the Republican vice-presidential candidate — the first Republican woman to do so (Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1984).
Last year saw a slew of women (many of them conservative, Tea Party candidates) running for Senate and the House of Representatives. However, when ultra-conservative women politicians such as the aforementioned Bachmann and Palin or other candidates such as Sharron Angle or Carly Fiorina are hailed as “champions of women’s rights in the United States,” I frankly die a little on the inside.
As a feminist, I always enjoy seeing glass ceilings broken. When women earn opportunities that have previously been denied to them by a male ruling class, I certainly am pleased. In this context, I am using the term “feminist” to mean anyone who advocated the equal rights of women in all realms to those of their male counterparts.
What makes this situation different is the fact that being a female politician does not instantly make one a feminist politician, particularly when said female politician has made a political living working against women’s rights in this country and asserting an agenda that ignores other women. Simply put, political office depends tremendously on how it is used.
Being a woman elected to office, while a difficult and impressive task in our still incredibly sexist nation, does not mean that said official is a champion of women’s rights. On a personal level, I look at their (“Tea Party feminists”) handling of issues that many prominent second- and third-wave feminists would find important.
Specifically, when these women speak publicly about their opposition to abortion (usually defending it with their religious beliefs) or speaking out against equal rights for LGBT Americans (also frequently relating it to religion) are undoing what previous feminists and true women’s rights activists have worked towards.
To hear people claim that these women are working with any sort of feminist agenda is almost laughable at best and is down-right insulting at worst. The advocacy against gay rights is one that I find particularly hard to mesh with feminist principles.
With social equality being at the center of the feminist movement (which worked side by side in the 1960s and 70s with the gay rights movement), I fail to see how one can claim to support unconditional equality and yet deny it to millions of Americans.
Additionally, while abortion is an equally nasty battle, attempts by so called “Conservative feminists” to defund Planned Parenthood is contrary to main-stream feminist principles. By denying a plethora of reproductive health services to women (such as STD tests, birth control and HIV/AIDS resources), a vote against Planned Parenthood or other reproductive health organizations is a difficult position to defend when looked at through a feminist lens.
I am certainly not implying that all or even most Republican women politicians are anti-feminist. I am simply stating that if Republicans truly want to nominate a woman who is actually woman-friendly in 2012, there are much more viable candidates (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Judy Biggerts, Shelley Moore Capito, Meg Whitman or Jodi Rell, to name a few from a much longer list) than either Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann.
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