Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Femenist Palin?

My mom sent me a link to a great article by Camille Paglia and asked me to respond to it. Here's what I wrote:

Well, it's vintage Paglia, that's for sure. Only Paglia could write this paragraph:

"Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment."

That "do me you pathetic male" kind of dominatrix feminism has been her signature stance. I have always liked Paglia because I think she is a very pragmatic feminist and offered a breath of fresh air to the Andrea Dworkins, Gloria Steinems, and Helen Cixous of the world. But I certainly don't agree with all of what she says--even if I do agree with everything she says about John McCain.

Of course i'm annoyed by her trite dismissal of San Francisco and New York City as places where nobody can form their own opinion (and I noted with glee that she undermines her own argument by presenting a product of San Francisco, Diane Feinstein, as her heretofore ideal femenist politician: if San Francisco is incapable of creating an independent thinker then hos did it create Feinstein? She lives in Washington, where there are no independent thinkers. How's that?). It means that, in her eyes, nothing I am writing at this very moment has any validity, since I am a San Franciscan who lives in New York. It gives her permission to just dismiss me without actually engaging my argument. Kind of like the terms "Liberal Elite," "Dumb Redneck," or "Politically Correct."

She knows and you know that femenism's problem with abortion restrictions stems from the historic use of pregnancy over the ten thousand years to keep women subjugated to the will of men. Procreation has been the number one weapon in the opression of women since time began. The ideal of women being able to control their own bodies stems not from a libertarian belief in universal self determination but instead from a femenist belief in not letting amale dominated society control a women's body (and I could argue with her that her ibertarian ideal should actually lead her to support choice and oppose the death penalty as well). Her abortion is murder statement obviously plays into the hands of the conservatives. If you agree that abortion is murder than it can be restricted as murder. What she is saying is that murder is justified, which is dangerous ground to walk on and I do not agree with her. It is perfectly reasonable for me to say that abortion is *not* murder. I can back it up.

I don't adhere to liberal orthodoxy in all things, yet I consider myself to be a liberal. Yes, there is a liberal orthodoxy, Paglia is right, just as there is a conservative orthodoxy (of which McCain ran afoul until he picked Palin), but it is not the all oppressive monolith controlling the democratic party as Paglia argues. If it were there would be no pro gun or pro life democrats, but there are both.

I do agree with her about frontier women. I've been making the point for years that Annie Oakly is not transgressive in a frontier setting for exactly the reasons Paglia cites. Frontier women were more truly equal to men than any others in American history. It was, in fact, the manufacturing economy that invented the washing machine, gas range, electric toaster, and the vaccum cleaner, as well as wage labor, that made modern femenism so necessary. The civilizing process drove away the frontier women (in most places--not Alaska) by dividing up the labor into money earning tasks and domestic tasks, as opposed to farm work that everybody had to do in order for the family to survive. And she is right. Sarah Palin represents that pioneer spirit. I too think it is cool that she can field dress a moose. She is just the type of woman Paglia loves to write about.

But I don't dismiss everything I've heard about Palin the way Paglia does (and much to quickly). It amazes me how uncritical Paglia is in this. If nothing else, looking at Palin and the GOP points up their hypocrisy, which to me at least is a big concern. Palin's record and her stance on the issues absolutely needs to be examined. Paglia can't dismiss as "pragmatic" her stated religious beliefs on aborition, gay conversion, or theologically driven foreign policy, since they are statements Palin actually made and are justifiably troubling to some (and heartening to others). The way the GOP has cried foul and played the gender card, insisting that any criticism of Palin is automatically sexist, is very hypocritical considering the sexist things they've said about Hillary Clinton in the past. And couldn't the same be said of republican criticism of Obama, that it is based in an inherent racism on the part of the GOP? It might not be true, but it is equally as valid as the GOP trying to hide Sarah Palin behind her gender. And yet they attack Obama at every opportunity. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds. Paglia should be able to see this.

No: Paglia's essay is really good, and I agree with more than half of it, but some of her central points are deeply flawed. I would love to get see her go after Bil Maher though.


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