Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Feminism, Sarah Palin, and Me

I was a senior in high school when the "Second Wave" of feminism moved to the popular consciousness. I was intrigued--the Second Wave promised that all life choices a woman made would be respected: mother, homemaker, career-woman, doctor, nurse. In liberating women, the theory went, men would be freed as well: free to express their emotions, no longer bound to "male" jobs, encouraged to bond with their children. Their ideas were exciting, although in many cases what the feminists were doing was giving a new name (Consciousness-raising sessions) to an old activity (women's neighborhood social groups). I changed my career path from nursing, which I had wanted to do since I was five, to medicine--mostly because a teacher of mine pointed out, rightly, that I was much better at giving orders than following them and that if a doctor was making a mistake, I would correct him or her in front of his or her patient or colleague.

In the beginning, Feminism was all about choice. I'm not sure when abortion became the sine qua non of Feminism, but it was sometime after I was graduated from college.

I did not go to medical school, in large part because of Organic Chemistry and the fact that Boomers like myself were applying to medical schools, law schools, and other professional schools in record numbers, even without considering women applicants. In four short years, the percentage of women in professional schools, especially in the health field and in law, was about equal to that of men.

Feminists wanted more. They began to attack "The Glass Ceiling," talked about "The Mommy Track," and began to deride women who chose a more traditional lifestyle path. Men became The Enemy, and control over our bodies, which originally began as a health issue, became the right to unrestricted abortion at all times, at any age.

The Wisdom of the Crone was ignored.

I like men--they're some of my favorite people. Always have been. I married one; gave birth to two. Most of them were good guys, struggling to make a living, to do the right thing, pursuing happiness. When my arms were full of baby and baggage, when I was pushing a stroller and herding a toddler, I appreciated having doors held open for me. When I was pregnant, I was grateful for a seat on BART. A lot of the "old school" social rules began to make sense. And abortion became The Issue.

I have two daughters. As painful as it might be for me to hear they are pregnant out-of-wedlock, I still would want to know, especially if they were minors. And 12-year-olds are minors.

So Feminism and I have drifted apart. I decided I am nobody's Victim in general, although I may be in particular. I am grateful for those women who pioneered the way in business and I knew several of them in my industry. I'm also grateful for the men, especially those of my father's generation, who saw more potential in me than I saw in myself and who mentored me.

What has this to do with Sarah Palin?

I recognize her as a kindred spirit (or as Anne of Green Gables might say, "a member of the race of Joseph"). She is "one of the guys" while wearing a skirt and heels. She's the kind of person you want on your task force at work or your committee on the PTA: give her a goal and she'll get the job done. No excuses. No endless "discussion." No subcommittees and study groups. Just "here's the problem, let's try this to solve it."

A woman equally comfortable in a skirted suit and makeup or jeans and a flannel shirt. Yeah, I relate. Big time. :)

Her husband seems to be loving and supportive, equally at ease working in the oil field and holding a baby. Okay--he's had plenty of practice with that last one before appearing in front of a national audience. He might not have been so comfortable when first holding Track. The Palins seem to be the Feminist Ideal Couple: true equals.

So while I expected some outcry about her--that she was a "stunt" by the Republicans, that she was a Conservative--I didn't expect the outright venom. I thought that the furor would die down after a few weeks, and it has, but the attacks are still intense.

The night of the Vice-Presidential Debates, I overheard the following conversation on the way home:

"Are you going to watch the Debates?"

"Yes! I can't wait to see her fall on her ass!"

The last sentence was from a woman, who uttered it with absolute glee in her voice. I was stunned. I wanted Gov. Palin to do well, I wanted her to do better than Sen. Biden, but I didn't want him to "fall on his ass." What is wrong with these people? It's not enough for their candidate to win; the other candidate must be humiliated?

And lies, vicious lies, must be spread about her and her family? I thought we were moving towards a "more enlightened" civilization.

Apparently, some choices are more Womanly than others. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton must be spinning in their graves. And I am happy to join Gov. Palin in the ranks of those humans with XX chromosomes who are not "really a woman." (Though Hubs may beg to differ.)

Postscript: I read part of Maureen Dowd's column on Gov. Palin's acceptance speech. Ms. Dowd noted Gov. Palin's red peep-toe pumps and commented on her pedicure. Where the heck was Ms. Dowd sitting that she could tell the color of the polish?