Opinion

Was Gloria Steinem right about Sarah Palin?

Today's topic: Discuss Gloria Steinem's recent Op-Ed in the L.A. Times, in which she called Sarah Palin the "wrong woman" for the VP job. All week, Katherine Mangu-Ward and Amanda Marcotte discuss what Palin's candidacy means for women's issues and politics.

Is the world 6,000 years old? Let me consult my ovariesPoint: Katherine Mangu-Ward

I'd like to thank Gloria Steinem for her Sept. 4 Op-Ed article on Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Here I was, laboring under the delusion that I had taken a shine to Palin because her views on taxes, guns, energy and the proper size of government meshed nicely with my own. Thanks to Steinem, I now know that I, like Palin, have been a tool of the "right-wing patriarchs." While Palin is trapped in a box of McCain's making, Steinem has set me free. I shall be a gender apostate no more.

Well, OK. I'll crawl back into my patriarchy-built box for the week, but only so you and I, Amanda, can have a good time dusting it up for L.A. Times readers.

Steinem says Palin is the "wrong woman" for the VP job because her stances on creationism, global warming, gun control, stem cell research, wolf hunting, education reform and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are not the same as those of the "majority or plurality" of women, which I'm sure is true enough. But here's where she loses me: Surely possessors of breasts can legitimately disagree about the proper method of wolf population control. Did God create the world 6,000 years ago? Hold on, let me consult my ovaries.

Steinem also includes abortion, sex education and the Fair Pay Act in her indictment of Palin. It's easier to construct a story in which a uniquely feminine view is relevant on these issues. But lo and behold, women are divided here as well. On abortion, for instance, a May Gallup poll found that 50% of American women are pro-choice, while 43% are pro-life -- roughly the same percentages as men.

As a general matter, I don't look to politicians to "speak for me" (being a libertarian cures one of such hopes). But Steinem seems to demand that a female candidate for executive office speak for her. Does anyone ever say to Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, "Hey Joe! The majority or plurality of men think they pay too much in taxes. To fail to support tax cuts makes you a betrayer of your gender and the wrong man for the job."

I, like Steinem, will cheerfully defend other women's "right to be wrong." But that means if you oppose Palin, you had better oppose her on the merits. A perfectly good argument would be, "I detest that lipstick-wearing pit bull because she is wrong about whether polar bears are endangered, she's a shill for Big Oil, and I loathe her bouffant hairdo."

But don't use the fact that the majority or plurality of women disagree with her as evidence that she's misguided. Majorities, even majorities of women, have been known to be wrong. A veto-proof majority of women, for instance, believe in angels. On that issue at least, one can assume that Palin stands solidly on the side of her sisters.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is an associate editor at Reason magazine.

The McCain campaign's token feminismCounterpoint: Amanda Marcotte

Katherine, I agree with you that topics such as taxes, gun control and endangered species protection are de-gendered, but I have to say that your characterization of Gloria Steinem's views of even-gendered issues such as abortion is a bit misleading. The statistic that shows that equal numbers of men and women are pro-choice and "pro-life" simplifies a complex issue. To begin with, a number of people who call themselves "pro-life" are confused about the meaning of the term; they think it's just a cuddly term for people who like babies. It actually means support for criminalizing abortion, which would mean that one-third of all American women -- the proportion of women who have or will have an abortion in their lifetime, according to the Guttmacher Institute's research -- would be eligible for jail under the ideology of a John McCain-Sarah Palin regime. I doubt 43% of women want to see that kind of criminalization, especially since many of them have had or will have an abortion.

The gist of Steinem's article was right. Women do face more restrictions, obstacles and abuse than men under the right-wing ideology that Palin espouses. Men won't be going to jail for having abortions, but women will. McCain can't even muster support for the most popular of feminist ideas -- equal pay for equal work. So far on that issue, we have to assume that Palin is on board with McCain. Palin likes to make fun of women who protest genuinely sexist treatment -- except, of course, when the sexism is aimed at her. Your everyday American woman loses out when the only women who deserve to be free of sexist treatment are women who run as objectively pro-sexism.

What's really insulting to women is not Steinem's attitude, but the McCain campaign's choice of Palin to appeal to women. It's the idea that women are categorically so simple that we're going to be wowed by Palin's peppy, hockey-mom persona and be incapable of looking beyond that to policy issues. You have to wonder if McCain and his people think women really deserve the right to vote, since they appear to think having a uterus means we let Us Weekly do all the thinking for us. If that's the case, the McCain campaign is probably kicking itself right now.

But as someone who sympathizes with libertarians on many social issues, including gun control, I have a question for you, Katherine, woman to woman: Is the right to own a gun really more important than the right to birth control and abortion? I've shot more guns myself than had abortions, but I can't help but point out that the latter probably matters more to my quality of life. After all, I can't really foresee a situation in which I need to shoot a beer can off a fence, but I can easily picture a situation in which I'd need an abortion.

Amanda Marcotte is the executive editor and writer for the blog Pandagon.net. Her first book, "It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environment," is published by Seal Press.

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