The XX Factor

Sarah Palin’s Pseudo-Feminism

Ruth Marcus calls foul on Sarah Palin’s fondness for doublespeak when she’s discussing abortion rights. Palin’s tactic is to suggest that folks who would legally force you to carry an unintended pregnancy to term whether you like it or not are the ones offering you a “real choice.” Marcus points out that you cannot offer someone a choice by not letting them have choices, which should seem obvious, but sadly, we’ve all grown so accustomed to nonsensical conservative doublespeak that sometimes you’re simply forced to point out the obvious.

There’s nothing intriguing about Palin’s establishment and then tearing-down of straw feminists who she claims tell women they can’t have both jobs/education and babies. Since the second wave at least, feminists have been at the forefront of making is possible for women to have it all-it’s the reactionary, anti-feminist forces that always say we can’t. I promise you that the difference between a world where working mothers don’t struggle and the current one where they often do isn’t mandatory childbirth. After all, the last time mandatory childbirth was the law of the land, working women had even fewer breaks than they do now.

Beyond even that, there’s a deeper fallacy to Palin’s assertion that feminists are underestimating women by suggesting that we leave it up to an individual woman to decide what she can handle or wants to handle. Part of it is that she’s disguising a deep contempt for women’s intelligence with this “You go, girl!” cover nonsense. She’s spinning an image of women as dumb bunnies who have to be told, by her or by feminists, what they’re capable of because they can’t figure it out for themselves. Her image of women is that of creatures so dumb they can’t know if they’re capable of handling it all unless they’re forced to do so.

The feminist view isn’t one of automatic abortion but of having the right to choose. We believe in choice because we grasp something that seems beyond Palin’s imagination, which is that not all women are the same woman . Even Palin’s daughter Bristol has clued into what her mother denies, which is that different women have different desires and capabilities. Because one woman feels perfectly capable and desirous of caring for an infant at a certain point in her life doesn’t mean that all women will feel the same or even that this woman will feel that way in a different part of her life. (After all, more than 60 percent of women having abortions are mothers already, and we can assume they know perfectly well what they’re getting in to if they have another baby.)

I think this more than anything is what annoys me about anti-choice rhetoric. Perhaps it’s because the disingenuous bleating about murder has become wallpaper now, or maybe I just really, really hate having my intelligence insulted. But the head-patting paternalistic assurance that someone like me only thinks she doesn’t want a baby but will totally change her mind if forced makes me see red. No, I promise you that I don’t want to have a baby. No, I don’t think this because I’m delusional or stupid or have low self-esteem or have been brainwashed. I’m quite capable of knowing my own mind, thank you very much. And I trust that other women who make their own choices are also the best judges of their own circumstances, certainly better judges than some stranger who has never met them and knows nothing about them.

And no matter what Palin might say, her implication is that pregnancy and motherhood are a trifle, no real burden at all to anyone, no matter what her circumstances. I consider that insulting to mothers, as does the blogger Digby .

[Dante Atkins] sets forth the fundamental liberal value — the freedom to choose your own destiny, a value which almost never seems to make it into the discussion of abortion anymore, as if bearing children, whether one then raises them or not, is a trifling matter that only the most depraved or selfish person would refuse to do. Parenthood is at once nothing and everything.

I’m at the age where it seems every other woman I know is pregnant or nursing, and while I’m ecstatic for them, it’s all served to reinforce my pro-choice beliefs. I’ve seen everything from mild cases of morning sickness to months confined to bed in service of bringing a baby into the world, and these kinds of sacrifices should be freely chosen out of love instead of foisted on the unwilling. To suggest that all women are equipped to make these sacrifices at any point in time is to insult those who take on the burden because they want to, not because they have to.

Photograph of Sarah Palin by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.