Newsweek‘s religion editor, Lisa Miller, contributes to the recent conversation about Sarah Palin’s “feminism,” but instead of parsing definitions (see also here and here for that), Miller tells us why evangelical women see Palin as a saint: they hunger for a contemporary role model. Miller opens the article with a recount of Palin’s Trig story as told in Going Rogue:
For a split second, Palin—already at the limits of her time and energy—stops to consider the chaos another baby will create in her life. These are really less than ideal circumstances, she thinks. And then the inconceivable. I’m out of town. No one knows I’m pregnant. No one would ever have to know.
Of course, Palin does the “right thing”; she gives birth to Trig despite the challenges she and the family will face and despite a prenatal diagnosis of downs syndrome. But it is the choice she makes, and not the fact that she has had a choice at all, that evangelical women focus their attention and admiration on. (If Palin had had an abortion, there would be no story.)
To millions of women, Palin’s authenticity makes her a sister in arms—“Sisters!” she called out in Washington, as if at a revival—a beautiful, fearless, principled fighter who shares their struggles. To a smaller number, she is a prophet, ordained by God for a special role in the cosmic battle against the forces of evil. A 2009 profile in the Christian magazine Charisma compared Palin to the Old Testament’s Queen Esther, who saved her people, in this case the Jews, from annihilation.
Miller says that Palin’s rise can be attributed to long-held suspicion of religion on the left and among feminists. And she predicts that Palin will “reshape and reinvigorate the religious right” by transforming it into a movement of women.
An Ann Coulter here, a Michelle Malkin there, the right has had plenty of “exceptional” women – sort of Dagney Taggart-type “geniuses” whose idea of equality is to earn and think with the men but to appeal to them as women worthy of “taking“; advocate for male headship while making yourself exempt from it (in a heterosexual way.)
Palin’s new conception of feminism is really just a “let the moms work” movement, without the underlying belief that women are equal citizens in society, unable to decide when they have children, what their own values are, or who makes their decisions for them. Ultimately, the movement Miller insists Palin is heading is one that glorifies self-sacrifice. That is, after all, what sainthood is about.
But we have to wonder, is Palin’s form of “sisterhood” bad for real feminism? Or is it a gateway movement that will attract more conservative women to ideas of empowerment and leave them wondering where their real lifestyle options are? Will strong, “warrior” women, with their own income and taste for leadership, begin to wonder why exactly they have a choice? Or will they continue a fight for limited rights that may bring them support and attention but not real equality?