s.e. smith at This Ain’t Livin’ has an interesting post up about the latest spate of Palin-related mania in progressive circles, this time over her adoption of the word “feminist”:
Liberal feminists are asking why Sarah Palin, a conservative feminist, should be allowed to call herself a feminist. They also ask why so many people want to distance themselves from feminism. Well, I think the parallels I’ve outlined here answer that question pretty thoroughly, and perhaps will open a few eyes. People who are outraged by Sarah Palin’s rhetoric and demand to know how she’s feminist now have an inkling of how people in marginalised classes who don’t identify with feminism feel. Because, let me tell you, many of us are surprised to see you calling yourselves feminists too.
Is Sarah Palin a feminist? Well, I’m afraid that I am not holding the Orb of Office this week and thus am not allowed to issue a formal ruling on who is (and isn’t) feminist. But I view feminists a lot like ducks. If an animal walks up to me and says ‘hey, what’s up, I’m a duck,’ it’s a fucking duck, ok, people?
I completely understand what smith is saying, and why she’s saying it.
But while I’m not as married to the word “feminist” as I once was, I wonder if the appropriate response to Sarah Palin calling herself a feminist is not to just let her have the term and run away with it, but rather open a conversation about whether it’s fair to claim that mantle – or whether it’s fair to claim the mantle of progressive movements generally, à la Rand Paul and the civil rights movement – when one has only the barest of commitments to what those movements stood for. By “opening a conversation,” I do not of course mean, “write a fucking screed about how Sarah Palin fucking sucks,” but I do mean, “let’s talk about the ways in which conceiving of feminism as a project for the advancement of certain kinds of women to power, and then eschewing criticism when one is wielding power because “this is a grand step for women!” (Even when it involves stepping on other women’s heads.)
I mean, yes, there is a lot in feminism that is exclusionary and needs to be addressed. I feel like I’d rather be engaged in the project of challenging and building that than just throwing up my hands and saying, “I’m not the arbiter.” I’m not the arbiter! But I remain convinced that these sorts of conversations about “what it means to liberate women/be a feminist/support women’s rights” are fucking crucial.
But maybe that’s my privilege showing, I don’t know. I think it’s more that the longer I hang out in places where these conversations about feminism are being had, the less teleological I become about the whole thing. I don’t so much demand that feminism give me its final answer as I demand that it continue groping around in the dark, maybe fucking up a lot but possessing the self-awareness to realize that the fucking up involves valuable lessons without which the whole project of liberation becomes a lesser project.
Or, uh, something. God help me, I think I just called feminism a discourse.