What is feminism?

Should feminists embrace Sarah Palin and those like her? Last week, feminist author and blogger Jessica Valenti offered an emphatic no in The Washington Post. But Cathy Young, a columnist for RealClearPolitics has an interesting response in The Boston Globe. She thinks feminists make a big mistake when they ignore women like Palin:

If feminism is typecast as a left-wing movement, this automatically limits its appeal in a country with center-right politics. Feminist writer Naomi Wolf noted this nearly two decades ago when she urged the movement to drop litmus tests that excluded millions of women because of their positions on environmental policy, guns, gay rights, or abortion. Wolf argued that the beliefs of conservative and Republican women who champion female autonomy and achievement should be “respected as a right-wing version of feminism.’”

Can there be a “right-wing version of feminism?” And can Palin be considered a feminist? Defining the word is itself a challenge; feminism is hard to pin down. Valenti, for example, claims that unless you believe women are oppressed and that patriarchy is the problem, you can’t call yourself a feminist:

If anyone — even someone who actively fights against women’s rights — can call herself a feminist, the word and the movement lose all meaning. And while part of the power of feminism is its intellectual diversity, certain things are inarguable. 

Young disagrees. She argues that “rejecting [conservative women] out of hand as incompatible with feminism is not only ideologically intolerant, it also suggests an unwillingness to even consider factual claims that are at odds with dogma.”

Interesting. If there is a politically conservative feminism, I agree with Young that Palin may not be the best representative. But Young’s point is well taken —  there’s a big audience for a different kind of feminism out there, one that “seeks individualistic and market-oriented solutions, rather than big-government-driven ones, and focuses on women’s empowerment rather than oppression.” 

It’s worth pointing out that this politically right-leaning feminism is still not the same as the New Feminism Pope John Paul II proposed.


Zoe Romanowsky


Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Godspy.com. Zo

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