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When Sarah Palin speaks, liberal feminists go wild. The woman is like a stilettoed catalyst for backlash from the professional political sisterhood.
Much of the bitterness that gushes forth from the lefty sisterhood has very little to do with Palin herself. It’s about the things she represents. She’s a seemingly happy mom, surrounded by her husband and a big family. Pro-life, religious, conservative. Political powerhouse. Depending on who you are and what your gripe or wound is, you can add to and subtract from this list.
A recent source of feminist madness over Palin was a speech she delivered at a Susan B. Anthony List fundraiser in Washington, D.C. The group supports candidates who are pro-life. They do so in the tradition of America’s early feminists, who were pro-life. The Susan B. Anthony List and groups like it, such as Feminists for Life, educate and promote the largely forgotten or otherwise suppressed history of the women who fought for the 19th Amendment. They were smart women, at home with their femininity and perplexed by those who would deny the very power of life within them. They didn’t all have to be mothers to have an appreciation for the difference that creative force of nature makes in a woman’s life.
In many ways, the women among the tea-party activists of today — identified by Palin as part of a “mom awakening” going on — would be quite at home with their foremothers. If polls I’ve seen and rallies I’ve attended are any indication, they’re pro-life and sensible. They’ve seen the pain that the last few decades of social radicalism have wrought. They’re a danger to the feminist establishment.
In her speech, Palin talked about “a new revival of that original feminism of Susan B. Anthony.” She said, “Together, we’re showing young women that being pro-life is in keeping with the best traditions of the women’s movement.”
Palin talked about “empowering women.” In her worldview, that means making sure women who are pregnant in “less-than-ideal circumstances” know that they have options. She talked beautifully about her son Trig and the beautiful challenge of raising a son with Down syndrome.
As the former governor of Alaska tends to do, Palin rallied the crowd about the future and their role in it. Referring to the recent health-care debate and the disappointment so many so-called pro-life Democrats turned out to be, Palin talked about a “new pro-life, pro-woman majority [that] will actually be pro-life when it counts, when those votes are needed.”
And so, for days after, there was the usual march of anti-Palin derision. On the Washington Post’s website, two Anthony aficionadi explained that “Sarah Palin is no Susan B. Anthony.” Underwhelmingly, they criticized Palin for not providing enough footnotes in her speech to prove that Anthony cared all that much about abortion. They repeated the bogus conventional assumption that to oppose legal abortion is to want to throw women in jail, something, they point out, that Susan B. Anthony didn’t want to do. Well, Susan B. Anthony is in the mainstream of the pro-life movement on that point, too.
I know the pro-life movement, and I can assure you that the mainstream is not waiting for the day they can lock up women. They want to save lives and heal pain. They want moral, constitutional laws. Somehow I don’t picture Sarah Palin leading the march from Planned Parenthood to the slammer.
As they worked to demonstrate that Anthony was indifferent on abortion and an enemy of Palin, the Palin critics managed to conveniently skip over the other suffragettes and their writings, newspapers, and letters. Take the letter Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote to Julia Ward Howe in 1873, in which she explained that, “when we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.” They dismiss anonymous editorials in The Revolution, the newspaper Anthony was intimately involved with. But, in doing so, modern feminists ignore the attitudes that were a natural part of the activism for which these women are most well-known — attitudes that are truly reflective of so many pro-life groups today, including the much-derided Catholic Church and evangelical activists who, for decades now, have labored to keep the fight a fight.
One respondent to Palin argued that “her usual rhetoric extolling the values and importance of freedoms doesn’t extend to women.” In the rhetoric and reality of the liberal feminist movement, freedom doesn’t extend to the unborn child. But, more and more, Americans are not tolerating this. In the tradition of the suffragettes, women, increasingly, will have none of it.
And so I understand why women of the Left react early and often to Palin. It’s not about her, it’s about the threat to their power she represents. They’ve based so much of their political activism on the tenets of the sexual revolution, which have been a disaster for women, men, children, and families. But the jig is up. It didn’t fly with the likes of Anthony and Stanton, and, for a growing number of women, it’s not flying now. As human nature itself makes clear, it’s not the pro-lifers who went rogue in the first place.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at [email protected].