NPR’s ‘Sarah Palin and Feminism’s Rightward Path’

Amie Newman

Are conservatism and feminism mutually exclusive? NPR's Fresh Air interviews Ronnee Schreiber about her new book, Righting Feminism, particularly relevant during a historical election season for women  - with a conservative woman in the spotlight.

"Sarah Palin’s candidacy has turned our assumptions about women and politics on their head."

So begins Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air this evening as she introduces – via an interview with Ronnee Schreiber, the author of a new book entitled Righting Feminism – a discussion of the ways in which Sarah Palin and mainstream feminism have clashed thus far and what her candidacy might mean for the conservative women’s movement led by such organizations as Concerned Women for American (CWA) and the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF).

Schreiber begins by talking about why feminists have been frustrated by Palin, pointing to the fact that she is conservative as a primary reason. This is likely true although the anger isn’t about the term conservative, of course, but about how her conservativsm has played out in terms of her political priorites over issues specific to women. To provide historical perspective, Schreiber goes on to quote a prominent conservative women’s movement advocate who, when asked why conservative women felt the need to specifically form a women’s organization so many years ago, responded that they felt that feminism/feminists didn’t speak to them or about their interests and so they were going to speak to – and for – the majority of women for whom feminism did not. It’s an old refrain that is always new: feminists are just a small, radical group speaking to a small, radical group of rabid women. 

The interview, as well as exceprts from Schreiber’s book on NPR’s web site, provide a fascinating look into what the conservative women’s movement is trying to do by organizing conservative women in opposition to the policies, rhetoric and overall belief system feminism has pushed for decades. But what I find most interesting is that so many of the hard fought and won battles by feminists against stifling women’s autonomy and restricting equality allow for ultra-conservative women like Sarah Palin to attain the level of success she has. The conflict inherent in a conservative women’s movement is that it’s a backwards looking movement that wants to overturn progressive policies and roll back the tremendous gains made by feminists for all women in this country and beyond. 

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In an excerpt from Schreiber’s book, she writes:

Notwithstanding political losses since the 1970s, feminists have greatly transformed the social, economic, and political landscape for women by helping to increase the number of women in public office, changing beliefs about gender roles, and pushing for legislation aimed at improving women’s lives. For example, in both the legislative and judicial arenas, feminist accomplishments include Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973; the passage of Title IX, which promotes equity for women and girls in federally funded institutions; implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which guarantees unpaid family leave to new parents and caregivers; and the procurement of significant federal funding for women’s health issues, especially breast cancer.

Schreiber also notes that:

CWA and IWF oppose a number of these specific policy achievements, but must acknowledge on some level that many women feel that they have benefited from these efforts. These ardent opponents of feminism are compelled to make sense of their opponents’ accomplishments, while simultaneously discrediting them as representatives of women’s interests. If they fail to carry out this task, they will lose the ability to reach out to women who do not identify with any women’s organization, but who want policy solutions that address the stresses in their lives. Moreover, the organizations must demonstrate why their perspectives differ from and are more credible than those of feminists. This tension must be accounted for when trying to understand the strategies that CWA and IWF employ as they strive to be taken seriously as groups that represent women’s interests.

There is tension not only between these conservative women’s organizations and feminism but between the conservative women’s organizations and the larger conservative movement. In fact, Sarah Palin, as noted above has angered the ever more conservative and ultra-religious movement, members of which do not believe that women should be working outside the home, let alone acting as political leaders. 

And yet. 

Sarah Palin may represent a tremendous step forward for women long term in ways that one might not imagine. As women attain higher levels of leadership and more powerful positions, conservative women or otherwise, it will be more and more difficult for the larger far right, conservative movement to deny women’s equality and autonomy. In turn this can only mean that it will be harder to continue to oppress women in the ways in which women have been oppressed – and this includes denying women’s rights to bodily autonomy, an inherent human right that must be present for women’s true equality.

The conservative women’s movement’s agenda may seem oxymoronic to a degree in that it generally encourages policies and behavior that do nothing to lift up the status of women in this country or balance the scales of equality between men and women. However, Senator McCain did chose a female running mate in order to at least superficially (if one is cynical or not Republican) speak to women voters; to let American women know that he cares about women’s issues. Sarah Palin has allowed this country the opportunity to examine just what it is that women do need and want from our policies and our politicians in order to improve our lives and the lives of our families. 

Ronnee Schreiber says, in the interview with Gross, that Michelle Bernard, the head of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum published an article immediately after Palin was picked as McCain’s running mate. The title of which was, according to Schreiber, something along the lines of "Palin is Everywoman." That may pain some women who consider themselves tried and true feminists. But it also may be that a conservative women’s movement, Sarah Palin, feminism and all women have more in common than we like to think.

Sometimes a woman is just a woman. 

News Politics

Former Klan Leader on Senate Run: My Views Are Now the ‘GOP Mainstream’

Teddy Wilson

David Duke has been a fervent support of the Trump campaign, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

David Duke, convicted felon, white supremacist, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, announced Friday that he will run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Roll Call reported.

Duke said that after a “great outpouring of overwhelming support,” he will campaign for the open Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. David Vitter, who lost a bid for Louisiana governor in a runoff election.

Duke’s announcement comes the day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination in the midst of growing tensions over race relations across the country. Trump has been criticized during the campaign for his rhetoric, which, his critics say, mainstreams white nationalism and provokes anxiety and fear among students of color.

His statements about crime and immigration, particularly about immigrants from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries, have been interpreted by outlets such as the New York Times as speaking to some white supporters’ “deeper and more elaborate bigotry.”

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Duke said in his campaign announcement that he was the first candidate to promote the policy of “America first,” echoing a line from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night.

“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First,” Trump said Thursday night. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”

Duke said his platform has become “the GOP mainstream” and claimed credit for propelling Republicans to control of Congress in 2010. He said he is “overjoyed to see Donald Trump … embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years.”

Trump in February declined to disavow the support of a white supremacist group and Duke, saying he knew “nothing about David Duke” and knew “nothing about white supremacists.” He later clarified that he rejected their support, and blamed his initial failure to disavow Duke on a “bad earpiece.”

Trump’s candidacy has also brought to light brought many incidents of anti-Semitism, much of which has been directed at journalists and commentators covering the presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review that Trump’s nomination has “drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork,” and that the Republican nominee has been willing to “channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.”

Duke took to Twitter after Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday to express his support for the Republican nominee’s vision for America.

“Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!” Duke tweeted.

Duke has been a fervent Trump supporter, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

Duke was elected to the Louisiana house in 1989, serving one term. Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in 1991, and was defeated by Democrat Edwin Edwards.

Duke, who plead guilty in 2002 to mail fraud and tax fraud, has served a year in federal prison.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”