Daum Says Call Palin What She Is: A Feminist
NEAL CONAN, host:
And now for the Opinion Page.
Sarah Palin, no stranger to controversy, recently turned heads in the keynote address for the Susan B. Anthony List, when she dropped the F bomb. The former governor of Alaska declares herself a feminist - a conservative feminist, to be sure - enthusiastic over the prospects of like-minded women she calls mama grizzlies and pink elephants.
Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum wrote last week that, while she may not agree with much of Palin's politics, quote, "If she has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she's entitled to be accepted as one."
So, feminists, does your definition of the term include Sarah Palin? 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website, that's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. There's also a link there to Meghan Daum's column. Again, that's npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Meghan Daum is the author of "Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House," and she's a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, with us today from the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California. Nice to have you back with us.
Ms. MEGHAN DAUM (Columnist, The Los Angeles Times): Hi, Neal. Great to be back.
CONAN: And you have your own definition of feminism.
Ms. DAUM: I do. Just to make something really clear here, Sarah Palin makes me apoplectic. Make no mistake, I'm no fan, but when I heard her say feminism, even in this context of conservative grizzly-bear-mama feminism, I was struck by something, and that is the way so many gen-X and millennial women just will not claim the term. And I think part of that is because the term has become really narrow and polarizing and really not the way I see it. And my term, the way I described it in the column, goes like this: if you're a feminist, you view men and women as equals, you see your gender as neither an obstacle to success nor an excuse for failure, you laugh at yourself occasionally, get out of bed in the morning, don't forget to vote.
CONAN: And going back to something you said, maybe the most polarizing label on the socio-political stage?
Ms. DAUM: I think it is, you know. When you think about it, I don't hear a candidate like Hillary Clinton using the word very often. That's not to say that she doesn't, I just don't hear it a lot. It may be more polarizing than environmentalists or gay rights advocate. And I think that for a variety of reasons, the word has become associated with almost aesthetics more than actual ideas. And I think that's unfortunate, and I don't think it's surprising that Palin has taken this opportunity to claim it, co-opt, however you want to discuss. But she saw an opportunity and she jumped in there.
CONAN: And it almost sounds - and I'm reading between your lines here - as if you were, to some degree, surprised that she might not embrace the term unlike Rush Limbaugh's feminazi(ph).
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. DAUM: Well, that's, you know, that's a slow-moving target. I have to say, as somebody who has always called myself a feminist, or at least ever since I sort of arrived at this definition, which has to do with gender equality, it doesn't have to do with women being better or any kind of militant movement. Ever since I sort of got that definition clear in my mind, I openly, freely, publicly called myself a feminist. But I can't tell you how many people write to me, write into the column to tell me, oh, I agree with you. I don't consider myself a feminist, but blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it's like we are walking the walk but not talking the talk.
CONAN: Well, is there an assumption that to be a feminist, you must support abortion rights, you must, you know, march - burn your bra, that sort of thing?
Ms. DAUM: Yeah, I think over the last, you know, several decades, a series of associations have come up around the word feminism. And, you know, as for the abortion issue, I think that it is really difficult, for those of us who support abortion rights, to separate that from the word feminism, the definition of feminism.
But, you know, my interpretation of how Sarah Palin and her followers kind of square that is that in their sort of, you know, ideal utopian world, an unplanned pregnancy would affect fathers as much as it would mothers, and that's how that gets incorporated into this particular feminist paradigm. That's not really a realistic view but my sense is that that is their sort of ideological reasoning behind that.
CONAN: Sarah Palin, at least as you quote her in your column, described her feminism as an emerging conservative feminist identity, women who can give their child life in addition to pursuing career and education and avocations. Society wants to tell these young women otherwise. These feminist groups want to tell these women that, no, you're not capable of doing both. So she's critical of the feminist movement.
Ms. DAUM: Yeah. Now, there are a lot of ways in which that logic is totally contorted. Not least of all the suggestion that supporting the right to choose represents some kind of no-confidence vote for the idea of mothers leading fulfilling professional and personal lives. But again, I really - when I heard her remarks and when I sort of saw some of the reaction that was coming from the left, I felt that it was my feminist duty to support her in this, ironically enough. And I think it would hypocritical, given my own way I've set up feminism in my mind, I think it would hypocritical to not let her use that word.
CONAN: So, welcome to the sisterhood.
Ms. DAUM: I can't wait for the callers to call in and tell me otherwise.
CONAN: 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. And we'll start with Sarah(ph), Sarah calling us from Gillette, Wyoming.
SARAH (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi, Sarah.
SARAH: You know, I don't think that you can call yourself a feminist and be anti-abortion, because just like Margaret Cho said - and she's amazing - you can't tell the woman what to do with her body. You just can't. And so if you're telling her that she can't have an abortion, then you're taking away her choice of what to do with her body. And I just think that that's anti-feminist.
Ms. DAUM: Fair enough. That is obviously the conventional wisdom. As a person who is personally pro-choice, it's very easy for me to agree with that. But I think if you sort of look at this in a rigorous way, and admittedly perhaps giving some of Palin's followers more kind of credit in terms of their logic than they may deserve, I think the idea is that in this perfect world, if a woman gets pregnant, the man is going to step up. The village is going to step in and raise the child. There isn't - the woman is not going to be derailed from her career.
And the way theyre sort of spinning this is to say, look, it's the feminist. It's the old-school feminists, it's the liberals who have been somehow seeing woman as being restricted, that we can't walk and chew gum at the same time, that we can't have a career and have babies at the same time. And Sarah Palin clearly embodies the notion that it's quite the opposite. She's got a bunch of kids and shes certainly got a career. So I just - I think it's a really interesting thing to think about clearly.
SARAH: Yes, absolutely, I think so. But I think it's taking away a woman's choice. I mean, absolutely, in a perfect world, yeah, a guy would stand up. But, you know, they back down, too. But...
Ms. DAUM: No doubt. We're not living in the perfect world but...
SARAH: I think its not, but it's all about that choice. And once you take away that choice, then you're limiting a woman's possibilities.
Ms. DAUM: Yeah, well, when we make arguments, we're often using sort of idealized notions of reality around them. Look, it's, you know, it's a hard thing for me to...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. DAUM: I agree with the caller, but I also - as columnist and as a thinker and as a feminist, I really needed to - I felt the need to kind of say this out loud, that we cant just in a very reactionary way sort of disallow Sarah Palin from using certain vocabulary. That, frankly, if more people on the left and more people who were progressive-minded and feminist in the sort of old school conventional way would use the word, I really doubt she would have used it.
CONAN: All right.
Ms. DAUM: I think Sarah Palin is a strong woman, but being so liberal, I just can't agree with her personally. But I do admire how strong of a woman she is, I have to say.
CONAN: All Right, Sarah, thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.
SARAH: All right.
CONAN: Not just a strong woman, Meghan Daum, but a very influential woman. And by her embrace of feminism, do you think that she is going to prompt some of her followers to rethink the term?
Ms. DAUM: It may be and it may be the kind of thing where the term just kind of flips around. I mean, it's kind of like the way that grassroots used to be considered - used to have very left-of-center connotations and now what is grassroots is, you know, the Tea Party movement, all these sorts of movements coming up on the right. It's interesting the way that language kind of shifts over time.
CONAN: The leftists are now the net-roots.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. DAUM: That's right. So, we'll see.
CONAN: Let's go next to Anita(ph), Anita with us in Toledo
ANITA (Caller): Hi. Am I...
CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead.
ANITA: Okay, I was calling because I thought this was a very interesting development that Sarah Palin came out as a feminist. We have been kicking around that idea here in Toledo and our local NOW group. I have always felt that she looks like a feminist to me. Now that's not to say that I agree with many of her political positions. I don't. However, I do consider her feminist. Many of our other NOW members do not, but I'm glad that she embraced that term and I think its going to result in a very nuanced and interesting discussion of what feminists are.
CONAN: And do you think Sarah's call earlier that said, wait a minute, if she opposes abortion rights, she is, by definition, not a feminist, is - I assume that's been part of your discussion?
ANITA: Yes, that's exactly been part of our discussion. Of course, I'm pro-choice, I work at an abortion clinic, but I still see her as feminist. I see her as a feminist because she's making decisions for herself on the same level as I do. And maybe she's coming to different conclusions, but she's doing it from that same strength of identity and of purpose, and identifying herself as a feminist. I think that's important and I like it.
CONAN: Meghan Daum, you got a supporter in Toledo.
Ms. DAUM: Yeah. I think that the - nuance is the keyword here. So often it's lacking in many public discussions, and I'm just glad to hear it.
CONAN: Anita, thanks very much for the phone call.
ANITA: You're welcome. Bye.
CONAN: We're talking with The Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum on the Opinion Page today. She wrote her article, "Sarah Palin, Feminist" last week for The Los Angeles Times. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's go next to Laurie(ph), Laurie from San Francisco.
LAURIE (Caller): Hi, I guess I want to reiterate some of that stuff that the last caller talked about. I - there's been a huge problem for years that the word feminist had a dirty connotation. If you go back to what the point was, the point was that we wanted to be treated equally - equal pay for equal jobs. We didn't want to be defined by the fact that we were necessarily women.
My mother was denied credit when I was a little girl in the '70s because her husband wasn't working. They said, honey, when you go back and your husband gets a job, you can have credit. Now, my mother won't call herself a feminist, in part because of the way some reporters like Neal refer back to this bra-burning that basically never happened. Its - the same.
CONAN: Oh, no, no. No, no, no. No, no, no. No, no, no. I was there.
LAURIE: Women did do that?
CONAN: I mentioned bra-burning, but I was also there, and saw some people burn some bras, but it was a long time ago.
LAURIE: Yes. So some, like maybe two bras. And then that is the thing that sets up feminism. So bottom line is, I think all of these people who are very conservative - and I'm extremely liberal and I am pro-choice - I think they should've always been calling themselves feminists. Phyllis Schlafly left her family, came out and ran around the country giving her opinion. If she wasn't a feminist, she should've gotten back in the kitchen and never ventured out.
So, Sarah Palin is a feminist. I don't agree with everything she does, but neither she nor anyone should act like being a feminist has something to do with being manly or any - or hating men or anything else. It never has, it never will. And we need some education for kids. I went in and taught the grade school kids about the fact that women still make 82 cents on the dollar and they were appalled. They had no idea.
CONAN: Laurie, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
LAURIE: Okay. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Rachel(ph), Rachel with us from Silver Spring in Maryland.
RACHEL (Caller): Yes.
CONAN: Hi, go ahead, please.
RACHEL: Hi, thanks for taking my call. Well, I've been listening to this, and your guest has the same version - the same definition of feminism that I grew up with. I just turned 50 and not a Sarah Palin supporter, by any means. And I do think that she is using the word, I don't know, throwing it around the way somebody might use the word cool to describe John McCain or something. But she does live the kind of life that I read about in news magazine when it first came out, when I was 13 and thought, wow, you know, I want to be able to do it all.
I don't think she's even aware that all these people whose politics she would find appalling, leftist people throughout the '60s and '70s, were pushing for women to be able to do exactly what she's doing. And, you know, I don't think she realizes what a debt she owes to people of a political stripe that she doesn't agree with. And that's how I see it.
CONAN: So you think she's, to some degree, being an opportunist here?
RACHEL: I think she's being an opportunist in that I think that if she really felt like she was a feminist that I just don't see how - it's not just the abortion issue, but just in general, I don't see how she could be so blind or...
CONAN: That she would agree with you.
CONAN: In other words, if she was a real feminist, she would agree with you?
RACHEL: Well, not necessarily personally, but I don't think that she does enough to make other women's lives as good as hers is. And if she was doing that, then she'd be a hero, I think.
CONAN: Meghan Daum, she is a hero to a lot of people, but would that be a fair bar to set?
Ms. DAUM: You know, I mean, everyone sort of has their own bar. Everything is kind of arguable. I mean, for every person who sees her various policies as directly hurting women, there are going to be other people who'll say her very presence out there on the national stage, the example that she's setting is better for women than, you know, is doing more good than any of her policies could conceivably do harm. You know, this - it's very much in the eye of the beholder.
CONAN: Meghan Daum, as always, thanks very much for your time today.
Ms. DAUM: Thank you. Good to be here.
CONAN: Meghan Daum, a columnist for The Los Angeles Time, where her column "Sarah Palin, Feminist" ran last week. We've posted a link on our site at npr.org. She's also the author of "Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived in That House" and she joined us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City.