Do you believe in conservative feminism?

Here’s an interesting video at the New York Times website showing Camille Paglia talk about a column she wrote 20 years ago about her view of feminism as an all inclusive tent and why she believes that Madonna is a feminist. A quote from the original article

Madonna is the true feminist. She exposes the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism, which is stuck in an adolescent whining mode. Madonna has taught young women to be fully female and sexual while still exercising total control over their lives. She shows girls how to be attractive, sensual, energetic, ambitious, aggressive and funny — all at the same time.

In this day of postmodern feminism, it’s funny to consider that there was a time when mainstream American feminism completely rejected and demonized Madonna. However, Paglia extends the idea that feminism is broad: in the video, she claims Sarah Palin and the many conservative women running for office who have recently come to the spotlight.

Personally, the idea of this makes me sick to my stomach, but I have to think carefully about why I am different from feminists who rejected Madonna in the 80s. For me, the root of the issue is that I feel the policies and ideologies that Palin supports end up limiting possibilities of life for women. I suppose the anti-sex feminists of the 80s argued against Madonna on the grounds that she was promoting the view of women as sexual creatures define by the male gaze. I think there are two things that I see as different. First, as a feminist who sees sex as something contextual that can be either feminist or anti-feminist depending on the hows and wheres and whos of it, I am not convinced that Madonna’s blatant sexuality is anti-feminist (in fact, I personally see Madonna as a feminist figure). The policies that Sarah Palin advocates are not just contextually anti-feminist; they actively prevent and oppose equality. Secondly, while celebrities have big influence on the state of our society, there is a big difference between the political influence of a politician and the political influence of a pop star. The idea that super right wing politicians are being considered as legitimate contenders to political power on what is being hailed as a feminist platform sends shivers done my spine.

That’s not to say I believe conservatism and feminism are completely mutually exclusive.

Personally, I see this as depending on what you mean by “conservative”. There are some traditionally conservative positions that I believe are intrinsically anti-feminist. But I do believe that, especially when it comes to fiscal conservatives, it is very possible to have views that are consistent both with strains of conservatism and strains of feminism (because, let’s keep in mind, both are multifaceted movements). I think it’s possible to be anti-tax and feminist (although the political half of my mind is pointing out that poverty and unemployment affects women at much larger rates than men, and that cutting social programs that help such women is in itself an anti-feminist act).

That being said, the idea that Sarah Palin et al could be identified as feminist. My first thought is that it’s an improvement on Shafley, Flanagan, and Coulter, but you know what? I’m not sure it is.


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