Was Feminism Necessary?

"Was Feminism Necessary?" Forbes Magazine, 15 September 2008.


Was feminism necessary to produce Sarah Palin’s fine performance at the Republican Convention? She is of course no heroine to radical feminists, who disliked everything she said, but could one rightly say–could they say–that she is indebted to their brand of feminism for the opportunity she used so successfully? I’m speaking of the feminism that says that women can be equal to men only when they are held to be the same as men.

Sarah Palin was appealing and accomplished, with the force of a man and the grace of a woman. But while reaching another, higher first for women, she expressed no gratitude to the women’s movement. She has had good words for women politicians like Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton, but she showed none of the features that betray the feminist in action. On the contrary: She spoke proudly of “my guy,” grateful to the man who was hers–implying that she needed him, and that any woman needs a guy of her own. She introduced her children, especially little Trig, the one with Down’s syndrome. She was displaying a mother’s unconditional love, as opposed to the conditional love that insists on a “wanted” child. She did these things unapologetically, quite unafraid of seeming to be a normal, healthy sexist female: one who knows what it is to be a woman and enjoys it.

All Sarah Palin did was to claim her equal opportunity to a job once held exclusively by men. This sort of equality–the opportunity to take on public careers outside the home–is something liberals and conservatives agree on. That conservatives accept it is proven by the rapturous reception she received from Republicans, who greeted her as a political savior.

This she may or may not be, but she seems to have had the effect of enthusing the base, in part because of her sex.