Tag Archives: gender

Hysteria: A Double Take

Editor’s Note: Sorry for the delays in posting this week. Today I am featuring an awesome guest post by Marissa. 

I wonder why it is rare in film to see women partaking in rebellious activities, rather than activities that are not rebellious whatsoever, but somehow claim to be. Hysteria, a newly released film directed by Tanya Wexler, examines the invention of the vibrator during Victorian England, and depicts female orgasms as the cure for the contrived illness of “hysteria”. Why is female sexual desire– especially the idea of a woman having an orgasm– still something that feels so taboo?  How is it that a film such as Hysteria can exist based solely on the shame surrounding the idea of a woman as a potentially sexual being, the comedic elements relying on shame-induced laughter? And lastly, why do we continue to tell the offensive and oversimplified story that all an uptight woman needs in order to feel liberated is sex?

Hysteria centers around Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy), a young and educated British fellow, who wants to innocently dedicate his life to helping others (and also make lots of money).  Granville is portrayed as a progressive/liberal character, because he believes in “modern medicine” and specifically the futuristic idea of germ theory. He favors all things modern and looks down on those he believes to be stuck in the past. The beginning of the film depicts him struggling to find someone who will bless his naïve eagerness and hire him. The only person who will give him a job is Dr. Robert Dalrymple (played by Jonathan Pryce), a “women’s doctor”. Dr. Dalrymple has two daughters, Charlotte (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Emily (played by Felicity Jones).  Charlotte is “feminist” because she is loud and reactive, while Emily is quiet, obedient and clearly missing out the exciting life that Charlotte the feminist leads.  Charlotte punches men in the face when she is angry, and Emily just doesn’t get angry.  Dr. Dalrymple treats hysteria by giving women orgasms via pitching a puppet-show-like tent around their waists. Then, while they’re lying down so they cannot see him, he rubs them off. This is all unbeknownst to the women, who are depicted as having no idea that they are even feeling sexually aroused, and furthermore may not even know that they are capable of these sensations.

A major reason that I wanted to explore this film was because I find it simultaneously troubling and fascinating how we all too often underestimate the psychological strength of medical labeling (for example when words such as “sick” or “crazy” are used to describe a person). Labels like these carry much weight, and can easily encourage the formation of intense, dominant/submissive relationships (between friends, family, doctors and patients, whoever). This film is shocking because it does not portray hysteria accurately, but attempts to make light of it.  It does not depict the pain and suffering that many women experienced during Victorian England. It does not do justice to what hysteria really was—a contrived medical diagnosis that gave men the power to oppress women, to strip them of their rights and to delegitimize the way that women felt. I argue that the film reflects how many of these misogynistic ideas have still managed to linger around. The female characters in the film are not complex individuals, and as a viewer, I wondered how they really felt about what was going on. Obviously, if we cannot acknowledge past suffering we cannot honestly move on.  The diagnosis of hysteria was never humorous, and fully worked to further sexism and the violence against female-identified bodies. Hysteria may aim to lovingly mock the past, but in reality, it winds up inadvertently displaying how little feminist and queer efforts have impacted the major film industry and society at large.  I realize that Hysteria was not meant to be a “serious” film, but the point is precisely that it is grappling with very serious topics. Although it may have intended to be a retrospective, tongue-in-cheek look at the invention of the vibrator, it fails to tell the whole story, which I also realize is generally difficult (if not impossible) to do.  The danger is that the film masks itself as feminist, telling a story pitched to female viewers, intending to give women more power by telling us to just laugh off the past. We absolutely cannot laugh off the past, especially when it comes to issues of inequality.

Hysteria uses similar logic to beauty magazines: a woman must suffer and sacrifice in order to be considered worthy. I would like to seriously question this: should we really always suffer for what we want, or even need? I’m not arguing against the concept of hard work, but I am arguing against the idea that abuse, self or culturally inflicted, is okay if there is a positive outcome. In Hysteria, Charlotte is financially dependant on her father (whom she despises), and in the end she is only satisfied when Granville gives her money so she can pursue her dream. However, in order to get Granville’s money, she had to go through hell. There are plenty of feminists who are not simply reactive—they are thoughtful, brilliant, and yes–often very angry, but for the most part (if they have the financial means to do so) rely on themselves and their support systems for their needs rather than the forces that oppress them. Why is it that there are not more movies made about women starting revolutions, loving each other, and achieving their goals without requiring the approval of men?

In Hysteria, a woman can quite literally only have an orgasm at the hands of a man (until the end when the portable vibrator is invented) and the film completely disregards women who might use their own hands to induce orgasms. Hysteria pities women who are not like Charlotte, who may actually be comfortable in their submissiveness (such as Emily). What about those women who fully embrace their positions of submission and subordination and might even enjoy it?  Are those women considered less worthy of respect? How does this film account for them, besides including a character that is a former female sex worker, and who is often the unfortunate subject of jokes?

The medical diagnosis of hysteria is not taken seriously within the film, and this creates a lack of acknowledgment that distorts the very real, very serious, and very legitimate feelings that women experienced (and still experience!). Consider the trouble that would occur if a comedic film were made depicting the logic of a group of oppressive people? It would not be funny at all! This film fails to show how women really felt (and feel), and furthermore, the ways in which patriarchy is still alive and kicking today, just in a slightly different form.

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Gender, Race, and the Wage Gap: Why Intersectionality Matters

We often talk about the wage gap solely in terms of gender. From the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to the argument over whether a wage gap exists at all, we are usually only talking about men vs. women. The wage disparities that many people face, however, have more to do with the intersection of gender and race. White women, the group of people who are most talked about and targeted in the discussions of the wage gap, actually make more money than everybody except white men. Black men make less than white women, and black women make less than black men. Hispanic men make less than black women. Finally, hispanic women are most disadvantaged by the wage gap, making only $0.60 to a white man’s dollar.

Before I continue on with this discussion, I’d like to address some of the confusion that arises when we talk about the wage gap. The wage gap exists and is affected both by race and gender. However, the statistics that are used in order to locate the wage gap vary enormously. Many people argue that choices, not racism or sexism, create the wage gap¹. They argue that men work more hours per week than women and that women tend to enter lower-paying career fields. These arguments have been debunked time and time again². No matter how many outside factors you control for, women make less money than men for doing the same work.

Women are not the only demographic affected  by the wage gap. Race weighs more heavily on wage disparities than gender. But the wage gap is still seen as merely a feminist issue. This is why feminism and other movements for equality need to look at this and many other issues with an intersectional lens. The wage gap affects working women, but it also affects men of color, single-parent families, and poverty levels. Media coverage of the wage gap needs to include these groups that are affected the most, not just focus on white women vs. white men. Feminism does not own the fight against the wage gap. This fight belongs to men and women of color, families in poverty, gay and transgender workers, as well as women everywhere.

For more information on the wage gap and intersectionality, see:

Infographic: The Gender Pay Gap– See What Inequity in Earnings Costs Women and Their Families Each Year and Over Their Lifetimes

Top 10 Facts About The Wage Gap 

Pay Equity and Single Mothers of Color: Eliminating Race-Based and Gender-Based Wage Gap Key to American Prosperity

The Gay and Transgender Wage Gap: Many Workers Receive Less Pay Due to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

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Filed under feminism, gender, identity, politics, privilege, sexism, social justice, Uncategorized

Victoria’s Secret vs. Dove: Or, how companies appropriate body-positivity to sell you more stuff

The above image has been going around Facebook to the same devastating results as the “When did this…become hotter than this…?” meme. Both images were taken from advertising and marketing campaigns by two large companies, Dove and Victoria’s Secret, who have been appropriating body positivity to continue to profit off of people’s insecurities. While the sale of false body positivity is all I see in these images, Facebook responded positively to Dove’s ad campaign and negatively to Victoria’s Secret’s.

These reactions of “ew, gross, way too skinny” about the VS models are not at all body-positive, and the celebration of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign gives them far too much credit.

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign showcases women whose bodies fall on the societally acceptable side of normal. While people love to tell a size 0 VS model to “eat a damn sandwich,” the same people appreciate Dove’s campaign, which only celebrates the size 6, size 8, size 10, maybe size 12 curves of a conventionally attractive woman. Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign is just a marketing front for selling a line of “firming creams” to women with insecurities about “flab” and cellulite. Does Dove’s campaign ad show a few more women of color, a few more “curvy” women, and a little bit less retouching than Victoria’s Secret’s ads do? Yes. But is Dove really the savior of women everywhere whose self-esteem is continuously torn down by our culture and media? Not a chance.

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign has been around for a few years now and the criticisms of it are widely documented. Now, Victoria’s Secret–the cultural gatekeeper of sexual perfection and unattainable bodies–has weakly used body-positive language to sell bras to women who may worry that their partners prefer watching the VS fashion show to looking at their imperfect bodies. Even though “I Love My Body” is very weakly tied to actual bodies– the bras they are selling as called “Body” bras, so really it’s just “I Love My Bra”– the use of a body-positive statement to sell products is offensive.

Dove, Victoria’s Secret, and those who celebrate these campaigns need to understand that loving your body, appreciating real beauty, and being body-positive is incompatible with buying products to make you do so. These pathetic marketing campaigns continue to profit off our insecurities when the truth is that self-esteem cannot be bought. The same fake endorsements of body-positivity can be seen in Julia Bluhm and Spark Summit’s recent “success” in getting Seventeen Magazine to stop airbrushing models. While Seventeen talks the talk with its diplomacy with Bluhm and its “Body Peace Treaty,” the magazine cannot celebrate real bodies because it makes its business by advertising to girls that they need certain products to be prettier, cooler, sexier, and more desirable.

What is the solution to this? We all need to buy soap or lotion or those special halter-back bras from Victoria’s Secret; companies make a business selling us things. So buy the things you need–but don’t let them convince you that you “need” something to make you sexier, prettier, more confident, or more desirable. Be critical of advertising and don’t fall for the celebration of “body-positive advertising” that is just another front for manipulative marketing. Criticize the sexism, the airbrushing, and the message that you are not good enough. And don’t tell the VS model to eat a sandwich.

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On Microaggression

 

One of the more common dismissals of feminism that I hear (apart from “women already have rights” and “what about the men?!”) is: “You’re just looking for something to be angry about“. The idea that those who engage in cultural criticism, feminist or otherwise, are nit-picky, obsessive, and need to “calm down” is just another way to silence opinions that society deems too radical.

Those who believe we live in a post-feminist world typically don’t have a good grasp on the meaning of the many facets of feminism (although we can’t blame them for that, as feminism is barely included in public school curriculums beyond the first wave to begin with.) Liberal feminism, most closely associated with the movement’s first wave, worked to level the playing field in terms of legal rights, education, and general access to opportunity. Liberal feminism assumes that once women have equal access and opportunity to all aspects of society that men do, liberation will naturally occur.

So, what happened? Women got the right to vote, the right to hold jobs without discrimination based on sex, and the ability to attend any school or university. That didn’t solve everything. Women still underperformed in STEM fields, were underrepresented in the political sphere, and underrepresented in the publishing world. Despite women’s successes, magazines still told them how to be sexy enough for the office, how to snag a husband, and how to lose weight fast (because their bodies were never good enough). Women and young girls were hypersexualized in the media, suffered from poor self-esteem and body image, and began to locate their worth in their appearances.

These issues may seem “smaller” than the right to vote, but they continue to be cultural roadblocks in our fight against sexism.  These issues of identity, misogyny, and body-negativity pervade every aspect of society until we can no longer see them. One of the jobs that I assign myself as a feminist is to be the eyes that see our microaggressions.

Here is a definition of racial microaggressions that can explain the definition of microaggression in a broader context, such as gender.¹ 

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color. Those who inflict racial microaggressions are often unaware that they have done anything to harm another person.”

Microaggressions are most often discussed in terms of race, but they can involve any aspect of identity, from sexuality to gender to ethnicity. Microaggressions against feminists, against feminism, and against women in general seep through modern society, in television shows, in clothing, and in insults like “cunt,” “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore”. Rape jokes, “get back to the kitchen” jokes, and advertisements that seems to be stuck in the 1950s don’t help either.

Microaggressions work to silence discussion and prevent change in the way we talk about identity. This article from Shakesville explains how microaggressions are often used against feminism:

“… the idea that addressing “the little things,” like being told to smile or misogynistic t-shirts, somehow demeans feminism or distracts from “real” or “serious” sexism is utterly, completely, devilishly wrong.”

Now that you know what a microaggression is, call out the perpetrators. Politely let people know that while they may think something they said was harmless, humorous, or good-natured, you or someone else may find it offensive and harmful.

I also urge you to check out The Microaggresions Project, where people submit stories about the microaggressions they experience in their daily lives.

 

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Islamophobia and Sexism

In light of the controversy over  Laci Green‘s comment that Islam is “the most sexist religion,” I wanted to share a paper I wrote a few years ago about Islam and the custom of veiling. Researching and writing this paper exposed me to important ideas about women and Islam that I had never considered before. The paper is on a very specific topic about a specific geographic area, but I think it gives some important historical information about the roots of some Islamic practices that many people believe to be sexist. I would like to add that this post is not meant to claim that Islam is or is not sexist; I am simply trying to challenge some of the ways we talk about and think about certain people and religions.

If you are looking for further resources on understanding Islamophobia, I highly recommend the film Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Villifies a People, which can be watched on YouTube below. Some other interesting ideas about sexism in Islam can be found here. I also highly encourage reading the works of Lila Abu-Lughod, especially her paper titled “Seductions of the Honor Crime,” if you have access to academic databases.

“Bad Hijab”: The Importance of the Veil in Modern Iranian Culture

     For women in modern Iran, the veil has become a sign of the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the increased cultural and political oppression of women. Though Iran is known as one of the most modernized and educated Middle-Eastern countries, the hijab and its related social constructs remain a heavy influence on the social status of women in the country. The veil continues to be manipulated as a symbol of power and oppression on women in Islamic countries and in marketing and media in the Western world. In this paper, I will discuss the historical importance of veiling in Iran and the influence of Sharia law on determining the veiling customs of Iranian women. I will also focus on the veil’s role in the modern cultural life of Iranian women, specifically in the central city of Tehran.

The first reference to the veiling of women in the Islamic world was in Continue reading

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Pink Sequined Tutus: The Gendering of Dance

   This past weekend was the first time in fifteen years or so that I have been in the audience of a dance performance. I have been a dancer since I could walk, though I have always had a frayed relationship with the activity that demanded so much of my time and energy. Dance culture became something I couldn’t quite understand, especially as I began identifying as a feminist as a teenager. Though I loved the creative power that flowed through my body to music, dance often demanded too much attention to my body and how it was supposed to look.

Over the weekend, I watched my two younger sisters perform in a show that included girls (and few boys) ranging from age three to adult. The theme of this performance was “A Day At The Mall,” so many of the songs boasted very gendered and class-based messages, from “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” to Madonna’s “Material Girl” Continue reading

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Women in Politics: Sarah Palin’s Motherhood Rhetoric

When Sarah Palin was announced as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 Presidential election, political analysts immediately pounced. Palin was unknown in outside of Alaska, had very little political experience, and had taken a very interesting path to politics. Furthermore, the fact that she was a Republican woman—in fact, the first Republican woman to be nominated for Vice-Presidency—drew attention to her religious views and values. The attention on gender in the 2008 elections, primarily focused on Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, brought discussions about feminism and gender equality to the surface of American politics. In this paper, I explore how Sarah Palin navigated the discourse surrounding the overlapping zones of religion, politics, feminism, and gender roles.

During the 2008 elections, Palin was challenged to create a discursive authority so that the American public would take her seriously as a politician. In crafting that narrative, Palin relied on Christian values, which state that a woman’s highest honor in life is to be a wife and a mother. However, Palin’s rhetoric, while influenced by Christian theology, did not rely on Christian terminology. By avoiding explicitly religious language, Palin used motherhood as the meeting point of her religious and secular values. I argue that this choice made Sarah Palin’s campaign rhetoric a good example of what Rogers M. Smith calls ethical public discourse.

Smith’s conception of ethical public discourse is created in conversation with what he argues is the unethical public discourse of George W. Bush. In “Religious Rhetoric and the Ethics of Public Discourse: The Case of George W. Bush,” Smith argues that following the 9/11 attacks, Bush increasingly used religious and prophetic language to justify controversial policy moves. Smith’s creation of the boundaries for ethical public discourse is closely tied to the debate over the role of religion in American politics, which continually asks us to locate where Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state exists. During the 2008 elections, Palin needed to justify her authority as a conservative, female, political candidate, far before she even needed to consider justifying policies. Rather than using Bush’s explicitly religious discourse of divinely ordained politics, Palin used the rhetoric of motherhood to explain her authority as a political candidate. For Evangelical voters, her motherhood rhetoric can be read as a divinely ordained gender role—for liberals and feminists, Palin’s motherhood rhetoric had the ability to evoke the ideology of “choice.”  Her image and authority were therefore expertly constructed in an ethical discourse that built from a more seemingly secular discourse of family values, which resonates with religious voters without alienating non-religious or less-religious persons.

In Sarah Palin’s biographies and speeches, many of her life decisions and defining moments are spoken of in reference to her role as homemaker and nurturer. For example, in Going Rogue, Palin reflects on her first son’s birth, stating: “On April 20th, 1989, my life truly began. I became a mom” (Palin, 51).  This quote enforced the idea that Palin’s life as a daughter, wife, student, and worker was not truly complete until she had given birth. The narrative that Palin chose was strategic in that it made implicit references to Biblical mandates for womanhood without explicitly stating them.

Palin’s motherhood rhetoric reflects her purpose as John McCain’s running mate, which was to mobilize voters of the Religious Right along with conservative women who may have been reluctant to vote for McCain. Political scientist Jeffrey Broxmeyer phrased Palin’s purpose very interestingly when he wrote:

“…McCain strove to find a symbolical midwife to birth conservatism anew after the disastrous effects of the Bush administration on the electoral prospects of the Republican Party. After all, she was the mother of five children and yet a self-proclaimed political virgin, barely into her first term as governor of Alaska and virtually unknown on the national scene. Channeling the forces of sentimental populism, Palin fused the supposed inherent goodness and patriotism of market fundamentalism and heteronormative culture together with the possibility of a national-capitalist future [emphasis mine].”

Broxmeyer cleverly uses motherhood analogies here to discuss Palin’s role as John McCain’s running mate. In “Of Politicians, Populism, and Plates: Marketing the Body Politic,” Broxmeyer argues that “Sarah Palin… rode a wave of populist antipolitics” during the 2008 campaign (Broxmeyer, 142). Words like “midwife” and “birth” highlight her femininity and the importance that it played in what he views as the populist election of 2008.

By highlighting that her role as a mother comes first, Sarah Palin shared constituents’ skepticism of politics without attacking or denigrating any politician or party. In Going Rogue, Palin reflects on the moment when she received the call from John McCain asking her to be his running mate. Palin narrates her thoughts before answering the call: “…hoping it was my son Track calling from his Army base at Fort Wainwright…. But in case it wasn’t Track, I offered up a silent fallback prayer: Please, Lord, just for an hour, anything but politics” (Palin, 6). In this narration of a very important moment in her political career, Palin highlights her concerns as a mother of a soldier along with her impatience with politics, not her excitement to be asked to run for Vice-President. This moment in Palin’s biography was crafted to appeal to what Broxmeyer describes as the “wave of populist antipolitics” in the 2008 election.

While focusing on her role as a mother helped Palin gain the trust of the Religious Right, her motherhood rhetoric also appealed to those who were skeptical of the contemporary state of politics. In her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 2008, Palin used anecdotes that were borne of her motherhood rhetoric to court party members and convince them that she was not another politician full of empty promises. Palin stated, “I was just your average hockey mom and signed up for the PTA… I signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids’ public education even better” (Palin, RNC). Palin framed her entrance into politics as an almost accidental event influenced by her instinct to nurture and protect her children. In this way, Palin exploits her gender to avoid the trope that all politicians are looking for fame, respect, or power. While this appealed to a religious crowd that valued motherhood for theological reasons, it similarly appealed to populist ideals of the “everyman,” or in her case, the everywoman.

The particular form of motherhood (and womanhood in general) that Sarah Palin’s discourse referenced was heavily influence by popular conceptions of working mothers in the 2000s. In the article “Negotiating Work and Womanhood,” Gail Landsman argues that “popular media represents commitment to work and to motherhood as contradictory” (Landsman, 33). This highlights the main point of contention between feminism and conservative women. While most conservative women enjoy the gains of feminism, from voting rights to education to access to fulfilling careers, they rally against feminism because they believe that the movement inherently denigrates women’s role as wife, mother, and homemaker.

It is in this supposed biological role that religion begins to play a part. Many conservative women adhere to biblical mandates regarding the essential differences between the sexes. John Piper, a pastor and leading advocate of Biblical gender roles, states, “…the Bible reveals the nature of masculinity and femininity by describing diverse responsibilities for man and woman while rooting these responsibilities in creation…” (Piper, 20). Piper is one of the leading authorities on complementarianism, the view that God created the sexes for separate roles that complement each other. The complementarian view of gender roles assumes a biological determinism. Piper writes: “When the Bible teaches that men and women fulfill different roles in relation to each other… it bases this differentiation not on temporary cultural norms but on permanent facts of creation” (Piper, 20). With his nod to “temporary cultural norms,” Piper addresses the belief that feminism is a failed fad and that God’s creation of gender roles is inerrant as well as biological.

Along with differing roles, Biblical gender roles also mandate that a woman be submissive to her husband’s leadership. Many ask: How can women effectively be politicians or leaders while still being evangelical Christians? Doesn’t that go against the mandate for wifely submission? Sarah Palin often skirts around addressing the subject of wifely submission, which supports my argument that her rhetoric is crafted as ethical public discourse. For many conservative voters in America, that form of Biblical womanhood may seem too extreme. However, Palin does not ostracize those who may advocate for submission. In America By Heart, Palin speaks about her husband Todd, noting: “He has been a partner to me in every conceivable way…. He is a wonderful father, a wise adviser, and the love of my life” (Palin, 93). The terminology Palin uses here is very deliberate. The word “partner” appeals to feminist ideals of equality, while “a wise adviser” makes a very sly but motivated reference to wifely submission. In What’s The Difference, John Piper comments on the nuances of wifely submission.  Piper says: “…we define submission not in terms of specific behaviors, but as a disposition to yield to the husband’s authority and an inclination to follow his leadership” (Piper, 52). By calling her husband her adviser, Palin reminds conservative constituents that while she is the politician, she acknowledges his authority and leadership in her life.

However, Palin has refused to speak publically on the subject of submission. When a reporter confronted her about fellow conservative politician Michele Bachmann’s views on wifely submission, Palin agreed that respecting your husband was good but said: “I can’t imagine my husband ever telling me what to do, politically” (Bloomberg).  Palin smartly avoids bringing religious belief into this discussion, while her rhetoric regarding her husband does not alienate religious voters who may believe in submission.

Palin’s application of motherhood rhetoric in political spheres reconciles the contradiction that “the women’s movement has scorned mothers and homemakers, while conservative Christianity values that role and realizes how hard it is” (Manning, 57). Palin’s particular form of Evangelical feminism counters the belief that “by insisting women go out and have careers… feminists have denigrated their choice to be a homemaker” (Manning, 170).  Palin’s rhetoric of motherhood mixed with politics declares that she can have her cake and eat it too–that her true calling as a woman is to bear children, and that her political involvement is merely an extension of her motherly instinct to protect her children’s futures.
By addressing the personal importance of her role as a mother and wife, Palin implicitly communicates to religious voters that although she is active in politics, she has not forgotten that her true, God-given role is already defined by her sex. Palin addresses this convergence of her religious beliefs and her acceptance of the gains of feminism in her biography, America By Heart. Palin writes:

“…I consider myself a feminist. I believe men and women have God-given rights that haven’t always been honored by our country’s politicians. I believe that men and women have important differences, but those differences don’t include the ability of women to work just as hard as men (if not harder) and to be just as effective as men (if not more so). I also consider myself a grateful beneficiary of the movement for female equality, particularly Title IX… So I proudly call myself a conservative feminist” (Palin, 139).

While she courted religious voters with her divinely ordained motherhood, Palin’s acceptance of the feminist label created a more open dialogue between liberal and conservative women. By insisting that her religious beliefs did not completely dictate her political beliefs, Palin opened the Religious Right up to working mothers and moderate feminists who may have been previously ostracized by the explicitly religious rhetoric used by members of the Religious Right.

Sarah Palin’s particular vision of womanhood is also informed by her pride in her home state of Alaska, known to the “Lower 48” as the last great frontier. In fact, one of Palin’s famous quips revolves around the “mama grizzly” metaphor. Palin reflected on this in America By Heart, saying, “In Alaska, the only thing we take more seriously than a grizzly bear is a mama grizzly with cubs to protect… when the ones she loves are threatened, she rises up” (Palin, 127).  In the mama grizzly metaphor, Palin reinforces her image as a populist candidate with her state patriotism while simultaneously evoking a motherhood rhetoric that is based in instinct and biology.

Concurrent with Palin’s references to motherhood is her more specific pioneer woman rhetoric, which emphasizes the strength of early American women who helped shape the country but were not afraid to be women. Palin remarks, “…mama grizzlies have been with us for a long time. These are the same women who settled the frontier, drove the wagon, ploughed the fields, ran cattle, taught their kids, raised their families—and fought for women’s rights” (Palin, 129).  In her pioneer woman narrative, Palin locates the source of her brand of conservative feminism. This narrative is heavily reliant on the tropes of neoliberalism, as Palin emphasizes that women are not victims of oppression and that they can have it all if they just tug on their bootstraps.

Palin describes her new, conservative version of feminism in America By Heart. Palin writes: “Together, the pro-woman, pro-life sisterhood is telling the young women of America that they are capable of handling an unintended pregnancy and still pursue a career and an education. Strangely, many feminists seem to want to tell these young women that they’re not capable… The new feminism is telling women that they are capable and strong” (Palin, 153). Here, we see the neoliberal tropes that play a role in Palin’s reworking of feminism with a conservative and religious lens. Palin marries the Religious Right’s disavowal of liberal feminism with American narratives of a strong individual to create a modern conservative feminism.

In America By Heart, Palin describes how conservative feminism is able to reconcile the gains of the women’s movement with the divinely ordained gender roles espoused by Christianity. Palin, reflecting on how liberal feminists often claim that pro-life women cannot be feminists, writes: “…this new crop of female leaders represents a return to what the women’s movement originally was…. it used to be about respecting women’s unique role in creating and sustaining life” (Palin, 156). In defining how her conservative feminism operates, Palin advocates a return to First-Wave feminism, which recognized the differences between men and women but still wanted to afford them equal rights. It is in statements like these that Palin uses motherhood rhetoric to speak to conservative women—the women who often cherish the gains of the original women’s movement while criticizing how feminism has evolved to be incompatible with Christian womanhood.

I have argued that Sarah Palin created and utilized a rhetoric of motherhood to establish her authority as a political candidate and negotiate gender role dichotomies that equally challenged the belief systems of the Religious Right and the Secular Left.  Palin’s rhetoric, while using the strongly secular discourse of motherhood, had the ability to appeal to very religious voters through its implicit references to Biblical womanhood. Similarly, her avoidance of explicitly religious terminology allowed for greater support from less religious but still conservative voters. In crafting her authority through the rhetoric of motherhood, Palin also attempted to reconcile the inherent contradictions between evangelical Christianity and the feminist movement. Palin relied heavily on tropes of motherhood as well as traditions from first-wave feminism to define a new, conservative feminism where pro-family and pro-life women could feel comfortable expressing their strength. The many facets of Palin’s motherhood rhetoric in the 2008 elections provide an example of ethical public discourse that may help define the ways in which religious female politicians create their images in the future

Works Cited

Bloomberg. “Sarah Palin Visits Iowa State Fair.” YouTube. Web. 3 May 2012

Broxmeyer, Jeffery D. Of Politicians, Populism, and Plates: Marketing the Body Politic. Women’s Studies Quarterly Vol 38. Issue ¾ (2010): pp. 138 – 152. Print.

Dexter, Hedy Red and J.M. Lagrander. Bible Devotionals Justify Traditional Gender Roles: A Political Agenda That Affects Public Policy. Social Justice Vol 26. Issue 1, 1999:        pp. 99 – 114. Print.

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A Normatively Sexual Being Combatting Normative Sexuality

I’m formulating a presentation for a class on the Politics of Health and Medicine and my topic is sexuality. I had to read two articles— one was about transgender and transexual persons and identity in contemporary Iran and the other was about barebacking and “bug chasing” in the gay community. The latter term was completely new to me, but is essentially HIV-negative gay men having sex with HIV-positive gay men in order to get HIV.

The first article was rather easy to speak on– it mostly deals with the way in which post-Revolution Iran has dealt with non-cisgender identity and how it fits with sharia law and fiqh, sharia law evolving through rulings and interpretations of Islamic jurists. In America, at least within an activist community in which I was educated about LGBTQ issues, there is a recognition of the divide between gender and sex and how that fits into the identity of trans persons. This is also true of Iran, which sees the gender of the person’s “soul”– their gender– as the true identity of the person. Following physician and psychiatrists evaluations, people who find a discord between their bodies and souls can be authorized hormonal and/or surgical sex changes, after which a certification is issued with that person’s new name and identity state-verified. To me, this seemed quite radical of such a religious state to allow. However, the article I read suggests that these new fiqh interpretations are a structured way for the state to deal with unwanted homosexual behaviors. That way they can simply assign the transgender identity to a male who is attracted to males and convince him that he feels female. Changing the body, the sex of the person, to better fit categories of identity would be easier than confronting the existence of homosexual persons in Iran. Iran has very strict rules on the presentation and interaction of the two genders, and for a person to fall outside of those strict categories would be troublesome.

This was challenging to understand, but I eventually grasped it. However, my second article, the one on bug chasing, was way more problematic. I found myself reading and reading and eventually watching a whole documentary on the issue trying to understand it. Continue reading

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