Less than 24 hours after the historic selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate, a quick perusal of the National Organization of Women (NOW) website provides a telling window into the world of feminist politics. NOW is the largest feminist organization in the United States, claiming over 500,000 contributing members in over 500 local and campus affiliates. Its self-stated purpose is to "take action to bring women into full participation in society--sharing equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities with men, while living free from discrimination". You might think that a woman being nominated to become vice president of the United States would certainly qualify as "full participation", worthy of a glowing statement of support and a cry of "victory"!
You might think that, but you'd be wrong. On the NOW website a day after the Palin selection you see two stories that tell you all you need to know about how feminists view the nomination. The first story is about Sarah Palin:
NOW PAC Chair Kim Gandy said, "Sen. John McCain's choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate is a cynical effort to appeal to disappointed Hillary Clinton voters and get them to vote, ultimately, against their own self-interest."
Gov. Palin may be the second woman vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket, but she is not the right woman. Sadly, she is a woman who opposes women's rights, just like John McCain.
The second headline is about Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his running mate:
Hillary Clinton was our first choice, and that of 18 million primary voters, but Barack Obama's pick, Joe Biden, is a friend of women and a strong selection for Vice President.
Can it be that the National Organization for Women, the oldest, largest women's interest group in the United States is opposing a woman for the vice presidency of the United States?
The simple answer is: Yes, because NOW and other feminist organizations hew to a very strict leftist orthodoxy that places politics over gender. The NOW website, for example, lists prominently its "signature" issues--and they read like a laundry list of social activism: "Abortion and Reproductive Rights", "Racism", "Affirmative Action", "Disability Rights," "Marriage Equality" and many others. These issues provide the litmus test through which women are evaluated, with the most important being abortion rights--which is sort of the "First Amendment" of the women's movement. Not all women, it turns out, are created equal: if you don't believe in a woman's right to choose an abortion, you might as well be a man.
When Kim Gandy, NOW's Political Action chair, made her statement in support of Hillary Clinton during the primaries, for example, she noted how important it was for NOW to help women crack glass ceilings:
"Today, the first woman speaker presides over the U.S. House of Representatives, and Harvard University has its first woman president. Firsts are important, because they open doors for those who follow--but our real goal is to have every first followed by seconds and thirds and fourths, until having women in leadership is so common that it isn't even remarkable any longer."
Not for all women, however: Electing Sarah Palin as the first vice president in the nation's history doesn't count--because she doesn't march in lock-step to the way in which feminists have defined women's rights.
Such a strict definition of what is considered "acceptable" in the women's movement goes beyond NOW and other feminist organizations, and has become the de facto standard by which feminists view the world. The day Palin's selection was announced, for example, Sarah Seltzer, who writes at the liberal HuffingtonPost.com, wrote in an article entitled "A Feminist Appalled By Palin":
A lot of feminists out there are appalled by the cynicism and condescension inherent in this choice. It's as though the McCain camp believes our irrational she-hormones will lead us, like sheep, to pull the lever for any candidate who looks like us--even if she has a strong record, as Palin does, of standing against women's interests.
Tammy Bruce knows a great deal about the strict orthodoxy of the feminist movement, and understands first hand what someone like Palin is up against. A controversial author and talk radio personality, Bruce is a self-described "openly gay, pro-choice, gun owning, pro-death penalty, voted-for-President Bush authentic feminist." Bruce served as president of the Los Angeles Chapter of NOW from 1990 until 1996, but she has since been excommunicated from the "movement" by virtue of her outspoken, irreverent views. "The feminist establishment wanted people to be like stupid, submissive, noisy parrots", she's written, which includes hewing to a straight political line on issues. "I spent the whole of my activist career compromising myself, my individuality, and my sense of right and wrong in order to belong."
The desire to stamp out individualism and dissent among feminist groups makes for a very small ideological tent. Bruce was pressured to resign as president of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW when she made public statements critical of the overwhelming focus on race in the O.J. Simpson trial, to the exclusion of the issue of violence against women. It seemed a reasonable position for a women's organization to take, but NOW national president Patricia Ireland believed it "blotted NOW's otherwise impressive record of committed activism in the fight for racial justice and equality" and was insensitive to "people of color". All this from an organization focused on the right for women to be "heard".
Such is the state of feminist politics on this country. If you are a woman of high accomplishment, a wife and mother of five kids who believes passionately about the goodness of this country, you aren't woman enough for the NOW crowd if you aren't pro-choice and don't support feminism's leftist goals. And even if you have an even-money chance to break the highest glass ceiling in America, it still is not enough. Orthodoxy trumps gender. Every time.
Kenneth G. Davenport is a management consultant who writes for the Colorado Citizens Alliance at www.backboneamerica.net.