Monday, August 30, 2010

This is a song Sarah Palin stole from Gloria Steinem; we're stealin' it back

I'm presenting a paper along with Michael Heaney, Joanne Miller, and Dara Strolovitch later this week at APSA on the topic of feminism and anti-feminism.  This paper is the product of our 2008 convention research.  This time, we're looking at convention delegates' evaluations of two key female candidates: Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.

We're still working on some of the details (which is why I haven't linked to the paper yet), but the main finding appears to be that delegates' evaluations of these candidates is strongly affected by their beliefs about gender discrimination.  Specifically, Democratic delegates who believe that workplace discrimination against women exists hold a higher opinions of Hillary Clinton than those who dismiss claims of such discrimination.  Conversely, Republican delegates who believe workplace discrimination against women exists hold a lower opinion of Sarah Palin than those who don't.

The research suggests that there are two different versions of feminism at work here.  The liberal version of feminism, exemplified by Hillary Clinton, is more or less unchanged since the 1970s -- it maintains that women should have a stronger presence in the business and political world in order to redress various forms of gender discrimination that still exist.  The form of feminism that Palin is articulating also seeks to encourage women to be active in the professional and political worlds, but also maintains that gender discrimination largely doesn't exist anymore.  This conservative version of feminism strikes me as somewhat new, far from the arguments that Phyllis Schlafly and others were making a few decades ago about women's best destinies lying in the kitchen and the nursery.

The terminology here is tricky.  Some refer to the conservative version as "anti-feminism."  And, to an extent, it is arguing the opposite of what more traditional feminism argues.  Except that it also does seek some empowerment for (conservative) women.  Palin, for example, has, at times, called herself a feminist, and she famously tweeted that feminism was "hijacked" by a "cackle of rads." And she has been very publicly backing female candidates across the country and encouraging others to run.  Is this the opposite of feminism?  Well, of course, that depends on what feminism is, and there's the debate.

I hope to have more on this after we get some feedback at the conference.