The paradox of Palin: Being a woman versus supporting women

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Being a woman and supporting women’s rights are two different things. Herein lies the paradox of Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin is incontestably a woman, and only the second female vice presidential candidate the United States has ever had. This, it would seem, is one more step toward gender equality and female empowerment. Maybe, one begins to think, what we need to turn this country around is not a party shift, but a gender shift. Women, one reasons, seem to be accomplishing a whole lot these days.

In case one didn’t know, there is more than one woman in politics. John McCain is unfortunately aligned with this ideological scenario. Putting Palin in as the token woman in the race after Obama received the nomination, as though we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between her, an inexperienced, provincially-minded governor of Alaska, and Hillary Clinton, a woman who has reinvented herself as a political giant and is as experienced, powerful, and respected as any man in the running, is insulting. More insulting is the fact that, in making his choice, McCain relied on the unwavering solidarity of the feminist community and bonds of sisterhood to help tip the scales in November.

Yes, Sarah Palin is a woman — a woman who represents women who believe that the government should hold the key to the future of their reproductive rights. Sarah Palin wants to go back to a time when women endured desperate, risky procedures to end unwanted pregnancies at their own physical and emotional peril. As French philosopher Bernard Henry Levy wrote in the Sept. 14 issue of New York magazine, Palin is a “caricature of a free woman who plans to deny her peers one of their most cherished and hard-won rights, the right to an abortion.” In short, Palin represents the women of 50 years ago, and in doing so, is alienating the women of right now.

Months ago, I was shocked to read that my favorite “moderate,” John McCain, planned to overturn the 36-year-old historic decree that is Roe v. Wade. A man, one who has never felt the real fear of pregnancy, who has never truly contemplated an abortion, making this decision for millions of women all over the country. In such cases in which children are born into less-than-ideal environments, far more often it is women saddled with the consequences of this choice, their own choice, as the law stands now, to give birth. Eighty-four percent of single parents are mothers, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2007.

This is why I was shocked to read that Palin supported McCain so much. In addition, she backed the senator in his support of a bill to alter the definition of abortion such that it includes the use of contraception. In an editorial in last Friday’s New York Times, Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards extrapolate on the potential consequences of such a decision — “[Health and Human Services] does not even address the real cost to patients who might be refused access to these critical services. Women patients, who look to their health care providers as an unbiased source of medical information, might not even know they were being deprived of advice about their options or denied access to medical care.”

We’re talking about a woman whose own 17-year-old daughter, empowered by a chunk of the billion dollars the Bush administration spent on abstinence-only education last year, decided to have the baby, marry the father, and in doing so give up all of her own dreams and plans. I’m not chastising Bristol Palin for her pledge, which is honorable in every respect; I am chastising her mother for not teaching her that she had other choices so she could make a real decision on her own and not follow what she was led to believe was simply “protocol.”

The National Organization of Women (NOW) knows what’s up: For the second time in the organization’s history, the group has endorsed a presidential candidate. The first was Geraldine Ferrara in 1984, the first female presidential candidate, who they felt best represented the rights and issues that were important to women. The second is Barack Obama, for the same reason.

Palin cites her Christian Fundamentalist beliefs for her stance on abortion. Clearly this excuse is a red herring, as the law is known colloquially as the right to choose, and those that support it pro-choice. By the terms of this law, doctors are allowed to elect not to perform abortions; patients are allowed to not have them. This is a moral, ethical, and religious issue on which Americans aren’t going to agree, and the law as it stands reflects that. And if Americans aren’t going to agree, we can’t responsibly pass, or un-pass, a law that will unjustly restrict the rights of all Americans.

What is more frightening is the degree to which Palin lets her religious views color her political ones, issues far more potent and of far greater consequences than abortion. Palin believes that global warming, the hurricanes destroying New Orleans and Galveston, Texas, and the Iraq war are part of God’s plan.

As the feminist and playwright Eve Ensler wrote in the Sept. 8 Huffington Post, “Sarah Palin does not believe in evolution. I take this as a metaphor. In her world and the world of Fundamentalists nothing changes or gets better or evolves….Sarah Palin does not much believe in thinking. From what I gather she has tried to ban books from the library, has a tendency to dispense with people who think independently. She cannot tolerate an environment of ambiguity and difference....[As vice president] she would govern one of the most diverse populations on the earth.”

Hers is a philosophy that cannot and will not be used to govern this country, a country that is known as a world power that consistently sets the global pace when it comes to scientific, artistic, and ideological innovations and beliefs. This standing is rapidly deteriorating, and will only deteriorate further if the McCain/Palin ticket manages to elude enough voters by the time November rolls around.

Religion is a powerful and unchangeable force. It is what gives people hope when there is no hope and is a driving force behind the lives of many individuals who live in the United States. It is also a personal choice and a private practice that has no place in politics. Worship and believe whatever and whomever you want — just don’t try to change federal laws to suit your particular choices.

This is an election based on politics, not gender, not religion, not Alaska. Let’s vote for the right candidate based on the issues for which he or she stands, not because she is the same gender or worships the same God that we do.