September 22, 2008
What do women want?
Radical Women's take on Governor Sarah Palin
by Toni Mendicino, San Francisco and Mary Ann Curtis, Seattle
The status of women and children is a barometer of society's humanity. Governor Sarah Palin's campaign for U.S. Vice-President is making headline news of long-ignored working mothers' issues. Women across the country understand what it means to juggle managing a job with raising children. They also know that Palin's solutions are outmoded and impossible without a nuclear family of wife, husband and children living under one roof, with help from relatives nearby. The majority of women are underpaid workers without such support. Many raise children alone. Most need paid maternity and family leave and childcare to keep their jobs and sanity.
Super mom and superhero to the rescue of a failed U.S. economy and leadership
As Wall Street collapses, tens of thousands lose jobs, and living costs soar under the watch of the Bush regime with complicity of the Democrats, women carry the heaviest burden. In response to the crises of war, environmental destruction and lack of funds for housing, healthcare, childcare and education, the Republican leadership offers the Palin candidacy. In an interview with People Magazine, Governor Palin reported that she signed government bills within two hours of giving birth to her latest child, and was back in the governor's office after two days of maternity leave. Big business and the state love her "super mom" credentials—because women's free labor in the home means corporations and the government can sidestep paying their share of raising the next generation of workers. A system that says the individual can and must "do it all" without societal support is anti-woman and anti-human liberation.
In the absence of political leaders willing to fight for humane policies that benefit working people, all the pressures of parenthood and survival in an economy which super-exploits women, immigrants and people of color remain intact. We require anti-capitalist alternatives to the brutal for-profit, war-driven capitalist system that benefits just a few and fails to support the majority of people. Women don't need Sarah Palin and more "free market" chaos to save the day. We must have a rational, planned, egalitarian, socialist society that distributes wealth based on need, not greed.
Turning feminism on its head
The parade of female elected officials at Democratic and Republican party conventions illustrate that both need the votes of women to win. Yet, both parties topped their agendas with women who ignored issues such as affordable quality childcare, healthcare including full reproductive rights, public education, affirmative action and living wage jobs without forced overtime. It was all about gender and personality before politics. Follow this fuzzy logic to its natural conclusion and you get a right-wing female candidate touted as a victory for women.
Palin's anti-abortion stance alone, necessary to her GOP nomination, turns women's rights on its head. What rights do women have if they can't control their own bodies? What rights do teenage girls have if they are denied accurate sex education and steered into marriage and having children before they are ready?
Break the glass ceiling for whom?
Under the guise of breaking the class ceiling for women, Palin is erroneously paraded as someone who embodies a broader definition of female rights and the feminist movement. But what does it mean to be a feminist? Does it mean getting jobs and public offices for well-to-do women only? Does it mean fighting for the rights of poor, unwed moms who are often society's scapegoats? Can it be both?
There is no such thing as a monolithic movement for social and political change, and this is true of the feminist movement as well. Radical Women advocates for the working class and those at the bottom of the economic ladder, not movement leaders who promote the interests of the owning class in an attempt to get a piece of the pie. So the answer to the question, "What do women want?" depends on whom you talk to. And who should be asked are those who bear the brunt of society's ills—underemployed women, often of color, who are also caring for elderly parents because the social safety net has gaping holes in it. Deal with the issues of these women, and all will benefit.
Socialist feminist antidote to today's political woes
In contrast to opportunistic attempts to co-opt women's votes, Radical Women believes it is time to reject candidates like Palin, McCain, Clinton and Obama, who try to keep a lid on women's issues. We vote for candidates based on political program, not their gender or race.
We believe that women need to organize and fight for what they want, not wait for a "super mom" or superhero to save the day. To this end, Radical Women will hold a national conference, "The Persistent Power of Socialist Feminism," October 3-6 at the Women's Building in San Francisco. We'll be discussing how women can and do effect change at the ballot box, the work site, and in the anti-war and other progressive movements. Our goal is to create a concrete education and action plan to strengthen the left-wing of the feminist movement. For more information and registration, visit www.Radicalwomen.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 415-864-1278.
Toni Mendicino is on the National Executive Committee of Radical Women and active in the Coalition of University Employees (CUE) at the University of California at Berkeley. She can be reached at email@example.com. Mary Ann Curtis is an organizer for Campus Radical Women at the University of Washington in Seattle and is currently involved in a campaign to unionize professional staff there. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.