The Nation's Pulse

Beyond “Women’s Issues”

Sarah Palin is saving American women from "issues women care about."

By 9.23.08

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As long as everyone else is putting in his or her two-cents worth on Sarah Palin, here's mine: the placement of a strong, no-victim, conservative woman on a presidential ticket is the best opportunity I've ever seen to counter (or kill) that demeaning old feminist shibboleth, "women's issues." I ask you why, when Americans long ago did away with the patronizing concept of "women's work" -- a term once applied to chores considered beneath the dignity or interest of men -- do we accept the equally condescending concept of "women's issues," and employ it in every election?

Perhaps for two reasons. First, because this patronizing notion that is the bedrock of radical feminism has been embraced by candidates, politicians, and lawmakers of both parties, and second, I'm sorry to say, because many women act as unwitting participants in their own denigration by knowing little of policy and politics. Thus, rather than guide women to a higher understanding, the "women's issues" approach applies the "soft bigotry of low expectations" (to borrow from George W. Bush) to half the population. Well, Gov. Palin can change all that.

Just last week Michelle Obama took part in a "women's conference" at which feminists came to speak about "the issues women care about." You can bet they were not talking about economic policy and national defense. Their conversations undoubtedly followed the feminist establishment's tired old list of "Key Issues" which includes "Abortion and Reproductive Rights, Affirmative Action, Economic Equity and Sexual Harassment, Electoral Politics, Fighting the Right, Global Feminism, Lesbian Rights, Media Activism, Racial and Ethnic Diversity, Violence against Women, Women in the Military and Women-Friendly Workplace."

And there has been talk of Gov. Palin taking part in a similar festival of Self, The Oprah Winfrey Show, which divides its shows into categories such as "Spirit" ("Know Yourself," "Body Image"); "Style" ("Fashion," "Hair"); or "Relationships" ("Couples," "Dating"). Not quite the setting for serious policy talk, so perhaps it's a good thing that Oprah nixed the idea.

I hate to see my own sex tolerate isolation and disdain. We first permit the assumption that since we cannot look beyond ourselves and our own interest, only self-absorbed topics can make the list of "issues women care about." Second -- and by our own fault -- it is presumed that women's interests and insights are so narrow that we must leave to men such political issues as military readiness, foreign relations, national security, economic and monetary policy, foreign trade, immigration, judicial activism, deregulation, taxes and other matters.

What nonsense! All issues are "women's issues" -- as Sarah Palin surely knows -- because all public policy positions and the laws or actions that result affect all citizens and set the course of the country. Take tax policy. Any plan to lessen or increase the burden of taxes has a profound effect on women as workers, business owners and taxpayers; and more importantly, as citizens of a nation deciding whether its economic future will prefer a taxing government or individual initiative. Or take national and global security. Is victory over radical Islamic terrorism of no interest to generally risk-averse women? And is America's ability to lead globally and defend liberty not critical to all of us? Sarah is here to remind us that it is.

In the end, it is up to women to see themselves and be seen by others as citizens, and not as a self-interested subculture. We must learn more and be known to care about the effects of all public policy not only on ourselves and our families, but also on our country, states, and communities. It is up to women themselves to reject the condescension and move beyond "women's issues" into the real world.

And to that end, we're in luck. Every time this competent and optimistic warrior takes the stump or gives an interview, she shows us what it looks like to swap gender for citizen and really talk policy. So lead the way, Governor -- and please, stay away from Oprah.

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About the Author

Manon McKinnon is a writer living in Falls Church, Virginia.