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A feminism that spans from Palin to Pelosi

By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; A17

Proving one's feminist bona fides has become the latest challenge for women aspiring to public office.

Is she a "real" feminist who walks in lock step with traditional feminist orthodoxy? Or is she a faux feminist, i.e. a woman who has benefited from traditional feminism, become all that she could be, but, alas, thinks independently on certain sacred tenets of the sisterhood?

The latest debate emerged recently when pundits on both sides of the widening chasm weighed in on the number of pro-life (and pro-life-ish) Republican women running for public office. The back-and-forth seems to have begun when feminist Jessica Valenti criticized Sarah Palin in The Post for declaring herself a feminist.

The implication: A pro-life woman can't really be a feminist.

Soon thereafter, Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review senior editor and author of "The Party of Death," declared in the New York Times that 2010 is the year of the pro-life woman, listing all those on today's ballot who happen to be pro-life.

Among them: Nevada's Sharron Angle, who will oppose Harry Reid for the U.S. Senate; South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley; former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, who won the Republican nomination in California for the U.S. Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer; Susana Martinez, who became her party's nominee for governor of New Mexico.

Seeing so many accomplished women reach the top of the political heap, not to mention their professions in some cases, should be cause for feminist celebration -- except for that one thing. Thus, left-leaning feminists in the blogosphere have responded breathlessly, which I mention only to suggest passion rather than to imply debutante tendencies, though who can be sure?

This all would be tedious if it weren't so entertaining. In fact, this is the crux of the crux in the arena of so-called women's issues. Can one be a pro-life feminist, or is the question an oxymoron?

As a matter of orthodoxy, yes, but as a matter of reality, not really.

We've come a long way, baby, and there's more than one type of woman roaming the vales and plains. But then, it was always so. There just weren't many varieties of women in the public sphere, as Ponnuru points out.

Earlier feminists were almost universally pro-choice and have dominated political debate until now. Having access to abortion was viewed as the only way women could have full equality with men, who, until recently, couldn't get pregnant.

Okay, they still can't, but we've now witnessed a bearded transgender man having babies -- and fake wombs are inevitable -- so anything's possible, apparently. Good luck with all that.

Back to the point, we now see women who have managed to gain equality with men while raising children, none more explicitly than Sarah Palin. At the risk of terminal heresy, I would suggest that behind almost every successful mother/politician/CEO is . . . a very good man.

Palin's full house and career haven't happened without the manly support of one Todd Palin. Real men don't hold their wives back.

The reason Palin so upsets the pro-choice brigade is because she seems so content with her lot and her brood. One can find other reasons to think Palin shouldn't be president, but being a pro-life woman shouldn't be one of them.

Though this is ancient history for me and my generation, some of whom are now welcoming grandchildren into the world, some of the lessons we've learned bear repeating. Chief among them is that many women who have had babies find it harder, if not impossible, to see abortion as nothing more than a "choice" to eliminate an inconvenience.

I fall into this camp, though I've never been able to support reversing Roe v. Wade, which makes me unpopular with nearly everyone. Apart from legal arguments as to whether the Supreme Court ruling was constitutionally appropriate, I'm libertarian-leaning enough to insist that government should have no role in determining what anyone does with his or her body -- as long as no one else is hurt.

Save your "ah-ha's!" until the end, please. Obviously, the forming human life is destroyed, and thus I also can make a human rights argument against abortion. I think we should.

That other women, such as Palin, want to reframe the abortion debate in new feminist terms, arguing that abortion hurts women and is, therefore, anti-woman, doesn't bother me a bit. And it shouldn't bother older-school feminists.

Equality, after all, means that every woman has a voice.

kathleenparker@washpost.com

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