Are Questions about Feminism Being Obsolete Obsolete?

Why do I even bother to read this type of junk story? And on CNN for f*cks sake! I detest CNN’s hipster facade: their “we’re so cool we have a weekly segment called Just Sayin’ where we tackle ‘hot button’ (read: tired) issues like Is Feminism Obsolete?” nonsense. If this question is “news” then perhaps CNN is obsolete because the topic is so played out and mad boring–so boring that even contributor Carol Costello is at such a loss for something new to say that she repeats the same quoted sentence twice in a 267 word article. So why would CNN waste its time and resources even e-printing this type of story? Let me tell you the sentence Costello repeated: “No conservative woman would choose to call herself a feminist as it’s described by liberals today.”

Let’s deconstruct, shall we? This piece isn’t really about whether feminism is obsolete; it’s about conservatives being pissed that feminists didn’t stand beside on-again-off-again flip-flop feminist Sarah Palin when Letterman made a joke about her daughter. Costello insinuates that feminists must support all women all the time… even if the woman is Sarah-flippin-Palin making a big self-serving stink out of a little pile of poop. And when feminists were able to distinguish between one of their own and someone who was being opportunistic, some talking heads, like Costello, started to pooh-pooh feminism. Because maybe if feminism can be made to look unappealing to conservative women then they’ll forget the myriad ways they benefit from it.

The irony here is that Palin’s response to the joke was to decry a rape culture, hopping on the Right-wing bandwagon of co-opting Liberal rhetoric by making statements that sound a lot like something out of Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth. (Congrats Jess, you have a fan in Palin! Isn’t that totally awesome?) My guess is that this is yet another attempt from Palin to come across as ideologically aligned with women who completely wrote her off in the 2008 election. She’s playing both sides of the isle, folks, because when opportunity knocks… right? And 2012 is just a hairsbreadth away.

So CNN is couching its Palin support and anti-feminist sentiment in an article that questions the relevance of feminism. (Yawn.) Is anybody really buying this crap? Well, anyone but Commenter Larry, a guy who answers Costello’s question by saying, “Feminism is as dead as a door nail these days. We have bigger fish to fry. By the way you’re very pretty.”

Yup. Feminism is soooo dead and unnecessary.

Artwork: Feminism Series by FireAngelSgr

by Mandy Van Deven
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39 Comments Have Been Posted

Couldn't agree more!

Couldn't agree more!

from a defensive web and blog contributor...

If it's seems like there are two different opinions going on's cause there are! There are multiple bloggers on this site, who actually are not forced or expected to agree with one another and who don't expect you to either (a radical concept, I know). But seriously, the discussions happening beneath these two posts are about everyone's personal feminist approach. Also double check the blog byline before you start crying "hypocrite."

I think the point of the article...

...was debating whether conservative women would/could relate to feminism today if it is dictated by one political ideology (this question was played out, w/out resolution if you ask me, in the Palin/Letterman showdown). My answer has always been "I hope they can" because I always have, even if I'm a little put off by the extreme left part of the movement (hey, I'm put off by the extreme right of conservatism as well).

But I'm not so sure anymore...

It hurts all women if the feminist perspective is marginalized as radical when there is so much common ground to share and progress yet to be made. Leave the devisiveness to the politicians.

If your aim to work

If your aim to work together, coming over here and lecturing feminists about how they're doing it wrong is not a great start, especially when you have no history of dialog. Using a name with no attached web presence makes you look like a troll, tbh.

For example, you could start a blog and write about your ideas. <a href="">Octogalore</a> is a feminist blogger who has more conservative economic ideas than most feminists. So does Renegade Evolution, though as a sex worker activist, I don't know how much she would interest you.

However, I don't think you can be a feminist unless you support reproductive rights. Many feminists want to reduce the need for abortion, while still recognizing that making it illegal harms women.

what hurts women...

is being made to conform to some arbitrary standard of sameness.


Why do you have such a difficult time comprehending that a mother can be legitimately offended when someone makes a rape joke about her daughter? Feminism is about being for women--not against conservatives--and your response to Letterman's joke isn't unlike responding to a woman who has been raped with "Well, you were dressed very provocatively. You were asking for it!" You need to decide whether you are more interested in being pro-woman or furthering your leftist agenda.

CNN & Palin are beyond scrutiny?

I don't see this as the dichotomous situation that you're describing: pro-women vs. Leftism. Not only do I believe we can have both, but pro-women ideology and activism emerged from and is staunchly rooted in the Left. I'm sure Palin was offended by the "joke", and rightfully so. However, this doesn't mean one need chuck one's critical analysis of her response--or the media coverage of her response, which is, in this case, taking an anti-feminist stance (and is therefore, one could argue, anti-woman) while purporting to be sitting on the fence.

What I meant was that if one

What I meant was that if one is a feminist first then he/she stands against misogyny. Period. One who is a feminist first would say "Letterman's misogynistic joke is unacceptable." One who is a liberal first, and is more interested in hurting conservatives than helping women, would say "Letterman's misogynistic joke is unacceptable...BUT Palin had it coming." Once can be a liberal and a feminist, just as one can be a conservative and a feminist.
However, your assertion that feminism is rooted in the left is false. Many first-wave feminists were conservative. Susan B. Anthony was pro-life, Frances Willard was a temperance reformer and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union played an important role, as well.
How is her response anti-feminist? She came out and strongly asserted that we need to fight misogyny and realize that misogynistic jokes are not funny, but ignorant and unacceptable. In addition, she has always come out as an unapologetic conservative, never on the fence.

Although Frances Willard was

Although Frances Willard was a part of the temperance movement, she supported other progressive causes of the time. She could by no means be called a conservative, and identified as a Christian Socialist.

Hierarchy Schmierarchy, Anachronism, and Fallacy

Yeah, and I guess what I mean is that some of us don't have the luxury, the inclination, nor the desire to perpetuate false notions that aspects of our selves can or should be privileged over other parts of our selves... or that it is even possible to separate our selves into parts. Some of us prefer a more fluid idea of intersectionality to the rigid boundaries of identity politics.

Your use of the term "conservative" is anachronistic. You cannot judge people like Anthony by today's standards; people must be judged against the standards of the time in which they live(d). Maintaining the historical context, Anthony was a self-proclaimed Progressive. She was a lesbian who advocated for the rights of workers, was skeptical of religion, and fought for civil rights and women's rights through political activism and oration. Even if we were being anachronistic, those stances are solidly Left ones today. There's no need to repeat what Snowe said about Willard, so that leaves you with Anthony being pro-life--another incorrect chronological application, as the term didn't exist in Anthony's lifetime--or, more appropriately, anti-abortion, which also doesn't necessitate conservatism. Most pro-choice people believe that steps (comprehensive sex education and access to affordable contraception, for example) should be taken to reduce the number of abortions.

Also, one cannot define an entire movement based on a (poorly) cherry-picked handful of its participants; that's a logical fallacy.

Lastly, I didn't say Palin's response was anti-feminist. I said she's co-opting feminist rhetoric, actually. I said the CNN story is anti-feminist.

I don't think you understand

I don't think you understand what conservatism is so discussing it with you is pointless. However, if you want to learn something then you should read up on Susan B. Anthony and her views on eugenics and her stance on the 15th amendment if you think she was a fan of civil rights for anybody other than white women.

understanding... or a lack thereof

Again with the cherry-picking, MindaMJ. I don't think the problem here is my supposed lack of understanding of the principles of conservatism. The problem here is that you don't have adequate rebuttals to my arguments. How about you try addressing my points instead of re-articulating your own, which I have already rebutted, without adding more logical fallacies (ad hominem this time) to the mix?

Well, I think I understand

Well, I think I understand conservatism pretty well, seeing as I live in the Deep South and grew up in a very conservative church.

me too!

Hey Snowe... I grew up in the Deep South too. :) Hooray for GA!

I grew up in Mississippi,

I grew up in Mississippi, and now I live in Alabama. Nice to meet another Southerner!


The beauty part is that if women actually defended women all the time, regardless of other factors like ideological alignment, conservatives would dismiss that as identity politics. You can't win with these douchebags.

In the CNN article, Republican Strategist and CNN Commentator Mary Matalin is quoted as saying that feminism used to be about choosing the life you wanted. Oh, the glory days. Now feminism is about challenging race, class AND gender oppression at a structural level, and about increasing gender and sexual freedom for everyone including men. Is it just me, or does it sound like Matalin's entire understanding of the history of feminism is based on the movie "Working Girl"?

Right so...

Individualist liberal feminism that doesn't yield collective change = Good.

Radical feminism that demands liberation for <i>all</i> women and sustained institutional change = Bad.

Thanks <a href="">Mary Matalin</a> for clarifying where this fictitious monolithic feminism took a wrong turn!

Fighting for the right to be a self-proclaimed feminist...

Is there hope for conservative feminists and liberal feminists to find common ground?

Maybe not, but I've related to feminism since highschool, all through college and now as a working mother and just becasue I believe in smaller government and am pro-life, doesn't mean that equality for women, human rights globally, positiive self-image (especially for young girls) and consistently fighting against chauvinism and sexploitation isn't extremely important to me and my fellow girls of the right.

The problem with many liberals' kneejerk hatred of Palin to the point of hypocrisy, is that this was a joke (albeit not really funny) aimed at her DAUGHTERS with a pervy (at the very least) inappropriate undertone. He got called out on it and said he was sorry; apology accepted, move on.

You say your feminism is about challenging race, class and gender oppression at a structural level and increasing gender and sexual freedom - that may be your passion within feminism, but that doesn't mean you get to define it for everyone else. Conservative feminists may be more passionate about equality in education (getting more girls in the science/technology sector), fighting against global oppression of women (go Iranian ladies!) and standing up against sexual objectification of young girls and women (hello, Letterman!).

A recent poll showed that 40% of Americans identify themselves as conservatives. That's a lot of people to simply dismiss or call "douchebags." Maybe you need to actually get to know some conservative women; I work with women of all political ideologies and we've found common ground in promoting literacy and working on self-image with young girls. We may not agree on everything, but we do honor the feminists who fought for our rights (some of us, the traditional feminists like Anthony, Stanton and Wells; others relate more to Friedman, Steinem and Wolf) and the right for all women to have their ideas be heard; we've grown up and understand that sometimes (like on abortion, role of govt) it's okay to disagree - it doesn't mean we have to hate each other.

I wonder how many young women, who are more conservative than you'd like, are being turned off by the vitryol of progressive feminists towards Palin (and, apparently her DAUGHTERS) and are now thinking that they could never be a feminist because they don't understand it's cause - that would be the biggest shame.

I still never got an answer to this question: if anti-feminist rhetoric against Palin is sanctioned because you disagree with her politically, then is racism okay against conservative homophobia okay against conservative gays?

Progressive feminists are being called out on that hypocrisy and they're the ones chipping away at feminist credibility because they're a little too obsessed with whether someone has an "R" or a "D" next to their name and, as a result, are not being consistent or true to the convictions that they falsely believe are only the convictions of women with a very liberal tilt.

Let's take a step back and remember...

...the public backlash toward the conservative movement is legitimate and warranted. I think you need to drop your faux analysis of the feminist movement for a moment, and start a real analysis of where the conservative movement has been and is going. That would be truly worth reading.

Second, the political spectrum is far broader than republicans and democrats. None of us live in a bubble. We all know republicans and democrats, but we need to acknowledge that there are people farther to the right and left of mainstream politics. I think it's interesting that of the traditional feminist you mention, you include two anti-slavery activists, Stanton and Anthony. You forgot my favorite feminist, Helen Keller, who was a radical socialist. All of these ladies had far more radical tendencies than you give them credit for, and their earliest struggles were to increase women's voices, within progressive leftist causes that would make today's modern "D"s blush.

I'm not really interested in answering your question about homophobia and racist attacks on public figures, mostly because it seems like a question designed to make you feel good when it is inevitably answered "well, gee, they are never ok." While it seems like some people really did think Palin deserved the type of jokes made about her, by and large, the majority of people felt they were sexist and not ok. The real question was, why do feminists feel ambivalent about rushing to her defense? Besides not being that great for women, remember she did pass a law while a mayor that made women pay for their own rape kits, she's also used feminism in selective and self-serving ways. Let's also not forget that while a lot of people maintained their right to dislike Palin, most agreed that the jokes themselves were sexist and problematic.

If young women don't feel part of feminism because said young women hold political views that oppose feminist ones, I don't know what to do for them. The movement is inclusive, but it ain't that inclusive.

There is nothing feminist about...

....speaking against a sexist comment and following with a "but" and then going on to blame the victim. If something was wrong, just say so; don't say so and then go on to attack the woman for your disagreement with her on other subjects. That's why there has been criticism of feminists and we, as feminists, need to address that critique honestly without making it about politics.

I don't know what is faux about my analysis on feminism when you seem to concur with me that feminists of past have ran the gamut of the political spectrum - my point is that they still do.

Some progressive feminists will have to decide whether they want to be mainstream or radical and which path will draw more numbers and accomplish more for American women, and women worldwide. It's disconcerting that you don't seem to care about appealing to young women because they may have a different perspective - seems like these are the ones you'd want to appeal to the most...after all, it's pretty easy to preach to the choir but certainly doesn't increase the size of the congregation. Dwindling numbers will derail feminist causes much faster that any other factor.


Stanton, Wells, and Anthony as "traditional" conservative feminists?

Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor from laughing to hard. Do you actually know anything about them other than the misinformation and propaganda that Feminists For Life spread about them?

It actually makes me angry that you are trying to downplay these politically RADICAL women's beliefs. Please, stop trying to co-opt feminist history when you are so clearly ignorant.

I mentioned Stanton and Anthony...

because they were staunchly pro-life, which is probably the main difference between conservative and liberal feminists of today. I mentioned Ida Wells because I have a personal affinity towards her writings and her struggles within the movement at that time because many fellow feminists had a problem with her getting married - they truly believed that family would take away from Wells ability to advance the women's movement. While I'm at it, I'll also mention Ayn Rand (a staunchly pro-choice atheist) because I also relate to her conservative view of limited government.

And I've never heard of Feminists for Life. I actually look at many different viewpoints. I'm vegetarian, against the death penalty, VERY pro-sex education, etc. But still lean to the right in many areas. I'm not really into putting others down that disagree with me on some political subjects; I'd rather exchange ideas and foster thoughtful debate. I didn't realize I wasn't allowed to admire women who put their lives on the line to advance women's rights because I may not share ALL of their views. Thanks for educating me. I now realize I have to agree with everything they stood you're pro-life, right?

Confusing Order of Posts

Read my "Hierarchy Schmierarchy, Anachronism, and Fallacy" comment above.

Of course you can admire

Of course you can admire them. I just hate the way that you and the other "conservative feminists" have whitewashed or downplayed their political activism so you can score rhetorical points about how today's feminists are so mean.

I wish you'd take Ida B. Wells as a model and go foster some "thoughtful debate" with your fellow conservatives about their virulent misogyny and racism, instead of lecturing real feminists because they didn't condemn a sexist joke the right way on this blog. There are many of feminist blogs that have posts about liberal mens' sexism against Palin, Coulter, Malkin, etc. What have YOU done or written to criticize people on your side of the fence?

Just being conservative and feminist is a lot...

trust me, neither side seems very tolerant or inclusive if you don't agree with them on everything.

difference is valuable

I think we need to get past these ideas that we all need to be the same, think the same, act the same, have the same ideologies, etc in order to value each other.

good point...

...and worth remembering.

I'm deeply troubled by the Palin-esque approach to feminism, because it feels like the right's attempts to co-opt feminism much in the way they have attempted to co-opted other liberal discourses. I think an apolitical feminism based simply on "increasing (individual) women's voices" is far more beneficial to the conservative movement than the feminist movement. I think in this case, the conservative movement has co-opted feminist discourse about inclusion and tendency toward dissonance, and is using it in the hopes of dismantling feminism. The female vote is incredibly powerful and if the GOP can capture it by promoting female candidates with traditional right-wing values, that's incredibly beneficial for retaining power and the status quo of their politics.

Bitch has always been a great place to read talented writers able to deconstruct these narratives, able to separate the thought provoking wheat from the distracting chaff. Keep doing your thing.

Some of the "anti-abortion"

Some of the "anti-abortion" women of that time period were against it because it was harming women (due to being illegal). Not necessarily because it was "harming" those innocent little embryos. Nice try.

I like the analysis of what conservative women are focused on

I am struggling a bit with 3rd wave feminists' tendency to want to go along with the Boyz at any cost, and the fact that many feminists felt fine in attacking Palin. As a feminist, I believed we want to get women into office en masse of all stripes, and though I didn't agree with Palin's pro-life stance, I liked it that she was the youngest and first female governor of Alaska, and that she had worked with Big Oil to put money in the pockets of the people of her state. I knew the rape kit thing was a made-up smear, but it bothered me that feminists like Jessica Valenti and Eve Ensler spread it around, trying to give it street cred. It seems to me that feminists have been nicely divided, along patriarchal lines, into conservative vs liberal, Democrat vs Republican, pro-porn vs anti-porn, etc. Which means the movement has no core, and no strength, because no one can agree who's included, and no one can agree to work together for the benefit of ALL women. This to me is very sad and I would like to see a 4th wave get off the ground that ends divisions and works on bringing women of all backgrounds and ideologies together to advance getting more women into office, and ending sexism and misogyny for ALL women.

Steve & Larry

Enjoyed the post (and I thought that Larry was being sarcastic?). I noted one scary comment a couple of comments down:

<i>Feminism, racism, etc., will not be obsolete until society stops using quotas for race, gender and religion to make decisions. Also, the media will need to stop acting and a 1,000x amplifier of these issues. I am tired of hearing of the first black president, the first woman AND Hispanic nominated to the Supreme Court. How about that CNN starts the trend and only deals with people based on their abilities and achievements.</i>

I hate tripe that suggests that the only way to fix racism is to ignore it. I responded to this quote, in <a href="">my blog</a>, <a href=" if anyone is interested.


Feminism is not about "being for women" if those women are working against other women's human rights. Feminism is a political orientation wherein people believe women should not be discrimated against on the basis of sex or gender and shuld enjoy all the human rights men get. Funny how the people who have the most to say about the shortcomings of feminism are clueless about what it is. Read a book.


When have quotas ever been used to make a decision in the US? And if they were, would things be as awful for women as in Sweden, where they have actual political rights and decent pay? How dreadful!

Thanks for the mention,

Thanks for the mention, Snowe!

I think Pam makes a valid point. Why can't any woman who identifies as a feminist find a home in the movement, whether she's conservative or liberal? Pam specifically stated she's turned off by the far right in the conservative movement, so I'm not sure whether one can assume anything about her politics on social issues.

Further, there never has been and likely never will be any conclusive proof that either conservative or liberal economic policies are definitively "feminist." And many liberals do subscribe to a pro-(regulated)-capitalist stance, feeling it's the best of a bunch of flawed systems in enabling women and other less-represented groups to move up from lower class and power brackets. Despite this, very few large feminist blogs give fiscally conservative feminists a platform -- and typically, those fiscally conservative feminists who contribute to these blogs (yes, they exist, and no, I'm not naming names) don't feel comfortable identifying themselves.

I should give a plug to both Womanist Musings and Feministe, both blogrolled here, as both these blogs have been known to give a platform to fiscally conservative feminist bloggers. Strangely, <a href="">at Feministe,</a> a number of women came out of the commenting woodwork to admit they had an interest in discussing these ideas. But unfortunately, they are mostly disincentivized against doing so on feminist blogs.

to feminist or not to feminist

My issue with Palin is that she claims feminism when it's convenient and then shuns it when it's not, that's why I called her strategy opportunistic and question her dedication to the struggle for women's rights. Whether she is or is not identifying as a feminist changes with the way the wind is blowing, and it seems to me that more times than not, for her it's about playing politics, not about pushing for egalitarianism.

I think it's a mistake to think that all feminists are going to (or even need to) get along or agree or be "sisters" or whatever in order for feminism to be successful. For my part, I don't believe that full equality for women will ever be possible when classism, racism, heterosexism, and other forms of institutionalized inequity exists. That being said, I do believe that conversations about the benefits and drawbacks multiple economic systems and policies are necessary in order to theorize and put into practice a system that eradicates exploitation. These just happen to be two different, but linked conversations.

I'm confused

I'm confused by this response. Except for the last couple sentences, I am not sure how it is relevant to what I am saying. It could be that it is a response to other comments.

RE "I think it's a mistake to think that all feminists are going to (or even need to) get along or agree or be "sisters" or whatever in order for feminism to be successful." These are three different things. Clearly, feminists being people and people being folks who often disagree, one cannot think reasonably that all feminists are going to agree. Nor that they will feel like "sisters." Personally, there are only two women who seem like my "sisters" and that's probably because they are. Beyond that, there are close friends and acquaintances. However, "get along" is something that people need to do, at some level, to work together effectively. This doesn't require a BFF status, simply a professional and respectful one.

RE "I don't believe that full equality for women will ever be possible when classism, racism, heterosexism, and other forms of institutionalized inequity exists." Does that mean we shouldn't simultaneously strive for gender equality? Because "we've never had a female CEO of this company and I'm not ready for it" is the same problem as "let's prioritize men in tenure decisions" and "let's not set aside a breasfeeding facility for our female store clerks because the men are better." Gay rights activists, antiracist activists, environmentalists, etc., aren't waiting for world peace to occur to fight for their causes, and we shouldn't either. That doesn't mean feminists shouldn't or don't work in other areas of equal justice, obviously.

Finally: there is no such thing as "a system that eradicates exploitation." Per Churchill: "Capitalism [or, fill in your version -- I agree with him] is the worst economic system, except for all the others."

I do agree that there needs to be an openness to a dialogue about the costs and benefits of various systems. Because if that dialogue is happening elsewhere, but feminists refuse to have it among ourselves because we'd rather just label those who disagree as evil and not part of the club, then we are limiting our ability to find common ground as well as our ability to influence.

Yeah, I'm confused too...

because I'm not sure where some of what you say is coming from... if what you've written is a response to my preceding comment or a generalized reaction and/or related opinions. It seems to be some of both, but whatever the case, it also seems to me that we're (for the most part) saying similar things. :-)

Feminism isn't obselete

Feminism isn't obselete because it was a mistake from the beginning. Women are more miserable now than ever, and feminism has left a legacy of broken homes and a warped justice system.

Men are the natural leaders, and women are the natural supporters. This is a fact of nature and all of the jealousy and petty vindictiveness in the world won't change it. The reason women only earn 75% as much as men is because they choose the home over careers -- not because they have to but because they want to.

Feminism has failed. Let's end it. Women aren't victims.

that's sorted out, then

Thanks for sharing your warped and childlike perspectives, Larry! I'm sure everyone feels pretty silly about all their feminism now that you've slid by and offered your natural leadership in the area of how women being treated poorly is secretly wonderful. This is really going to turn things around, I can feel it. Soon the justice system may even heal up and stop prosecuting sexual assault or something else insane that you think is a good idea.

You've done a great thing for humankind this day, Larry H.

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