By Stacy Drake
Last Friday, Michelle Goldberg at the Daily Beast posted yet another feminist article from a left-wing perspective, titled “How Palin Flunks Feminism.” Once again, declaring Governor Palin unfit for feminism. Goldberg took swipes at Governor Palin’s new book ‘America by Heart‘ for discussing early women’s rights icons and other historical feminist issues. Goldberg’s article begins:
In some ways, it’s a good thing that Sarah Palin calls herself a feminist. It means that, even among conservatives, women’s equality has become a normative position, the starting point for debate. It means that feminism has gone from something that the right wants to destroy to something it wants to appropriate. That’s progress, of a sort.
Come again?… She said “it means that, even among conservatives, women’s equality has become a normative position.” What century is this woman living in? When wasn’t equality a “normative” position for conservatives? Certainly that hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. Goldberg continues:
But reading Palin’s new book, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag, it’s clear that in order to claim feminism as her own, she’s had to radically distort its history. In a chapter on feminism that’s sure to be widely discussed, she mischaracterizes the views of nearly every historical feminist she mentions.
Sometimes she does it to defame them, other times to make it seem as if they shared her ideology. As so often with Palin, it’s hard to tell whether ignorance or dishonesty is at work. Perhaps neither she nor her ghostwriter had time to read up on women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, presented here as a pious Christian conservative. But couldn’t one of them at least have perused her Wikipedia entry?
I wonder if Michelle Goldberg writes about male politicians in such a catty tone?
There are several instances of almost comical projection by Goldberg in this article. For instance, she says that Governor Palin had to “radically distort its history” in order to “claim feminism as her own.” Throughout her article, Ms. Goldberg certainly tries to rewrite history in an effort to claim feminism for the left, and the left only. Ms. Goldberg says Governor Palin “mischaracterizes the views of nearly every historical feminist she mentions.” While that’s untrue, Goldberg does plenty to mischaracterize Governor Palin and conservative views in general. She writes about the governor:
She takes a swipe at what she calls Hillary Clinton’s former appearance of “1960s-era bra-burning militancy.” Against such viragos, she sets earlier feminist heroines, who she seems to imagine were a lot like Sarah Palin. “What is hardest to take about liberals calling the emerging conservative feminist identity anti-feminist or even anti-woman is that this new crop of female leaders represents a return to what the women’s movement originally was” she writes.
The historical revisionism here recalls that of Christian conservatives who try to paint our deistic Founding Fathers as devout evangelicals. At one point, Palin refers to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments,” which came out of the historic 1848 women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York. Stanton deliberately echoed the language of the Declaration of Independence, referring to the rights that women are entitled to “by the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” To Palin, this mention of God proves that Stanton shared her faith: “Can you imagine a contemporary feminist invoking ‘the laws of nature and of nature’s God?’ These courageous women spoke of our God-given rights because they believed they were given equally, by God, to men and women.”
She says “to Palin, this mention of God proves that Stanton shared her faith.” So, Michelle Goldberg is also a mind reader? Probably not. I think what Governor Palin meant was that this early feminist had invoked God while at the same time fighting for her cause. You certainly don’t hear the women of NOW invoke God when they’re giving a speech these days. In what way is Governor Palin quoting Stanton’s own words, then making a factual observation, revisionist history? It’s not. She continues:
Not really. Stanton was a famous freethinker, eventually shunned by more conservative elements of the women’s movement for her attacks on religion.
There is no question that Elizabeth Stanton had serious problems with many elements of the organized religion of her day. What does that have to do with sharing the common bond of the belief in God? I get the feeling that Michelle Goldberg isn’t a big fan of Christianity in general…
The article goes on:
Palin also tries to claim Susan B. Anthony for her side. The idea that Anthony was anti-abortion is a cherished one on the right; one anti-abortion political action committee calls itself the “Susan B. Anthony List.” “Susan B. Anthony saw the fight for the rights of the unborn as part of the broader fight for women’s rights,” writes Palin
Again, not really. As Ann Gordon, the editor of Anthony’s papers, and Lynn Sherr, one of her biographers, wrote earlier this year, “We have read every single word that this very voluble—and endlessly political—woman left behind. Our conclusion: Anthony spent no time on the politics of abortion. It was of no interest to her, despite living in a society (and a family) where women aborted unwanted pregnancies. “
Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr have got to be the worst biographers in the country to come to that conclusion. They say they read every word “the woman” left behind, but it appears that they omitted the weekly women’s rights newspaper Anothony co-founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton called, “The Revolution” from their studies.
Marjorie Dannenfelser recently penned an op-ed for the Washington Post where she addressed Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr’s proclamation. Dannenfelser writes:
Two Susan B. Anthony scholars, Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr, think they’ve struck at the heart of the pro-life argument: the Susan B. Anthony List’s ignorance of who its namesake actually was. Citing a lack of documentation of the suffragists’ stance on abortion, the authors concluded that Anthony was, “instead,” pro-women’s rights – in the Hillary Clinton-era sense of the term – or, at best, that abortion was nowhere on her radar.
The argument is unfounded on many levels, but foremost, on the credibility issue.
Susan B. Anthony was passionate and logical in her arguments against abortion. The Revolution was her brainchild, co-founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a weekly women’s rights newspaper that acted as the official voice of the National Woman Suffrage Association and in which appeared many of her writings alongside those of her like-minded colleagues. Most logical people would agree, then, that writings signed by “A” in a paper that Anthony funded and published were a reflection of her own opinions.
In one house editorial, signed “A”, she wrote: “Guilty? Yes. No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who… drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!” [The Revolution, 4(1):4 July 8, 1869]
Further, as one becomes familiar with Anthony’s compatriots and their thoughts on the issue, it is clear and consistent that these early women leaders did not believe abortion was a good thing for women.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton lamented, “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.” [Letter to Julia Ward Howe, October 16, 1873]
In Anthony’s The Revolution, Stanton referred to abortion as “infanticide.” [1(5):1, February 5, 1868]
So, was Susan B. Anthony a pro-abortion crusader that Michelle Goldberg can claim for “her side?” Not really.
America by Heart is as wrong about the feminists Palin despises as it is about those she admires. She relies on the historical expertise of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism for her attack on Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. Paraphrasing Goldberg, she writes that Sanger was an advocate of “Nazi-style eugenics” who advocated birth control “to keep the ‘unfit’ from reproducing—particularly blacks.”
Sanger was a flawed woman who transcended some of the prejudices of her time and not others. There is no doubt that she said things that sound abhorrent to modern ears. (As did Stanton and Anthony.) She operated at a time when eugenic arguments were very much in vogue, harnessed by both sides of the birth-control debate. (Opponents of contraception claimed it would lead to a dangerous drop in the white birth rate). But Sanger, who got her last name from her Jewish husband, was no racist; she believed that intelligence and ability differed among individuals, not ethnic groups.
The name of Sanger’s attempt to bring birth control to poor communities in the black South—“The Negro Project”—has a hideous ring today. But it really was a humanitarian effort rather than a racist scheme; the project’s advisory board included W.E.B. DuBois, Harlem pastor Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women.
Goldberg even adds that Planned Parenthood “awarded” Martin Luther King the esteemed, Maggie Award in 1966. Something I found ironic but not unbelievable considering the year it was. Keep in mind that this was before the internet and before twenty-four hour news channels. They didn’t have access to information like we have today. Martin Luther King couldn’t Google Margaret Sanger to find out about the time she was an honored guest at a Klan rally in New Jersey. Bloggers weren’t amassing her writings to prove that she was indeed a racist who firmly believed in Eugenics. I’m guessing that if you wanted to keep certain things from certain people in those days, you could. In fact, I don’t see any other explanation for black pastors and civil rights leaders standing with people like Sanger, given what we know about her today.
While Michelle Goldberg attempts to be snarky referencing Jonah Goldberg’s (the better Goldberg) “historical expertise,” she would be doing herself a favor to read the man’s book. She referred to “The Negro Project” created by Sanger as “a humanitarian effort.” That is either disingenuous or dangerously ignorant, but overall repugnant. In “Liberal Fascism” Jonah Goldberg writes:
In 1939 Sanger created the previously mentioned “Negro Project,” which aimed to get blacks to adopt birth control. Through the Birth Control Federation [Sanger’s group], she hired black ministers (including the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr.), doctors, and other leaders to help pare down the supposedly surplus black population. The project’s racist intent is beyond doubt. “The mass of significant Negroes.” read the project’s report, “still breed carelessly and disastrously, with the result that the increase among Negroes… is [in] that portion of the population least intelligent and fit.”
In that same year, Sanger wrote to a colleague:
“We don’t want word to get out”… “that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
It’s hard to imagine that Michelle Goldberg would even attempt to whitewash Margaret Sanger’s record, but I guess when the hideous reality never works it’s way into the conversation at the New York cocktail parties, one could easily miss it.
Michelle Goldberg’s article was not an easy piece to dissect considering she gets so many things wrong. From her historical facts, to her heroine’s character, to the character and belief system of her perceived foe – she get’s it all wrong. What I think is sad is the lengths that feminists on the left will go to close the door on conservative women.
I think Governor Palin summed it up well near the end of the chapter of her book that Michelle Goldberg attempted to dice up. She wrote:
Liberal feminists like to accuse women who don’t agree with them of trampling on the legacy of the women who fought before us. But it’s these women who have twisted and distorted the campaign for women’s rights into a campaign for everything from abortion on demand to government-run health care who have distorted the women’s movement’s legacy.
Women’s rights should be about inclusion and equality. It’s clear that the left is having none of that. They are more focused on keeping women who disagree with them on certain issues from receiving any sort of inclusion, or even respect. They claim to stand for women, but their mask is slowing slipping away and the face underneath is nothing more than the face of a leftist.
(H/T Doug. Thanks Whitney for assistance)