Last year, former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin famously declared herself to be part of a “conservative feminist” movement. Her remarks, made over the course of her public campaign to support “Mama Grizzly” female candidates for the 2010 midterm elections, highlighted an antagonistic rift between the conservative female politicians she helped support and progressive feminist factions who declared “conservative feminist” to be oxymoronic.
But this year, presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann hasn’t followed suit in her own campaign to win the Republican nomination, telling The Daily Beast in an interview that she defines herself as simply “pro-woman and pro-man.”
Bachmann’s refusal to align herself with the “feminist” movement came as a sigh of relief for many of the critics of Palin’s use of the term in 2010. After all, a pro-life, gay-marriage oppositionist (who in 2006 declared that she ascribed to the Biblical command for wives to be submissive to their husbands) doesn’t quite fit the mold of the popular conception of the modern-day feminist – pro-choice, LGBT rights advocate, and, for the most part, politically liberal.
Part of the divide is over mixed views on what exactly the term “feminism” has come to mean in recent years. Is it a package of political ideals, or can it also be used to describe the recent remarkable tide of visible political female leaders that encompasses the likes of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann? It’s difficult to deny that a determined, outspoken woman running for political office, particularly one who is currently leading the polls in Iowa and rising in the New Hampshire polls over her male counterparts, is representative of a significant shift in American politics. At the Huffington Post, Marie Griffith, Director of the Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University, writes that this new brand of “evangelical feminism” is less about involvement in the feminist movement and more about a different, religiously based form of egalitarianism:
Palin and Bachmann decidedly do not lean left. What is “feminist” about them, for those who want to use that descriptive, is their belief that God calls women no less than men to fight His battles against Satan on earth. Women hold awesome power as spiritual warriors, in this worldview; they’re not doormats, nor should their godly duties be confined to the domestic sphere. This is its own sort of egalitarianism, to be sure, but it is one far more compatible with the complementarian theology of arch-conservative Protestantism than with the feminism of liberal religion.
Whatever political skills Bachmann does manage to hone over the course of her campaign will be another contribution to the growing visibility of women in the political sphere – and though it may not be “feminism” per se, it’s a phenomenon that perhaps warrants new terminology of its own. “Even if its appeal is as much about style as about substance,” writes Griffith, “a door has opened that will not be easily shut.”