By Mason and Abramovitz
Friday, September 12, 2008
Gender identity politics won't work for women of color when it comes to the appeal of Sarah Palin, says C. Nicole Mason. And Mimi Abramovitz finds a racial double standard when it comes to teen pregnancy and recent welfare politics.
When the John McCain campaign announced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as its pick for vice president, women and the Democrats began to seriously worry about how she might influence the outcome of the election.
Would women who felt betrayed by the alleged snub of Sen. Hillary Clinton flock to her? Would women vote for her just because she is a woman?
At the time, it seemed like a brilliant strategy. Brava McCain, I thought to myself as I listened to my friends and the media pundits try to figure out how to handle this political hot potato. Was Palin the new everywoman; the selfless mother trying to juggle a career, hockey practice, the demands of a large family and the opportunity of a lifetime? Is shattering the glass ceiling, as the GOP is framing it, more important than a person's position on the issues?
As an African American woman, I was confused by these questions and the false choice now being presented to me: Vote gender or vote issues. In both instances, I've decided Palin loses out.
Yes, Palin is a woman, but not the kind of woman I can easily identify with, nor can many other African American or Latina women. We are not hockey moms, and when our unmarried teen daughters get pregnant society and others often do not see it as a blessing. Rather, we are viewed as perpetuating negative pathologies.
So, when I turned on the television and saw Palin speak about herself as the average working mom and woman trying to juggle it all, I couldn't relate. In her, I didn't see myself, my mother, my sister or even my next-door neighbor.
On the issues, she might as well be George W. Bush as I can not tell the difference between the two. Although Palin has not spoken publicly about her positions on immigration, affirmative action, job and housing discrimination, school re-segregation, police-minority community relations and racial disparities in the criminal justice system, we know where her party stands on these important issues.
What I do know, however, is that she is socially conservative and her stated views and opinions--from supporting the war in Iraq to her views on comprehensive sex education for our country's youth--run counter to many of my deeply held values and beliefs, not to mention those of my community.
Black women, Latina black women and Latinas account for 79 percent of all reported HIV infections among 13- to 19-year-old women and 75 percent of HIV infections among 20- to 24-year-old women in the United States. We are also nearly twice as likely to be poor than white women. In short, race and class profoundly affect how African American women and Latinas understand gender and our place in society.
When I talk to my friends, many of whom are women of color, about Palin, gender is hardly the point of consideration for them; it is her positions on abortion, comprehensive sex education, the war, affirmative action and immigration that matter most to them. If Oprah Winfrey were running for vice president and had Sarah Palin's views, she wouldn't get my vote either.
Perhaps the McCain camp isn't talking to African American and Latina women when they say Palin is the average American mom and woman. If they are, they have a lot of explaining to do.
--C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University and senior research fellow at the National Council for Research on Women.
The religious right was known for condemning teen pregnancy on moral grounds. But they have flip-flopped, now that the 17-year-old daughter of vice presidential hopeful Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska is with child. Palin is accepted, supported and praised.
I agree that when kids get into trouble families need our support, but I sense a racial doubled standard.
I was more than stunned when I saw a female Republican delegate on TV wearing a button that said: "I Support Unwed Mothers." These same political forces showed no such accepting attitude when they championed punitive welfare "reform" policies that penalize women for having children before marriage. While most mothers on public assistance have been white, the public wrongly assumed most were women of color; conservatives used vicious attacks on "welfare queens" to win votes.
Republicans demand abstinence-only programs that prevent schools from teaching about contraception, abortion and safe sex. They cut services for pregnant teens. And Palin wants a constitutional amendment to criminalize abortion, including cases of rape or incest. Yet she told the press, "We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby." But it is a decision she would take away from others.
Some think that Palin's daughter got a pass on unwed teen pregnancy because her family is white, affluent and on the right side of the political spectrum.
Mimi Abramovitz, Bertha Capen Reynolds Professor at Hunter College School of Social Work, is author of "Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy From Colonial Times to the Present," "Under Attack, Fighting Back: Women and Welfare in the United States" and co-author of "Taxes Are a Woman's Issue, Reframing the Debate."
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