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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Be Afraid: Sarah Palin and the Emergence of a Neoconservative Feminist Standpoint


In August 2008, U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be the vice presidential candidate. Palin’s selection evoked a range of passionate responses. Many people were shocked: some were shocked and elated, some were shocked and appalled, and some were shocked and emotionally torn. In addition to evoking passionate responses, Palin’s selection foregrounded a wide range of issues relating to gender: the historical gender disparity in candidates, the nature of sexism in the campaign, childcare roles, and the implications of a McCain-Palin administration for women. Among these currents of gender issues, I explore one specific stream: in a rhetorical move filled with contradictions and ironies, conservatives, including Palin, have made new claims to represent feminism. I suggest these claims signify the emergence of what I call a “neoconservative feminist standpoint.” In this exploration, I revisit the idea of a feminist standpoint, with particular attention to Chela Sandoval’s theory of a differential oppositional consciousness. I suggest a theory of what I call an “oppressive consciousness” as a complement to Sandoval’s theory. Applying this framework, I suggest that the neoconservative feminist standpoint can be interpreted as an adaptive strategy of an oppressive consciousness. Furthermore, in its practice, this standpoint is primarily an antifeminism in its invitation to fear, anger, and divisiveness, and its refusal to support women’s issues. Finally, I suggest that an examination of this emerging standpoint may result in additional possibilities for effective responses.

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