Angry cries of “where are the feminists?” resound every timea powerful woman offends women on the left. Never is this veiled accusation of hypocrisy more triumphantly leveled than during election seasons, when pundits on the right luxuriate in an imaginary gotcha by pointing out that feminists do not support conservative women politicians or thinkers.
The latest variation on the theme concerns Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the polarizing author and activist whose work harshly critiques Islam. “Ayaan Hirsi Ali should be the perfect feminist hero,” National Review editor Rich Lowry opined in a New York Post essay last week. Alas, feminists cannot countenance Hirsi Ali’s perceived virulent Islamophobia. “Our society, and especially the left, tends to reflexively celebrate dissenters,” Lowry writes, “But some heretics are more welcome than others.” Lowry’s imagination omits the idea that someone can be correct about the problem (namely: the abuse of women and girls under brutal religious regimes) and wrong about the solution (that is, militant atheism). Feminists either support women with purportedly feminist aims or they are dishonest ideologues, and there is nothing more to it.
We went through the same routine during Sarah Palin’s inauspicious run for vice president. Less than three weeks after Palin’s candidacy was announced, Cathy Young declared in The Wall Street Journal that “Left-wing feminists have a hard time dealing with strong, successful conservative women in politics such as Margaret Thatcher,” and thus “Sarah Palin seems to have truly unhinged more than a few, eliciting a stream of vicious, often misogynist invective.” Young went on to claim that “You’d think that, whether or not they agree with her politics, feminists would at least applaud Mrs. Palin as a living example of one of their core principles: a woman’s right to have a career and a family.” But feminists were not interested in praising Palin strictly for being a woman. There were actual politics at stake, and it would’ve been an ridiculously dangerous move to substitute identity affinities for political analysis. Palin was, in retrospect, in no sense qualified for the position she was up for, and it is an article of fortune, not misogyny, that she hasn’t had the opportunity to run the country for the past seven years.