When comedian Bill Maher called Sarah Palin a "dumb t—t" on his HBO show last week, few people were holding their breath waiting for the National Organization for Women to come to her defense. But as a matter of fact, NOW—the largest feminist organization in the U.S.—did. They just did it in a way that brings to mind the old saw, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"
According to the Daily Caller, "NOW made it clear that their denouncement of Maher's sexist remark toward Palin is in no way an endorsement of her or conservative policies." NOW communications director Lisa Bennett said,
You're trying to take up our time getting us to defend your friend Sarah Palin. If you keep us busy defending her, we have less time to defend women's bodies from the onslaught of reproductive rights attacks and other threats to our freedom, safety, livelihood, etc. Sorry, but we can't defend Palin or even Hillary Clinton from every sexist insult hurled at them in the media. That task would be impossible, and it would consume us. You know this would not be a productive way to fight for women's equal rights, which is why you want us stuck in this morass.
Given Palin's position on "reproductive rights," it's hard to miss Bennett's swipe at the very woman whom her organization was defending against a sexist slur. Her statement carried this subtext: Pro-life women are less important than pro-choice women. Even without the mention of reproductive rights, the phrase "even Hillary Clinton" would have been a dead giveaway. Bennett's comment suggested that pro-life women are a disgrace to their sex, and if by some misfortune they need defending, then it should be done only under protest.
From what I've observed, this tone is all too common where Palin and other pro-life women are concerned—so common that we have come to expect it. For an example, go back and read what Wendy Doniger, history of religions professor at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, wrote at The Washington Post's On Faith blog during the Palin vice presidential campaign: "Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman …. She does not speak for women; she has no sympathy for the problems of other women, particularly working class women."
Why would Doniger say such a thing? Because of Palin's views on "both sex and religion (which combine in the debates about abortion)," and because of the way those views influenced Palin's politics.
So when Bennett claims that conservatives defending Palin are guilty of "the worst kind of hypocrisy," she's basing that charge on the common pro-choice view that to be a conservative—particularly a pro-life conservative—is to be anti-woman.
But Bennett and Doniger and others like them need to take a long hard look at hypocrisy in their own camp: the tendency to attack a person's very identity because of a difference in beliefs. For gender—contrary to those who teach that it's merely a social construct—is one of the most personal and essential things about us. It's core to who we are. Thus, the charge that a pro-life woman is somehow less of a woman is the lowest of blows.
When pro-choice feminists like Bennett and Doniger argue that women should not be treated as inferior beings because of their gender, one has to wonder if they're so vehement precisely because they are familiar with the temptation to dole out such treatment, and know just how powerful a weapon it can be. As we've seen, pro-life women can make some of them so angry that they go for the jugular—that is, gender—themselves.
There's an important application here for Christians, who believe that all persons, of all beliefs, backgrounds, and genders, are created in the image of God and derive their worth from him. That in itself should ensure our respect for each person's dignity, and restrain us from personal attacks based on gender or race or appearance or any other God-given quality. All of us struggle in that area, myself not least. But as Christians, we have a vital reason to fight the temptation: our stated belief in the value of each human life that God has created.
Whether the woman making headlines at any given moment is Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama or Laura Bush, some of us will have reasons to disagree with her. But disagreements should be just that: disagreements. As Christians, however strongly we deplore a person's ideas or actions, we should know that to attack a woman on the basis of gender, or any other essential part of her identity, is to attack the God who made her.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog. She wrote "The Good Christian Girl: A Fable" and "God Loves a Good Romance" for CT online, and "The Social Network's Women Problem," "Facebook Envy on Valentine's Day," "What Are Wedding Vows For, Anyway?" "Why Sex Ruins TV Romances," and "Don't Think Pink" for Her.meneutics. She is working on a book about the media's treatment of Sarah Palin during Palin's vice presidential campaign.