Can a feminist be socially conservative? The answer, of course, depends on your definition of feminism and helps explain why politicians as diverse as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton can claim to be feminists.
The mere mention of Palin and feminist in the same sentence gives old-line feminists agita, and this is pretty rich: A self-appointed group of superannuated bra burners has decided for the rest of us who can play in their tree house and who can't. Thanks, ladies . . . er, women.
As it is, I happen to think that neither Clinton nor Palin are feminists, but I suppose that because my experience with bras has been limited to unhooking a few in my time, my cred on the matter is suspect.
But I'll blunder on anyhow.
For me, Clinton's assertion that she is a feminist falls because of the simple fact that while feminists certainly should be forgiving of some spousal indiscretions, Bill Clinton has broken -- and by some accounts continues to break -- his wedding vows with such blue Gap dress regularity that a real feminist would have thrown the bum out years ago. Ditto for Elizabeth Edwards. (Oh, wait. She finally did throw the bum out.)
Palin is even easier to pigeon hole, and her yammering about "the emerging conservative feminist identity" is a knee slappper. This is because one of the things that defines a feminist for me is that they fight for social justice in general and women's rights in particular. I can't find a scintilla of evidence that the Saracudda has ever fought for anything other than her own self interests. Ditto for Christine O'Donnell.
Where the twains of the former half-term governor and present Secretary of State do meet is that they are role models, albeit very different ones.
Palin is a role model for takers: Millions of bucks for books in which she says nothing and television appearances in which she says even less, using her severely retarded son as a stage prop, and happily endorsing candidates as long her travel expenses are covered and the candidate's handlers agree to a list of dressing room requirements that would make Ozzie Osborne blush.
Clinton is a role model for givers: A nearly lifelong dedication to public service and good causes, the patience of a saint, the graciousness to accept her fair-and-square defeat to Barack Obama and his offer of a Cabinet level position at which she has excelled, and a determined and successful effort to shield her daughter from the harsh glare of the media spotlight when she was a child.
But no, neither are feminists.