'Baby Palins' Do Not Like Being Called 'Baby Palins'

An Elle article draws ire from the conservative women it profiles

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Players: Nina Burleigh, American author and journalist who wrote Elle magazine's "The Best and the Rightest" which profiles "a new generation of conservative women" and their popularity; Ashley Sewell, Karin Agness and Carrie Lukas--the women she profiled for the Elle piece.

The Opening Serve: "The Best and The Rightest" appeared on Elle's Web site on August 12, showcasing a new generation of conservative women, "Baby Palins" as Burleigh calls them. "Behold the new face of conservative womanhood," Burleigh writes. "The sisters [Hannah and Regis Giles who she profiles] are just two of thousands of young women in cocktail dresses who professed their love for guns, low taxes, and red meat at the Conservative Political Action Conference 2011, an annual gathering of 10,000 political activists, more than half of whom are college-age, nearly all of whom are white."  Burleigh goes on to detail these women's politics and their marketing strategy. "Feminist bashing remains the surest way to earn cred in the conservative movement, and 'feminist' is an easy, all-purpose insult, eclipsed perhaps by only the dread 'liberal.'"  She adds: "Thanks to the bankability of the telegenic, witty right-wing blond willing to trash the 'identity politics' of feminism, young women...have a bevy of bright, sassy women in their own age group to emulate."  After profiling several of these women across the country Burleigh was left with this assessment:

The young women I interviewed for this article share almost every goal of feminism. They want to be—and in many cases, already believe themselves to be—“empowered”: educationally, financially, sexually. But they resist any effort to put advancing their fellow women front and center.

That means opposing everything from gender-based affirmative action, such as government-mandated quotas for female athletes under Title IX, to equal-pay-for-equal-work laws. So on the one hand they may lament that there are only a handful of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies and only 17 female U.S. Senators—“It does matter,” [Ashley] Sewell says. “A woman’s perspective is different from a man’s.” But on the other hand, they’re not going to take to the ramparts to try to increase the numbers.

The Return Volley: It turns out the "Baby Palins" weren't too thrilled with the moniker. "I was totally shocked and pretty horrified by the way I was characterized by this Elle piece," said Carrie Lukas, the executive director of the Independent Women's Forum, to The Daily Caller. "This idea of putting people in this Palin box is a liberal caricature of what all conservative women are like...There are a ton of conservative women out there…The idea that everyone is following a trend of Sarah Palin is really demeaning."  Karin Agness, founder of Network of Enlightened Women, aired her grievances via the National Review:

While an interesting read, this article turns out to be less a commentary on conservative women and more an example of how conservative women are viewed by women on the left. To them, we are all "Baby Palins."

Rather than try to understand how some women could be conservative and the arguments we have against feminism, it is often much easier to explain us all away as “Baby Palins” following in Palin’s footsteps. With the “Baby Palin” label comes the Palin brand. The Palin brand has been so damaged by the media that the “Baby Palin” label serves the purpose of quickly stereotyping and delegitimizing us at the same time. Would a typical journalist call someone a “Palin” as a compliment? Ultimately, categorizing us as “Baby Palins” is a way to dismiss us.

Ashley Sewell, of Smart Girl Politics, appeared on CNN this morning. "It's not anything that's offensive, but it's not something that I identify with. I didn't get involved politically because Sarah Palin was there 'leading the way' if you will," said Sewell. "Sarah Palin is definitely an asset to the movement."
Burleigh defended her description and the article in a statement to CNN today. "They are into guns and motherhood and low taxes, a rather new conservative female ideology first introduced to the national political discourse by Palin."
What They Say They're Fighting About: The term "Palin." Burleigh believes "Palin" encompasses a set of beliefs revolving around "guns and motherhood and low taxes" that Sarah Palin popularized when she grabbed the GOP spotlight in 2008 and asserts that she isn't incorrect in labeling these women followers of those ideals. Agness, in particular, believes that the term is a dismissive generalization and asks: "Would a typical journalist call someone a 'Palin' as a compliment?"
What They're Really Fighting About:  The real fight here is determining Sarah Palin's power in the Republican Party. Burleigh believes that Palin started the GOP women's movement of championing things like red meat and motherhood, and that these women are just following suit--which makes Palin a figurehead of sorts. And though Burleigh disagrees with her politics, she views Palin as a powerful player . The women she interviewed however, distance themselves in varying degrees from Palin (possibly over her negative press) and claim ideological and narrative autonomy. Though these women are unified against Burleigh's "Baby Palin" label, they aren't on the same page with each other, as their own descriptions of Palin's influence in the conservative movement range from "an asset" to "liberal caricature."
Who's Winning Now: Burleigh. Burleigh's article clearly points out her main concern about these women: that they share a contradictory and self-serving stance on feminism. The "Palin" part is really  just a flourish. Even Agness admits that "Palin is only mentioned five times in this almost 4,000-word article." So where's the outrage over the other words? The women profiled have taken to the press and airwaves to voice their displeasure with Burleigh's label, but you'll notice they haven't been disputing their own specific portrayals and the over-arching depiction that they are women who only like feminism when it serves their own purposes.
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