The End of Identity Politics: A Wake Up Call for Feminists

Many American voters are still recovering from whiplash. Hillary Clinton's hard-fought, down-to-the-wire campaign for President had barely ended, when, from out of the northern sky, appeared Sarah Palin's meteoric rise from Governor to Vice Presidential candidate. Two very different women, but with some things in common: historic national campaigns, strong personalities, fierce family loyalties, undeniable political ambitions, amazing energy, sheer stamina and lots of guts.

Individually, they demonstrate the apex of identity politics. Taken together, they mark the nadir of identity politics. The rapid succession of two such strong women with very different political views leaves no doubt that gender can and should no longer be considered a determining factor in deciding for whom to vote.

If identity politics is dead (and I must say I am not weeping at her demise), what are feminists to do? Here is one answer: Wake up and get a move on!

Stop talking about who wears lipstick on what, and begin building a new multi-issue social justice framework for globally conscious feminism. Start by constructing strong coalitions with allies of any and every gender who share a commitment to social justice: environmentalists, human rights activists, artists, labor union members, yes, even rural people. Progressive people live everywhere!

Listen to fair housing activists and find out how foreclosures are affecting poor and middle class women and their children. Talk to teachers and learn how to help young girls and boys achieve at high levels, resolve conflicts, and create safe schools. Plant a garden or go to farmers markets and support homegrown healthy foods that nourish strong bodies and brains and sustain local economies.

Research peace and learn how early feminists put peace above all. Jane Addams worked for women's right to vote, inspired the settlement house movement, but never stopped working for world peace. Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, courageously supported peace. Ida B. Wells fought for women rights and ending the violence of lynching.

Ask yourself when and why feminists stopped talking about peace and started talking about being tough enough to go to war, and think about what that means.

Stop talking about personal moral issues and start working for better public health services, especially those promoting the mental and physical well being of children of color, poor children, and the children of new immigrants. Stop arguing about who is more feminist than thou, and start doing something about women living in poverty, mothers suffering from depression and addictions, children facing preventable diseases and violence, and elders lacking sufficient health care.

Identity politics is dead. Long live social justice feminism.

Judi Jennings is the Executive Director of the Kentucky Foundation for Women, but the views she expresses here are her own.