Friday, September 19, 2008

Sarah and the hypocrites

So far, I've been pretty hard on feminists who have bashed Sarah Palin in often sexist terms and have refused to acknowledge that, agree or disagree with her politics, she's a great model of female achievement.But now, let's hear it for the conservatives.

Exhibit A: the silly "lipstick on a pig" controversy. Which looks particularly bad considering that conservatives have always been the ones to mock "politically correct" sensitivity to words that could be interpreted as sexist or racist slights (and, as a number of commentators have pointed out, even worse considering that Palin has decried "perceived whining" in Hillary Clinton's complaints about sexism toward her).

Here's a lame defense from David Frum:

Frum Mobilization through the inflammation of imaginary grievances is an ugly trait of modern American politics. It will only stop when it stops all around. So long as media ground rules make such mobilization profitable for Democrats, it is inevitable that Republicans will follow suit.


Aha, the familiar "they started it/everyone does it/you knock it off first" defense. Which is especially lame in this case, considering that conservatives have (almost) consistently deplored the "inflammation of imaginary grievances."

Exhibit B: Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, giving advice to Obama:


You must aim your fire at the top of the ticket, John McCain, and not at this beautiful girl, Sarah Palin, about whom you can do nothing.

Beautiful girl? Way to describe a vice presidential candidate. Later, Noonan writes that the attack on Palin "offended the American sense of fairness. And—it still lives!—gallantry."

In other words: You can't beat up on a girl, Democrats. A beautiful girl, no less.

Sexism, anyone?

(Noonan goes on, amusingly, to say that "the Democrats were up against Xena the Warrior Princess." As a Xena fan who sees at least some good things about Sarah Palin, I'm tickled by the Sarah/Xena comparisons. But Peggy, please. "Gallant" protection from rough treatment because you're a "beautiful girl" is the opposite of what Xena was all about.)

Exhibit C: This bizarre piece by Harvey "Mr. Manliness" Mansfield in Forbes, who contrasts Palin to the "bad" feminists who want women to be like men.


[S]he showed none of the features that betray the feminist in action. On the contrary: She spoke proudly of "my guy," grateful to the man who was hers--implying that she needed him, and that any woman needs a guy of her own. She introduced her children, especially little Trig, the one with Down's syndrome. She was displaying a mother's unconditional love, as opposed to the conditional love that insists on a "wanted" child. She did these things unapologetically, quite unafraid of seeming to be a normal, healthy sexist female: one who knows what it is to be a woman and enjoys it.


All Sarah Palin did was to claim her equal opportunity to a job once held exclusively by men. This sort of equality--the opportunity to take on public careers outside the home--is something liberals and conservatives agree on. ... Now, why could the women's movement not have taken advantage of this bipartisan agreement from the beginning? ...


An obvious difference between the women's movement and the civil rights movement is the ease with which the former triumphed. Of course there was malechauvinism at the start, but it was complacent, passive and ineffective. No man could look a woman in the eye and say "you are not equal to me" once the issue was put. There was nothing like the "massive resistance" to racial desegregation in the South; instead, there was a massive movement of women into jobs and careers.

Prof. Mansfield doesn't tell us that he was one of the conservatives who, not that long ago, did no subscribe to this supposedly universal goal of equal opportunity in the workforce. This is what he wrote in a November 3, 1997 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:


The protective element of manliness is endangered when women have equal access to jobs outside the home. Women who do not consider themselves feminist often seem unaware of what they are doing to manliness when they work to support themselves. They think only that people should be hired and promoted on merit, regardless of sex.

(The castrating harridans!)

Now, apparently Prof. Mansfield later mellowed out a bit. In his 2006 book In Defense of Manliness, he concedes that careers and equal opportunity are okay as long as appropriate sex roles are preserved in private life. Such as (he suggested in interviews) the wife earning no more than a third of the couple’s joint income and doing no less than two-thirds of the housework. (How do Sarah and Todd Palin fit into that prescription?) Even today, the kinder, gentler Mansfield notes, "You may be sure that I am not the first one to notice that feminist women are unerotic."

Now, leaving aside these particular examples of ridiculousness, there is a broader doublethink at work.

Simple question: If the Democratic veep candidate was a woman with five children, four of them minors and one of them a special-needs infant, does anyone think conservatives would be praising her as a female pioneer? Or would many of them be denouncing the selection as an example of liberal contempt for family values?

Conservative hostility or at least ambivalence toward career women, particularly career women with children, is not entirely a thing of the past. Consider, for instance, this text from It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), a leading social conservative:


Many women have told me, and surveys have shown, that they find it easier, more "professionally" gratifying, and certainly more socially affirming, to work outside the home than to give up their careers to take care of their children. ... Here, we can thank the influence of radical feminism... Radical feminists have been making the pitch that justice demands that men and women be given an equal opportunity to make it to the top in the workplace.

(page 95)

Now, to be fair, the full context of these statements is that full-time mothering deserves equal respect and that "radical feminism" is to blame for the attitude that careers outside the home are "more socially affirming." (See more here.) But the passage still drips with disapproval for women who don't want to "give up their careers to take care of their children" because it's "easier" and "more 'professionally' gratifying" (note the scare quotes around "professionally"). On the previous page, Santorum scoffs that "for some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home."

Consider, too, that conserative heroine Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the famous talk radio scold, is notorious for her anti-working-mother diatribes. Interestingly, "Dr. Laura" has been one of the few "pro-family" conservatives to stick to her anti-working-mother guns in regard to the Palin nomination. In a September 4 blogpost, Sarah Palin and motherhood, she wrote:


I am extremely disappointed in the choice of Sarah Palin as the Vice Presidential candidate of the Republican Party. ... I’m stunned - couldn’t the Republican Party find one competent female with adult children to run for Vice President with McCain? I realize his advisors probably didn’t want a “mature” woman, as the Democrats keep harping on his age. But really, what kind of role model is a woman whose fifth child was recently born with a serious issue, Down Syndrome, and then goes back to the job of Governor within days of the birth?
When Mom and Dad both work full-time (no matter how many folks get involvedwith the children), it becomes a somewhat chaotic situation. Certainly, if a child becomes ill and is rushed to the hospital, and you’re on the hotline with both Israel and Iran as nuclear tempers are flaring, where’s your attention going to be? Where should your attention be? Well, once you put your hand on the Bible and make that oath, your attention has to be with the government of the United States of America.

Schlessinger expressed appreciation for the fact that both Palin and her daughter carried their pregnancies to term, but then delivered an additional slap to Palin for having signed a "Family Child Care" week proclamation in April praising child care professionals.

Child-care facilities are a necessity when mothers and fathers (when they exist at all) are unwilling or incapable of caring for their offspring. Unfortunately, they have become a mainstay of the feminista mentality that nothing should stand in the way of a woman’s ambition - nothing, including her family.

Any full-time working wife and mother knows that the family takes the short end of the stick. Marriages and the welfare of children suffer when a stressed-out mother doesn’t have time to be a woman, a wife, and a hands-on Mommy.

I suspect that this preachy, sexist, treacly intolerance would have been pouring forth from many of Schlessinger's confrères had Palin with her five kids been on the other side of the political divide. "Dr. Laura," at least, is consistent. (Other than being a working mother herself.) Not like Dr. James "Focus on the Family" Dobson, who once penned a column that seems particularly amusing in light of his Palin enthusiasm -- suggesting that mothers of teenagers should not go back to work because, among other things, handling a job, teenage crises, and menopause was liable to prove too exhausting.

15 comments:

Revenant said...

Regarding Exhibit B, didn't Noonan get caught on tape criticizing the choice of Palin? I wouldn't list her among those who thought Palin was a good and/or feminist choice for VP.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Wait now---in the previous post, you said that what enraged feminists about Palin was precisely that she wasn't deferential to men, wasn't nonthreatening, didn't downplay her ambition. But here's Mansfield, who praises her for those very attributes (particularly deference to men, who, in Mansfield's view, seem to be awfully tender little darlings).

You seem to be annoyed by Mansfield's hypocrisy, but you aren't saying that he's completely misreading her. Or are you? Is Mansfield just making stuff up when he sees her as deferential and un-feminist, or are her critics right when they say she's just that?

My personal view is that she, like a lot of conservative women, wants it both ways---she wants the money and power that come from having your own career, but doesn't want to be associated with the hairy-legged hippies who've made it possible for her to have said money and power. So she plays sweety in public while pursuing her own life in private, leaving me wondering what's worse: to advocate good behavior while living badly, or to advocate bad behavior while living well?

Cathy Young said...

hey, fuzzy bastard -- thanks for pointing that out. Yes, I think that both Mansfield and the lefty feminists are projecting something onto Palin that they want to see.

And Revenant! Welcome back. btw, you're right about Noonan.

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