Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who's afraid of Sarah Palin?

My interview on this topic, on Greta Van Sustern's show On the Record on Fox News, can be seen here.

For more on the topic see my articles in The Wall Street Journal, "Why Feminists Hate Sarah Palin" (like Ann Althouse, I think the title is too generalizing, but I didn't write it, and I have to concede it's eye-catching) and in The Boston Globe, "A Great Moment for Women" (not too happy about that title either).

My position on Palin's candidacy, in a nuthsell (from the Globe column):

Is Palin - whose image as a tough woman has evoked comparisons to historical and fictional female fighters like Joan of Arc and Xena, Warrior Princess - a feminist hero?

To some feminists, the answer is a clear no. Novelist Jane Smiley brands her "a woman who reinforces patriarchal power rather than challenges it."

But the charge is unfair. Unlike right-wing columnist Ann Coulter, to whom Smiley compares her, Palin is not known for attacking the women's movement; she credits it with breaking down gender barriers and creating the opportunities she has enjoyed. While antiabortion, she belongs to a group called Feminists for Life.

As a social issues liberal with strong concerns about religion-based public policy, I have some serious disagreements with Palin, though it's often hard to separate the reality of her views from the caricatures painting her as a zealot. But I also believe that her candidacy is a great moment for American women.

First, more representation for feminism across the spectrum of political beliefs is a good thing. Women, like men, should be able to disagree on gun ownership, environmental policies, taxes, even abortion while agreeing on gender equity.

Second, the biggest feminist issue in America today is the career-family balance. Despite remaining discrimination, motherhood is at the core of the "glass ceiling" holding back female achievement. How inspirational, then, to see that the "mommy track" can be a road to the White House. Palin is a mother of five who resumed an intensive work schedule days after giving birth, and whose husband seems to be a full partner.

Palin's candidacy may also be a watershed moment in conservative politics. The right has long been ambivalent about working mothers; a number of conservative politicians and pundits have been given to chiding "selfish" women who pursue career ambitions after having children. Now, a mother with a high-powered career is a conservative hero, and full-time motherhood may be forever gone from the roster of "family values."

Meanwhile, Neo-neocon has an interest post on the "Palin Derangement Syndrome" that has gripped some, I repeat some feminists.

And here's a good example of this syndrome, from the blog. This one actually attempts self-examination, conceding that many left-wing feminists fly into irrational fits of hatred at the mere mention of Palin and citing some rather hair-raising and stomach-turning examples of such fits (the readers obligingly provide many more in the comments section).

And the question now is why? Why does this particular pitbull in lipstick infuriate — and scare us — so viscerally? Why does her very existence make us feel — and act — so ugly? New York Times columnist Judith Warner calls Palin's nomination a "thoroughgoing humiliation for America’s women," because "Palin’s not intimidating, and makes it clear that she’s subordinate to a great man." Palin, who obviously is incredibly ambitious, masks that ambition behind her PTA placard and "folksy" talk.

... [F]or a certain kind of feminist, Palin is a symbol for everything we hoped was not true in the world anymore. We hoped that we didn't have to hide our ambition or pretend that our goals were effortlessly achieved ... We hoped that we could be mothers without having our motherhood be our defining characteristic, as it seems to be for Palin. We hoped that we did not have to be perfect beauty queens to get to where we wanted to be in life, that our looks, good or bad, wouldn't matter.

The blogger adds that for many feminists, Palin embodies the stereotype of the "homecoming queen" from high school: "pretty and popular ... catering to the whims of boys and cheering on their hockey games." And so the idea of being bested by the "homecoming queen" in the area of achievement induces "white hot anger."

As I said on Fox, I find this description (from both Warner and the blogger, Jessica) baffling. Who is this Sarah Palin they are talking about? Where does Palin "make it clear" that she is subordinate to her husband? How does she downplay her ambition or suggest that she has effortlessly achieve her goals? How is the woman who calls herself a pitbull in lipstick and talks about taking on the "old boys' network" trying to be non-threatening and non-intimidating? The real-life Sarah Palin was not a homecoming queen or a cheerleader in high school -- she was a basketball star who still proudly wears her "Sarah Barracuda" nickname from those days.

My hunch is that the real reason for PDS is the opposite, in a way, of the one given by Warner and Sarah Palin does not fit the left-wing feminist stereotypes of the conservative woman. She's very obviously not a "Stepford Wife," as the execrable Cintra Wilson calls her on She's not a man-pleasing cheerleader. She's not a self-effacing, non-intimidating hausfrau.

Try as they might, they simply can't fit Sarah Palin into that box. And that drives them nuts. Almost literally, in some cases.

And more PDS here: a Shakesville post asserting that Palin is a patriarchalist who cares about her sons more than her daughters.

This is not to say that conservatives don't have their own Sarah Palin-related hypocrisies. More on which later.


Anonymous said...

I think the distaste for Palin is clearly because she is a modern, successful Republican woman.

At what point before say, 1980ish, would Palin be acknowledged as anything other than a strong woman breaking down barriers?

Take away her anti-abortion views, and stick a D after her name, anonymize her and see how many feminists would love to see her on a ballot.

Talk about "transgressive", if Palin succeeds, it shows that Republicans can be feminists, and that's a pretty dangerous concept right now.

I was incredibly fortunate to be a) taught about feminism in a 1973 jr. high English class, and thought it was good stuff, and also to b) have a flight instructor in the early 80s who had been a 1932 Olympic swimmer, WWI P-51 pilot, and the head of our college aeronautic instruction program, a Reaganite, and a woman. She did more in one day than I could do in a week. Amazing individual and broke lots of barriers. And due to her politics, she would almost certainly now be vilified.

I think McCain/Palin are the wrong choice, but I think Palin is clearly breaking ground for women.

Anonymous said...

(I suspect your Althouse link is broken.)

Kevin B. O'Reilly said...

The liberal women who broadly identify as feminist strongly dislike conservatives. Why would they make an exception for Gov. Palin? Wouldn't it be hypocritical of them to do so?

Anonymous said...

I think mentino is a very nicely done typo. It's about the smallest fragment of a "mention" there can be. It's fast, traveling close to the speed of light, and just about massless. But it's there, and in fact as we wander around the world, we are bathed in a mentino soup.

Cathy Young said...

I like your definition of "mentino," but I still fixed it, along with the Althouse link. ;)

Oh, and that "Sarah Palin is connected to Scientology" post is such classic conspiracy-theory nonsense that I strongly recommend reading it.

Isle Dance said...

Well said. Thanks so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I think Palin has come far in her career, but not far enough to step into the role of today's VP or President, nor do I feel she's representing ALL of America. I cringed when she used 'lipstick' and 'soccer mom' in her speeches and then watch McCain become a "NASCAR" dad proponent. The two of them enforce republican 'white' vote sterotypes. I know very few soccer mom's in the inner cities. Her small-scale political experience can be admired. But it would be impressive to hear her say, "I know John McCain is using me as a woman to get votes, and that I'm scared witless being in this limelight." I see a bit of that beneath her 'tough' talk. Why? Because she is not ready for prime time, and out of her safety zone at this time. Personally, I think John McCain passed by his opportunity to 'play' president. He just smacks of wanting to be in the history books and reclaim what he lost in Viet Nam. I would love to read an indepth psychology on his true motivations in his much later life. Didn't his father die at 72? A 'Palin Parachute' (my quote) will not be a good insurance plan should he pass on.

Cathy Young said...

Interesting comments, anonymous!

Random Passerby said...

Wow. Yeah, all those jealous feminazis hate Palin for being successful. They couldn't possibly hate her for wanting to foist batshit religiously derived policies onto the American public, could they? Or for making rape victims pay for their own rape kits? Or for attempting to get books banned?

What color is the sky in the world that blithering conservative idiots live in, anyway? Probably any color you say it is, just as Palin's a "feminist" because that's the wingnut spin of the day.

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