It’s hard to get too worked up on Palin’s behalf, of course; she was complicit in her crucifixion. But it is disappointing to watch what some have called the “year of the woman” come to such an embarrassing conclusion. This was an election cycle in which candidates pandered to female voters, newsweeklies tried to figure out “what women want,” and Hillary Clinton garnered 18 million votes toward winning the Democratic nomination. The assumption was that these “18 million cracks in the highest glass ceiling,” as Clinton put it, would advance the prospects of female achievement and gender equality. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way.
I'm struck by the nearly identical poses of the two.
(Photo: From left, Michael Edwards/Redux; Nigel Parry/CPI-Syndication)
Crucifixion seems an extreme word to choose, but it does capture the essence of what happened to Governor Palin.
As for Senator Clinton: In the grand Passion play that was this election, both Clinton and Palin came to represent—and, at times, reinforce—two of the most pernicious stereotypes that are applied to women: the bitch and the ditz. Clinton took the first label, even though she tried valiantly, some would say misguidedly, to run a campaign that ignored gender until the very end.
It seemed that Senator Clinton wasn't so much ignoring gender as not allowing it to become an issue. Of course, for some it was an issue.
She was a grind, scold, harpy, shrew, priss, teacher’s pet, killjoy—you get the idea. She was repeatedly called a bitch (as in: “How do we beat the … ”) and a buster of balls. Tucker Carlson deemed her “castrating, overbearing, and scary” and said, memorably, “Every time I hear Hillary Clinton speak, I involuntarily cross my legs.”
Perhaps Tucker Carlson has a problem (well, obviously he does); but to assign it to men generally is not appropriate. And yet, there is an important point made. Men who are hard-chargers, pushy, ambitious, are called, well, ambitious; women are often called bitches. Indeed. If Chuck Schumer were a women, his personality would be bitchy. To some, yet still, a bitch.
When Sarah Palin first stepped onto the national stage, I was, like many women, intrigued by her. Here was a woman who—even if you didn’t agree with her politics—seemed to have achieved what so many of us were struggling for: an enviable balance between career and family. She was “a brisk, glam multitasker,” to quote the Observer’s Doree Shafrir, with a good-natured stay-at-home husband at her side and several adorable young children in tow. She was running a state and breast-feeding a newborn and yet, amazingly, did not seem exhausted. There was something inspiring about seeing a woman so at ease with her choices, even as both liberal and conservative critics chided her for running for vice-president when her family needed her. Politics aside, when, at the convention, she delivered a politically deft speech like a pro, it was pleasing to witness the first woman on a Republican ticket perform so well.
Point well made: no man would have been similarly criticized for making that choice.
Of course, the myth of Sarah Palin unraveled almost as quickly as it was spun.
Right after wondering of McCain had hit upon the magic solution to counter Obama's ascendence, it became clear that Sarah Palin was a caricature. Only two reasons seemed credible as explanations why McCain chose her: any woman to try and exploit Democratic women's resentment of Hillary not having been chosen; a woman who believed that even women who'd been raped should not have legal recourse to an abortion had to be a sop to the evangelical extreme right wing.
All it took was one interview, with a Charlie Gibson who was painstakingly accomodating to her, who had been chosen as her first interviewer because he is such a nice, cuddly guy, to expose Sarah Palin's secret: she was not ready for prime time. A second interview with Katie Couric showed that it was not Charlie Gibson tertosterone that tripped up the Alaskan Governor; a second underwhelming interview showed that the moose-shootin' hockey Mom was simply way in over her head. Way in.
Palin was recast as the charmer, the glider, the dim beauty queen, the kind of woman who floats along on a little luck and the favor of men. While it’s obviously not Palin’s fault that men find her attractive, it is fair to criticize her for campaigning on a platform of charm rather than substance.
It became obvious, embarrassingly so, that this Governor had no intellectual depth. Her assertion that Alaska being so close to Russia tha t whwn Putin "reared his head" the first thing he saw was Alaska was embarrassing. What is lost is not just that anyone could make such a ridiculous assumption in public, but that she was coached to make such assertions.
Amanda Fortini, writer of the New York Magazine piece on which I am commenting, at first asserts it was possible to take pride in Sarah Palin: When Sarah Palin first stepped onto the national stage, I was, like many women, intrigued by her. Here was a woman who—even if you didn’t agree with her politics—seemed to have achieved what so many of us were struggling for: an enviable balance between career and family. She was “a brisk, glam multitasker,” to quote the Observer’s Doree Shafrir, with a good-natured stay-at-home husband at her side and several adorable young children in tow. She was running a state and breast-feeding a newborn and yet, amazingly, did not seem exhausted. There was something inspiring about seeing a woman so at ease with her choices, even as both liberal and conservative critics chided her for running for vice-president when her family needed her. Politics aside, when, at the convention, she delivered a politically deft speech like a pro, it was pleasing to witness the first woman on a Republican ticket perform so well.
That is a pure gender play: her politics do not matter; he genders matters. Such patience soon ran out.
“What’s infuriating, and perhaps rage-inducing, about Palin, is that she has always embodied that perfectly pleasing female archetype,” Jessica Grose wrote on Jezebel.com, in a post titled “Why Sarah Palin Incites Near-Violent Rage in Normally Reasonable Women.” Palin had taken a match and set fire to our meritocratic notions that hard work and accumulated experience would be rewarded.
Soon after approving of her simply because of her gender, leftist women became incensed with Palin for being such a lightweight. More, they were angry that Palin undermined their ideologic assertions that what matters is merit (never mind that originally she had looked favourably on the Alaskan governor for seming able to do everything).
In a rare moment of sympathy for Palin, Judith Warner, writing in the Times, noted that Palin’s admirers must “know she can’t possibly do it all—the kids, the special-needs baby, the big job, the big conversations with foreign leaders. And neither could they.” But many women do manage to do it all, or pretty close to all. They at least manage to come prepared for the big conversations and the critical meetings, no matter what they have going on at home. “Do we have to drag out a list of women who miraculously have found a way to balance many of these factors—Hillary Clinton? Nancy Pelosi? Michelle Bachelet?—and could still explain the Bush Doctrine without breaking out in hives?” wrote Rebecca Traister in Salon.com. Why then must Palin’s operatic failure be the example that leaves a lasting imprint?
Well, Palin was at first admired, if not downright venerated, for seeming to be a perfect woman. Even liberal woman took pride in her, for being a woman who seemed to prove that it is possible for a woman to be a mother and a governor simultaneously. But such admiration arose out of a false sense of gender pride. It is understandable that women look for accomplished women to show that it is possible for women to accomplish just as much as men. But my opinion is that gender is not enough of a standard.
But because so few women are present at the highest levels of government, they carry the burden of representing their gender more so than men. In politics as in business, an unqualified woman does more damage than no women at all. She serves to fortify the stereotypes that the next woman will have to surmount.
It will take women overcoming that orthodoxy for owmn to be free to be politicians and not simply women politicians.
A jerk is a jerk, male or female.
But among the darker revelations of this election is the fact that the vice-grip of female stereotypes remains suffocatingly tight.
To put too much stock in Sarah Palin, for whatever reason, is a losing proposition. She is a lightweight. She is not a lightweight because she is a woman; she is a lightweight, period.