Category Archives: feminism

With intellectuals like these, there’s something to be said for anti-intellectualism

The annual meeting of the Modern Language Association dedicates a panel to conference sex.

Alas, with no public demonstrations of the subject at hand. Though one speaker, New York University professor Ann Pellegrini, did conduct her presentation clad in a bathrobe. (Okay, over her clothes.)

Speaker Jennifer Drouin, assistant professor of English and women’s studies at Allegheny College, discussed the fascinating subject of the varieties of conference sex, from cruising by gay male scholars at local gay bars to “‘bi-curious’ experimentation by ‘nerdy academics trying to be more hip’” to “the ‘conference sex get out of jail free’ card that attendees (figuratively) trade with academic partners, permitting each to be free at their respective meetings” to monogamous sex between long-distance spouses or partners who are separated by their careers and reunite at conferences. (In the comments on the Inside Higher Ed report, a couple of people lamented the stereotyping implicit in the suggestion that only gay men pursue casual sex; Drouin helpfully explained that in her presentation, she “lamented the lack of designated cruising spaces, such as bars, bathhouses, and parks, for people other than gay men, especially the lack of cruising spaces for lesbians.”)

More gems:

Milton Wendland of the University of Kansas linked the jargon and exchanges of academic papers to academic conference sex. The best papers, he said, “shock us, piss us off, connect two things” that haven’t previously been connected. “We mess around with ideas. We present work that is still germinating,” he said. So too, he said, a conference is “a place to fuck around physically,” and “not as a side activity, but as a form of work making within the space of the conference.”
At a conference, he said, “a collegial discussion of methodology becomes foreplay,” and the finger that may be moved in the air to illuminate a point during a panel presentation (he demonstrated while talking) can later become the finger touching another’s skin for the first time in the hotel room, “where we lose our cap and gown.”
For gay men like himself, Wendland said, conference sex is particularly important as an affirmation of elements of gay sexuality that some seem to want to disappear. As many gay leaders embrace gay marriage and “heteronormative values,” he said, it is important to preserve other options and other values.
Conference sex encounters become more than mere dalliance and physical release,” he said. It is a stand against the “divorcing physicality from being human, much less queer,” he said.

Meanwhile, in her speech, the bathrobe-clad Ann Pellegrini made a poignant complaint:

Academics are regularly “accused of speaking only about ourselves,” she said. “But when we venture out into public square,” and try to share both their knowledge and beliefs, “we are accused of being narcissistic” and of speaking only in “impenetrable jargon.”

Gee, I wonder why.

Another speaker, Daniel Contreras of Fordham University, wondered: “Did eight years of Bush drain away any energy we might have had for intellectual exploration?”

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. Who needs parody?

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Filed under academia, feminism, sexuality

The paradoxes of gender gaps

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has an interesting column on the controversy that continues to dog former Harvard president Larry Summers.

Was Larry Summers right about women and science after all?

As the mother of two daughters, I hope not. In fact, Summers himself said in his infamous comments about intrinsic differences between the genders, “I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong.”

But Summers may have been on to something, recent research suggests.

Marcus then goes on to summarize the research showing that more males are clustered at the upper end of the distribution of mathematical and science ability, as well as evidence that (as Summers suggested as one of the possible explanations for the gender disperities in science and technology fields) women choose different levels of commitment to family life.

And then she ends thusly:

In short, Summers was boneheaded to say what he did. But he probably had a legitimate point — and the continuing uproar says more about the triumph of political correctness than about Summers’ supposed sexism.

How’s that again?

Summers had a legitimate point, and the uproar (which, Marcus says, may have cost him the job of Secretary of the Treasury) was an expression of dogmatic ideological intolerance … but Summers was boneheaded to say what he did?

Here’s my own take on Larry Summers, from 2005.

Right now, we’re in a paradoxical place when it comes to cultural attitudes toward sex differences. On the one hand, in certain still-influential feminist circles, there remains a ferocious insistence on unisex dogma, so that any discussion of possible innate sex difference — especially in a context that seems to justify existing gender imbalances — is seen as a shocking and punishable heresy. On the other hand, there is a pervasive “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” conventional wisdom that, nowadays, is quite acceptable in polite society (and is often accompanied by facile references to neurobiology).

As an example, I give you Sandra Tsing Loh’s article in the November 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, “Should Women Rule?”, which discusses several books about politics (including Why Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers) and a book on the biology of sex differences, The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap by Susan Pinker). On the basis of Pinker’s book, Loh makes sweeping conclusions about women and power. Women, it seems, are “consensus-minded and team-oriented” and averse to compeition:

Consider this startling study done with fourth-grade Israeli schoolchildren: when boys and girls each ran alone on a track, there was no measurable speed difference by gender. But when each child was teamed with another child and asked to run again, the boys ran faster and the girls ran slower—slowest of all when running against other girls! What females love is bonding, helping, sharing, and oxytocin—that “opiatelike hormone” dubbed by one anthropologist “the elixir of contentment.” Forget all this tedious racing: what girls would really like to do is carry each other around the track—taking turns! Indeed, studies show that whereas competitive situations drive adrenaline increases in men, they drive adrenaline decreases in most women. Men associate more pleasurable feelings with competition than do women, and even “an eagerness to punish and seek revenge feels more fun.”

She then suggests that instead of trying to “rule the world,” women can “change it” through grass-roots organizing — things like protests against cuts in school funding or rallies for gun control. (I wonder if conservative causes such as opposition to abortion would pass muster?) Because, of course, men have never run grass-roots protests.

Crowding, in fact, may be more effective for women than ruling when it comes to changing the world. While at a biological disadvantage in competitions, women—who even make trips to restaurant bathrooms in pairs—are at a clear advantage when it comes to grouping together and the activities that accompany it: gossiping, sharing, bonding, assisting, scrapbooking, and building networks.

Given the apparent female neuro­endocrinic aversion to competitive, winner-take-all activities like elections, unless testosterone shots become a new female norm, even democracy (thanks, Founding Fathers!), with its boastful, chest-beating campaigning, is clearly stacked against female candidates.

So, Loh concludes, let’s get to work on “crowding.” (Completely forgotten is her own mention, earlier in the article, of famous “dragon ladies” who could participate in ruthless competition with meanest of men: “Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley, publishing shark Judith Regan, Vogue editor Anna Wintour.)

I’m not a dogmatic “old-school” feminist on the issue of sex differences. However, does anyone who has lived in the real world seriously believe this tripe about women’s niceness? Yes, there is evidence that women are more “relationally” oriented and more attuned to the moods and feelings of other people, but as often as not this translates into using relationships and feelings to establish dominance and inflict punishment/revenge. To quote the memorable words of the late Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (from the 1993 book Feminism Without Illusions: A Critique of Individualism): “Those who have experienced dismissal by the junior high school girls’ clique could hardly, with a straight face, claim generosity and nurture as a natural attribute of women.”
Even before feminism, women competed plenty in “feminine” spheres (and of conversely, of course, there was always plenty of cooperation in the “masculine” world; even war, that most masculine of spheres, is as much about brotherhood as it is about the pursuit of dominance and about dog eating dog). Today, the world is full of women who compete gleefully in sports, business, and yes, politics.

Are there real, innate psychological and intellectual differences between men and women? Most likely yes; but in most cases they are vastly attenuated by individual differences, and that is something both unisex feminists and sex-difference proponents tend to miss. Quite often, the former tend to make a pro forma nod to biology (“of course no one says men and women are exactly the same”) and then go on to react with hostility and intolerance to any actual suggestion of sex differences, while the latter tend to make a pro forma nod to individual variation (“of course sex differences are not absolutes, they’re just a matter of tendencies and degrees”) and then go on to to make sweeping statements in which men are this and women are that.

Shameless self-promotion alert: this is where I suggest a chapter from my 1999 book Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, adapted into a Reason essay titled “Sex and Sensibility.” I don’t think it’s particularly dated. Looking over some relevant passages from Pinker’s book, I discovered an amusing coincidence: at one point, we both discuss the same study, but in a rather different vein.

Pinker:

One study showed how four- and five-year-old boys and girls were motivated by the same goal but reached it through different means. When these preschoolers needed to work together to watch a cartoon, boys used competition and physical tactics fifty times more often than girls. Meanwhile, girls used talking and turn-taking twenty times more often than boys.

Me:

In an especially intriguing experiment, preschoolers in single-sex groups of four were given a film viewer designed so that a child could watch a cartoon through an eyepiece only if two others cooperated by turning a crank and pressing a switch. There was much more playful pushing and hitting among boys. But the girls weren’t shy about giving orders, using putdowns, or even blocking the viewer so that another child couldn’t watch. Moreover, girl groups tended to have “a single dominant individual,” while boys showed “more equal participation” in viewing. Nor did the alpha females get to the top by being nurturing: They gave commands, hit, and disrupted others’ viewing much more often than other girls.

Is it really that difficult to simultaneously hold in our heads the proposition that there are real, biologically influenced behavior differences between men and women on average, and that these average differences tell us next to nothing about any given individual? Even when male and female tactics are visibly different, the differences are often of style rather than substance — not male competition and power struggles vs. female bonding and sharing, but different ways of competing and cooperating.

By the way, I find Summers’s much-maligned speech to be far less demeaning to women than Loh’s musings. The idea that fewer women than men may rise to the pinnacle of some human endeavors while competing on the same terms does not, to be honest, bother me tremendously (any more than the fact that there are more males at the bottom of the pyramid). “Difference feminism,” on the other hand, seems to simply take women out of the human enterprise of achievement, individual initiative and, yes, competition, and consign them to some gooey collectivity. Visions of crowding, grouping, bonding females traveling to the bathroom together and organizing into egalitarian groups for a properly feminine cause is enough to make me cheer for Margaret “The Iron Lady” Thatcher, or perhaps even Sarah “Barracuda” Palin. Let’s hear it for the alpha females.

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Filed under feminism, men, sex differences, women

The last word on Palin. I hope.

Having said some nice things about Sarah Palin when she first burst on the national political scene in a blaze of short-lived glory, I have been asked, more than once, if I’ve updated my view.

I have, more than once, on this blog. On top of that, here it is, my absolutely, positively (I hope) last word on Saran Palin, originally published in Newsday and then in slightly longer form on Reason.com: Ms. Wasilla goes to Washington.

By the way, my offhand remark in this article that “The notion that ‘patriarchal power’ exists in the United States in 2008 is only slightly less delusional than the belief, erroneously attributed to Palin, that God created the dinosaurs 5000 years ago” infuriated a blogger named Chris, who fumes:

Uh.. What? Was there a big announcement that we finally fixed sexism? Maybe it was right after we also fixed racism, which, as Cathy Young will tell you, is entirely black people’s fault these days too. Ugh. Incidentally, if Cathy Young believes patriarchal power no longer exists, what, exactly, is feminism, and what would constitute a “step forward” for it? Why is she even writing about it? It’s like she has this knee-jerk inability to admit that any institutional forces exist, and that to admit they do would be admitting some sort of personal weakness or something. It’s okay, Cathy! Institutions exist! It’s not your fault!

First of all, I find it quite amusing that Mr. Male Feminist finds it appropriate to adopt such a blatantly patronizing, smug, patting-the-little-woman-on-the-head tone toward a woman who happens to dissent from his brand of ideology. Secondly, “sexism” is not the same as “patriarchal power.” Are American women (and in other areas, men) today held back by sexist cultural stereotypes, and in some cases institutional discrimination as well? Yes, they are (though I frankly doubt that institutional discrimination plays much of a role in holding women back in politics). Are American women as a group today subject to “patriarchal power,” i.e. male domination and control over their lives? My answer to that is a very emphatic no.

(Oh, and my belief that “racism is black people’s fault,” apparently, consists of suggesting that the “culture of poverty” is partly responsible for perpetuating the problems of poor people, including those in the black community. Since I’m pretty disgusted with the right these days, I owe Chris some gratitude for reminding me why I loathe the left. Thanks, pal.)

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Filed under feminism, Sarah Palin, the left

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.

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Filed under antifeminism, conservatism, feminism, Sarah Palin

Is it only about abortion?

(“It,” obviously, being many feminists’ near-pathological hatred of Sarah Palin.)

Obviously, Palin’s anti-abortion views (which don’t allow even for the standard rape and incest exceptions) do not endear her to most feminists. And for that, I actually don’t blame them. I believe the right to abortion, at least in the early stages of pregnancy, is an important and essential freedom for women.

But the reality is that party-line feminists have not been very kind to pro-choice conservative women, either. They hated Margaret Thatcher (see this 2006 column by David Boaz on the subject). In 1993, Gloria Steinem called pro-choice Republican Senate candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison a “female impersonator” and declared that “Having someone who looks like us but thinks like them is worse than having no one.” (Anticipating the feminist sexism of clearly gender-based slurs against Palin — “It Girl,” “pinup queen,” etc. — the late columnist Molly Ivins dubbed Hutchison a “Breck girl.”)

One major reason for this, I think, is the one I discussed in my Wall Street Journal article. It’s the belief that feminism must support not simply equal rights and opportunities for women and men, not just cultural approval for nontraditional gender roles, but extensive government programs to enable women to combine career and family. See, for the most explicit statement of this view, this article by Katherine Marsh in The New Republic:

Feminism is not just about having the opportunity to do it all. It’s also about having the support to do as much as you can. This is why, in the end, feminism needs to be tied to not just an identity, but to an ideology that encourages that support.

Marsh earlier says that Palin “an incredible support system–a husband with flexible jobs rather than a competing career, a close-knit community, and a host of nearby grandparents, aunts, and uncles to lend a hand on the domestic front” — but apparently none of that counts as “support.” Only the government.

It is, in my view, exceptionally bad for feminism to argue that female equality must depend on big government and extensive government involvement in markets and social processes. First of all, such a position automatically turns all proponents of limited government against feminism, associating feminism with the “Nanny State.” In a paradoxical way, it also sends the message that women’s roles as the primary caregivers in the family are rooted in nature and impervious to change: the only way to lighten the domestic load on women is to get government or government-supported programs to pick up some of it, not to get men more involved. It is also worth noting that in many European countries that have generous social programs and benefits for working mothers (such as extensive paid maternity leave), women’s career advancement tends to lag further behind men’s than it does in the U.S. The entitlements can make women less desirable employees and turn into a society-wide “Mommy Track.”

There is another, more insidious idea at work as well: the idea that conservative ideas on things like free markets, the welfare state, the environment, or gun rights are inherently “unfeminine,” because “feminine” values are rooted in compassion, interdependence, peaceful resolution of conflict, caring, sharing, and so on; and that women whose political views are too individualistic, too “harsh,” and insufficiently humane, are not “real women.” See, for instance, this comment on the Gurdian blog in response to David Boaz:

Thatcher showed only that a woman can survive in politics if she explicitly shows to act nothing like one. I do not believe that she furthered the cause of women in politics, instead she furthered the status quo of the time, and showed that a properly ‘de-gendered’ woman can do what a man does. So, men can do it well, and women can do it fine too, as long as they forget about what they have in their panties.

See, too, the assumption at Jezebel.com that any pro-guns, pro-hunting female politician is merely “playing by the boys’ game.”

Somehow, according to some feminists, it’s sexist to tell women that their job choices or family roles must be shaped by their gender — but not sexist to tell them their politics must be shaped by their gender, even on issues that have nothing to do with gender. There would be howls of outrage if a woman with a “masculine” career was branded an unwoman — “de-gendered,” a “female impersonator.” Yet it’s okay, evidently, to do the same to a woman with what some considered to be “masculine” views.

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Filed under feminism, Sarah Palin

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 Jezebel.com 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 Jezebel.com 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 Jezebel.com. 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 Salon.com. 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.

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Filed under feminism, Sarah Palin