Category Archives: Sarah Palin

Crossing the line

As I said in my previous post, I have limited sympathy for Sarah Palin.

However, this, from Andrew Sullivan (on top of the never-ending flogging of Trig Palin conspiracy theories), is outrageous.  I saw the reference to the “white trash concupiscence” Palin-slam in Douthat’s column and wondered who could have written that. Despite my knowledge of Andrew’s raging PDS, I was shocked.  And saddened, because I used to quite like Andrew’s blog (and have not forgotten that he was the first to link to mine when I started it).  I fully intend for this to be my last visit to The Daily Dish, and I have to say that at this point, if someone started a campaign to get The Atlantic website to drop Andrew, I’d back it.  Imagine the reaction if a journalist/blogger writing about a black politician referred to “ghetto concupiscence”, without even using the word “black.”

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Filed under blogs, Sarah Palin

My latest on (oh no!) Sarah Palin

She’s not the savior of conservatives.

And she’s not nearly as much a victim of the “liberal media” as her defenders make her out to be (at least if we’re talking about the mainstream media; there has been some incredible nastiness on left-wing blogs, though at least no one that I know of tried to claim that she left a trail of bodies in her wake).  About the mockery of her religion: yes, it was suggested with no real evidence that she believes the dinosaurs lived 5,000 years ago (it’s actually unknown whether she’s a creationist or not; she does support the teaching of both “intelligent design” and evolution in public schools).  However, I do think she got off rather easy on her connection to a witch-hunting African pastor (I suspect for two reasons: one, bringing up a wacko pastor connection would have inevitably called up the ghost of Jeremiah Wright; two, it might have seemed somewhat un-PC to make too much fun of a crazy pastor from Africa and his looney medieval beliefs).

Is it possible that in a few years Palin will reinvent herself as a brilliant candidate?  Perhaps; F. Scott Fitzgerald notwithstanding, there are second acts in American life.  But it would have to be one hell of a second act.  And if it is, I’ll gladly eat my words.  As I said in the article, and in other venues, I think there is definitely a place and a need for a conservative/libertarian/individualist feminsm that embraces female strength, femininity, family, and small government — and for the kind of female leadership Palin could have provided if she had lived up to her billing.

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Filed under feminism, Sarah Palin, U.S. politics, women

… in which yours truly gets Palined

So I googled myself today (yes, I ego-surf) and came across this piece on the Slate blog, The XX Factor, eviscerating a feature in More magazine (a glossy targeting 40+ women) in which three writers, including yours truly, comment on the Sarah Palin phenomenon.  Slate ladyblogger Susannah Breslin snarks that the magazine ran the feature “in a blatant, desperate, and misguided bid for page-views and newsstand sales.”  Which is pretty … misguided, because the Palin forum is not on the cover of the magazine and, as far as I can tell, not on its website either.

Breslin then comments:

Lisa Schiffren writes: “Knowing that conservative, evangelical Christian women want their daughters to see such a role model [as Palin] tells us that feminism, in its best sense, has won its central battle.” Eh? What? I can’t even figure out what that means.

Now, I’m not a huge Lisa Schiffren fan, but is it really that hard to figure out what she means?  (You know, like … even conservative, evangelical Christians now admire women who are strong leaders and achievers in the public sphere?)

And then there’s this:

Continue reading

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Filed under feminism, Sarah Palin

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

The Palin problem

While busy working on an extended piece about Russia’s disgraceful prime-time TV broadcast of a program that endorses 9/11 conspiracy theories, I have been mulling of the question of what to say about Sarah Palin.

My friend Kathleen Parker says it all:

Some of the passionately feminist critics of Ms. Palin who attacked her personally deserved some of the backlash they received. But circumstances have changed since Ms. Palin was introduced as just a hockey mom with lipstick – what a difference a financial crisis makes – and a more complicated picture has emerged.
As we’ve seen and heard more from John McCain’s running mate, it is increasingly clear that she is a problem. Quick study or not, she doesn’t know enough about economics and foreign policy to make Americans comfortable with a President Palin should conditions warrant her promotion.

Right on. More interesting thoughts from Parker here.

I have defended Palin because a lot of the attacks on her have been so vicious and unfair, and I don’t just mean the “Trig is Bristol’s baby” rumors. She is not a “Stepford wife” or an anti-woman tool of The Patriarchy; she is not a woman who sends the message that women can get ahead by being demure and pleasing the boys; she is not a female misogynist who devalues her own daughters and charges victims for rape kits; she does not advocate abstinence-only education in public schools (a canard repeated by Sam Harris in Newsweek). And yes, I still think she’s a good feminist role model in combining career and parenthood with the help of a strong family network, not the state.

Unfortunately, it seems that Palin has also come to exemplify a far less attractive feature of pseudo-feminism: affirmative action in the worst sense of the word. And the Palin defenders are just as exasperating as the Palin-bashers. Here is, for instance, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson in Newsweek:

Many are attracted to [Palin] because she embodies the values of the American West, which they find superior to the values of coastal elites. This was part of the appeal of Goldwater and Reagan—a log-splitting, range-riding conservatism that emphasizes freedom. (Palin adds moose hunting to the list.) It’s not irrational or simplistic for voters to prefer candidates who reflect their deepest values.
… And Palin appeals to many voters as a pro-life symbol, with a family—including a son with Down syndrome—that exemplifies a culture of life. Elites may dismiss this as trivial or backward. But there’s no deeper question of political philosophy than this: whom do we count as a member of the human family and protect as our own? Palin welcomed a disabled child—the kind of child often targeted for elimination through eugenic abortion. It’s not irrational for Americans to support a candidate who is willing to protect the weak.

First of all: why was it vile for Andrew Sullivan, Cintra Wilson, and South Carolina Democratic Chairwoman Carol Fowler to suggest that one of Palin’s main qualifications for the job seemed to be the fact that she didn’t have an abortion, yet okay for Palin supporter Gerson to suggest the same, with a positive spin? And since when do conservatives espouse the principle that “the personal is political”?

Secondly: I remember Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was my president. And Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan (pace Michael Reagan). Here, I have to agree with Ron Reagan, lefty though he may be:

“Sarah Palin,” he said, “has nothing in common with my father, a two-term governor of the largest state in the union, a man who had been in public life for decades, someone who had written, thought and spoke for decades about foreign policy issues, domestic policy issues, and on and on and on.”

Check out, too, this post on the Half Sigma blog. Ronald Reagan was not an intellectual, but he had a long history of engagement with and interest in ideas on the preeminent issues of his day. So far, I see absolutely no evidence of such from Sarah Palin. Besides, they didn’t call Reagan the Great Communicator for nothing.

Sarah Palin is not Harry Truman, either. Yes, like Truman, she comes from small-town America. However, by the time Truman was picked to be FDR’s running mate, he had served in the U.S. Senate for ten years and had gained fame (including a spot on the cover of Time) as the founder and chairman of the Truman Committee which investigated fraud, waste, and mismanagement in the military.

Palin may yet surprise us all in her debate with Biden. But I doubt it.

There was a moment when it seemed that Palin’s candidacy could be a big moment for conservative/libertarian feminism in America — a feminism that, I strongly believe, deserves a place at the table. Instead, with every passing day so far, she becomes more and more of an embarrassment. Particularly when Camp McCain’s efforts to shield her from contacts with the media and to ensure that she gets to do the veep debate under easier rules (against Joe “Foot in the Mouth” Biden, no less!) look so much like a cringeworthy display of sexist paternalism. From Xena, Warrior Princess to damsel in distress in two weeks: how pathetic is that?

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More Palin: The other side of the culture war

Yes, more Palin. Bear with me.

We all know that there have been some very nasty attacks on Palin from some feminists, as well as a lot of condescension from the Maureen Dowd types who look down their noses at a small-town, gun-owning, Walmart-going, Bible-believing mom with five kids. But it takes two to do the culture-war tango.

For instance, in The American Spectator, one Jeffrey Lord rightly deplores the feminist attacks on Palin. Then he goes on to say:

This election is now being fought openly between, as Whittaker Chambers once described the same fight in a different era, “those who reject and those who worship God.” Between those who believe “if man’s mind is the decisive force in the world, what need is there for God?” — and America’s own Joan of Arc, Sarah Palin.

If Barack Obama is an atheist, that’s news to me. And I certainly hope that Palin doesn’t actually see herself as Joan of Arc on a God-given crusade. (It’s interesting how the left-wing caricature of Palin is barely distinguishable from the right-wing icon.)

Praising Palin’s decision to keep her baby with Down’s Syndrome and to encourage her pregnant 17-year-old daughter Bristol to bear her child, Lord writes:

Twice over in two now ongoing and very public situations, Sarah Palin has focused on the love of God rather than herself. To those who have vested their life and career comfortably believing there is little need for God because what of what rolls around aimlessly in their heads and those of their like-minded friends at any given moment, to those who view government and the power of the state as an object of worship, this is taken as a serious, gut-level threat. A threat to the existence of their own very carefully structured non-religious secular value system.

Glossing over Lord’s apparent assumption that Palin expects to have no personal joy or satisfaction from her special-needs child or her grandchild, and that her decision was solely a sacrifice to God, this is a pretty nasty portrayal of secularists. Further down, it is compounded by nasty swipes at insufficiently masculine liberal men (“Glutted with Hollywood pâté, Al Gore would have a coronary trying to keep up with Palin, who probably wouldn’t be bringing along any seriously good wine as he races through the backwoods. Once off the basketball court, Obama would be clueless on snowshoes with a gun and a charging moose”).

On a less hysterical note, Jonah Goldberg in National Review defends Palin against the “she’s not a real woman” attacks … and then sneers that the same people would consider “a childless feminist who looks like a Bulgarian weightlifter in drag” a real woman. On Townhall.com, Kevin McCullough speculates that “modern feminists” hate Palin because she’s a real woman:

She has a manly, and (according to several women I’ve overheard) handsome husband. She is content in their life together as a couple where each goes out and works hard. As a mom she is parenting her kids giving them what mothers give best, and her husband, gives what only a father can.

She’s not afraid to don some lipstick and use her comely attraction to romance “her guy” one night, and turn around and beat back corruption as a fierce defender of what is right the next day.

As opposed to, say, the notoriously unwomanly Geraldine Ferraro (married mother of three) and Nancy Pelosi (a married mother of five whom a poster on Michelle Malkin’s blog charmingly described the other day as “the result of mixing June Cleaver with Code Pink, Steroids and a strap on”)?

And a final item, by Jim Brown at OneNewsNow:

A pro-life activist suggests one of the reasons liberals despise Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin so passionately may be because she gave birth to her son despite a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

… Mark Crutcher, the president of Life Dynamics Incorporated (LDI), notes that in America today, 90 percent of all Down syndrome children are killed in the womb.

“I wonder what the people who are doing that — the parents who are ‘choosing’ to have their child executed — what they think when they look at Sarah Palin and her family, when they see the example of that family welcoming a Down syndrome child in and loving that child. I wonder what those people think,” Crutcher contends. “I also wonder whether this is where you’re seeing some of this hatred and venom that’s coming from the godless Left directed at [Palin]. I’m beginning to wonder if Sarah Palin isn’t rubbing their noses in their own shame.”

What hateful tripe. If 90 percent of people who find out they are carrying a fetus with Down’s Syndrome terminate their pregnancies, there must be quite a few non-liberals among them (and even, I daresay, quite a few conservatives). And frankly, if Sarah Palin’s example is going to be used as a moral club to beat those who make the choice to terminate a pregnancy under those circumstances, an angry response will be justified.

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Filed under antifeminism, conservatism, left and right, Sarah Palin

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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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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