Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sarah Palin and Sexism

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend "D," a political junkie like me, and we were discussing Sarah Palin and I mentioned that I thought that like Hillary, she was enduring a fair amount of sexism and scrutiny rooted in sexism by the mainstream media, political pundits, and progressive-liberal Democrats, and Obama-maniacs (and I count myself in the last 2 categories), and maybe her harshest critics are other women of all political stripes.

Now. As many regular readers of this blog know, I am hardly a Sarah Palin fan, but I have tried to restrain myself and to really examine the rhetoric around Palin, both the hagiography (she seems to be Saint Sarah as far as some people on the Evangelical conservative right think) and the demonization (I don't think she's a sign of the apocalypse, although her voice does feel like demons dancing in my brain--and I mean her literal voice not the content of what she is saying. If there is a purgatory and I'm meant to be there, then it will be filled with the voices of Fran Drescher, Rachel Ray, Rosie Perez, and Sarah Palin--and doesn't that say something that these particular FEMALE voices are the ones that drive me stark raving mad?)

When "D" asked for examples of sexism and comparisons of what Palin is facing versus what Clinton faced in the primaries, I noted that one thing was the belief that opponents can't be too hard on Palin for fear of charges of sexism--that we can't expect Palin to stand on her own two feet and that particularly men have to be careful of being perceived that they are being too hard on her. And I mentioned my own harsh critique of Palin, wanting her to be smarter and more knowledgable than she appears to be, to which my friend said that there was nothing wrong with having high expectations (or even just basic expectations) for political candidates for higher office.

But on reflecting more about this, I do think that the scrutiny around Palin has some hints of sexism--at least that as a woman in politics, like Clinton and others, Palin is not immune to the double-bind expectations that we have of women in the public sphere. That they have to be feminine, and yet not too feminine. That they should be both independent and yet utterly maternal and devoted to their families. And I think that for some partisan folk, it's easier to go after Palin rather than McCain because McCain seems untouchable in certain ways--due to his stint in the Hanoi Hilton, his age and health (although there are some really awful commercials hinting that his cancer is more wide spread than he is leading us to think and that he may keel over any minute--the ad is sponsored by some independent group but I can't help thinking that it was in such POOR TASTE and I'm not sure if it was an ad meant to hurt or help Obama, because if people THINK that this group supports Obama it could actually backfire and help people sympathize with McCain. Either way, it was a BAD AD).

So we go after Palin. And to be fair, there's a LOT to go after. So it's not entirely the fault of the media or pundits or Democrats. But still. I think that in some ways, going after Palin takes away from what this election should really be about--how to get our nation going in a progressive direction (at least it is for me). I also find it odd that more scrutiny of Cindy McCain doesn't hit the mainstream. Because I recently read a piece in The New Yorker about her that was just disturbing. Among other things, McCain's adoption of Bridget without consulting John McCain (she also got her pilot's license without ever letting him know she was taking lessons), and her deliberate forgetting that her father had a family that he left for her Mom (in other words, Cindy has an older half-sister yet consistently refers to herself as her father's "only child" which is offensive to say the least and a stark contrast to the Obama family dynamics), and the separate spheres that she and John McCain seem to lead their lives.

Finally, for a BRILLIANT post looking at the intersection of racism and sexism, head over to What Tami Said for he post entitled "Dear Liberal Elites" (yes, that means ME and YOU). As usual, Tami said it much better than I ever could.


Anonymous said...

Not much to say, as I mostly agree with you...though I find it interesting how so many people either a.) attack Palin for things that are untrue/exaggerated, or b.) attack her by way of hyperbolic satire (like SNL, or Maureen Dowd). You're absolutely correct that there are many, MANY things to legitimately take issue with her on. So why not focus on those? Like we do with male politicians?

Re: annoying voices...frankly, Woody Allen's voice makes me want to punch him in the face. I think women get an unfair share of the "annoying voice" complaints.

D.J. said...

I will agree that there is a double standard to the Palin part of the election, but America is a place of double standards when it comes to men and women.

You and I must share the same idea of hell.....

Jennifer said...

spartakos & d.j.: Thanks for the comments and for sympathizing about the voice thing. I agree with Spartakos--women DO get an unfair share of "annoying voice" syndrome.

And as d.j. notes, the double standard for women vs. men is really rampant in society (perhaps ours less than others, after all, there is also a culture of women's equality that is fairly strong in the U.S., even if it hasn't taken hold 100%).

I don't know if I'd put this in the category of "sexism" but I do wonder if people's "embrace" of Palin has to do with gender--that there is something about her being a "woman" that people really gravitate towards--I guess I"d put this in the category of gender preference. But perhaps the opposite notion--that there is something about her being a woman that hits people the wrong way, is a type of sexism.

Again, hard to say in some cases. Because I DO think that we should scrutinize Palin as we would any other politician, male or female. Like with racism, the problem with sexism is that it's hard to figure out, sometimes, which things are real instances of gender discrimination and which are just normal aspects of politics.