Monday, September 29, 2008

Free Palin

I saw a clip of Soledad O'Brien on CNN making a plea to John McCain to "free Sarah Palin". She said that the Republican campaign strategy to limit Palin's press interviews was sexist, "and there is no place for sexism in this campaign". Several times I have heard pundits express the opinion that it is sexist for media to mention that Palin is attractive.

Neither limiting media exposure nor saying someone is attractive is, of course, sexist.

It's sad and pathetic that everyone's starting to use the word sexist now, after most people vehemently (even angrily) denied that there was any sexism in the primaries. But while Palin isn't facing the same kind of ugly, overt sexism that Hillary faced, Palin's getting it too - just not in the way people are admitting to.

The sexism Palin is facing is the general dismissal and lack of respect that women often face. As I've said many times, sexism isn't something that men do to women: it's systemic. So I'll give an example from a female commentator, even though a thousand examples could be found from both genders.

In this New York Times blog, Judith Warner says she feels sorry for Palin - sorry for her because she's such a dummy and yet a trooper, sorry for her because she's been put in a situation where she looks like a fool.

Let me say again that I don't support Palin. I have endorsed Obama. But this characterization of her, in Warner's blog and elsewhere, as an air-head beauty queen is offensive and sexist. Palin is the governor of Alaska; not just governor, but a very successful governor by all measures: raising oil taxes, presiding over a strong economy, cleaning up corruption, passing strong legislation - and all that translated into an 80+% approval rating. These achievements may not qualify her to be vice president but they surely qualify her for some respect as a politician and public servant.

The sexist part of the Palin demonization is that Palin, like most women, is not taken seriously for a top leadership job on the basis of her gender. No male governor would be treated as if he was completely inexperienced. The repeated sneers about her "up-do" harken back to the relentless heckling Hillary faced as first lady over her hair: every time she had it cut a different way it was analysed in terms of her inability to be consistent, as if somehow ceasing to wear a hairband meant she was a hypocrite to have ever worn one. That grinding, relentless undermining of public respect was the real reason she was unable to succeed in her bid for Democratic candidate. People had been used for 15 years to disrespecting Hillary, and they just upped the viciousness during the primaries.

The worst part of the Warner blog post is the assumption that a woman with young kids cannot by definition have a demanding job. I can't believe that Warner realized she was saying this, but say it she did. Speaking of Palin's supporters, she writes, "women today... are unique in the extent to which they bond over their sense of imposture. ...They 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." That Palin can do it is evidenced by her years in politics. The reason she is able to do it, according to what I have read, is her extraordinary husband who takes on many of the child-rearing and housekeeping roles. It's really interesting how little this aspect of the Palin family is mentioned: could it be just too revolutionary and threatening to the status quo?

A campaign against Palin could be very effective based on her ignorance of foreign policy without resorting to the general characteristic that she's "ditsy and cutesy and kinda maybe stupid." She is obviously neither ditsy nor stupid. Cutesy may apply - I'm afraid when I envision Palin I'm starting to see instead the Tina Fey impersonation of her, which is both a compelling image and biting satire.

Yes, there are a thousand allegations against Palin. As I've said before, many of them are lies. Although I'm sure there are many others that are valid, after fact-checking a dozen of them and finding them invalid I have lost interest in the attempts to demonize Palin. I don't support her on the basis of her right-wing views, but as a woman I'm outraged at how she is being dismissed and disrespected.

The demonization and lies may backfire, as well. It has caused a lot of people, myself included, to root for Palin. I watched one of her debates in her gubernatorial primary campaign so I know she's an extremely effective debater (she cleaned the clocks of the incumbent and a former governor in the primary debate). I want Obama to win and I like Biden, but I have my fingers crossed for Palin. She is the lone woman crusading for the respect that is denied to many of us; the lone woman fighting to break the glass ceiling at last. That trumps partisan politics in my book.


Carrie said...

The cries of sexism from the media, notice it's female journalists, are simply women professionals using the sexism thing as a tool.

They're not saying she's stupid (which Palin clearly is in terms of being smart enough to be VP or Pres.) but rather using the sexism card to manipulate McCain et al. It's working too. He's trying to hide her away, clearly because she can't answer questions coherently. So the female journalism pros are calling her out, using the sexism card to do it. It's very smart actually.

I think the whole thing is funny. I'm a woman and also worked hard to break the glass ceiling. Palin is not a valid candidate. Not because she's pretty or female. But because she's not nearly intelligent enough to be VP or President. I don't view her through the lens of gender but through ability and intelligence. She's greatly lacking in both.

Yappa said...

Hi Carrie -

I don't think I can agree with you that she's stupid, even in the sense of not being smart enough to be VP. She's clearly lacking in national experience and in being on the national stage. She's getting questions for the first time, where the rest have heard them dozens if not hundreds of times.

But think back to Obama's early debates: he gave a lot of really weak answers. After a year of campaigning he's a much better debater. Palin got thrown into this with very little preparation. Given a couple of years she might be just as good as the rest of them.

Anonymous said...

"It's sad and pathetic that everyone's starting to use the word sexist now"

it is called blowback

Carrie said...

Hi Yappa,
It's ok if we don't agree :)

I don't recall seeing Obama's early days. But I do remember hearing about him and the vein of his speeches. He garnered a lot of attention long before the election was on the horizon. That attention and interest was based on the context of what he was saying.

But with Palin, her interviews are painful to watch. She may have her own brain, and be capable, but they've given her so many talking points she's coming off as inept. Given McCain's health and even regardless of that, for me, she's not nearly competent enough for such a high position. But that's just my view.

Geekwad said...

I agree with Carrie. At this level of competition, the message is carried entirely in subtext. The text itself is merely distraction, intended for an obfuscated effect.

Furthermore, I think the same can be said of the GOP candidates themselves. This isn't a McCain/Palin ticket so much as yet another Rove/Cheney ticket. So they picked a public face that has slightly feminine features. So what? She is just an actor who hasn't even managed to learn her lines yet. We have long since passed the point where many of our politicians are just faces for other agents. Sounds cynical, but I think it's a good thing. Our side should start doing it. You have to be telegenic and likable to be elected, but those are not actually relevant or even desirable features in a leader.

Joseph said...

Minor point but wasn't it Campbell Brown of CNN who issued her two-minute rant to free Sarah Palin?

Perhaps Soledad echoed it, but Campbell Brown first offered the arguments about a week ago.

Just pointing it out because I thought Campbell Brown did an excellent job as an editorial journalist making a very valid point. You may not agree with the point, but I wanted credit given where it is due.

I don't quite get how you connect her comments with the comments on Palin's looks. They are two different discussions.

Brown's point was nobody would find it acceptable for a male candidate to be squirreled away by a campaign because he "wasn't ready" so to allow a woman candidate that leeway was a form of sexism. I happen to agree with that assessment.

Oldschool said...

Carrie . . . Palin accompished governor of Alaska is not intelligent??? But of course Joe (gaffer) Biden is? The Obumma-one is an empty suit . . . his accomplishments Community Organizer, 1 term Senator, spent most of that campaigning.
Its amuzing to watch the Lefty MSM and loney liberals light their hair on fire over an intelligent conservative woman.
I am sure your accomplishments pale by comparison . . . and you dare to call her lacking.

Yappa said...

Hi Joseph -

Thanks for correcting me. You're right, it was Campbell Brown. I only saw a clip of it on The Daily Show and was going from my (very unreliable) memory.

The connection between her comments and the comments about Palin's looks is that they are the two areas in which I've heard someone say that the coverage of Palin is sexist.

Yappa said...

Hi again, Carrie -

It's difficult for me to go too far in standing up for Palin as she is by any measure an extremely weak VP candidate. My only point is that her performance may only be due to inexperience on the national stage, and not stupidity. But I agree that it's highly doubtful she'll ever be an Obama or a Bill Clinton.