Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Palin and the Politics of Gender

Sarah Palin and I have little in common. She is a moose-eating hunter who totes a gun in one hand and a bible in the other while declaring marriage the exclusive union of a man and a woman. Palin finds polar bears an inconvenience because they get in the way of oil drilling. She is unabashedly anti-choice when it comes to women's reproductive rights; but when Palin confronts the challenge of whether to teach our children the scientific theory of evolution or the biblical story that God created heaven and earth in seven days, why then she is all for choice. Just throw it all in the mix and let our children decide! (“Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information.") I am nothing like Sarah Palin. So, why do I find myself spending much of my time this last week defending McCain's rather unusual choice for a running mate? Well, because she is a woman.

The 2008 elections will go down in history not only for the barriers of race and gender that were broken, but also for highlighting the fissures on race and gender yet to be healed. First the Democratic primaries illustrated the indignities of Blacks and women arguing over who faces greater discrimination and stereotyping. Seriously? Now comes the gendered-hoopla over Sarah Palin. By this, I do not mean to suggest questions about her experience and competence are illegitimate. We are justified in asking whether the newly-minted governor of one of the smallest states in the Union (population: 670,053 as of 2006) whose prior experience includes a stint as the mayor of a town of 9,000 and an active member of the PTA is ready to be "a heartbeat away" from the presidency. What troubles me is the way in which questions of her competence have arisen. Is it relevant, for example, that she was a former beauty queen? It must be. You can hardly read an article or watch a news report about Palin without being subjected to pictures of her in long red prom dress complete with tiara. And have you seen the number of sites describing her looks--or worse yet, her status as a "VPILF"? (I refuse to tell you what the acronym stands for. I first saw it referenced in a blog I came across while Googling Palin, and I was innocent enough to ask "what's that?" And then, I was dumb enough to proceed to find out. If you can't figure it out, you are probably better off).

As I was writing this post, stories of the pregnancy of Palin's 17-year old unwed daughter hit the media circus. Is this yet one more example of a gender-based stereotype? I abhor the politicization of this child's life and wholeheartedly agree with Obama's statement "how a family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn’t be a topic of our politics." I think questions about whether Palin will have "enough time" to fulfill her duties as VP are thinly-veiled attempts to return women to their traditional role of chocolate-chip-cookie-baking mommies (and grandmommies). I respect a woman's right to choose that path, just as I respect the right of other women to choose differently. But I do find some relevance in Palin's current family situation: It reaffirms for me why she and her Republican compatriots should not be allowed to run this country. I want to live in a world where young women (and men) have access to safe and effective contraceptives not religious dogma on abstinence. I want a young woman who finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy to have all options available to her--including abortion if that is her choice. And I want a young woman "in the family way" to not feel pushed into getting married in order to make the rest of us feel more comfortable. Marriage is the union of two people in love not absolution for our past failings.

The Republicans--powered by the religious right in this country--would create a world vastly different from my vision. I hope they lose. But if these sexist attacks on Palin continue unabated, we all lose.

(Prior IntLawGrrls post on Palin here.)


Judith Weingarten said...

Melissa on the feminist site Shakesville has opened a page for examples of sexism against Palin. As she says, "We defend Sarah Palin against misogynist smears not because we endorse her or her politics, but because that's how feminism works."

102 comments to date, some of them horrendous.

Marjorie Florestal said...

Great link Judith. It is incredible to see some of the Neanderthals (male and female) crawling out of the muck. I'm particularly sickened by some of the claims I've seen that this is the way to win an election. Reminds me of all those little pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm who walk on 2 legs, dress up in the farmer's suits and proclaim "We are all equal, but some are more equal than others." Oink. Oink.