Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Left wing women and Sarah Palin

My God but it's easy to get obsessed about Sarah Palin. Part of her fascination is the reactions she causes in others. What strikes me is how she particularly angers some women on the left who focus on her in peculiarly gender and sexual-specific ways. 

My favourite example Professor Wendy Doniger, Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago, who denied, in a piece in the Washington Post, that Palin is a woman:

Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman. The Republican party's cynical calculation that because she has a womb and makes lots and lots of babies (and drives them to school! wow!) she speaks for the women of America, and will capture their hearts and their votes, has driven thousands of real women to take to their computers in outrage. She does not speak for women; she has no sympathy for the problems of other women, particularly working class women.

On Salon, Cintra Wilson goes to the other extreme and sexualises her, making her a slut -remember, this a leftwing woman making these comments about another woman because she doesn't like her politics:

Palin may have been a boost of political Viagra for the limp, bloodless GOP....she is their hardcore pornographic centerfold spread.... this Republican blowup doll  does this ideological lap dance. It is a kind of eerie coincidence that Sarah Palin is being sprung on the public at the same time as the bimbo/frat-boy titty comedy "House Bunny," which features a poster of a beautiful young lady with Playmate-style bunny ears, big, stupid eyes and her mouth hanging open like someone just punched her. Sarah Palin is the White House bunny....Sarah Palin may put out to be popular....

And of course she can't be forgiven for not aborting her last child:

What her Down syndrome baby and pregnant teenage daughter unequivocally prove, however, is that her most beloved child is the antiabortion platform that ensures her own political ambitions with the conservative right.

The de-feminising of Thatcher, especially by Spitting Image, was to her clear electoral advantage. This furious feminist assault on another populist rightwing woman is likely, it seems to me, to have a similar effect. 


JG said...

The last thing you quote about the Down's Syndrome child is obviously a completely unacceptable thing to say.

That aside: I partly agree with you Jonny that, wherever possible, Sarah Palin should be treated by left-wing women (and men) exactly as any male VP candidate would be, and no differently, i.e. she should be assessed only on her merits, or lack thereof.

Having said that, in picking Palin, McCain has chosen to make the whole discussion almost solely about her gender. Quite clearly, she would never have been selected if she was a man. And Palin herself has played on that angle, because she knows it's the only thing she's got going for her, with the 'hockey mom'/'pitbull' nonsense, not to mention her phoney 'respect' for Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro.

I wouldn't want to generalise for all left-wing women, but for me personally, there are three particularly depressing aspects of the Palin selection:

1. Her views, obviously. This would be equally true if she were a man, and I think is sometimes the case - look at the left's extreme hatred of George Bush, whose views are pretty similar.

2. The fact that 'women' are supposed to be excited because 'a woman' has been picked, even though this woman is blantantly unqualified for this particular job. This is massively sexist in itself, and I think one reason why so many feminists are enraged by it/her. This isn't a case of picking a well-qualified woman over a similar man where it was 'a close call', it's a case of McCain picking a blatantly unqualified woman who he'd only met once for 15minutes. This is nothing but patronising, and does nothing for glass ceiling shattering. And it's backed up with all the patronising nonsense where she and her admirers say she is a 'strong independent woman'. No-one would ever say that McCain or Obama was a 'strong independent man', because it's simply taken as read that male politicians are strong and independent - but with a woman you just have to be sure! It's all so massively sexist. (And also I think - so what? I'm a strong independent woman, but still not remotely qualified to be VP of the USA.)

3. Obviously Palin's views on reproductive rights are unpleasant for most feminists. But I do think there's something especially unpleasant about hearing a woman willing to stand up and say that women and girls should be forced to give birth to the children of men who raped them. It would be as if Obama (to give an absurd analogy) suddenly spoke up in favour of lynching. Of course, everyone should stick up for women's rights, but it's especially disappointing when even women themselves can't do that.

All of that said, I think the Economist made the best point of all about this, which is that the most worrying thing about Palin's selection (once the initial hoo-ha dies down) is what it says about McCain's decision-making capabilities.

Jonny Mac said...

jg - good points, though I disagree with your analogy at 3, which I don't think holds up: or rather it only holds up if you think that there is only one morally valid view of abortion, as there is of slavery.

Indeed, I think it likely that the one thing sincere about Palin the politician, or the one thing she has thought a lot about perhaps, is her stance on abortion, that is clearly rooted in traditional (old-fashioned if you prefer) Christianity, and which expressly gives preference for religious reasons to what she would say is the right to life of the unborn child over the rights of women to control their fertility.

I very much agree with the Economist's view that you quote - Andrew Sullivan has been good on this aspect and how it ties in with a longer pattern of behaviour.