Feminist Philosophers

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Gov. Sarah Palin August 29, 2008

Filed under: appearance,bias,gender,politics — jj @ 9:30 pm

Gov. Palin, McCain’s choice for running mate, is a woman of many accomplishments.  Some of them, such as her being a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and a hunter, along with her winning “Miss Congeniality” in a “Miss Alaska” beauty contest, are ones that one might see as negative.  And, of course, she has the conservative agenda that gets called “pro-life” which McCain advocates.  Even all taken together, they do not amount to adequate qualifications for the job, Democratic commentators are claiming.  Nonetheless, she looks to be very bright, assertive and an excellent debater.

Among the questions her candidacy raises are some that do not bear directly on her ability to take over the presidency of the  US, should McCain win but not fill out his term.   One we can think about here is what will be its impact on discourse about professional female politicians in the United States.  Having seen the outrageous misogyny that Hillary Clinton faced, and that many, many people deny, I think the discourse about Palin may be revealing.  Some random observations/questions:

 – Does anyone have any ideas about what to predict regarding the appearance of sexism in the press?  Of course, we can expect conservative commentators not to go after her with such  glee, can’t we? 

-  I’m not expecting all those guys in the press, along with Maureen Dowd and some other women, will necessarily indulge themselves.  In fact, I’m betting that they’ll have seen that the country has had a lesson in what is sexist and, despite the wide-spread denials by the public, people are ready to play “gotcha” this time around.  This view might be wildly optimistic.

-  Nonetheless, understanding what is sexist really involves confronting such things as gender schemas and implicit associations.  How much failure to understand them will show up this time? 

-  Was she chosen in significant part because she’s an attractive young woman?  If so, is it different from all the ways in which being an attractive young man have gotten men all sort of places?

- Finally, What Do You Think?

 

35 Responses to “Gov. Sarah Palin”

  1. jj Says:

    In fact, I’m willing to bet that the discourse will be much, much better. Even from the supposed liberals like Olbermann. If anyone wants to bet against me, we might agree on the loser paying $5 to the organization fighting misogyny in the media that Jender linked to here:

    http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2008/08/29/a-clinton-supporter-endorses-obama/

    I’ll go up to $25 (five bets).
    The thing is, I’ve stop watching, reading most of them. Just seeing Olbermann’s profile makes me feel queasy. So we’ll have to come up with some sort of honorable assessment.

  2. fixthebroken Says:

    I had to think about it for a few hours, but I think the choice of Sarah Palin is one of the most shameful and saddest political ploys I have seen in a long time. The only reason she was chosen was as a marketing ploy to divert attention from Obama — it is actually true that McCain has only met Palin twice. That’s insane.

    And, yes, Palin will get votes from uneducated/don’t care about politics men because they think she is attractive. Sad but true.

    I do hold out hope though that those women who voted for Hillary Clinton do not vote for McCain now because he has a woman on his ticket — those women won’t know what hit them, especially when it comes to social rights.

  3. jj Says:

    I totally agree about what McCain means for women in the States.

    There are some analogies to other “pathetic old men’s” behavior, and all of them seem so obvious, that I’m actually hoping that there’s more to his picking her than her being a kind of trophy.

  4. Brandon Says:

    I have difficulty believing that her attractiveness played much of a role in the choice; given that most people vote the ticket, I would be very surprised if the McCain campaign was betting on any noticeable boost due to physical attractiveness of the running mate. (I don’t know if there will actually be any noticeable boost.) I wouldn’t be surprised if her youth were one factor in the decision, however; if she can appeal, however slightly, to younger demographics, that’s a bit boost for the campaign. And the Obama campaign at this point in the race is hampered on what it can do with the inexperience factor — any extended emphasis on it will likely be self-defeating; so McCain is relatively safe in picking a very young running mate.

    I don’t doubt that her being a woman was also a factor; but not, I think, because (what some people seem to assume) the McCain campaign thinks that they can win over a significant number of Clinton supporters. I’m sure they’re hoping for it, but I doubt that they’re counting on it. But they don’t need significant numbers of Clinton supporters to vote for McCain; they just need to nudge a good number of them into not voting for Obama. (How much it will actually translate into non-votes for Obama is not, I think, something we have any clue about as yet; it may well have very little effect.)

    I think JJ is right that the discourse will be better. There will likely be some incorrigible conservatives who will attack her for considering herself feminist even if it is the sort that involves being a member of Feminists for Life; and there will likely be some liberals who will forget that fighting sexism requires vigilance with regard to oneself as much as vigilance with regard to one’s opponents. But we have to remember that with Clinton there was actually a lot of backstory already: misogyny directed against Clinton in particular for being a woman active in politics had had quite a long time to build. With Palin there’s not much on the table, as of yet, beyond the usual genereal, vaguely directed stuff.

  5. Kuri Says:

    As an individual, I have to say I find her interesting. However, I admit that I know little about her other than that the leader of my (left-wing) party visited her last year to find out why a Republican could negotiate much better royalty rates for oil extraction than we have in my province of Alberta.

    I don’t see her interest in hunting as necessarily negative at all. (In fact, I’ve been interested in hunting lately as a way of getting back to my roots, so this is one of the things that interest me about Palin.) It’s more neutral, as any hobby or interest would be (such as running, or knitting, or whatever). As for the pagents, well, that seems so American that it’s hard to say anything about it with much confidence. Having read that she’s anti-choice, however, concerns me greatly.

  6. jj Says:

    I just turned off CNN wondering if the sexism is present already. Someone – I wasn’t watching, but it might have been “Jack” somebody was maintaining that the choice is just a joke. I certainly can’t prove that’s sexist, but I wonder if a comparable man would have been said to be just a joke choice.

  7. Ross Cameron Says:

    This is slightly off the main topic. But one thing that’s already disgusted me in the discussions of Palin is that so often when it’s mentioned that she’s ‘pro-life’ it’s also mentioned – apparently as evidence – that she had a child even when she knew it had Down’s syndrome. As if the only reason to go through with a pregnancy when you know the baby has Down’s is because you’re ‘pro-life'; as if we pro-choicers would ever say that she was wrong not to abort. To think you should have the baby *despite* it having Down’s doesn’t reveal your ‘pro-life’ values, it reveals your anti-disability prejudice.

  8. Jender Says:

    Damn good point, Ross. And also worth noting that the choice to have a Down baby is not necessarily an indicator that she’s supportive of disability issues: she voted against funding for special needs education:http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2008/08/29/john-mccain-thinks-women-are-stupid/

  9. RAR Says:

    There is really something of a double-edged sword in making a fuss over Palin’s alleged lack of experience. It’s difficult to argue that she has less experience than does Obama. (Slightly less, yes, but her experience is executive, and she’s going for veep, not the top job. So it really evens out.)

    I would ask those who are simply shocked – shocked! – at the audacity of McCain’s choice if they feel similarly about the Democratic Party’s choice of Obama. It’s clear that in both cases, something about the candidate’s demography made up for a relative lack of experience. Personally, I’m fine with it. I think trading a bit of experience for bringing in leaders other than wealthy white males is a good deal. Holding any other stance requires rejecting Obama, or explaining the (to my mind obscure) relevant experiential difference between Obama and Palin.

  10. counterfnord Says:

    At this point, as usual, there are many things I don’t know. As for the attractiveness, why not? I mean that it definitely is a factor in getting places in all walks of life, so isn’t the problem in the mind of the beholder? I wouldn’t take that into account either way.

    As for the talk about the McCain camp dropping the claim about experience, I don’t think it’s really different from the Obama camp dropping claim to change by picking up a Washington insider like Biden.

    More to the point of this post, I’ve been lurking around PUMA blogs for a while in an — so far unsuccessful — attempt to understand these people, and so far I’ve had the sinking feeling that this provided a section* of them with the excuse they had been waiting for: they were conservative from the start, and this gives them an excuse to call for voting for McCain while cloaking themselves in the mantle of feminism. I watch this all from afar, but I think some were never comfortable with voting democrat in the first place. Then there’s that race thing**.

    I’m only raising this because I think it might be an instance of diverting feminist values. Then again, that’s only me saying that “electing a female” is not an important part of the deal, and I’m very much aware of how wrong that could turn out to be.

    As for the media coverage, I’m not holding my breath. I mean I expect liberal and sexist guys to release their frustration at not being able to spew hatred on Clinton. It expect it to take the guise of attacks on Palin’s experience even though they defended Obama from such attacks. Apart from the vitriol level, I don’t know how to tell that apart from partisanship as usual. It all could make for an interesting experiment were the stakes lower.

    It might be a sideshow, but I’m interested in the reaction of the religious I-know-I’m-right about this. My family is catholic, and that church’s reaction could be fun.

    * underline “section”. It would be so much easier to dismiss them all otherwise, but I think this is a minority. And, again, I make no claim to authority about this, I could be utterly wrong. I’m in no position to say this, but I’d recommend going there and engaging them.

    ** I didn’t think it would be factor — chalk that up on my being a foreigner — but I recently got the sinking feeling that some PUMAs were glad to have an excuse not to vote for a black man. Beware though, I’m pretty sure some McCain supporters have been active on these blogs for a while, and it might just be smarter ones I didn’t tag as such acting on their own assumption about potential converts.

  11. Rachel Says:

    Just glancing at the headlines today seems to give an indication why Palin was picked: She was a former beauty queen! If people support her, they just voted for looks. If she fails in her job, it’s because women can’t be smart and beautiful. So, unlike jj, I think the discourse will be sexist and it might get vicious if Palin turns out to have a brain… (So, jj, the bet is on!)

    As feminists, we might want to try to keep the discourse on Palin’s politics rather than gender (anti-choice, creationist, pro-gun – is what I’ve gleaned so far). Thatcher and Rice have certainly shown that just because a human being is a woman doesn’t mean that they support an agenda that’s feminist, or even remotely progressive.

  12. jj Says:

    Rachel, Great! Do let me clarify that the bet is really about the main stream media. The sexism elsewhere is already out there in full force, and it’s not surprising, though it is sickening.

    I’ll assume we’re still on.

    Now on my side, apparently CHRIS MATTHEWS called Pat Buchanon out for referring to her using terms like “gal” and “girl.” I’m going to look for a video.

  13. cj Says:

    Here is a progressive media watchdog group, Media Matters for America, already documenting sexism against Palin, with regard to her baby and to Biden needing to be careful not to seem to by bullying her.

    http://mediamatters.org/items/200808290010?f=h_latest

  14. Jender Says:

    RAR– speaking for myself, what makes up for Obama’s lack of experience is (1) his judgment– e.g. opposing the war from the start; (2) his intellect, as evidenced in particular by his first book; (3) his ability to inspire millions– including lots of young people– to a progressive vision of what the world should be. (It’s not a perfect vision by my lights, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the governing visions of the US have been in my lifetime!) Oratory *matters*, as Reagan’s legacy makes all to apparent. Palin? (1) She stated, when visiting Alaskan troops in Iraq, that she hadn’t really thought at all about the war and didn’t have any views on it. And her judgment on other issues that matter to me is all too apparent. (2) She may be brilliant, for all I know. (3) She may even be an inspirational speaker– but her vision of the world as it should be is not one I agree with.

  15. counterfnord Says:

    Rachel, you’re so brilliant: “As feminists, we might want to try to keep the discourse on Palin’s politics rather than gender”. Food for thought indeed…

    Just in case this comes out wrong, I’m not being ironic at all, my praise is sincere and comes straight from the heart.

  16. jj Says:

    One thing that concerns me about the comparison of inexperience is that Obama’s running for president is not counted as part of his experience. But there are several ways in which it counts very much for him. It involved managing at some level a huge team and it involved formulating a lot of plans at the national level.

    In contrast, Paulin’s base, Alaska’s population, is about that of Austin, Texas. And it very much seems as though she hasn’t really been involved with some of the most important international questions. I think there is a contrast in experience, and it isn’t unreasonable to have standards that Obama passes and she doesn’t.

    That’s not to say that I’m thrilled about Obama, but I’m horrified by McCain.

  17. Brandon Says:

    On Rachel’s point about the ‘beauty queen’ issue, it’s interesting (although not really in a good way) how much, and what comes up even just in a Google search of Sarah Palin, beauty queen.

    With regard to the experience question, I think we have to keep in mind that the Vice President’s actual constitutional duties are very, very limited; they consist in breaking ties in the Senate (the record for that is John Adams with 29 tie-breakers in eight years, and no VP since the 1870s has had more than ten their entire term), opening the envelopes that contain Electoral College votes at the end of term (I mean that quite literally: it’s a duty explicitly assigned by the Twelfth Amendment), and being one of the people needed to declare the President incapacitated if the President is incapacitated but won’t declare themselves so. Everything else is entirely at the discretion of the Senate and the President, and varies considerably from administration to administration. So the experience issue comes into play only so far as the Vice President is first in the line of Presidential succession. One of the reasons that I think emphasizing the inexperience issue is a bad idea for Obama supporters is that most Americans will regard being the Vice President as itself the sort of experience-building suitable for being able to serve as emergency President. So they will simply not see the experience required for being Vice President and the experience required for being President as symmetrical; they will see it as the difference between being qualified for a training program that makes you qualified for a job and being qualified for the job itself. I’m inclined to think that this is an area where there can be no right or wrong answer; one can’t pin down a set of qualifications for VP because there is very little a VP must do — if the VP can learn, follow, and use the Senate’s rules of order, sign written declarations, and open envelopes, he or she quite literally has everything needed to fulfill his or her constitutional duties as VP. The rest is really a matter of how much leeway people want to allow for picking up how the Presidency works in a sort of on-the-job way.

    One topic with regard to Palin that I would be interested in hearing some of the writers and readers of the blog comment on, if they think it interesting enough to do so, is related to (although not exactly the same as) counterfnord’s idea of “diverting feminist values”; counterfnord was talking about PUMA blogs, but the question arises with Palin herself, since Palin considers herself a feminist, and has on occasion associated herself with the term as a conservative feminist. Obviously, though, her values diverge from values that are often associated with the feminist movement. So what should we make of this? Is this just a distortion of the values associated with the term, or do the readers here think that (even if only in a qualified way) Palin can consider herself justified in using the term?

  18. Noumena Says:

    With respect to Brandon’s last point — a few months ago, I tried to make a list of beliefs shared by all feminists. I came up with exactly one: `Most, and possibly all, cultures around the world today are sexist.’ But assuming that Feminists for Life would deny this, either (a) I was wrong, and there are no substantive and beliefs shared by all feminists (qua feminists), or (b) Feminists for Life is not a feminist organization.

    Based on my past research, I would have initially guessed (b) — the last time I perused their website, they were featuring generic anti-abortion rhetoric and outdated `information’ on connections between abortion, depression, and breast cancer. But now they seem to have generic anti-abortion rhetoric and calls for institutional reforms that would actually help women voluntarily keep unplanned pregnancies, especially college students — on-site daycare, maternity coverage in student health insurance, on-campus housing, etc. Which is at least something. So now I’m inclined towards (c) Feminists for Life is an organization for women who are genuinely emotionally and intellectually torn between the ideal of equality for women and the conservative values of their community.

  19. hysperia Says:

    I heard blatant, nasty misogyny from the mouths of the MSM and supposedly liberal male bloggers from the get-go and it’s done nothing but worsen since the moment she was announced. Check out the sexism watch at Shakesville and try VPILF.com. She’s a “bad mom” because she was back at work three days after giving birth to her fifth child, she’s a “bimbo”, a “trollop” and she’s being compared to Anna Nicole Smith because of Smith’s marriage to a much older man. To believe that Americans have learned something from the sexism directed at Clinton appears to be scorchingly naive.

  20. Jender Says:

    Brandon– re VP duties… The big problem with all that you’ve said is that sometimes VPs have to become Presidents at a moment’s notice. so they need to be able to handle that right from the start.

    As to the definition of ‘feminism’– contemplating Palin and Feminists for Life really puts a strain on my general desire for laxity. These are important issues and I really want to think about them.

  21. RAR Says:

    Regarding the experience question, there appear to be two strategies for addressing the challenge I pose above.

    Jender seemingly conceeds that Obama is no more experienced than Palin, but argues that other facts about Obama, lacked by Palin, make up for his deficit. Maybe. But of course Republicans will not recognize those other facts as positives, nor are their opponents likely to be persuaded by the facts that Palin backers might cite to make up for her lack of experience (e.g. the “good judgment” shown in not aborting her most recent child). This dialectical stalemate suggests that the experience matter simply isn’t playing an important role, and should be abandoned by both sides (which was basically the gist of my initial comment).

    jj adopts the other strategy, which is to argue that Obama is indeed more experienced than Palin in some relevant way. Specifically, Obama has experience running a national campaign. Of course, this implies that Obama lacked the relevant experience when the campaign began. It also implies that Palin might acquire at least some of this same experience at the top of the McCain campaign in the next two months. At any rate, I’ll readily concede that Obama has certain types of experience that Palin lacks. And Palin has certain types of experience that Obama lacks. It doesn’t really matter how small the state’s population might be; executive experience in government is something wholly unlike running a campaign, if for no other reason than the need to manage relations with an independent legislature. Palin has that experience; Obama doesn’t. In the end, these two types of experience are probably incommensurable. Better, then, to abandon this line of argument.

  22. counterfnord Says:

    Maybe it’s just me and selective memory, but reading all these media reports I couldn’t help but wonder at the mandatory “wife and mother of five” line coming in the same breath as saying she’s governor of Alaska. I can’t remember ever reading a “husband and father of” description. A mention of the number of kids, yes, but as a footnote. “Husband”, never. Sure, that’s probably not the worst kind of sexism, but it’s downright sexist nonetheless and pretty depressing.

  23. Jender Says:

    Sure is.

  24. jj Says:

    RAR: My comments were more constrained than you report. I said that Obama’s experience running for President shouldn’t be left out – it is being deleted from his record when the “time spent” is counted by conservatives. Secondly, I said it isn’t unreasonable to count him as having more experience. That’s quite different, I think.

    About her experience with the legislature: He’s had some time being in that supposedly independent legislature, and I would expect him to have a better idea of how to work with it.

  25. Jender Says:

    RAR: I was responding exclusively to your suggestion that it would only be demography that would make someone support Obama despite his not huge experience. I did not think to myself, “he’s fairly new on the scene, but hey he’s black.” I said “he’s fairly new but he’s brilliant, inspirational and has good judgment.” and then I explained why I wouldn’t make the corresponding judgment about Palin. But you’re absolutely right that others would judge her differently.

  26. Jender Says:

    I should have added: I do not at all accept that Palin and Obama are equally inexperienced. Sorry for not making it clear which bit of your comment I was responding to.

  27. Rachel Says:

    jj @ 12: Yes, I thought you meant the MSM… I am most likely going to make a donation either way…

  28. jj Says:

    Thanks, Rachel, me too.

  29. ilovefanon Says:

    jj
    Hitler also inspired many, that is not necessarily a good thing. Most of the time inspiration is backed with lies and trickery, like mesmerizing. I mean look at how the slave owners who hypocritically wrote about freedom inspired the revolutionary war in the us, or how a man who was a proponent of slavcery thousands of years ago still inspires people today. There are many who inspire but there is a very long list of those who inspire change who were murdered- how many of the original black panters were murdered? or MLK- and he even was trying to help the Man at the same time, look at Tupac, or all of the Puerto Ricans who have inspired just lately and how many of them have been the victims of political murder in this country in 2008 alone?
    Any inspiration at this level that is not stopped by the monied is suspecr at this point. Oh, I forgot, he is in their pocket pushing their agenda, even more than MLK did, he is safe from the government I guess

  30. I’ll try to address your questions as briefly as possible, though I doubt it’ll happen! LOL.

    First, I think the press (specifically the american press, because that’s what I know best as an american) are going to go back to the same old tenets of sexism that they always do. Sarah Palin is screwed either way because if she’d taken full maternity leave, she’d have never heard the end of it, and since she came back so soon after giving birth she’s deemed by some as a “bad mother”. It’s just a no-win situation. You just can’t please people! Of course there are other things that the media will harp on as well, like her upbringing in Alaska and the relatively “fringe” lifestyle that Alaskans live in comparison to the rest of americans in the continental states. Right now they’re looking at her experiences in an “adoring” light, but soon the tide will turn and they’ll be likening her to a “rube”. They love to build people up to tear them down. The downward fall sells more papers/ad space.

    Second, I’d never underestimate the stupidity of the american public. I don’t think ANYONE in the mainstream media does either. They know how to couch stories with a certain slant and how to release information strategically to mislead the public. And as mindless sheep, many americans never even question the mounds of junk they take in on a regular basis via most mainstream news outlets (and I’m not JUST talking about FOX NEWS when I say “junk”. LOL).

    I don’t think MOST people care to have a real dialogue on what is sexist, the same way no one REALLY wants to talk about what is racist, or what we can do to eliminate sexism and racism. It requires to much work! It requires people to take responsibility for their actions and to actually THINK, and it might even cause some that come from a “privileged position” to become uncomfortable. Heaven forbid! ROFL.

    Honestly, I think the fact that Sarah Palin is a “pretty white woman” only helps. By in large, pretty white women RARELY lose anything. LOL. I know it’s not POPULAR to imply that a significant part of her LIFE’S SUCCESS is based on her appearance, but I do believe she wouldn’t be where she is if it had not been for her “beauty queen background” and the doors it opened. And yes, it’s different from the ways a young attractive man has a certain number of advantages, based solely on the fact that the man could still expect to achieve a certain level of success politically even if he isn’t attractive (think Ross Perot. LOL). Studies show time and time again that “pretty people have better lives”, I think the inherent sexism lies in the type of opportunities that are extended to those “beaus/beauties” (e.g. an attractive man can build and market a car, and an attractive woman can work in the showroom as a model next to the car! LMAO).

    Finally, I think the choice of Sarah Palin as the VP for the Republican party did a good job of taking away some of the “thunder” that Obama has with his “change mantra”. The day prior to the announcement, the Dems did a good job of talking about how John McCain was “more of the same”, and then BAM, he puts a woman on the ticket at a time when THE CHANGE PARTY (i.e. the Democrats) wouldn’t because they knew it would be WAY TOO RISKY since they already had a Black man as the party’s lead. I also think that for all the undecideds, or people that were voting for Hillary JUST because she’s a woman, they now have a LEGITIMATE REASON not to vote for Obama, yet still be part of “making political history”. I think for months good “progressive-minded americans” have been looking for any EXCUSE not to vote for Obama, and Palin gives it to them! LOL.

  31. [...] 7, 2008 · No Comments From Feminist Philosophers: Gov. Palin, McCain’s choice for running mate, is a woman of many accomplishments. Some of them, [...]

  32. This little commentary from Slate on the upcoming Biden-Palin debate has some interesting tidbits relating to how her being female should affect Biden’s tactics:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2199363/

  33. jj Says:

    NFAH: Great and funny article; thanks for the link.

  34. j Says:

    Now if we can only get Biden to read that great Slate article…

  35. jj Says:

    Yes! I’m worried. Funny though the picture is of his as the creepy guy in the back of the porn show, it’s hardly going to help Obama!


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