Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sexism and Sarah Palin

I do not understand the argument that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy makes Sarah Palin “more real”. I know teenage pregnancies happen. I’ve witnessed them, though only through the gossip factor, not personally. That’s probably why I think this argument is bull. From Maureen Dowd:

As more and more titillating details spill out about the Palins, Republicans riposte by simply arguing that things like Todd’s old D.U.I. arrest or Sarah’s messy family vengeance story will just let them relate better to average Americans — unlike the lofty Obamas.

“If this doesn’t resonate with every woman in America, I’ll eat my hat,” Bill Noll, an Alaska delegate whose daughter got pregnant at a young age and kept the baby, told The Times’s Ashley Parker.
The DUI is old news and doesn’t matter. Even when Bush’s DUI came out five days before the 2000 election it didn’t matter. But Bill Noll’s comment is ridiculous. Bristol Palin’s pregnancy doesn’t resonate with me. Planned Parenthood exists for a reason, people! There are tons of contraception methods available. I know there are complications in getting contraception, but there are many ways around this problem.

Honestly, there are very few stories that are going to resonate with any woman, and the idea that I should relate to this is ridiculous. The closest I worried about pregnancy when I was a teenager extended to the fictional characters I watched on television, and even then I disapproved. It’s a well-known fact that pregnancy ruins shows. Yes, it’s a crappy situation, but for many people—for many females!—it’s just simply not something that is a concern, for a variety of reasons.

But I’m sure I’ll just be called another East Coast Blue Stater who doesn’t know anything about Family Values.

Speaking of Family Values, the way the Republicans are spinning this story—which had to have elicited tons of “holy shit” when the news broke—is amusing. While others have harped on the “choice” aspect (it had to be Bristol’s, because if she actually went to have an abortion the news might not be as big if it broke at all—though it would certainly counter her mother’s political and moral stances), I’m amazed that this is so hailed as a positive thing. Having a child out of wedlock is considered bad enough in Republican circles, but a teenage girl pregnant, who isn’t even supposed to know about sex from her abstinence-only education and churchgoing family! I’m baffled by conservatives championing her when her personal life, by this fact, contradicts what she believes in. I know there is quite a debate going on about what constitutes appropriate criticism…and everything seems to go back to, is it ok to say this…because she’s a woman?

The concerns facing Palin—everything from her experience to her family life—are completely valid. I don’t think it’s sexist to wonder about her caring for a disabled newborn and providing for her oldest daughter’s child, even though many presume that her husband will do most of this type of work. Even moving her large family halfway across the world to Washington is something to note. I would like to hear the tale many women crave: How She Does It. Nannies, messy house, older children babysitting…THAT’S what makes her “real”.

The fact is, most of the childrearing and other domestic duties still overwhelming fall to the woman in the household, no matter how busy she is and no matter how much the husband helps out, so it’s not (so) sexist to wonder why McCain would pick a woman like her, why should would accept, and how she would be able to juggle the role. To quote Dowd again (who I agree here with):

Hillary cried sexism to cover up her incompetent management of her campaign, and now Republicans have picked up that trick. But when you use sexism as an across-the-board shield for any legitimate question, you only hurt women. And that’s just another splash of reality.
Yes, it’s unfair that no one would criticize a man in her position, but these are realistic concerns. While there are many reasons for McCain not to nominate her and for Palin to not accept the job, I do not blame them. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and even if she’s not elected she can still change things.

Sexism is one of the insults in this campaign that basically can be applied to anything, and oftentimes I hear a line it’s attributed to and think it’s nonsense. Racism is sometimes substituted as well. I wish it wasn’t so, that if Barack Obama had a disabled child we would wonder how he would care for him. And it might come up, but not to the extent that it does with a woman.

I’m actually surprised that I haven’t heard (much) criticism of her parenting skills. That would seem to be a focal point. What is also so strange is that Sarah Palin announced her daughter’s pregnancy as a rebuttal to rumors that her 5 month-old Down’s Syndrome-afflicted baby was her daughter’s child, not hers. There are many people who don’t believe this, citing Bristol’s mysterious disappearance from school earlier this year, her mother’s late announcement and lack of showing. I don’t understand why she would hide this information, other than it makes her daughter look bad and her not so great either, but it’s not any more damaging than the original pregnancy is. Truthfully, Bristol Palin didn’t even look pregnant when she stood (with her boyfriend holding her hand on the platform, joining the rest of the family) at the RNC. But then, in my infinitely great punditry skills, when I first heard that the vice-presidential candidate had a teen daughter who was pregnant, I predicted that the Republicans’ run for president would be done. How in the world would that be acceptable? But hey, people want Mama, not Obama, now.

**Hey John, part of this is the second half of that "vicious and haphazard" post.


petpluto said...

I have a problem with that Maureen Dowd quote, because Hillary Clinton did experience rampant sexism in the media. And yes, using the cry of sexism hurts -like using any -ism hurts- the cause if there has been no sexism to speak of. But I think Sarah Palin has been hit with some of this herself. We have men running for political office all of the time with small children. We have Obama running for office right now with two small children. No one asks, "What about ze kidz?!" of him.

And yes, the distribution of labor in America is still overwhelmingly unequal in childcare and tipped toward the mother's side. But I really don't think that we should be asking "what about the kids?" of a mother when we wouldn't (and the truth is, special needs or not, we almost definitely wouldn't) of a father. Because this woman is running for political office, and just like we have the reasonable expectation that a male elected official will be able to handle crises of the state without having to carry the baby around on his hip or put Elmo band-aids on cuts when foreign officials are around, we need to have that same expectation of a woman politician. Because although the division of labor is still unequal on average, there is a very real chance that it is unequal in the other direction -or will be very soon- in this marriage (or, heck, just equal). Because obviously, she chose to be the vice-presidential nominee, so I think the reasonable expectation should be that she has made plans for her children to be taken care of when she has other businessy stuff to do.

Otherwise, yes, it is an incredibly sexist question. And not just of Governor Palin. It is sexist because it demonstrates to the extent in which a woman as the primary caregiver is still our expectation when it comes to all women. Politicians don't have to worry, because they have wives and it is assumed the wife will do this -even for more liberal politicians. "Women" politicians have to defend their choice to run for public office. And if we are to change that unequal distribution of household chores, one of the things we need to do is change our mindsets about who does what and who naturally cares more for what.

I'm totally with you on the teenage pregnancy thing. I can't really see that as being a hell of a draw. I also think it would be something insanely harped upon by the Republicans if the Democratic frontrunner -who would theoretically have children capable of getting pregnant- had a child who was pregnant. Then, people wouldn't be expected to join together. In that situation, it would be used as more fire power that the Democrats a just amoral fools damaging the traditional family values of our proud nation. So while I don't think Bristol should be a political battering ram against the Republicans, it also burns me so much because I know if the shoe was on the other foot, the Republicans running for office would not be anywhere as near as high-minded about it.

John said...

I got a shout-out! Woohoo!

Imagine, if you will, a world where one of Barack Obama's daughters was an adolescent who ended up getting pregnant out of wedlock. If you thought the phrase "baby daddy" was ubiquitous in the media before, just imagine it plastered on the front page of every major newspaper for months! It would be a nightmarish scene indeed, with protestors picketing the Obama household in order to pre-emptively strike against a possible abortion (since all democrats believe in "abort early and often" and freedom from any form of sexual responsibility, don'tcha know) Not to mention the fuel to the fires of racism that it would provide! But I digress.

The fact of the matter is that Sarah Palin, whether governor or vice-president, will have a talented and capable staff of nannies at her beck and call. The Palin Pack will not want for attention, just for attention from their actual mother. But hey, this might be a good thing for them. Given what I have seen of her demeanor thus far, she seems far more natural and at ease as politician than as a family figure.

I really wish we (the Liberal Media Empire - Muhuhahahaha!) could get our Sarah Palin smear campaign on the right track. If only we could forego the easy targets (moose jokes, attacks on her family, misogynism) and focus our attention on the scandalous stuff that actually matters (troopergate, oil-related conflicts of interest, wasteful spending that McCain repeatedly vetoed, anti-feminist policy, and many more!) maybe we'd have a shot at changing some people's minds. Then again, more than a few Americans make a conscious decision to ignore the issues and focus solely on candidates' personal characteristics. It's how the Founding Fathers would have wanted us to decide, after all.