Can Sarah Palin be good for women?

I’ve picked up, via CIF America, on a very interesting blog compiled with material from women, both Democrat and Republican from across America called Women Against Sarah Palin. Apparently, to my great relief, Sarah Palin does not represent the every day ‘Hockey Mom’ that she says that she does. Phew! Although I’m still not sure what a ‘Hockey Mom’ is and I know that’s only because I haven’t been paying proper attention.

I have struggled to describe my feelings about Sarah Palin being selected to join McCain on the Republican ticket. What is not surprising is that she and I agree on practically nothing, apart from what constitutes a flattering pair of glasses. Her glasses may end up being the most popular thing about her.

So, I was never going to find much common ground with the anti-choice, pseudo feminist (boy, is she suffering from false consciousness!!) Republican VP choice. No, Sireee!

But, my real interest is not really in the lack of common political ground that she and I share but in the impact that a serious female vice presidential candidate will have on women, women in politics and any increase in women’s power.

Personally, a candidate being a woman has never been enough to secure my vote; she still has to be good enough. I am aware, though, that what and who I might consider the ‘best’ candidate and the ‘good enough’ candidate may be different from other people’s views. I suspect that my selection criteria are not all that traditional.

And I still think, on any set of criteria, it is far too easy for a mediocre man to win over a good woman in politics. It is my experience in work and politics that you have to work much harder and smarter to be taken seriously as a woman than you do as a man. I long for the day when there as many mediocre women in politics and boardrooms as there are men – then we will know we have real equality!

And even before you get to the point of trying to be taken seriously, there are still many de facto barriers to entry and participation and, let’s face it, good old fashioned prejudice. This ensures that we only attract and put a tiny proportion of the talented women out there into positions of real power. We are much better at discerning talented men from mediocre men than we are discerning talented women from mediocre men.

But would having a female VP be good for women in general? Would her breaking the glass ceiling as a serious VP candidate be good? In the same way that I believe Hillary being the first serious candidate for presidential nomination, has been good for women? In the way that Condoleezza Rice going around the world frowning at male presidents and leaders from all over the world has provided a role model for young black women? Whatever their politics, you have to admit that just having them on, doing their stuff on the TV in the background must impact the way people think about women’s abilities, surely?

Or would the fact that she has been pulled in as a vapid symbol, lacking in experience, knowledge and so lacking in any real comprehension of the complexities of life that she looks for her answers in religious dogma? And like Margaret Thatcher, it is perfectly possible for a woman in power to be no friend of other women. I was worried that because she is one of the most high profile women in the world all her personal failings would be translated into women’s failings, using the same logic as this rather brilliant cartoon from xkcd! (via Feministing)

This has been my major concern. Because she is not good enough, because she is a sort of anti-role model, I’m terrified that all women will be tarred with her brush.

And then I have also struggled with some of the sexism that has been meted out to her. Sexism that is flung at her may just stick on us all. Each time one woman suffers from sexism, we all do; whatever side we’re on.

So, ‘consternation’ is how I would best describe my feelings about Sarah Palin. One of the contributors to the women against Sarah Palin blog says:

“I am all about women stepping forward and taking our rightful place among the leadership of this great nation. However, not this woman, not this time”.

But surely, if we want women in power, we have to accept that we won’t always get to choose our favourite women, like when democracies choose governments and political parties that we ourselves wouldn’t choose? You can’t just throw out democracy because you don’t like the choices being made and perhaps you can’t just decide to wait for women to be in power until one comes along that you can agree with.

Urgh! I am in a dilemma and in a bind and what I really want to know is what sort of heuristic is Sarah Palin being (see the talented Mr Stockley for an explanation of that one!).

What will, come November 5th, whether she is in the White House or not, be the gut feeling that Sarah Palin’s candidacy speaks to, the short cut that she helps us make?

Does the voter who does not have the time or inclination to sit down and look at policies, or will young people only just starting to become politically aware, look at her and think that it is reasonable and normal for women to be in positions of power and if she can do it so, then so can any woman.

Or, will the most memorable thing about the first serious female VP candidate be that is she a token woman only there because of her ability to procreate and still look good and the Republican’s cynical ploy to pick up the female voters who wanted Hillary to be the first woman president in the US? Will people think that we’d be better off with a more experienced man? Does she undermine not only women’s candidacy but also their role as voters?


John said...
24 Sep 2008, 13:17:00

The Burbler said...
24 Sep 2008, 14:21:00

"the first serious female VP candidate"

Geraldine Ferraro wasn't "serious" then? Why not? I realise the Modale/Ferraro ticket was always a long shot against Reagan, but discounting Ferraro as not "serious" seems rather extreme. She broke "the glass ceiling as a serious VP candidate."

So far, Palin has been received relatively sympathetically compared to Dan Quayle.

On Palin, she has yet to hold a press conference, and her debut at the UN was 'pool cameras only'.
Her main freewheeling encounters with the press have been:

1. When she starting to drink a coffee in a diner and she was asked about the AIG bailout to which she replied "disappointed that taxpayers are called upon to bail out another one" before immediately sipping coffee, thus ending the conversation.

2. Buying icecreams at a shop, but the 'pool producer' wasn't notified of this, so she was not asked any questions.

I also note that concessions have been made for Palin at the Veep candidate debate so that she doesn't get caught out in a debate.

So, although the choice of a woman may have done favours to her gender to start with, the patronising way she is being used, or not used, on the campaign trail may well turn out to be disastrous as an advertisement for women's skills. The message currently seems to be

"yes - have a woman on the ticket - but keep her wrapped in cotton-wool".

Jo Christie-Smith said...
24 Sep 2008, 14:46:00

Interesting link, John. I think until women are ubiquitous in positions of power, they will continue to be treated in a psesudo chivalrous manner. So, we can be then told that we were allowed to win!

I think she should be given the same opportunities as any other VP candidate and allowed to sink or swim by what she says.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
24 Sep 2008, 14:58:00

I think for someone to be a serious VP candidate they gave to have a chance of being the VP, yes. And that was not the case with Geraldine Ferraro. It is easy to give away candidacies to minorities or other 'risky' candidates when they have no chance of actually being in power.

So, Sarah Palin is a VP choice of a different magnitude than Ferraro; is that better put?

Yes, it would seem that they are being unduly chivalrous - the sort of chivalry aimed to keep women in their place rather than setting them free.

And, I am really worried that your conclusion is right. That said, our reading of the situation may be very different from the majority's.

The Burbler said...
24 Sep 2008, 19:17:00

Yes, that seems right - she has a better chance than Ferraro.

I am sorry to harp on. And call me an old softy if you like. But if only Kay Bailey Hutchison had been chosen! She is a fantastic example of a superb spokesperson in politics and has a marvellous track record in foreign affairs and defence. It really is a crying shame that she wasn't chosen. But presumably she is pro-brussels sprouts or anti-chilblain relief or something which we Brits don't understand.....

Or, more crucially, her pick wouldn't have had the newsworthiness to kill Obama's fantastic Denver speech stone dead in the media......

Jo Christie-Smith said...
25 Sep 2008, 07:41:00

You're right, she would've been better. That's one of the thing the right does...puts up the weakest of the under represented groups and then points at their failings. To put up the best would mean too much of a challenge to the established power base.

Few groups give up power easily.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...
1 Oct 2008, 18:00:00

Clinton paved the way for Palin, and in a similar way, a woman does not need to agree with Palin's politics in order to appreciate that she is (almost in spite of herself, pace Thatcher), advancing the cause of women in political life simply by being there.

So I don't believe the fact she is a candidate can be anything but a good thing for women in general. I don't believe in "anti" role models. She is making it possible for people to imagine a woman at the top of the world stage, and that is positive whether she is brilliant or a complete cretin.

Slightly cheekily, I would suggest that her greatest gift is by being mediocre. Almost no woman (Vice-)Presidential candidate will ever be as lame as her in future and so can expect flattering comparisons. The only way is up.

And I don't think it is sexist to call her a cretin either. I don't believe she has been given a harder time than George Bush Jr or Dan Quayle, and they haven't put men off from seeking the top jobs.

I just pray she doesn't become a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
7 Oct 2008, 10:20:00

I don't think it's sexist to call her a cretin either - in fact, if she is a cretin then it might be sexist NOT to call her one!

However, there has been some stuff about her doing the job whilst she's got 5 kids and anything that uses the fact that she's a woman to try an undermine her is sexism.

Well, James, you are quite optimistic about it - my worry is that the next woman who gets to be a serious VP running mate may well shine in comparison, but, shine in comparison to the historical figure of Sarah Palin, as it will be so long before the American public are happy to have another woman in post.

To be honest, I am slightly more optimistic than that but do see it as a risk.

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