I get uneasy about griping about Sarah Palin. Every time I see her or hear about her or read about her, I have a similar feeling. This feeling can best be described as “Oh No!”
I first felt it when McCain’s campaign announced her as his running mate. Oh No! Mostly because I felt that it was a cheap, sly if you are an idiot way to stoke the female vote. And it was for a little while. Until many people realized this woman was not an easy replacement for Hilary because Hilary has more well of everything under her pinky nail than Sarah Palin ever will.
But even as I laughed at Tina Fey and cried at Katie Couric (my neighbors have a Mercedes and I can see it from my house, but well versed in Mercedes I, as a working writer, will probably never be) I had misgivings about completely tearing apart Sarah Palin the way people love to do. And people do love to do it. And each time they do, they write her off in many ways that it makes me uneasy as a feminist to write off any woman, even if that woman believes whole heartedly in a way of moving through the world that I despise.
I first heard about Sarah Palin in People Magazine. I am pretty sure it was People. It was when her son Trig was born. It was a simple birth announcement: the Governor of Alaska had a baby boy, it’s her fifth, she’s a Republican. When her candidacy for vice president went off the hook after her speech at the Republican National Convention (which was a huge Oh No! moment cause that speech was good. Offensive to me, sure. But brilliant in the same way Obama’s speech was brilliant at the 2004 Democratic Convention) I began to see her in two different lights. One had a conservative hue and I am not a conservative. Her decrees about America and being regular and wearing lipstick while growling at detractors of her family and/or her political platform all seemed as if they thinly disguised a whole lot of hate and intolerance. I think she is a very dangerous figure in our culture, and oh No! is a mild understatement of my feelings about her when I view her in this light.
But then there is the light of feminism; the light that shows and exposes some rather disturbing characteristics about how the public is shown this high profile figure. I don’t remember anyone discussing McCain’s clothing. Or Biden’s. I do remember more than enough media coverage about Palin’s suits, Hilary’s cankles, and Obama’s jeans (the jean thing was after he was sworn in, but still). This is what we do to “the other”. We dissect them and cut them into pieces. We dismantle them and by doing so are able to dismiss them. Dissecting how a woman chooses to dress seemed, well, very wrong to me, as a feminist.
Then there were her kids. Whose were hers, which one got knocked up, whether or not she actually drove them to hockey at five AM or had someone else do it. And as someone who struggles to get only one kid to one lousy three year old ballet class while working and writing and dealing with just one other kid, I really did not think, no matter how much her politics seemed aberrant to what it means to be American, that these things should matter, and ridiculing her about those things seemed wrong to me too, as a feminist.
And the irony was not lost on me. Me, sitting in Harvard’s back yard, sipping wine instead of wine coolers, pro-choice, pro national healthcare, pro having someone who seems like “just a community organizer” in charge of our country, is probably someone Sarah Palin would not appreciate in real life. I am a feminist who believes feminism is the simple belief that women and men are equal. Sure I read it on a bumper sticker, but it is truest definition of the term I have ever come across, and I went to Wesleyan, so I sat through more than my share of women studies courses. As an artist and a feminist I am pretty sure most of the politicians on the right do not even have me in their mind’s eye when they talk about “regular Americans and regular families”. So it is odd that I get a little disgruntled when Palin is ridiculed. Because my Oh No! does not just speak to the idea that perhaps we should stop giving this person so much attention and therefore political power, but perhaps we need to start discussing her differently entirely because to ridicule her in the way we do undermines the fact that she can exist at all in this political climate. Someone like her should exist. She just should not be in charge of this country. And she should exist without us discussing what she is wearing, what mistakes she’s made as a parent or what mistakes her children have made.
So today, on the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment (that’s the one that allows us girls to VOTE!) I had the familiar Oh No! feeling when I read that Sarah Palin wanted in a sense to “reclaim” feminism. No, Sarah Palin, it’s always been there for you, you’ve just got to perhaps stand in a different light to see its value.