Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sexism and Sarah Palin

Do you realize it's only been THREE WEEKS since Sarah Palin crashed onto the national political stage in a storm of publicity? The GOP announced their VP selection on August 29th, and ever since that Friday preceding the Republican convention there has rarely been a single day that hasn't brought some accusation of sexism from the right.

The mainstream media (MSM), political bloggers, and typical voters have commented extensively on Gov. Palin's political ideologies. Her ultra-conservative policies, her alleged abuses of executive powers, her provincial lack of knowledge about national and international issues, her rigid stance on abortion, etc. have all been discussed extensively.

And the GOP, along with conservative pundits and right-wing news organizations, have seemingly never passed up an opportunity to issue a charge of sexism against Palin's detractors. Every time a criticism has emerged about Sarah Palin, an almost instantaneous cry of foul play was issued from the right.

Immediately when Palin was announced as VP candidate, bloggers began researching the mysterious choice of the GOP. The questions about Palin's recent pregnancy, with photos that raised doubts about whether she had indeed even been pregnant, and her very unconventional actions after her water broke (she gave a speech and then took 12 hours to return to Wasilla before seeking medical care while knowingly carrying a high-risk baby) led directly to the anti-choice candidate having to publicly disclose that her 17 year-old daughter was pregnant. Despite claims to the contrary, it's widely assumed that John McCain wasn't notified of this fact during the vetting process.

While normally this should be an off-limits discussion about a candidate's family, it does reflect somewhat on the character of an ultra-religious, abstinence-only, anti-birth control, anti-choice politician when her teen daughter apparently engages in unprotected sex. To his immense credit, Barack Obama immediately issued a statement calling for the children and families of candidates to be off-limits.

Since then, every aspect of Gov. Palin's personal and public life have been examined. This is to be expected for ANY candidate, male or female. But the conservatives are complaining that Palin is being examined much closer than any other candidate, and they're trying to say sexism is the reason. The actual reason she's getting such intensive and thorough scrutiny is because basically NOBODY knew anything about her before she was selected!

This seems to beg the question "Is it possible to criticize a woman without it being considered a sexist attack?"

Republicans are pushing the "sexism" meme with everything they've got. Right-wing blogs (such as "Sarah Palin Sexism Watch") serve as a clearinghouse and aggregate of claims of sexism. Some of the examples of sexism on that blog are tenuous at best and ridiculous at worst. But I'm sure their rational is if you throw enough accusations against the wall, something might stick. However, the sheer volume of their silly charges reduces any likelihood of success.

FWIW, I haven't seen any evidence of them making similar efforts to counteract the treatment that Hillary Clinton and her daughter received and continues to receive from the right. I guess these titans of gender protection are only interested in defending women who wear RED.

In comparison, Sarah Palin will need to be publicly trashed and dragged through the mud for many, many years to even approach the magnitude of sexist slander that's been heaped upon Hillary by an enthusiastic and bloodthirsty majority of the neocons in this country.

Occasionally, satirists use sexism as a vehicle for humor, such as the image above from This is a very fine line to walk, and more often than not it will come back to bite you. Personally I feel a little uncomfortable with these kinds of jabs, and everyone should consider that there's plenty of non-gender based material available to use as fodder for Palin satire.

There absolutely ARE some atrocious examples out there of sexism regarding Palin, and even some remarkably disgusting examples of blatant misogyny (warning: NSFW link). This has always been the case as far as female politicians are concerned, but nobody is going to conclude that instances like these are indicative of the feelings of the left across the board. If anyone has fought for women's rights, it's been the left. In fact, there's absolutely nothing to prevent Republican operatives from creating a misogynistic screed and posting it while masquerading as a liberal. I've even seen an example of a similar subterfuge, albeit in reverse:

Heh heh...that image still makes me laugh. The point being, of course, is that there's no ironclad guarantee that almost anything posted on the internet is as it seems.

Ultimately, the justification for a charge of sexism must rest solely on the nature of the criticism. If the matter of gender, alone or in concert with other reasons, is the basis of an attack, then it clearly is sexist.

If the decisions, actions, or ideologies of the candidate are the foundation of a criticism, and it's backed up by verifiable fact, then the gender of the candidate matters not one bit in this discussion.

And, we can't ignore the fact that the GOP has accomplished something very significant with this debate on sexism. They've managed to deflect the spotlight from the real issues facing us.

Anything that distracts the American voters from the issues can only help the Republicans in this election cycle.


vagabondblogger said...

Bob: Exactly!

Now, for some more vetting, which every candidate must go through: Where's the financial disclosure? Nothing sexist about it. Everyone else in this race has produced their tax forms for the past... so many years. She needs to do the same. BTW, I think she just fortified the base, and after the "getting to know you" show others are seeing that she's just a despicable as her running mate.

Hillary endured much more sexism than Palin has, and Hillary could make mince meat out of both her and McCain. Disclosure: I am a Hillary hater, but I have a lot of respect for the lady.

Anonymous said...

Should anyone dare to mention that there might be some who are not comfortable with Obama's skin color, then, according to the GOP, that's playing the race card.

Bob Symmes said...

It's straight out of the Karl (mein Kamph) Rove playbook: If you don't like the message, attack the messenger.

It's the greatest failing of the progressive side of this country that we haven't come up with a 5 second sound-bite to answer these counterattacks.