Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm Struck by Gibson's "Hubris"

I'm just listening to the taped interview of Gibson's questioning of Palin last night. I couldn't believe how he dared to ask Palin whether her decision to run for VP was due to "hubris." He would never ask a male candiate this question. His entire manner towards her was condescending; his serious, unsmiling face, looking at her beyond his little spectacles, was entirely sexist in the way he acts adversarial towards her. No doubt if he were questioning Obama or another man about these same issues, he would crack at least a little smile and not strike such a superior pose.

Slate's Jack Safer argues that Gibson showed a better foreign policy understanding than Palin. But isn't it a lot easier to read prepared questions than to answer them impromptu?

Here is the exact excerpt from the interview:

He asks her twice whether she thought she was experienced enough to be VP. She answers twice, and then he asks a third time:

Gibson: "You didn’t say to yourself, am I experienced enough, am I ready?"

Palin: "I didn’t hesitate. . ."

Gibson interrupts: “Doesn’t that take some hubris?”

Gibson would never have asked this of a male VP candidate. Doesn't Obama show hubris? Doesn't any one who dares to run for the highest political office have to have an excess of confidence? Hubris is such a negative word, and Obama, with all of his incredible cockiness, has never had this word ascribed to him.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Paglia and I think alike: both find Palin a "Frontierwoman"

I wrote last week that Palin has resurrected the old archetype of the "Frontierswoman."

In a well-written Salon article posted today, Paglia argues the same thing, among other interesting points:

"The gun-toting Sarah Palin is like Annie Oakley, a brash ambassador from America's pioneer past. She immediately reminded me of the frontier women of the Western states, which first granted women the right to vote after the Civil War -- long before the federal amendment guaranteeing universal woman suffrage was passed in 1919. Frontier women faced the same harsh challenges and had to tackle the same chores as men did -- which is why men could regard them as equals, unlike the genteel, corseted ladies of the Eastern seaboard, which fought granting women the vote right to the bitter end."

Among her other thought-provoking points: "Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is "Mother Blame" Behind Palin Criticism?"

It's striking that many women are criticizing Sarah Palin for being a "bad mother" by virtue of her decision to run for Vice President. Some of my women friends don't like Palin because they think that somehow she is putting her own needs ahead of that of her children. They say she shouldn't be pursuing the job of VP with a special-needs child at home, or because she should not be putting the spotlight on her pregnant 17-year=old daughter, or just that the needs of her five children are just too great for her to be in such a high-profile, demanding job.

This criticism of Palin for "bad mothering" by other women explains the recent CNN poll which shows that Palin is more popular with men than women.

I just read a post of mine from July 30, 2007, and it's relevant to how Palin is unfairly being maligned by many as a "bad mother," at the same time that her maternality is a major part of her image and appeal to others:

Here's what I wrote in July 2007: " what do we make of today's New York Times article about the stellar Chelsea Clinton who is always poised, always in control, always setting a good example: a complete opposite to the generational example set by Lohan, Hilton et al. No where in the front page news story is there any praise for Hillary Clinton for being an excellent mother. Here is a young woman who has turned out remarkably well given the unusual and public upbringing she has had. . ."

"Another recent New York Times article "Sometimes a Mother Can Do No Right," focused on how it's Lindsay Lohan's mother, a single mother of four, who is targeted as the cause of Lindsay's bad behavior, same in the case of Britney Spears."

"In that [New York Times] article, Susan J. Douglas, author of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, said, 'We have a long history in this culture of mother blame. Media images of the 'bad mother' serve to police all mothers,' said Professor Douglas. 'We still have a virgin-whore binary in American pop culture, and this governs motherhood as well,' Professor Douglas said."

“'It’s supposed to be a mother’s job to train her daughter into how to domesticate her various desires,' [Douglas] said. 'If we see a young woman who hasn’t done that, the mother has failed her tutorial.'”

That media image of the "bad mother" that Professor Douglas talks about is what was behind this week's US Magazine cover, with its "Scandal and Lies" headline writ-large under a photo of a beaming Palin holding her infant son Trig.

It's this "virgin-whote" binary that explains why Palin clutched baby Trig to her chest after finishing her convention speech. It's an attempt, a successful one, of trying to appear more like the maternal Virgin Mary than the mother who allowed her daughter to have premarital sex.

As I wrote in July 2007 on my blog, "We're not going to see . . a detailed comparison or examination of the candidates' children, because the media does not judge a male politician by his children in the same way that it judges a woman. The media does not care to examine how the child turns out in order to infer whether the male politician was a good father or not, because as a society we have lower standards for how responsible a father is for a child's day-to-day care. So it's merely enough that the man has 2.5 children and a loyal wife at his side; their mere existence is proof that he is a good enough father, it doesn't matter whether that child has turned into a productive, independent, functioning adult."

But women are prepared to attack Palin for how they perceive her as a mother, for her decision to pursue the VP position while having a special-needs baby, and a 17-year-old daughter who is pregnant--two criticisms I have heard vocalized by many of my women friends. Women are willing to attack Palin on the grounds of her mothering in a way that they have never judged a male politician. We have different standards for what we expect of our leaders as mothers and as fathers, and we, as women, are our own worst critics.

On the Sexual Fecundity of Sarah Palin. . .

I just read an interesting post by blogger Will Wilkinson (whose blog is The Fly Bottle). Click here for the entire post.

He writes, "Palin exudes sexual confidence and maternal authority, which in a relatively conservative culture like ours is the most recognizable and viscerally comprehensible form of female power. It makes a lot of men uncomfortable, but that’s because it’s the kind of female power they are most often subject to, and most often fail to successfully resist. . . .I feel that Hillary’s struggle to connect as a strong leadership-worthy woman was part of an attempt to forge a sense of feminine authority not founded on maternality and female sexual power. That she almost succeeded in this is astounding, and I think hugely to her credit."

I found this point interesting, and I agree. Hillary's power didn't arise out of her sexuality or her maternality--that's why she seemed so threatening to men and women. As a culture, we have a history of deeming middle-aged women (past the age of fecundity) who have wealth and power to be "witches," manipulative, shrewish, dangerous. Think Martha Stewart, Leona Helmsley, the Salem witch trials.

Palin, on the other hand, is liked by men more than women (see yesterday's CNN poll). Women find Palin more threatening than men do, although many women do find her appealing, more "warm" than Hillary Clinton.

Wilkinson continues on his blog, "But we all know that politics is a primate sport. We’re used to marveling over the fact that the taller man usually wins, that a commanding, alpha-male jock toughness is de rigeur for successful presidential candidates. Palin’s gut appeal drives home the perhaps inevitable but nevertheless regrettable fact that female political success is at some level going to be grounded in primate appeal, too." Does he mean to say that part of Palin's image if a pose? That she postioning herself as uber-mom because that is the way to achieve "primate appeal," to get men to instinctively like her because of her maternal and sexual appeal?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Palin as Frontierwoman--shows McCain's choice was actually savvy one

The media is abuzz with discussions about what women think of Sarah Palin, how ironically, liberal women are decrying her decision to leave her special-needs child at home while she pursues her high-powered job and conservative women are supporting her decision to be a career woman at the same time as a mother.

All this discussion brings to the fore the point that we, as a society, just don't know what we want in a woman politician, in a woman leader. We aren't comfortable with women in power, and we aren't sure what would make us comfortable. Until now, most woman politicians who have run for high office have done so only after they have finished raising their children, after they are no longer in their child-bearing years: Ferraro, Pelosi, Hillary Clinton. In a way, this desexualizes them somewhat, makes their position of power less threatening, to men and women alike. Perhaps this is one reason McCain's pick of Palin, who just recently gave birth to her fifth child, and still is in her sexual prime, is such a lightning rod for our views on what are acceptable roles of behavior for mothers. Here is a woman who looks both maternal and soft, and yet strong and powerful at the same time, a frontierswoman, with the imagery of her hunting caribou and wolves and carving up a moose. She is forcing us to confront how we try to confine powerful women into certain limited archetypes: witch; Marie Antoinette-type leading a powerful man astray (here, too, she doesn't fall into type--her husband seems far less powerful, the stay-at-home dad to her Superwoman).

When you think about the imagery that Palin projects, that of a powerful frontierswoman, an independent, free thinker, a woman who gives birth and three days later gets back in the 'saddle', you realize that McCain's choice wasn't as crazy as the media is painting it to be. And that contrary to public wisdom, his choice isn't necessarily an attempt to reach out to disaffected women voters who wanted Hillary Clinton to be their candidate, but to reach out to the white working class voters that preferred Clinton to Obama, gender aside.

The imagery that Palin projects as a fighter is going to appeal to this group. In a May 8, 2008 editorial in the New York Times, Susan Faludi wrote about how Hillary Clinton had recently changed her image from the archetype of the "prissy hall monitor" upbraiding her fellow male candidates, an unpopular figure with men, who acts morally superior to them, to a more popular "fighter" archetype.

She wrote that "[t]he specter of the prissy hall monitor is, in part, the legacy of the great female reformers of Victorian America. . . they were regarded by men. . .as reluctant trespassers in the public sphere who had left the domestic circle only to fulfill their duty as the morally superior sex, housekeepers scouring away a nation’s vice."

This archetype of woman as rule-regulator is repellent in the national imagination.

Faludi wrote, "In that visceral subbasement of the national imagination — the one that underlies all the blood-and-guts sports imagery our culture holds so dear — the laurels go to the slugger who ignores the censors, the outrider who navigates the frontier without a chaperone. Deep in the American grain, particularly in the grain of white male working-class voters, [this fighter archetype] is the more trusted archetype."

Palin, the goddess of Alaska, captures this imagery perfectly. She'll capture the imagination of many white male working-class voters, those that Hillary Clinton had in her camp.

Ironically, in selecting Palin, McCain might not have been thinking of trying to bring Clinton's female supporters to his side, as it's widely thought, but those disaffected white male working-class men that aren't loyally in Obama's camp, and who will find Palin's frontierswoman imagery appealing.