Reverse Sexism, Sarah Palin, & Gloria Steinem

[Welcome Readers from C-Span]

You know things have gone a little wacky, when a right-wing conservative is deploying Gloria Steinem (Gloria Steinem?!!??) to support the Sarah Palin pick and claiming left-wing anti-female sexism.

The charge in question belongs to Chrystia Freeland of The Financial Times.

She opines:

During the Democratic primaries, Gloria Steinem, pioneering feminist and Hillary Clinton supporter, argued that the contest had revealed that gender was “probably the most restricting force in American life”. She illustrated her point by imagining a female version of Barack Obama and contending that no woman with such a slender biography would be considered seriously for the presidency.

It is now clear that Ms Steinem was right – although proof comes not from the treatment of the Democratic lioness Mrs Clinton but from the responses, particularly on the left, to the Republican newcomer Sarah Palin. Less than 24 hours after the triumphant close of a convention that nominated a 47-year-old first-term senator as its party’s candidate to be president of the United States, Democratic heavyweights were sputtering with horror at the idea of a 44-year-old, first-term governor as Republican vice-presidential nominee.

But is that right? I mean it is certainly true that Obama spent more time in elected public office than Clinton, yes? And if the problem is that Obama was a one-term senator and Palin a one-term governor, Hillary is/was only a 1 1/2 term Senator, yes?

Ok, so if you ignore that query–or if you count being First Lady of Arkansas and of the Nation as executive experience (which to be fair, given that it was the Clintons maybe you could, maybe she did have a great deal of influence/decision making capacity which wouldn’t otherwise accrue to that otherwise ceremonial post)–then I guess you could make Steinem’s argument. Otherwise Hillary’s record is not particularly thicker than Obama’s. Been a Senator for a couple of years more and got the one main vote (Iraq) she took during that time wrong, which he got right.

The case for a thicker Clintonian resume however is not helped by Freeland later saying (dumbly imo):

“In contrast with Mrs Clinton, whose most important political decision was whom she married”

as opposed to say I don’t know, voting or not voting for a war. This person whose most important decision was whom she married is the backbone of Steinem’s argument against the “thin resume” guy. Wait, I’m confused now, anybody else?

But even if you accept GS’ premise–that no woman would ever be accepted with “so thin a resume”–the obverse of that is therefore not also true. The (unstated) corollary to the no woman could ever gain to that position with so thin a record premise is that Hillary lost the Democratic Primary because of sexism. When in reality Hillary lost the primary because she voted for the Iraq War and ran a poor campaign and never took Obama seriously (like say how Steinem refused to either).

I think Freeland in the Obama/Palin matchup is underestimating what having run in the longest national political campaign for presidency ever does in terms of that vague catchall experience. He has been in the public eye for 19 months, 20+ debates, run against (and beat) the Clinton machine/Democratic establishment (versus say the Alaska Rep. Establishment, except well maybe not totally), has had numerous meetings with the financial and foreign policy establishment/elite, done the foreign leader/delegate circuit.

While it is true as Freeland points out, Obama is running for Prez and Palin only for VP, she should mention that Prez would be if elected the oldest first term individual ever elected in US history and therefore there are legitimate questions about succession/possibility McCain dying in office. In which case the only in Palin is “only” running for VP quickly disappears.

But all that aside, I think Steinem is probably right that no woman would enter the fray in a way Obama did if Obama were a woman. Doesn’t at all explain why/how Clinton lost the Democratic Primary–other than he was there to sink her (necessary but not sufficient condition)–but Steinem may be right on that point. Also continues still to underestimate how impressive Obama has been in many regards. [He is a mixed racial self-identified black man named Barack Obama running for Prez after all…in the US mind you]. The fact that he was a man–and that he had been against the Iraq War–got him a foot in the door I suppose but doesn’t in anyway predict what he was able to do once said foot was in said door. It was all him after that point.

I also agree with Freeland that much of the negative pushback against Palin is because she is a social conservative right-winger. That does leave open (as CF points out) the question of whether the “feminist” in this context means supporting policies that one thinks of as more pro-women which may be advocated by a man as opposed to a woman versus helping women as such, as represented by the possibility of the First Woman VP. I’m not gonna take sides on that one, just to say it’s out there.

But if the former is true, doesn’t this again undercut the thin resume argument vis a vis a Palin? I mean if it were decided that the more feminist (if there is such a thing) thing to do would be to vote Obama because of his supposedly more pro-woman policies, then wouldn’t the women (and pro-feminist men) voting against Palin be voting correctly? i.e. Voting on self-interest and policy not because of some reverse sexism?

Of course the other obvious ginormous elephant in the room that Freeland doesn’t mention–cuz it might wreck her whole theory–is that Palin got the nod because she was a woman. And only because she was a woman. And if she were a man with the kind of (*cough*…thin?) resume she has, she wouldn’t have been picked.

iow, All this episode may prove is that any campaign that picks a candidate pretty much entirely on gender and ideological persuasion while there are valid questions of suitability for the role without having clearly done their proper homework on vetting the individual in question is bound to get some stuff thrown back/blow up in their face. I’m not sure it at all proves Steinem’s thesis–which is the central point of Freeland’s article.

e.g. I can’t imagine a scenario in which John McCain had picked say Olympia Snowe as his VP and she would have been questioned by the left as “inexperienced”. They would have critiqued her–she is a Republican after all–but no sane person would have questioned her qualifications/capacity for the job. But Snowe is pro-choice, so she didn’t fit the ideological purity test necessary for McCain. If we are playing the what is good for feminism card–is it good he passed over more highly qualified women for a younger one because she looks good and people like her and he needs her so other people will like him who before didn’t? I’m just asking.

While I have some questions about the main point of the article (both Freeland’s and Steinem’s), I think Freeland makes a good point at the end. Which is whatever else, if Pain is elected, it’s good that the US finally has a woman VP. I’m still not convinced she’ll actually be the nominee by the election and I’m pretty damn sure the pure pandering of the pick is the nail in the McCain Coffin. But if a miracle were to occur, I’ll be glad we have a woman VP. I still be nervous that it’s her. But maybe she’ll change my mind.

I think the way she got there was not the best. She got (imo) an undeserved promotion, which nobody would pass up. So I don’t have anything against Palin. I think McCain was too cynical by a mile in making this pick and that of the legitimate criticisms/questions around Palin (not the family stuff) he brought that on himself and I don’t have a lot sympathy for his victim card with the media or the charge by Carly Fiorina that this is a smear campaign based on sexism. Apparently even Meg Whitman agrees.

On another note, I actually think Palin will do quite well in her speech tonight. If however they have her be the red meat/attack dog against Obama that could really backfire and bring on loads more media pushback against her. I think her speech should be about her story, her ideals, why you should vote for John McCain. And leave it that.

The real question is how is she going to show up after leaving the convention. She is gonna have the crowd on her side tonight to be sure. But what are they gonna do after that? Keep her from the media?

Update I: And even if there were rampant sexism on this one, wouldn’t by Gov. Palin’s own logic, this mean that the appearance of whining as a counter strategy only hurt their case?

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Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 3:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Reverse Sexism, Sarah Palin & Gloria Steinem posted on September 3, 2008 at 9:52 pm […]

  2. […] [7:01]. Randomly C-Span has just picked up this post from a few hours ago. […]

  3. […] traditions towards society creation, particularly disturbing when done from the top-down.  This is why I said that I thought Palin should focus on her story, her gifts, and an argument from McCain rather than be the attack dog […]

  4. […] Steinem/Freeland/Palin Update Update to this post. […]


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