Sarah Palin and her double standards

Hers is a gender politics of convenience, one that insults all women in politics.

Hers is a gender politics of convenience, one that insults all women in politics.  

She’s ba-ack! Sarah Palin has been making the rounds promoting her new memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, and reminding Americans why we didn’t vote for her in the first place. Whether on Oprah, telling the world that her epically bad interview with Katie Couric was due to “badgering questions,” or bemoaning the latest Newsweek cover, Palin keeps insisting that her failed political career is everyone’s fault but her own. But even worse, Palin is alleging sexism (when it’s convenient) while simultaneously relying on sexist notions of women in politics to pass the buck.

Palin’s most recent complaint is over the cover of Newsweek magazine featuring the former vice-presidential candidate posing in running shorts — a shot originally taken for a profile in Runner’s World magazine. Palin writes on her Facebook page, “the out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected.”

I agree; the cover is undoubtedly sexist. It sexifies and dismisses Palin — something that was done time and time again during the campaign, whether through “VPILF” badges or reporters commenting on her appearance. But despite the veracity of Palin’s sexism claim, I have a hard time mustering up outrage for a woman who depends on outdated ideas about women to drum up sympathy.

In her widely watched Oprah appearance, for example, Palin said that she resented people questioning her ability to serve as vice-president while being a mother to five children — something a man would never be asked. But Palin also complained that in her interview with Couric, she thought she would be speaking to the reporter “working mom [to] working mom” and that she was annoyed with “her badgering and questions.”

In other words, Palin thought that because Couric was a woman, she wouldn’t take her job as a journalist seriously. Palin expected a puff piece instead of pesky questions about economics, abortion and Palin’s policies — you know, things a “working mom” couldn’t possibly be bothered with. Palin also noted that while she didn’t blame people for thinking she was unqualified to be vice-president after the disastrous interview, the segment was edited in a way that didn’t paint her in the most flattering light. Well, welcome to the world of the media!

You simply can’t have it both ways — it’s ridiculous to be upset about being treated differently by the public because you’re a woman and a mother, while demanding the same biased treatment when it might give you the edge in an interview. Hers is a gender politics of convenience, one that insults all women in politics.

Of course, this performance of martyrdom is nothing new. During her run, Palin blamed everyone from the media to the Obama campaign for her faltering public image, instead of owning up to the fact that this has always been a narrative of her own creation.

And now, instead of using her post-election moment in the sun to talk about what she stands for (I still don’t know) or reveal something real about herself, Palin continues to change her story again and again.

She wasn’t really happy about her daughter Bristol’s pregnancy, she tells us on Oprah — that was just McCain campaign spin. In Going Rogue she writes that she was excited about the notion of appearing on Saturday Night Live to “neutralise” Tina Fey’s unflattering impression; but campaign emails show she didn’t want to go on the show. Palin says in the book that after she was prank-called by someone pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy, McCain’s campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, called her screaming; former operatives say Schmidt actually contacted her via email. (Schmidt calls her criticisms “total fiction.”)

Palin’s whirlwind media tour and contradicting stories in Going Rogue have been so baffling that even noted blogger Andrew Sullivan’s site went silent on Thursday (Nov. 19) so he could take time to “make sense of the various competing narratives [Palin] tells about her life.”

Switching stories aside, the real problem is that instead of talking about the future — something she will surely have to do if the rumours of a 2012 presidential run are true — Palin continues to point fingers at the past. She’s given no indication of who she really is outside of this constructed woe-is-me tale. And if Palin doesn’t know who she is, other than a “maverick” jilted by her political handlers, how can she possible expect the American public to trust her?

It’s telling, I think, that the Newsweek cover controversy isn’t Palin’s first. When the magazine ran an extreme close-up picture of the former governor last year, conservatives criticised the publication for not airbrushing out Palin’s flaws. Newsweek pointed out that Photoshopping pictures are for fashion spreads, not political cover stories, and that the picture represented the candidate as she was. And this presents the general problem with Palin today — she’s upset that people won’t airbrush away who she really is, and that no one believes her when she tries to do the same. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

(Note: Jessica Valenti is the founder and editor of the Feministing blog and online community.)

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 2:47:50 AM |

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