Thursday, September 18, 2008

Feminism And Sexism And Sarah Palin

The Right have jumped on the cause of decrying sexism like stink on a dog. One would think that this would be a good thing, except they have, time and time again, made a mockery of the word "sexist" and the movement that fights against sexism by attacking segments like the SNL sketch; Carly Fiorina invoked the specter of sexism by saying,
"I think that, of course, the portrait was very dismissive of the substance of Sarah Palin, and so in that sense, they were defining Hillary Clinton as very substantive, and Sarah Palin as totally superficial. I think that continues the line of argument that is disrespectful in the extreme, and yes, I would say, sexist in the sense that just because Sarah Palin has different views than Hillary Clinton does not mean that she lacks substance."
To which everyone should sigh, "Oh please". There is nothing sexist about saying Hillary Clinton is a more seasoned, substantial, and learned person than Sarah Palin. There is nothing sexist about poking fun at a candidate for not believing in global warming and whose only foreign experience seems to be that she can "see Russia from [her] house!" These assertions may not be true, but that is a whole other debate and story divorced from the sex of the candidates. At the same point in time, people like Keith Olbermann make it very hard to completely rip apart Fiorina and the right's bogus claims of sexism when he says something like,
"And after Tina Fey portrayed her on Saturday Night Live, a McCain advisor called Ms. Fey's performance quote "sexist", even though Ms. Fey, Ms. Palin, and the advisor -Carly Fiorina- are all women! (clip below)"

Le sigh. Come on, Keith Olbermann. You know and I know and the rest of the world knows that women can be sexist, and sexist toward women at that. We've got Phyllis Schlafly and Ann Coulter in our midst. To state otherwise - that just because Tina Fey has ovaries, she is obviously not sexist - is disingenuous, stupid, and wrong. Tina Fey's portrayal isn't sexist because it is (a) lampooning sexism and the way sexist behavior is "suddenly" a hot topic while sexism continues unabated, and (b) poking fun at Sarah Palin's own compliance in playing off of her own looks and traditional "womanly" behaviors to be more electable -along with gently poking fun at Hillary Clinton's own, sometime myopic, desire to get to the White House. That is what should have been Olbermann's counter argument. But apparently, that kind of retort was either too nuanced or lacking the essentialism contained in Olbermann's own rebuttal.

The Right has been overzealous in calling out supposed sexism while continuing to engage in sexism at the same time. First, the Right declared Sarah Palin a feminist. I'm no feminist scholar (though I play one among my friends), but I do think that one has to be for several things in order to truly be feminist. One, being pro-choice is a plus. There are probably feminists out there who aren't pro-choice, so this is just one of those "probably a feminist" indicators rather than a straight booting out of the feminist block if one doesn't believe it. But you probably shouldn't make rape victims pay for their own rape kits. That is a definite detraction. Feminists generally support items like equal pay for equal work; and just by being on the ticket with McCain, a man who seems to think that this isn't a problem, limits one's feminist credentials. Sex education is a biggie as well; as is the idea of environmentalism. And tolerance for other religious beliefs and the firm separation of Church and State. And feminists, generally speaking, are defined by more than just being women who have benefitted from what feminism has accomplished before. Because that is pretty much every woman alive today, and many women aren't and do not identify as feminists (which is a rant for another day).

But the Right, along with making statements about Sarah Palin's feminist credentials, also seems to be making the case that by pointing out where Sarah Palin fails as a pro-woman candidate, those on the left are somehow denying her womanhood. We're denying her feminism; she is still a woman, but just by being a woman does not mean she is entitled to women's votes or that she is a woman's candidate (as Jessica Valenti nicely points out). And while that is going on, she's the subject of websites like (I'm not linking it), and items like Palin in a school girl outfit:

and reports about how some in the media are dreaming about Palin and dream of sleeping with Palin (and making sure we all know it) instead of focusing on the issues. Which is sexist in two ways; one, Palin's candidacy should not be about whether or not she is deemed fuckable by those who agree and disagree with her viewpoints; that makes her into an object, and frankly the fact that a man can joke about how badly he wants to get with a political candidate and still be considered a serious journalist but it probably wouldn't fly the other way around (and didn't when the criticism of Bill Clinton women supporters in the mid-90s was that they were voting for him because they found him attractive) really friggin' bugs me as well. I'm not for the debasement of men to reach an "equality" with how women are treated. I'm not for objectification of any sort at any time. But it does perpetually bother me when aspects of society like this rear their ugly little heads.

There have been some genuine cases of sexism the Republicans have called out. The whole debate early on about Palin being able to juggle being a wife and mother with being the vice-president was bull, and it continues to be bull. The Republicans and the feminists who pointed out how sexist that was is entirely correct. But I also have become increasingly bemused and discouraged by the fact that now, when it affects the conservative -and conventionally pretty, traditional 'woman'- candidate who makes it a point of fact to mention how she never planned on getting into politics, the media is so intent about pointing out sexism and engaging in a debate about sexism. When sexist remarks were being made about that other woman candidate, you know, the one who actually wanted to be in politics and made no bones about it, they were often ignored. And that is on the DNC, and it sucks. But it shouldn't stop the DNC and liberals and feminists from protesting the outright perversion of feminism and sexism in this new Republican offensive. Sexism and feminism should not be used as a shield against legitimate questions of readiness and of competence, but that is what has been happening. We all need to follow faux-Hillary's advice, ask Sarah Palin about dinosaurs, and grow a pair.


John said...

What Keith Olbermann should have added to that was that both Amy Poehler and Hillary Clinton are women as well? How can it be sexist if it is lionizing one woman and demonizing the other? Not to mention the fact that the entire piece was ABOUT how the media is playing the gender card any time someone says anything critical of Palin at all! To cry 'foul' over this is just to prove that every word of it is true!

petpluto said...

"What Keith Olbermann should have added to that was that both Amy Poehler and Hillary Clinton are women as well?"

I don't really think that makes a difference. If they had had... ...I don't know any of the guys still on SNL, but say they had one of those guys play Hillary (or Sarah Palin; whichever). Or had a guy write it. The sketch itself is still not sexist because of what it contained, and what issues and attitudes it was actually lampooning.

Just by virtue of being the product of women doesn't make something not sexist; if Ann Coulter had a sketch comedy show, it would probably be sexist against women (and I find her to be pretty sexist against men as well, for that matter). Which is where Keith Olbermann=FAIL in this instance, because the gender doesn't really matter. The content does. And the content here (and the argument Fiorina made against the content) wasn't.

"How can it be sexist if it is lionizing one woman and demonizing the other?"

Well, that's opening a can of worms! But all those cans have nothing to do with this sketch. Like, if a woman were lionized for being "pure" for wearing a purity ring while another was demonized for not (hello Jordin Sparks!), then that would be sexist in nature. But what the SNL sketch did in terms of comparing and contrasting Hillary and Sarah Palin was nothing like that, you know?

"Not to mention the fact that the entire piece was ABOUT how the media is playing the gender card any time someone says anything critical of Palin at all! To cry 'foul' over this is just to prove that every word of it is true!"

Exactly! That is the money shot! And that is what Olbermann should have said!