The same Republicans that are now fighting so hard against sexism have also unanimously declared that there is a "right" way for a woman to be a politician, and that is by focusing a lot of the attention and energy on the fact that she is still a real woman -you know, one who would rather be a hands-on mom and wife and who puts that part of her life first and foremost, or at least first and foremost in her speeches. I think it is great that another woman has been selected to be a vice-presidential candidate. I think it is a little sad that it took 24 years for it to happen again, but I also believe that it is a demonstration of the progress women have made in the public realm. Even the Republican Party, a party that hasn't exactly been known for their progressive policies since about the time of Teddy Roosevelt, has had to deal with the reality of women both making in-roads in traditionally male arenas and with women who want to see more women succeed in traditional male arenas. Which is why I consider Sarah Palin's pick for vice-president is in fact a feminist victory. We did that. Not me personally, but feminists -since before Seneca Falls- have been working for women to have access to and be acknowledged in public spaces. Each generation has gotten a little closer, has fought new battles, and have changed mindsets about the way things are and should be. These in-roads have been, in many cases, slow to build; sometimes they have been minimal. Sometimes, they have been great. 1920 was a banner year. The Women's Lib movement, starting with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, created a radical shift in how women are viewed by society and what women are capable of achieving in that society. Joe Biden's Violence Against Women Act is another monumental step forward. And the party that represents "traditional family values", the party that has often presented the ideal home and family as one that has a wife and mother in the kitchen with the string of pearls and the homemade dinner with a smile, has a woman in the running for executive office. That is real change. That represents a real change in how we see women. But although Palin's nomination is a victory and a continuation of feminist ideals, Palin herself subscribes to the opposite of those ideals.
Sarah Palin still plays the role we have often expected women to play. She is a politician who emphasizes the fact that she is a woman. And it is working quite well for her. It has made her the very model of a modern woman politician. But we shouldn't want something different from a woman politician than a male politician in terms of how she relates her familial life to us. Barack Obama and John McCain and every politician of the male gender who came before talks about their family, but they did not and do not do it like Palin does. They don't have to. The assumption is that they are family men without the onus being on them to prove how involved they are with family life. They do not have to present themselves as a typical husband and father, and that is both a good and a bad. It is a good thing because it theoretically allows them to concentrate on something more important in running for political office, and that is the issues and their own political philosophy and how that philosophy will help America grow stronger. It is a bad thing because it represents the extent to which we minimize fathers' and husbands' importance in being a constant presence in their family's life. I just watched Finding Nemo for the hundred thousandth time, and one thing the movie emphasized is how extraordinary Marlin is for going the extra mile to find Nemo. He was presented as being an exceptional father, the very top of the pack. And Marlin is a very good father, don't get me wrong. But that narrative, that idea of placing children before self and battling the entire ocean to get a child back, is deemed impressive when presented as a father's narrative and typical when presented as a mother's narrative. And that plays to why "women" politicians have to emphasize their familial role and why just regular politicians aren't expected to. Because a woman's primary concern always has to be her family, and a man is considered to be above average (or in some cases, like stay at home fathers, below average) for doing the exact same thing.
We need to change that. We need to make going the extra mile for one's children an acknowledged fact, gender excluded. We should expect fathers to be just as hands-on as mothers. We should demand that fathers and mothers each do the same amount of heavy lifting in terms of child care. We should require our definition of a "good" father to be our definition of a "good" mother. And we should accept that in the political realm, a politician's immediate family and the politician's devotion to them should not make up the better part of a speech. It is appalling that Sarah Palin is winning such praise, is being presented as a good woman politician. She is either a good politician, or she isn't. I think she is a very good politician, who has very bad ideas about what is best for the nation and who has in a short time built up a goodly number of scandals. I don't know if she would be a particularly good vice-president. I doubt very much she would be a good president.
I don't really want a president in the White House who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade and believes that abortion should be illegal in all cases including rape and incest. I don't want a president in the White House who is expected to spend a lot of time telling us about her family before she gets into the nitty gritty of actually telling us about her policies and herself. I don't want a woman politician. I want a politician who is a woman. I want that to be the order in which we examine our politicians. And Sarah Palin doesn't give me that. She is a woman who has, through design or an organic progression, given me a woman politician who conforms to the status quo about how a woman -not a politician, but a woman- should present herself to the public. That is pretty savvy. It allows people to feel good about seeing a woman in the spotlight without making them actually have to think about how women are forced to be presented. It may get Sarah Palin a slice of the pie. But as my girl Gloria Steinem says,
"Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It is about making life more fair for women everywhere. It's not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It's about baking a new pie."Sarah Palin isn't into baking a new pie; she's found a way to fit into the current paradigm. And we don't need that. And I for one don't want that.