Politics, Feminism and Firsts

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Echidne of the Snakes has written a brilliant essay about the current state of political discourse among the Supposedly Liberal Doods. Below are a few excerpts, but you should go read the whole thing.

… The first black and/or female students at elite universities were superbly talented individuals, often most carefully groomed for the jobs of being Firsts. Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player introduced into white professional baseball player was not just an excellent player; he had also attended UCLA and served as a second lieutenant in the army. His self-control was impeccable. That he was all this was not a random accident but a very careful choice by those who wanted to integrate professional baseball.

This is how the Firsts are usually chosen. Usually, but not in the case of Sarah Palin. Yet she IS the first Republican female vice-presidential candidate and this allows her to be viewed by the sexists among us as the best women can offer (or at least the best Republican women can offer). It allows the sexists among us to make fun of all women in the disguise of making fun of only Sarah Palin. And trying to differentiate between these two intentions is almost impossible. …

…   Not being “the other” has some great advantages. For instance, when John McCain or Joe Biden do something stupid they only affect their own reputations, because white men are not “the other”. They are individuals. When Barack Obama or Sarah Palin do something stupid they affect the reputations of African-Americans or women respectively (at least among all racists and sexists). They serve as embodiments of the groups they represent. This is the case as long as Firsts are necessary, as long as we only have a handful of individuals on which to base our group assessments. …

There are obvious parallels in legal education. When only a few women were admitted to law schools, they were superstars, folks like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O’Connor, and some of the more senior folks in the blogroll to your right who paved the way for more ordinary mortals like me.

I emphatically DO NOT want to see McCain/Palin win this election. But it’s not just Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Nancy Pelosi, Geraldine Ferraro and other Democrats who have helped advance women in politics. Sarah Palin is taking a lot of metaphorical body blows for all working women with children, for all women who did not attend elite colleges, for all women who want to be both pretty and taken seriously. I wish more feminists could get past their powerful desire to see Obama elected, which I share, and call out the sexism being spewed by so many Supposedly Liberal Doods.   I’m very grateful to folks like Echidne for doing this.

–Ann Bartow

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0 Responses to Politics, Feminism and Firsts

  1. Eric says:

    Thanks, Ann, for posting this. Having myself indulged in not a little Palin mockery, this is an issue that’s been on my mind. For the most part, I concur wholeheartedly with Echidne’s argument, and especially the point that “the sexists among us … make fun of all women in the disguise of making fun of only Sarah Palin.”

    I dissent, but cautiously, only with the contention that “trying to differentiate between these two intentions is almost impossible.” I agree it can often be difficult. But I don’t think it is impossible. I try to differentiate between fair and sexist mockery by applying the heuristic of “would you laugh at a man for that?”

    Mocking Palin for asserting foreign policy credentials based on her state’s geographic proximity to Russia passes that test. I have no trouble believing that, if a male governor of Arizona claimed foreign policy credentials based on his state’s shared border with Mexico, he’d be a laughing stock.

    Mocking Palin for being a “hockey mom” or former “beauty contestant” fails that test. If a male candidate talked about being a little league coach, nobody would comment on it except as evidence of what a great guy he is. And, to cite a real example, while Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former body building career did provoke some chuckles when he ran for governor, I don’t recall anything on a par with the comparisons between Palin and Miss South Carolina.

    Satire and mockery are venerable and valuable elements of political discourse, and I don’t think Palin nor anyone else ought to be spared merely because too many people (and especially too many supposed liberals) use satire or mockery of Palin as cover for satirizing or mocking women in general. (And I don’t understand Echidne, or you, to be arguing that Palin should be immune from satire or mockery, but rather that “well intentioned liberal” satire or mockery must not be immune from criticism for being misogynistic). But I definitely agree that those indulging in such satire have a responsibility to be mindful of the potential misogynist implications.

  2. I despise sexism against any woman but I don’t believe Palin is advancing the cause of women in politics, especially when she traffics in the type of vile, racist, fear mongering we’ve seen this week. During her rallies she suggests that Barack Obama hates America and that we can’t trust him. People in her audience scream “kill him” about Obama and hurl racial epithets at African-American media in the audience. Dana Milbank recounts some of these events in two columns for WaPo. IMHO Palin isn’t worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Hillary Clinton or Madeline Albright. Also, I would love to see the right wing called out for all of the sexism they have hurled at Palin. They have been openly calling her a MILF and saying many other offensive things. The liberal dudes are indeed imperfect and have displayed a lot of sexism during this election, but I know there are better role models than Palin.

  3. Ann Bartow says:

    Danielle, I respect what you are saying, and I am not defending Palin or supporting Palin’s positions or actions. Remember how Geraldine Ferraro got crucified because her husband didn’t want to publicly release his tax returns? Cindy McCain won’t release hers either but that seems to be far less of a problem for some mysterious reason. Barack and Michelle Obama have been criticized for “exploiting” their children, which is wrong and unfair, but in my opinion Sarah Palin is getting far more abuse over family issues. And some of it sounds disturbingly, and deeply personally, familiar.

    I’m not going to waste my time calling out the right wingers for their sexism. I expect no better from them and have no reason to. And I don’t think Sarah Palin is a role model. I think Echidne is exactly right when she says that Palin is unusual because she is a “first” who is not role model material.

    Dan Quayle was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, had every advantage life could offer, and was still a terrible choice for Vice President in my view. The media was pretty hard on him at times, but how often was he accused of being a bad father, a bimbo, a dominatrix, or looking like a porn star? Or depicted nude in a demeaning way?

    Barack Obama is taking a lot of heat and abuse for being a “first,” and I apologize if I seemed to be minimizing that, because the racism being thrown at him is appalling and needs to be called out too, no question. I absolutely agree that Palin is very wrong in what she is saying and fomenting.

  4. Ann Bartow says:

    Eric, thanks for your comment. One little correction – it was Miss TEEN South Carolina who had the beauty contest interview melt down, which should have garnered her a little more solicitousness than it did. I think of her every time I lose my words or train of thought while teaching or presenting a paper.

    Danielle and Eric – of course if either of you you want to write a post here disagreeing with me, rather than just leaving a comment, you are very welcome to do so.

  5. Ann-
    Thanks so much for continuing to make the invitation to me to write about the election. I truly appreciate that FLP is one of the last civil forums to discuss so many of the serious issues in this election. I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but at this point this election cycle has raised so many complex issues surrounding sexism, racism, and other forms of inequality that I’m still trying to unpack what it all means. I agree with you and the very insightful Enchidne that there are many critiques of the MSM and others that must be made. I am looking forward to adding my voice in a substantial way soon.

  6. Eric says:

    Thanks, Ann. I totally agree about Miss Teen SC, whose brief moment of stage panic was nothing compared to my routine train-of-thought-wrecks in class (or, when still practicing, in depositions or hearings — ugh, how I hated reading those transcripts!).

  7. Ann Bartow says:

    No worries. It was a pretty dramatic melt down. But like you, sadly, I’ve been, if not quite there, almost there.

  8. lisa says:

    Thank you Ann for the link to the article. We did have our “flawless” first with Hillary, and she was ignored and shoved aside. I don’t understand how women can say that Gov. Palin isn’t advancing women in politics. Feminism is about advancing women and women’s concerns- not about holding one very narrow political view. I am a PUMA supporter- a Hillary democrat that is now voting for McCain/Palin. It is a protest vote against the sexism, fraud, and misogyny of the Obama campaign and the DNC. Bill Clinton referred to an article written by Lynnette Long entitled The X Factor in a recent interview. The link to the article is here: http://republicanfeminist.blogspot.com/2008/09/lynnette-long-x-factor.html . I believe it is time that we do all that we can to ensure the 30 percent solution in government to curb the sexism. If you haven’t heard of the 30 percent solution- see this article:
    http://thenewagenda.net/2008/09/23/the-30-percent-solution/

    I understand finding it hard to support someone with a different agenda then your own, but at what point is the tipping point for women in this country? We are the majority, and yet it seems like many are willing to put up with ANY level of sexism. At what point does it become the most important issue?

  9. Ann Bartow says:

    Hi Lisa,
    As an Obama supporter, I can’t agree with your choice, or your characterization of the Obama campaign. And I really, really, really do not want McCain to be President. But I do understand your frustration with the slow pace of progress for women in politics.

  10. Ann Bartow says:

    Ugh, here’s another article focused, completely inappropriately, on speculation about Sarah Palin’s sex life, in a main stream publication:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2200814/

    There are plenty of legitimate things to criticize her for, as Danielle noted above. That article is unadulterated sexism.

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