Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin

Unity Deferred - Can You Cross Out ‘Hillary’ and Write ‘Sarah’? -

The Palin nomination complicates the gender question in many ways. [W]hat will happen if the misogyny extends to Ms. Palin? There were hints of that on Friday, with Web sites showing photographs of her bare-shouldered in the days when she was runner-up for Miss Alaska, or as one caption read, “showing off her legs.” “Sarah Palin — Alaska Gov., McCain’s V.P. Pick, Kind of a Babe,” read one Internet headline.

Sarah Palin is not going to impress feminists, not because of her views on abortion, but because McCain's selection of her as his running mate is, ironically, is sexism in it's starkest form. What does a woman have to do to achieve success? Be young, be beautiful, be available, and play second-banana to a powerful male.

That is what being a "sex object" is all about--not being "objectified," not being an object rather than the subject, not being a consumer product. We're all of us consumer products--goods that are "consumed" in the neutral economic sense for our conversation, for the jobs we do or simply as warm bodies, and there's nothing wrong with that. Women are "sex objects" to the extent that women are consumed primarily for characteristics that make them sexually attractive--not because consumers want to have sex with them, but because women are deemed valuable for other purposes to the extent that they are sexually attractive. Receptionists in high-gloss firms aren't hired to have sex with customers: they're hired to serve as posh furnishings in the outer office, to symbolize the firm's prestige. And what makes a woman prestige-producing is sexual attractiveness.

Some Republicans may imagine that that by featuring a woman on the ticket they're upstaging Democrats: Democrats rejected Hillary but Republicans have done better by women, putting a woman on the ticket. But I don't think that that's the message most women will get. The message it sends is rather that the political system, reflecting the perceived will of the American public, is that women are not wanted for the sort of qualifications that are valued in men but only for the characteristics that make them sexually attractive: youth, beauty, availability and willingness to support and serve powerful males. That's hardly a crack in the glass ceiling: it's just the same old story.

McCain has in effect married a second trophy wife. The bipartisan political system has dumped Hillary, after trashing and humiliating her, and taken up with a pretty young chickie. Even Clinton supporters who are still angry at Democrats for dumping Hillary are not going to be grateful to Republicans for taking on Sarah Palin as her replacement.

There's nothing misogynistic about featuring featuring Palin "showing off her legs." There's nothing wrong with valuing women for their appearance any more than there is in valuing women, or men, for anything else: singing voice, sense of humor, athletic ability, scholarship or whatever. What is sexist is taking those qualities that contribute to sexual attractiveness as a necessary condition for valuing women at all and dumping on those who fail to meet that standard.


Poison Ivy said...

I don't consider a former beauty queen the type of person who is likely to feel for my problems or fight for my needs. And I suspect that many women who were Hilary supporters and who worry about being shut out by Obama will feel even more shut out by this pretty face with her arch-conservative views and serious lack of experience. A heartbeat away from the presidency. Almost scarier than Cheney.

H. E. said...

I'm starting to read comments like this on a number of boards and people using the same metaphor of Palin as trophy wife. I suspect a number of women have this take but are too embarrassed to say so. But if this sentiment is widespread, even if it remains under the surface, McCain may have really screwed himself over.