We all know sexism is alive and well in America. Hollywood’s seemingly endless celebration of the chubby, schlubby, slacker dude is sexist as hell, given that chubby, schlubby, slacker girls get nowhere in Tinseltown, least of all the big screen. And yes, much of the media’s coverage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign was sexist too—and I wasn’t even a Hillary supporter, so this isn’t just a P.U.M.A.’s bitterness talking.
The latest accusation of sexism in the media comes from Governor Sarah Palin, the Vice Presidential nominee for the McCain campaign. Her supporters, her spokespeople, and conservative commentators like Bill O’Reilly assert that she is the target of sexist smear campaign. This is surprising for two reasons: 1) O’Reilly has consistently pooh-poohed claims of sexism in the past and 2) wasn’t it only a few months ago that Palin said Clinton should “stop whining” about sexism herself?Still, Palin does have a point. Sexism is certainly at work – particularly in these three ways:
1. Palin The VPILF: Let’s face it: Sarah Palin is an attractive lady. Hell, she was a beauty queen, so I’m sure she knows it. Voters have noticed it too — men AND women. Women are lining up in droves to buy her rimless glasses, while sites like CafePress.com are already selling VPILF thongs and t-shirts. There are 89 results when you search for Facebook groups with the keywords “Sarah Palin Hot”. Photos are making the rounds on the Internet, both real (the infamous “flat busted” photo, released to the media, by the Palin family) and fake (Palin’s face was Photoshopped on the body of a rifle-wielding woman clad only in a red, white, and blue bikini), which celebrate her attractiveness and sex appeal. And just now I came across an ad on Craigslist casting Sarah Palin look-alikes for a hardcore porn.
All of this begs two questions: “Is Sarah Palin’s sudden popularity a result of her attractiveness?” and/or “Is Sarah Palin being discriminated against because she is attractive?” In terms of voters, I’m sure both are true. As those pictures circulate and the groups on Facebook gather members, the media validates that objectification merely by covering it. However, it should be noted that male politicians are not immune to objectification. Take it from the woman (me) who has entertained the notion of writing erotic stories about Barack Obama and has openly swooned over John Edwards (well, before the affair anyway).
In the end, people are going to objectify Palin, just as they’re going to objectify Obama. If members of the media, who have such a huge impact on how voters view candidates, engage in this kind of sexism as well, by commenting on Palin’s skirt length or hair-do, they should be called on it. Thus far, I haven’t felt like there’s been more blatant objectification of Sarah Palin than Hillary Clinton, but maybe that’s because the objectification has been “positive” (she’s so pretty!) rather than nasty (Hillary’s pantsuits are so… dumpy).
2. Palin The Bad Mommy: Palin is a mother to five children—Track (19), Bristol (17), Willow (14), Piper (6), and Trig (4 months). When she was chosen as McCain’s running mate, the first thing I wondered was, “Wait, she’s going to go on the campaign trail for that long when she’s got an infant?” Yes, I know, this reaction is inherently sexist. If Barack Obama or John McCain had a baby in diapers, it would never occur to me to question their fatherly concern. Do we expect mothers to be more available to their children then fathers? Yes. Is this an extreme example of latent sexism towards working mothers? Perhaps.
Sure, there will be voters who decide not to vote for her because they think she should be tending to Trig’s needs – he has Down Syndrome, which certainly adds another level to the issue. But the media needs to leave Palin’s responsibility as a mother and how being a part of this campaign affects that OUT of the equation. It’s her business and voters will decide if it’s any of theirs without the media’s help.
3. Palin The Scandal Magnet: I’ve already addressed the issue of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, in part, here. But since I wrote that post, Palin has used the media’s handling of the topic of her daughter’s pregnancy as a reason not to engage with the press. Though she has finally granted her first interview, it’s going to be conducted by ABC’s Charlie Gibson. Sorry Chuck, but my childhood teddy bear would conduct a tougher, more compelling interview with this pitbull in lipstick.
As teen pregnancy is a major problem in today’s society, a problem which goes hand-in-hand with issues like sex education, access to birth control, and abortion, it’s unavoidable that an anti-sex ed, anti-contraception, strictly pro-life politician is going to face questions about her own knocked-up teenage daughter. This isn’t sexism – this is just a case of INSANE IRONY. Sarah Palin should be able and willing to address questions about her own record, policies, and beliefs, as well as capably shoot down the ones that get too personal. American women, liberals and conservatives, would respect her for it.
In the end, the point is this: the media and the public are subjecting Palin to the same types of sexism that have confronted female politicians before her. It sucks. But is that sexism so prevalent and offensive that she should be sequestered from the press in protest? No, but that’s what’s happening. Rather than taking the approach of “Hey, let’s focus on the issues”, the McCain campaign is instead strictly limiting Palin’s exposure to the media, thereby stifling her voice, which come to think of it – is pretty damned sexist itself, no? Voters want and need to hear Palin’s positions on the vital issues of the day, and Palin would do a big service to women, and future female candidates, by standing up to all these forms of sexism and facing them head on – rather than allowing surrogates to shield her.