So is the left condoning sexism against Sarah Palin? Kira Cochrane thinks so, and cites numerous examples. I’m less convinced.
Is there sexism out there about Sarah Palin? Absolutely. But what is so remarkable about Larry Flynt making a Sarah Palin film, as opposed to all the other porn films he has produced over the years?
The more serious charge is that progressives are indulging in misogyny to attack Palin. Here, Kira has an ally in Peter Hitchens who was making such claims as early as late August, loudly applauded by Iain Dale (Iain has since changed his mind about her), and it is certainly true there have been the odd attack that sneaks into sexist territory. I’ve been looking through the Sarah Palin Sexism Watch pages on Shakesville and some of them are on the money while others, not so much. But here’s the thing: people have been openly discussing Palin and misogyny pretty much since the day she entered the world stage. It’s one of the most hotly contested subjects out there at the moment. Cochrane’s article implies somehow that there is a conspiracy of silence to not talk about it; I simply don’t accept that.
We also get into very murky territory; where does legitimate criticism end and sexism begin? It is surprising for an article on the subject for Cochrane’s not to mention the whole lipstick on a pig/pitbull debacle, yet this was one of the iconic moments of the campaign so far. Is “Caribou Barbie” sexist? Yes, actually, although it is something Palin herself referred to on her SNL appearance. What about the reports that she has spent $150,000 on clothes for the campaign? On one level, this is a simple story of a grasping politician. On the other hand, it feeds into the “Caribou Barbie” sentiment. So should we not mention it, or that she spent the money on clothes? For feminists, Palin’s attitude towards abortion is a particular talking point. Somehow the fact that it is a woman expressing those views is more provocative than if it was a man (cf. Nadine Dorries). How to do ensure that criticism of the candidate is entirely ungendered without muting that criticism? This is a more interesting discussion in my view than a handful of anecdotes of people clearly crossing the line.
When it comes to Palin and sexism, what I don’t see is any particular trend. By contrast, when it comes to discrimination I have seen far more ageism in the media (both MSM and amateur variety) about McCain. Regarding Palin herself, I’ve been uncomfortable on more than one occasion by the way she is attacked not for being a woman but for being a hick. From this side of the pond, the US looks like a pretty divided nation at the moment – something which Palin herself is particularly responsible for. But her opponents have been happy to go for the bait. And again, is it really fair to say that the attacks on her intellect are gendered when we have just had eight years of abuse heaped upon the current US President, who happens to be male?
Finally, Cochrane writes that one of her interviewees has received emails from women who were considering entering politics who have been put off by the attacks made on Palin. But how many women will have seen Palin and been inspired? We don’t know and it is an entirely moot point at the moment, but I do think we are seeing a sea change. Even twelve months ago, the idea of having a male-female ticket was not even on the agenda. Despite failing to secure a place for herself, Hillary Clinton changed this (irrevocably? We’ll know in four years). I simply refuse to believe that any woman worthy of political office could not have seen that, and the obstacles that Obama has overcome, and not find some inspiration. Whatever happens on 4 November, history will be made. The question is, will attempts be made to capture that inspiration, or will key opinion formers and campaigners purely focus on the negative? The history of the political women’s movement suggests that there will be a bit of both.