Because Sarah Palin can’t bear the weight of the unreasonable expectation that she represent the interests of all women, as though “women” represent a stable, coherent political subjectivity. Truth be told, no woman could–and no man is ever held to this standard. Anthony McCarthy writes at Echidne about the “sex traitor” Palin:
In trying to figure out what is wrong with these people, traitors to others within their kind, looking at their inability to see past their own interest is a key to understanding them. It’s a mistake to look at Sarah Palin and analyze her actions and her place in this campaign in terms of the struggle against patriarchy. She doesn’t struggle against it, she endorses it. That she has found a way to rig the patriarchal system to HER benefit and through her to that of those closest to her is to be expected, that’s what conservatives do no matter what group they belong to. Looking at Palin as any kind of first for women (second, actually, as we are not supposed to remember) only leads away from reality. She is out for number one, not for women in general. Her nomination is as meaningful for progress for women struggling against patriarchy as Clarence Thomas has been for the equality of black people or the Log Cabin Republicans for gay people. In the struggle against patriarchy, she’s just a patriarch in disguise.
“Her nomination is as meaningful for progress for women struggling against patriarchy as Clarence Thomas has been for the equality of black people or the Log Cabin Republicans for gay people.” Well, here he’s half right–the part where he says that her nomination is meaningless “for progress for women struggling against patriarchy.” That’s true, and all feminist women I know recognize that Palin would work against their interests–but not all women identify as feminists, and I’ve never in my life heard a male politician criticized because he didn’t represent the interests of all men. (Paging Judith Butler, on the incoherence of assuming that “woman” is a unified political subject? Hello?) Many of Hillary Clinton’s supporters during the primary campaign engaged in overly simplistic and essentialist commentary about how a vote for Clinton was necessarily feminist, and that no true feminists could consider voting otherwise. I thought that was ridiculous and embarrassing–as though women who voted for Edwards or Obama or Richardson were somehow inauthentic or not as committed to feminist causes simply by virtue of their votes, and as though women had no other policy concerns beyond electing another woman. Women are just as complicated political subjects as men–and (for better or worse) they don’t always prioritize what mainstream feminist organizations tell them they should when the vote.
There are conservative women who cherish the Evangelical Christian ideal of male household headship and womanly submission, for example. That’s certainly not my style, although I will note that in order to meet that ideal, a man actually has to be home to take charge of his household, and for a lot of working-class women and women in poverty who haven’t been able to count on the men in their lives to stay sober and to stick around to help raise the kids–well, having a man at home to give his income and his time to his family doesn’t sound like oppression, if your alternative is working 12-hour shifts at Wal-Mart and “shopping” at the Food Bank on your way home. (And, I’m not saying that unreliable men are all poor or working-class–I’m just saying that having a drunken, abusive, or absent husband or partner is a lot easier to cope with when you’re middle-class or rich because those women have more money, social capital, time, and connections to help solve their problems. Women who aren’t middle-class or rich might think it’s worth a try to work it out with their men, with the help of the Promise Keepers or some other conservative organization devoted to helping families pull it together.)
Here’s where McCarthy gets it wrong: …as Clarence Thomas has been for the equality of black people or the Log Cabin Republicans for gay people. Riiiight–because there is no such thing as a conservative African American person, or a gay man who’s a libertarian Free Marketeer who also donates to the Cato Foundation, or a Republican woman. This is at the root of McCarthy’s problem, which is that he can only see Sarah Palin’s sex, and Clarence Thomas’s race, and the sexuality of the Log Cabin Republicans. We’re all of us much more internally divided and diverse than these simplistic equations suggest. When McCarthy says that Palin is a “traitors to others within [her] kind,” he’s only able to process one part of Palin’s identity, not the whole of it. This is something that never, ever happens when people talk about white male politicians. (And, as more than one of the commenters on his post pointed out, it’s a position that pretty much lets off the hook all of the male authors of misogynist policy in Palin’s political lifetime–and there are a lot more of them than there are of the so-called “traitors” like Palin.)
Sarah Palin is a culturally conservative Western governor. That’s who she is and what she represents, regardless of her sex. The Republican party luvs them their culturally conservative Western politicians–Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Colorado’s own Bill Owens, and John McCain–have you heard of them? It seems to me that if we’re looking for conservative Republicans to blame for the lack of progress women have made in this country in recent decades, Sarah Palin wouldn’t even crack the top 300. But in McCarthy’s construction, she’s uniquely blameworthy. She’s also the only ambitious politician in America, apparently–she’s “out for number one,” unlike all of the men listed above, plus Bill Clinton, Edward M. Kennedy, Barack Obama, or any other male politicians, who are just trying to serve all of humankind with their lifelong devotion to public service and aren’t vainglorious or ambitious at all.
Can we please, please, please stop holding women politicians to ridiculous standards now? Will people please stop becoming totally deranged by the fact that Palin has two X chromosomes? Sarah Palin is not “in disguise,” as McCarthy says, as though it’s a totally new thing to him that some women benefit from the status quo. Palin is just a hack pol in a long line of hack pols who have run for the Vice Presidency. Get over it. If Democrats are so exercised by Palin’s candidacy and are furious that she might become the first woman Vice President, or even (given the state of John McCain’s health) the first woman President–well, whose fault might that be? Huh, Dems?