November
4th 2008
“Sarah Palin and Me”

Posted under: American history, Gender, jobs, students, the body, women's history

Rose Stremlau, an assistant professor of history and American Indian studies at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, has a thoughtful piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education (sorry, subscription only) of that title, in which she discusses the disturbing fixation of both Palin’s ideological friends and foes on her body and sexuality.  Talking about Palin’s appearance is a conversation that people prefer to have, because they can’t deal with the notion of a female body wielding political power.  Reducing the bodies of women politicians both discursively and visually to various parts that can be approved of or disapproved of–like the photos here of Palin’s legs (above) and Hillary Clinton’s “cankles” (right)–is a means of diminishing the women themselves and public anxiety about women and authority in general.  Stremlau can relate in a small way to this objectification because like most women faculty, she has received comments about her appearance and body in her student evaluations.  She writes:

Since I began teaching at the college level 10 years ago, I have received a handful of teaching evaluations that included comments about my body. Recognizing the handwriting, I believe that all of those comments were written by male students who apparently appreciated a firm backside more than a tightly organized lecture. Interestingly, all of those students except one were young men with whom I had healthy classroom relationships. They were good students who participated in class and responded well to my feedback about their work. Did they think that they were complimenting me as a professional educator by approving me as a worthy potential sex partner?

Stremlau then goes on to raise an important professional issue: 

The students’ inappropriate remarks concern me because the universities that I have worked for have policies requiring that those comments remain part of my professional record for evaluation purposes. In response to my questions about belittling comments in the past, I have been told that it is inappropriate for such remarks to be stricken from student evaluations or for those evaluations to be removed because doing so would violate the spirit of soliciting anonymous, fair student feedback.

Obviously, such policies were designed to prevent faculty members from purging negative comments about their teaching for fear that such feedback might jeopardize their tenure or promotion. At the same time, I know many female colleagues who also have received student evaluations containing observations about their bodies. What is honest or fair about having “nice ass” in my professional record as I am considered for professional advancement?

Great question.  I’ve always thought that people who write comments like that in teaching evaluations impeach their own evaluations as well as raise questions about the value of student evaluations in general, questions I’m always happy to have raised because without peer evaluations I think they’re of highly dubious value and are prone to misuse and abuse.  I must confess that I hadn’t thought about the effect that preserving those voices might have in continuing the objectification of women faculty in our own minds and in the minds of our colleagues who will read those comments.  Perhaps like Palin and Clinton, we can look forward to smarmy comments about how desirable we are until we’re 45, and then after that we’ll be subjected to criticism about how hideous and unfashionable we are, and what disappointments we are to people looking for eye candy in the classroom rather than intellectual stimulation.

How do your universities and departmental colleagues deal with comments like these?  I thank my lucky stars every day (well, almost) that I’ve landed in a department that views student evaluations skeptically unless there are consistent and persistent complaints.  I’m going to assume that if you’re a woman, and/or if you’ve ever read a woman professor’s teaching evaluations, that you’re familiar with the issue here.  Have you ever seen racism, ethnic bias, age bias, or comments about a faculty member’s supposed sexuality in student evaluations, either in your evaluations or in those of other faculty?  How does your department deal with evidence of those kinds of biases or hostility in student evaluations?  Should departments purge the evaluations with inappropriate comments, or should they preserve them?  If they preserve them, should departments make a note in their tenure or annual review letters (the stuff that will be read by Deans and Provosts) about the inappropriate comments and the biases they reveal among students?

(Photos taken from brilliant posts by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville here and here.  She did a wonderful job analyzing both verbal and visual evidence of the ways in which the women candidates were treated very differently from the men all year long.)

32 Comments »

32 Responses to ““Sarah Palin and Me””

  1. Goose on 04 Nov 2008 at 8:51 am #

    Historiann,

    Goose from Roxie’s World here. THANK YOU for calling our attention to this piece in today’s Chronicle and to the big issue of our society’s continued problems with powerful women. This political season has saddened me as I’ve been reminded of just how prevalent and strong sexism still is. Sexism is accepted by many and in many different arenas, as you so aptly show. Few people think twice about judging a woman on her appearance, and fewer still pause to consider how evaluating women’s appearances are ways of eliding and diminishing their authority. The example of Sarah Palin is especially poignant: why not simply disagree with her stance on issues? Why did Sandra Bernhardt and others have to stoop to indulging in rape fantasies? And the stupidity of Keith Olbermann’s fantasy of killing Hillary Clinton still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. . . .

    I love the example of student evaluations that comment on appearances. Evaluating student evaluations for the past two decades, I’ve been repeatedly struck how many comment on women professors’ appearances but utter not a peep about men’s looks, dress, etc.

    At our polling place this morning we saw one of the journalists who has spilled much of his ink this past year trying to make certain that Hillary Clinton did not become president. Well, he’s certainly got what he wanted in that. I found myself smiling and saying hello to him and wondering if he, the new president, and the lapdog media would think hard about sexism’s toll on our society any time soon. I’m not especially optimistic about that possibility.

    THANK YOU, HISTORIANN!
    –Goose

  2. e.j. on 04 Nov 2008 at 9:11 am #

    I especially appreciate her point about how the students making those comments don’t think they are insulting. To me, that’s the really disturbing part. We can easily recognize sexism when the remarks are intended to demean, but I think these male students honestly like her as a professor, and think they are conveying that by praising her appearance.

    They have no idea that it is just as damaging as a negative remark-both to us personally and to our standing with our colleagues who might read them in the process of evaluation.

    It strikes me as the same with someone like Palin. Remarks about her appearance from her opponents were decried as sexist (which they are), but I’ve heard a number of Republicans make similar comments and they think they are identifying her “strengths” as a candidate, instead of recognized as equally sexist.

  3. The History Enthusiast on 04 Nov 2008 at 9:49 am #

    Great post! I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently in light of conversations I’ve had with people in my program.

    I haven’t gotten any lewd comments (knock on wood), but I did have an angry student write “you’re too young to be such a bitch.” Thankfully my other negative evals haven’t resorted to swearing or outwardly sexist comments.

  4. Historiann on 04 Nov 2008 at 10:25 am #

    Hey, baby, can’t you take a compliment, ej? Such a pretty girl like you should smile more, instead of scowling all of the time. (I used to hear that–when I was younger, anyway–and it really pissed me off. Obviously, my serious visage wasn’t decorative enough for the older men who felt like they could instruct a perfect stranger about her appearance. I guess I shouldn’t have been thinking about Ronald Reagan or the Half-Way Covenant or the Dead Kennedys or German Expressionism or whatever it was that I thought about in high school and college…)

    Goose, thanks a lot–but you should thank Rose Stremlau, since she’s the person who raised these issues and connected them to Palin and Clinton initially! (I agree wtih her, although she suggests that it’s only Clinton’s political opponents on the Right who objectified her, and she ignores or forgets all of the ugliness that came from Democrats in the primary.) Thanks also for your voice of wisdom and experience, especially re: the differences between men’s and women’s evaluations. I haven’t seen any comments on men’s appearance in evals, but I don’t have as many years’ experience or (especially administrative experience) as you.

    And, History Enthusiast: you ARE too young to be such a bitch! (JK!) Believe me, I can relate. I like how that comment reminds you that you’re too young to actually have appropriate authority over him. Like you, I don’t tend to get very many comments on my appearance per se. The nasty sexist comments I get (from both men and women) are more to the effect of “who the hell do you think you are, anyway?,” as though I’ve assumed authority inappropriately in daring to appear as an expert in my field and to judge their work. I think I intimidate them out of objectifying me, but they’re clearly still very angry with me.

  5. Notorious Ph.D. on 04 Nov 2008 at 11:31 am #

    Great post (and I don’t even *know* what you look like, and I still like it)!

    But you won my heart at the last comment… Dead Kennedys. I’m back in 1984 now, even as we speak. Sadly that puts me in the middle of the Reagan Revolution, but oh well…

  6. Historiann on 04 Nov 2008 at 11:44 am #

    1984? You’re not too young to be such a bitch, Notorious! (Like me–we’ve earned it, eh?)

  7. James on 04 Nov 2008 at 12:07 pm #

    The most useful teaching evaluations are those written ten years after the class ended. Some of the professors that I despised proved in retrospect to have contributed more of value than those I liked in my state of ignorance.

    I also remember having an unhealthy physical interest in my psychology professor as she strutted across the front of the classroom in tight jeans while I sat in the second row and …

    Life’s ironic twists put me in front of the very same classroom a dozen years later. I suffered a lot of self-consciousness about things I imagined distracted some of my students from my well structured lectures.

    In any case, the whole focus on the physical appearance and attractiveness of political candidates cuts across gender, and has long been part of the interpretation of the success of JFK in 1960, the first year that television played a central role in Presidential politics. Now, let’s be honest, how many of your readers have watched Sarah Palin’s Miss Alaska clips on YouTube?

  8. Historiann on 04 Nov 2008 at 1:01 pm #

    In any case, the whole focus on the physical appearance and attractiveness of political candidates cuts across gender, and has long been part of the interpretation of the success of JFK in 1960, the first year that television played a central role in Presidential politics. Now, let’s be honest, how many of your readers have watched Sarah Palin’s Miss Alaska clips on YouTube?

    I take your point re: Kennedy, but I disagree strongly that appearance works the same way with men and women candidates. I’ve never seen a photograph of just a part of McCain’s or Obama’s bodies used as an illustration for a story about them or their campaigns. I’ve never, ever heard discussions about their reproductive choices as keys to their characters. I’ve never seen their faces photoshopped onto bodies of musclemen in thongs.

    Although a male politician’s appearance may sometimes be a factor in his political fortunes, it seems to me that when it comes up, it’s always a plus for them. So, (relative) youth and good looks worked for Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Obama in the years they ran for president. But, age and even disability have been spun as advantages for men too: Bob Dole’s withered arm as evidence of his heroism in WWII, and John McCain’s injuries and limited range of motion in his arms are proof of his sacrifice for country, and with both Dole and McCain, we were told that age = wisdom, not just wrinkles and drooping body parts. So, yeah: people talk about male politicians’ appearances and their bodies, but not predominantly in ways that disparage them. Women politicians faces’ and bodies’ are always talked about, and usually in ways that disparage them, either for being ugly and over-the-hill (H. Clinton, Janet Reno, Madeline Albright) or for being too youthful and glamorous (or trying to be glamorous: Katherine Harris, and now Palin.)

  9. James on 04 Nov 2008 at 2:38 pm #

    I didn’t say it works the same way, only that it cuts both.

    Last year, a middle-aged and “ugly” man was defeated by a middle-aged and “attractive” woman as mayor of my town. The race was close, and casual conversations about their bodies might have helped tip the scale towards her. Alas, that race was one of very few that the local newspaper more or less focused on issues.

    I agree that there are substantive differences in how male and female bodies are discussed and represented. We still live in a world of male privilege. Nevertheless, the criticism of Hillary Clinton’s reproductive choices parallel criticisms of Bill Clinton’s lack of self-control. In both cases, the intent of the critics is diversion from clear and accurate policy analysis.

  10. Historiann on 04 Nov 2008 at 4:23 pm #

    James, good point about Bill Clinton. Now, there’s a political body that has been subjected to any number of indignities! There’s a reason that Toni Morrison called him the first black president.

  11. jhon on 04 Nov 2008 at 5:17 pm #

    goo obama hes our man come sara we dint want a lousy vice pres your the biggest loser in the world je the plummer com non maccain

  12. Historiann on 04 Nov 2008 at 6:27 pm #

    Uh, yeah right. I hope you’re more articulate when you evaluate your professors, “jhon.”

  13. Stuart Noble on 05 Nov 2008 at 6:16 am #

    I’ve never seen a photograph of just a part of McCain’s or Obama’s bodies used as an illustration for a story about them or their campaigns.

    Historiann, very thought provoking post btw.

    Just to add a bit to your discussion with James I will add that both Kerry in 2004 and Gore in 2000 were “feminized” throughout the mainstream press which showed up in numerous images. Remember Maureen Dowd wrote that Gore was so “ecologically correct he was practically lactating.” Gore’s body was endlessly dissected. How about the infamous alleged photoshopped pant bulge from the Rolling Stone cover, and the phony narrative that the “ultra-feminist” Naomi Klein was dressing him. And it was Dowd again who started the meme this year about “Obambi”.

    The right-wing has been painting Liberal men this way for years but it didn’t really stick to Obama. I can’t help but think the difference here was racial. A feminized Obama would contradict the even “scarier” black man as predator image.

    But thinking about the above statement, look at all the images of the back of Obama’s head in isolation, usually only from the neck or shoulders up. Both Time and recently Newsweek have employed this on their covers.

  14. OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin on 05 Nov 2008 at 6:21 am #

    Perhaps like Palin and Clinton, we can look forward to smarmy comments about how desirable we are until we’re 45, and then after that we’ll be subjected to criticism about how hideous and unfashionable we are, and what disappointments we are to people looking for eye candy in the classroom rather than intellectual stimulation.

    Dear Historiann – I think it may be more complicated than the binary of objectification vs intellectual stimulation. I don’t think they always oppose each other.

    Sometimes, it’s both at the same time. Sometimes, one plays off the other, or intensifies the other. What happens when the prof does it on purpose, as if it’s a part of his/her pedagogy? I’ve seen it done very effectively. To my mind, one of the things that makes it so “disturbing” is Sarah Palin’s own participation in her branding/image. It’s also hard to compare her to any other politician, because the US simply has not seen anyone like her on the national scene; the beauty queen background, the skin-tight suits, the hair, the glasses…this is all new to us.

    You may like this reflection on a professor I once had (I am female/queer btw): http://ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin.blogspot.com/2008/10/once-she-teaches-you-you-stay-taught.html

    Or, you may not, dunno. But I deal with this question of “Palin’s body” a lot on the site. It’s a tough one with no easy answers, I’ve found.

  15. Historiann on 05 Nov 2008 at 6:31 am #

    Hi Stuart–thanks for the comment. Photographs of the head are not, in my opinion, objectifying a part of the body, given the tradition of portraiture in the West. And, I take your point about the feminization of Kerry and Gore, although I never saw their bodies depicted or obsessed over like Palin’s and Clinton’s, for example. Upthread, James Stripes pointed out that Bill Clinton’s body was subjected to all manner of indignities highly unusual for a white man, and more like the objectification of black men’s bodies or women’s bodies of any ethnicity. I think he’s the one possible exception!

    And, thanks for stopping by to comment, “Oh Crap”–I’ll check you out! I don’t think that attraction and education oppose each other, I just don’t want to hear about it or see it in other people’s teaching evaluations (or mine.) This post is more about why students feel empowered to “share” all of their opinions and emotions about female professors and not with male professors. And, you’re right, no one in the US has ever seen a prominent national candidate like Palin, but that’s because we (men and women alike) are very wedded to the notion that authority and political power are masculine attributes. We need many, many more women candidates for high political office here.

  16. Historiann on 05 Nov 2008 at 5:36 am #

    Note: I’ve finally fixed the time stamp on my blog to conform with Mountain Standard Time in the U.S. (GMT -7).

  17. Professor Zero on 05 Nov 2008 at 6:42 am #

    “Talking about Palin’s appearance is a conversation that people prefer to have, because they can’t deal with the notion of a female body wielding political power.”

    Untrue. I talk about her glasses because they are the only aspect of Palin about which I have anything pleasant to say.

    I talk about her hair, which is in an extremely ugly do, because because what I have to say about what is inside her head would hurt the feelings of my interlocutors too much.

    I am only trying to find the least mean things to say that I can, and they have to do with her glasses and hair.

    I live in a very conservative area and I HAVE to find something marginally polite to say about Palin that I can stand behind.

    So: nice glasses, bad hair, and the bad hair to me of course means bad head in general, especially the lack of brain, but I need to speak in synecdoche because arguing with people isn’t worth it.

  18. Historiann on 05 Nov 2008 at 6:48 am #

    I don’t know why you feel you have to say anything nice about her at all, since you are so violently opposed to her politically. Choosing to talk about hear appearance instead of her policy positions only furthers the notion that women are only valued for their good looks. Do you feel the need to compliment the hair and glasses of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? I don’t feel the need to compliment the appearances of people whose policies are opposed to my interests.

  19. Rad Readr on 05 Nov 2008 at 9:36 am #

    The fixation on Palin’s looks/body starts with the GOP. Why did they pick her and not one of the more qualified Republican women? Why did they go with youth over experience in a ticket that was touting experience? William Kristol called her my “heart throb.” As we have come to know, they spent quite a bit of money at Neiman Marcus and Saks to dress her up. I am sure Obama/Biden/McCain have nice suits, but I can’t imagine they spend 150,000 in less than 2 months — even if part of the money goes to dress an entire family and the teenage boyfriend. The Republicans played the looks card, and while it did not work in the election it sure worked to get people talking about this woman’s looks. (As if people need all that much encouragement in the society of appearance.)

    All women in that position would have gotten sexism and commentary, but it was exacerbated because McCain chose style over substance.

  20. Historiann on 05 Nov 2008 at 9:59 am #

    I disagree, Rad. The Republicans wanted a Washington outsider who would beef up McCain’s credentials with the social conservatives. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are RINOs. Kay Bailey Hutchinson is also considered a squish among the hard-core religious right, and Elizabeth Dole is just too 1990s. (Aside from the fact that these women are all senators–which contradicts the Washington outsider idea.) It just so happened that Palin is an attractive youngish woman. I agree with you that the Republicans and her fans in general have obsessed about her looks, but the mental illness she has inspired among many leftists and even many Dem feminists is beyond the pale.

    All I ask is that people treat her no differently because of her sex–just as I and I assume the majority of my readers want ourselves and our colleagues treated no differently on account of sex. That, apparently, is utterly impossible for the vast majority of Americans, right, left, and center. This is why we need many, many, many more women candidates for high political office, and why from now on, I will only donate my money and time to women candidates.

    Now, the original point of this post was the objectification of women faculty, and Palin was just the most recent public example of a prominent professional woman being evaluated more on her looks than on her performance.

  21. Stephanie on 05 Nov 2008 at 11:29 pm #

    I’ve never been a professor, and it’s quite a number of years since I’ve been a student. So perhaps my comment lacks knowledge of the current circumstances.

    But if students are submitting inappropropriate evaluations about their professors, why isn’t it an option to return those evaluations to the students and tell them to eliminate the inappropriate comments and come up with something legitimate?

    The professors would never be allowed to evaluate their students on their sexual attractiveness.

    If the students obviously don’t know any better, then how are then going to learn? (I suspect this is too much common sense, tho)

  22. Historiann on 06 Nov 2008 at 6:40 am #

    Student evaluations are completely anonymous. At my university, I must hand the envelope over to a student to distribute and leave the room. So, there are no checks on what students might say about faculty members. The vast majority of students are responsible, but there are some who aren’t, and there’s no way for us to track them down after the fact and hold them accountable.

  23. crankypostdoc on 06 Nov 2008 at 10:00 am #

    I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned “Rate My Professors”, with its notorious chili peppers for “hotness”. This site clearly contibutes to the deplorable problem of students commenting on instructors’ looks.

  24. Historiann on 06 Nov 2008 at 2:21 pm #

    Good point, cranky–actually, the original article by Stremlau mentions RMP and makes your point in the Chronicle. The world in general is focused on “rating” everything and anyone, but especially women for their looks.

  25. Historiann on 06 Nov 2008 at 2:40 pm #

    p.s. Check out Aeron Haynie’s post on this topic, re: Michelle Obama and the apparent outrage expressed about her dress, body, hair, etc. after Obama’s victory speech in Chicago, which included an appearance on stage with Michelle and the little girls.

  26. OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin on 06 Nov 2008 at 6:49 pm #

    I don’t think that attraction and education oppose each other, I just don’t want to hear about it or see it in other people’s teaching evaluations (or mine.)

    Yeah, I can definitely understand that.

    I’m guessing, though, that you’re not the sort who “does it on purpose”. Think of a Jane Gallop type. Those are the sorts I’m talking about.

    Wonder what in the world her student evaluations say lol

  27. OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin on 06 Nov 2008 at 7:29 pm #

    Now, the original point of this post was the objectification of women faculty, and Palin was just the most recent public example of a prominent professional woman being evaluated more on her looks than on her performance.

    Here’s a question: What prof would wear those suits to school?

    I had one who did — to a degree, nothing quite as form-fitting/too small as Palin’s — and she wore it well, and she taught us well. Or, for those of us in the enterprise, what professional woman would wear such curve-huggers to work, without being asked to go home and change?

    I can only imagine, though, the kind of student evals my old prof gets. We’re still in touch/”friends” after all these years; she had a major effect on my intellectual life. But we don’t have the kind of relationship where I could ask her about that, especially since it might entail divulging my own former feelings about her.

    Rad Readr said, William Kristol called her my “heart throb.”

    I’m guessing that’s not the only thing that is throbbing.

    Sarah Palin signed on to her makeover as a full partner, self-identifying as a “feminist” coming from a beauty queen background, becoming a Halloween character and the subject of a Hustler porn movie. We are going to have to deal with these contradictions and ambivalences…I’m not sure 2nd or even 3rd wave “feminism” has given us the tools to do so, yet.

  28. Rad Readr on 06 Nov 2008 at 8:35 pm #

    I agree with Ihaveacrush re: needing to deal with contradictions — such as the idealism of wanting, expecting, calling on people not to evaluate public figures/professors based on sex while trafficking in gender identity politics which can only heighten the reading of sex, particularly among the sexist. I have myself trafficked in ID politics in the past, so I’m not proclaiming to be above it — but we do see similar contradictions in relation to racial politics.

    As far as the comments about the professor’s body parts, I think the power dynamics in the classroom as such that we should be able to take a hit. I know sense of humor is in short supply in some quarters, but I don’t see how someone can function in academia without being to laugh at it all, including him or herself. Newflash: young people say stupid things some times. More alarming is that this person sees a comment on class evals as part of a “professional record.” Is that before or after publications on the CV?

  29. Historiann on 07 Nov 2008 at 12:59 pm #

    Yes, young people say asinine things, Rad. And yes, it’s all about the power dynamics: students who write sexually harrassing comments are trying in their impotent and pathetic ways to reverse the dynamic dramatically by saying demeaning things about her appearance. But, how would a department react if students wrote racially harrassing things in their student evaluations? Would people just shrug their shoulders and say, “well, we should be able to take a hit?” I have myself never seen racial harrassment in student evaluations, but I’ve seen plenty of sexually harrassing language and ideas. I don’t think Stremlau is crying in her beer about the creepy comments she’s had, she’s raising an important question, which is why are these comments permitted to become a part of her evaluation? Are harrassing comments (racial, sexual, age discrimination, comments about sexuality, etc.) a legitimate kind of evaluation? If her department lets the comments stand in the file without comment, then I guess it does.

    And, Ohcrap: I would be very careful about trying to make judgments about people’s clothing and the messages you think they’re trying to send. What’s stylish in some eyes might be read (wrongly) as provocative by others. There are unbalanced men who think that anything a woman says or does is provocative, so I don’t think these things are so easily controlled by wardrobe choice. I have a (female) colleague who was stalked by a (female) student who believed that her professor was in need of religious salvation, and who made it her mission to dog the prof. and engage her in conversations about religion. This, despite the fact that she had been told in no certain terms several times that she (the prof.) was already a member of a Christian church and had no interest in discussing these matters with her student. The student persisted in the religious harrassment, taking the unambiguous statements from her prof. as a sign that God wanted her to persist in her efforts to convert the prof.

  30. OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin on 07 Nov 2008 at 7:12 pm #

    Hey Ann – I do understand what you’re saying about whackadoodle students imposing their own weird psychoses on to the prof.

    There is NEVER any excuse for a student to try and push the learning process beyond learning. Yes, I know about power dynamics and all of that. But I don’t care if the prof is naked and sitting in their lap in office hours, the student can just get up and leave. I know, because I’ve been there.

    The student is responsible for their own behavior, as someone whose fees are going to pay the prof to teach them, not seduce them, or be fodder for their religious nutballery or anything else.

    Ideally, we should be able to wear whatever we want, where ever we want. But let’s be frank: no professional woman would show up to the office or to a client site in the skin tight suits Sarah Palin got away with throughout the entire campaign. I don’t think any prof would come to class in those outfits, either.

    My personal feeling is that the McCain camp literally pimped her to the redmeats of the GOP — deliberately using her physical body in that way — and she participated fully in it. One can tell by the way she’s being by these anonymous leak-bearers right now.

    I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but there is also a feminist angle to her decision to just go on and strut it in front of god and everybody and a part of me thinks it’s funny. I don’t enjoy saying that and I don’t enjoy thinking it, but I believe there may be something to it.

  31. Historiann on 08 Nov 2008 at 11:55 am #

    OhCrap, I see what you’re saying about the GOP deploying Palin’s good looks. I think they saw that as an advantage–and why not? I just don’t know what a woman politician is supposed to do: if she’s homely and/or over-the-hill, she’ll get flack for not being pretty or youthful or whatever, and if she’s youthful and attractive, she’ll be criticized for exploiting that (or for not exploiting it or playing it up enough, if she tries to dress frumpily and downplay her glamour.) I think we saw both things happen this year in the press coverage and public conversations about Clinton and Palin.

  32. OhCrapIHaveACrushOnSarahPalin on 08 Nov 2008 at 5:15 pm #

    I just don’t know what a woman politician is supposed to do: if she’s homely and/or over-the-hill, she’ll get flack for not being pretty or youthful or whatever, and if she’s youthful and attractive, she’ll be criticized for exploiting that (or for not exploiting it or playing it up enough, if she tries to dress frumpily and downplay her glamour.)

    Here’s what I think happeened: SP as an individual chose her own way with how the GOP pimped her, and was fully signed on to her makeovers. She’s said to have balked at the clothes, but she didn’t do anything about it until the last 4-5 days of the campaign when she started wearing jeans.

    Part of the myth about her wacky upsweep hairstyle was that she was indeed trying to frump it up. She could have worn regular Valentino/St. John, etc instead of one size too small, and still looked beautiful, youthful, etc….look at Michelle, who is the same age. I criticize her for exploiting that because I believe that and the winks and the MILF personna was part of a votebanking strategy. She didn’t do that sort of thing in Wasilla or Juneau, but decided to go along with it for the national campaign.

    What’s interesting to me now is, her immediate punishment by the McCain campaign’s leaks. I think she’s been treated as a femme fatale (which I believe has feminist implications, despite what Susan McClary says), and I also believe we are going to see a “sexier” “female politician” in the future because of her. It was a bumpy ride this time around, but it always is for “the first”, ask Condoleeza Rice when she came out with those thigh high boots and black-coated-number.

    Personally, I think that is a good thing, just as good as the fact that casting her as the Milkshake Candidate didn’t work — the whole thing seemed like a big experiment in process.

    I feel, the more options for women in politics the better, even if it pushes against traditional feminist norms.