Isn't it funny how Sarah Palin, who is every bit as tough and every bit as ambitious and every bit as ruthless as Hillary Clinton, is this big wingnut heroine, whereas when it was Hillary Clinton in the spotlight, they made nutcrackers out of her?
I realize that her age relative to Clinton's has something to do with it, though what Palin doesn't realize is that she has about another year or so to get away with her adorable little girl act before she's going to have to either become a slave to Botox or become ridiculous. After all, in our culture, women Clinton's age are long past their cougar years and are well into cronehood, but once you hit 45, you either have to find a way to be a grown-up woman or else you turn into Maureen Dowd.
As someone who was never the pretty girl in school, I don't find cronehood as appalling a prospect as some women do. I may have come of age in the early 1970's, but for much of my life, pretty trumped everything. I remember receiving parental letters when I was a freshman in college assuring me that the gifts I had would serve me in good stead long after the Kampus Queens had long since descended into alcoholism and Prozac. The problem is, when you're eighteen, or twenty, this is not what you want to hear.
For many of us, Palin is reminiscent of nothing so much as the girls who threw tampons at Carrie White
; the Heathers
; the Mean Girls
; the ones who got everything they wanted because they were pretty. And worse, these girls believed that they were better than the rest of us as a result. This is not to say that all the pretty girls were like this. God knows there have been plenty of beautiful young women whose self-esteem was as bad as ours was, only we just didn't know it. We wore our low self-esteem where everyone could see it -- in our zits that never quite went away, our lank hair that would never do what we wanted it to, our endless losing battles with weight. They suffered in silence while presenting an "acceptable" face to the world. You knew they weren't the mean girls, but you knew damn well who the mean girls were.
For those of us who can't get by on our looks, there does come a time when being the funny one, or the smart one, or being empathetic, really do come to mean something. So we stop trying to be something we're not. Sure, we want to look as good as we can, but we come to accept that the size 8 pants are never going to fit us again, and we buy nice clothes for the way we are now. We know that our hair is never going to do what we want it to do, so we wear it short and let the hairdresser make the color a bit redder just for fun and we buy big earrings and big jewelry and we become fabulous and funny instead of fabulous and gorgeous. And lo and behold, we learn that people really do like us for who we are.
But when a Sarah Palin gets up on national television in a $2500 designer jacket and perfect makeup and tries to pass herself off as being no different from the zaftig mother of four who works at a nursing home during the day and then at the neighborhood Burger King three nights a week, women don't identify. On the contrary, they remember back to high school, and the Sarah Palins who made their lives miserable back then.
Linda Hirshman in The Nation
(reprinted at Alternet) recognizes just why women responded badly
to Palin's winking, flirty performance at the debate the other night:
I have been feeling really guilty about not liking Sarah Palin. She's independent, her husband helps raise the kids, she's worked most of her life. I should luv her. But the minute she minced on stage in St. Louis Thursday, with her shoulder-length hair and stiletto heels, I realized why I don't: she's The Rules Girl.
Remember The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, Ellen Fein's and Sherry Schneider's explosively controversial 1995 book that upended thirty years of feminist teaching about dating? Forget all that equality and intelligence stuff, The Rules advised. Who wants to be Hillary Clinton? Men are simple, attracted to sexual symbols and bright, shiny objects. If you want them, they argued, you must sport long hair and wear sexy, attention-getting clothes. The suit Palin wore for the debate was some amazingly iridescent material, and she sported an eye-popping sparkly rhinestone flag pin. The governor as the It Girl of the '90s singles scene.
As the capital-letter Rules recommend, Palin knows she must Never Leave the House Without Makeup. And, so far in this campaign, she has scrupulously followed The Rules for dealing with mainstream media suitors: Rarely Return Their Calls. Always End the Date First. Never Make a Date for Saturday Night After a Wednesday Date. Never Make a Date for Meet the Press At All.
In its day, The Rules was a bestseller on the New York Times self-help list. But using it as a guide for political behavior is a dangerous game in 2008. By setting Palin up as the Rules Girl -- the gorgeous, fecund non-Hillary, equipped with all the right answers -- Republicans forget that The Rules is a manual for how to attract men.
But for decades, the voting-age population has been predominantly female: women vote at a greater rate and usually a little differently from men. Despite all the talk of disaffected Hillary supporters crossing over to the GOP after Obama's nomination, serious pollsters found no such thing. Some pundits say Palin did fine last night, but thanks to CNN, we were able to test in real time exactly how the Palin performance played with women voters. CNN provided a little chart that shows how the debaters were faring with a focus group of independent voters from the swing state of Ohio. On the chart, the men's reactions show up green and women in orange. Guess what? Palin really tanked among those women. There were times when the line showing the women's disapproval of her answers sank so low it threatened to leap off the screen and start crawling down the wall behind the TV. I'm imagining those Ohio independents as having a vivid picture of a fully made-up, dimpled, winking woman trying to work the crowd from her tattered copy of The Rules.
All of this, of course, brings us back to the image of Rich Lowry of National Review
sitting on his sofa with his trousers around his ankles, watching the debate and thinking that Sarah Palin is winking at him, and the idea that contrary to what George Herbert Walker Bush thought in 1988, when he chose Dan Quayle as a running mate, women do NOT vote for the cute guy because they think that he's going to ask them on a date. Women just seem more grounded in reality than men do, and we can differentiate fantasy from reality in a way men don't. Perhaps it's that there are no TV shows in which Roseann Barr's husband is wedge-shaped and gorgeous, the way there are 4,983 shows in which fat, zlubby, balding, boorish men have these incredibly hot wives. But despite the women like the one I mentioned earlier today who judges Sarah Palin as being "just like her" by an image she sees on television, most women are listening to what Palin says. And women recognize that it isn't just that she's trying to get the second most powerful job in the world by simply flirting with the boys; it's that she thinks she can spout gibberish and by winking at the Rich Lowrys of the world, get away with it.
It's up to the women of this country -- the ones who balance the checkbooks and clip the coupons and clean the toilets and change the diapers and make sure there's toilet paper in the bathroom -- to make sure that common sense prevails.
Labels: Sarah Palin