Check Under Your Bed for Sarah Palin

So, there's this significant profile of Sarah Palin in Vanity Fair, and it's comparatively good for the most part, sticking mostly to relevant issues and giving time to both Palin's strengths and flaws as a politician—which are frequently the same thing, as in her willingness to fly fast and loose with the facts (an electoral strength; a governing flaw).

Calling it "comparatively good," given the grim material critiqued in the Palin Sexism Watch during the campaign, might reasonably be read as damning the article with faint praise—and I won't discourage that interpretation. Aside from its obviously problematic imagery, which conflates Palin with a candidate's wife, a habitual misrepresentation in the mainstream media leading up to the election, there are problems with the piece.

They are the usual problems with pieces about Palin—oblique or overt classism ("the surprise pregnancies, the two-bit blood feuds, the tawdry in-laws and common-law kin caught selling drugs or poaching game [make] Billy Carter, Donald Nixon, and Roger Clinton seem like avatars of circumspection")—and the usual problems with pieces about women—a feisty woman is little more than an animal in need of domestication ("campaign aides cast about for someone who could serve as a calming presence: Palin's horse whisperer") or in need of meds for a case of the crazy ("Polar Disorder," "there were ominous signs—indications of an erratic nature," "More than once in my travels in Alaska, people … told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of 'narcissistic personality disorder' in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders").

That said, even the (relatively few) passages examining Palin's being "at once the sexiest and the riskiest brand in the Republican Party," even if still insufferably sigh-eliciting ("fertile female," really?), are better than the usual fare, giving time to the reality that Palin's appearance is a double-edged weapon:
Another aspect of the Palin phenomenon bears examination, even if the mere act of raising it invites intimations of sexism: she is by far the best-looking woman ever to rise to such heights in national politics, the first indisputably fertile female to dare to dance with the big dogs. This pheromonal reality has been a blessing and a curse. It has captivated people who would never have given someone with Palin's record a second glance if Palin had looked like Susan Boyle. And it has made others reluctant to give her a second chance because she looks like a beauty queen.
But here's the thing (there's always a "thing" about these things, heh): Despite the article's being one of the fairer and comprehensive pieces I've seen written about Palin—or any female public figure, for that matter (more faint praise)—it's nonetheless given the B-movie monster headline: "It Came from Wasilla."

Nearly 10,000 words, done in by four. Never mind the author's almost-realized attempt to draw an inclusive portrait of a complex person and her immediate environment. Instead, remember this: She is a monster.

(In case you didn't get the message, it is later reinforced, when an entire section is labeled "Little Shop of Horrors," the nickname reportedly given to Palin on the campaign trail by an anonymous "longtime McCain friend.")

It's particularly frustrating to see this sort of thing in a piece that spends the vast majority of its time clearly detailing why Palin was a flawed candidate, and what's wrong with her still, and what her future (and ours) may hold:
In the aftermath of the November election, the conventional wisdom among Palin's supporters in the Republican establishment was that she should go home, keep her head down, show that she could govern effectively, and quietly educate herself about foreign and domestic policy with the help of a cadre of experienced advisers. She has done none of this.
Not an unimportant point.
Palin has shown herself to have remarkable gut instincts about raw politics, and she has seen openings where others did not. And she has the good fortune to have traction within a political party that is bereft of strong leadership, and whose rank and file often demands qualities other than knowledge, experience, and an understanding that facts are, as John Adams said, stubborn things. It is, at the moment, a party in which the loudest and most singular voices, not burdened by responsibility, wield disproportionate power. She may decide that she does not need office in order to have great influence—any more than Rush Limbaugh does.
Also not an unimportant point.

There are, it happens, lots and lots of very good points about Palin made in the piece.

And all of them risk being lost beneath the crushing weight of the lazy implication that she is a monster.

Worse yet, dismissing her as a monster, as a wild animal, as crazy, is tacit encouragement to pay her no real attention at all. She's not even serious enough to warrant your time.

They said that about another Republican once.

Just sayin'.

[Standard disclaimer: I defend Sarah Palin against misogynist smears not because I endorse her or her politics, but because that's how feminism works.]

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