Actual Headline of WaPo columnist Kathleen Parker's latest: "On fertility, and the flauntingly fecund Sarah Palin."
Actual line from this column: "Lately, a strange shift has occurred among female politicians as they have resorted to flexing their womb-manhood. Rather than try to out-man the men, women have begun to celebrate—or exploit in some cases—their higher purpose."
Another actual line from this column: "Palin is nothing if not fertile. Or, perhaps more accurately, she is nothing if she isn't fertile."
And then there's this:
The most flauntingly fecund female politician in U.S. history, Palin made the most of men's imaginations as John McCain's running mate—even winning over the fantasies of the politically opposed. Most memorable of these was Christopher Hitchens, who, though no Palin fan, once confessed to me: "Even I have wondered what it would be like to change her expression."Lest you miss Hitchens' courtly, gentlemanly meaning, "change her expression" means "fuck her."
Hitchens knew how to be provocative and/or insulting while still seeming courtly, a gentleman's art nearly lost with his passing.
You know, it isn't even that I totally disagree with Parker that the increasing emphasis on female politicians' reproduction (or lack therof) is problematic. Where we differ is that I am eminently capable of discussing that idea without resorting to garbage misogynist tropes.
Parker talks about female politicians—including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a mother of five whom she accuses of hiding "behind the skirt of her own bassinet" to avoid questions about late-term abortion—"exploiting" their motherhood, as if the privileging of motherhood is new (nope) or exists in a void.
If there is a resurgence in female politicians who center motherhood as a key part of their bios, gee, maybe it's because we are in the middle of an enormous backlash against reproductive choice. Maybe it's because publicly policing female politicians' reproduction is all the fucking rage these days. It seems spectacularly unfair to criticize Palin for centering her role as mom, when she is part of a party that features as a centerpiece of its platform forcing unwilling women to be mothers, and when reprobates like Andrew Sullivan have been obsessively crawling up inside her uterus trying to find evidence that she's lying about to whom she's given birth.
If we have a problem with the disproportionate focus on female politicians' reproductive résumés, we need to make a serious examination of what cultural imperatives are driving that narrative. Both parties tend to reward national female politicians who are mothers. Voters do. We are in a moment of extreme backlash. It is not a coincidence that attorney and former First Lady Hillary Clinton is identified with businessy pantsuits, and attorney and current First Lady Michelle Obama is identified with homemakery modern A-line dresses with a retro feel. There are not-incidental race issues, especially about what kind of motherhood is culturally privileged, wrapped up in that meaningful difference, too.
I am barely scratching the surface. There are layers upon layers of social context in which female public figures—not merely politicians, but entertainers and athletes and so forth—are obliged and inclined to focus on their reproductive destinies. It's hardly as simple as "Sarah Palin exploits being a mom. What a jerk." And yet...
Actual conclusion of Parker's garbage column: "[Palin's] coquettish reminders that her field is still tillable diminishes her credibility as anything other than a one-liner comedienne. Perhaps Palin recognizes this herself and is auditioning for her own show. She may have a fertile future as an entertainer, though Honey Boo Boo will give her a run for her money."
Just a quick classist dig, right at the end, in case you'd forgotten that Palin was herself once a beauty queen who had the unmitigated temerity to be born outside of one of the two cities in the entire US that matter to people like Kathleen Parker.
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I would direct you to the Washington Post's ombudsman, but, of course, they eliminated that position earlier this year. You can contact their part-time "Reader Representative" at readers-at-washpost-dot-com.
[H/T to Shaker Richard Gadsden. Previous Kathleen Parker: The OFFS Awards; Bravo, WaPo; But What About the Men?! Not a comprehensive list of the coverage here of her special brand of garbage. Just a few fun examples.]