Saturday, September 13, 2008

Some interesting articles on Palin, feminism, and the like from

i thought you might be interested in some of these articles from My sister brought them to my attention earlier this week. Both of these pieces are well written and entertaining. If you have a minute, let me know what you think.

"Zombie feminists of the RNC"

How did Sarah Palin become a symbol of women's empowerment? And how did I, a die-hard feminist, end up terrified at the idea of a woman in the White House?

By Rebecca Traister

"Sept. 11, 2008 | I have been dreaming about Sarah Palin. (Apparently, I'm not alone.) I wish I could say that I'd been conjuring witty, politically sophisticated nightmares in which she leads troops into Vancouver or kindergartners in the recitation of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But, alas, mine have been nonsensical, kiddie-style doozies in which she kidnaps my cats, or enjoys a meal with my girlfriends while I bang on the restaurant window. There's also a chilling one, in which a scary witch stands on a wind-swept hill and leers at me.

What troubles me most -- aside from the fact that there is suddenly a Republican candidate potent enough to so ensnare my psyche -- is my sense that these are dreams in which it matters very much that Palin is a woman.

I have been writing about feminism for more than five years; I have been covering the gender politics of the 2008 presidential election for more than two. And I am absolutely gobsmacked by the intensity of my feelings about Sarah Palin. I am stunned not only by the way in which her candidacy has changed the rules in the gender debate, or how it is twisting and garbling the fight for women's progress. But I'm also startled by how Palin herself is testing my own beliefs about how I react to women in power."

[click here for full text]

and the other one:

"The dominatrix"

Sarah Palin is trying to seduce independent voters. But she comes across like a whip-wielding mistress who wants to discipline a naughty America.
By Gary Kamiya

"Sept. 9, 2008 | Sarah Palin has thrown a big-time scare into Democrats. The GOP ticket received a huge bounce after the convention, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll, and McCain now leads Obama among registered voters, 50 percent to 46 percent. And it's mostly Palin's doing. The "elite media" that Palin and her fellow Republicans so lovingly excoriated in St. Paul, Minn., is reporting that her entrance into the race may have put crucial states like Ohio in play. The tough-talking, gun-toting "hockey mom" who believes that America's wars are God's will has fired up social conservatives, restarted the culture wars so beloved of Republicans, and shifted the election from being about issues into a personality contest.

Post-convention polls are highly unreliable. But the same Democrats who were crowing with glee a week ago about McCain's off-the-wall choice are suddenly panicking. And you can't blame them. Four years after Americans looked at the first term of the worst president in modern history and decided they liked what they saw well enough to sign up for four more years, it's all too plausible that just when victory is in sight, the most crucial election of our time could be tipped by the 11th-hour appearance of a slick, unqualified, right-wing extremist and religious zealot in designer glasses.
Call it Moose ex Machina."

[click here for full text]


Will said...

Traister's argument stirs more things into "feminism" than I would, though her anxiety about Palin's derailment, or at least pollution, of what feminists have worked on for so long seems frighteningly justified.

Kamiya's fixation on the possible (maybe) sexual connotations of Palin's run derail themselves when they whip-out the rhetorical strap-on and become too confused to be useful. But I agree that the very things that make Palin so attractive (not in Kamiya's sexual sense) to the rabid GOP faithful will (should!) alienate the middle.

Oh I pray so.

Andrew James said...

The sexual imagery is hard to resist. I can't help but agree with the "dominatrix" interpretation. I think we've all seen how Palin became a star, literally overnight. You guys should check out what conservative talk radio has to say about her. They are largely, a sexist lot and their support of this woman definitely has sexual undertones, if not overtones. What Palin brings to John McCain is sex. Obama is already sexy. He's sharp, well-spoken and debonair. He has a two cute daughters and a smart, attractive wife. His entire package is very attractive. McCain's is not. The idea of a woman running with a man for president is so novel among the GOP, that they're all patting themselves on the back for picking a woman who wears skirts and kills things. Feminism they scream! But as we all know, the Republican view of feminism is actually tied to their definition of masculinity. She's a feminist because she's hot and kills animals.

Hbernbubb said...

Will, how would you define 'feminsim?' I'm always curious to hear how others define it.

What I like about Taister's article is that it taps into the anxiety that I feel about Palin as a woman and the anxiety I have about that anxiety. Why do I hate her so much? Why does she feel so dangerous? I feel so conflicted about all of the attention her looks are recieving -- and it is unquestionably sexist.

But, I feel that the Republicans don't really care whether it is sexist. They want to use her looks when it helps them and cry sexism when it helps them. Just like her kids and pregnant daughter -- they started the conversation by using them and not keeping it private, but they can cry foul as soon as it becomes critical. It is a very Roveian (Rovian? Rovist? How does one spell this?) tactic. Obama may be sexy as Andrew James said, but it is not the subject of such intense scrutiny. They talk about his celebrity and charisma -- his general appeal, but even then he is still being considered as more of a whole person.

I did not vote for Hilary and I have always preferred Obama, but at least Hilary is what she is. She didn't have to put on a skirt or mask her ambition. Palin feels like a counterfeit of feminism. And yet -- there is a side of me that asks why women have to go out of one box (sexy wife and adoring mother) and into another (sexless, smart woman).

Will said...

hbernbubb, answering your question quickly (which may get me in trouble), my brief definition of what I would call feminism is the movement to do away with any of the social barriers that limit the full participation of women in society - especially when men aren't limited in the same ways.

What I was questioning in Traister's definition of feminism is how she mixes issues like evolution v. creationism, and book banning into it. If she is saying that the right is doing this in their new (and unconvincing) version of "feminism," then I would agree with her disagreement with them. But it is not clear to me why she brings these other issues up.

In general, I completely agree that the new, right-wing definition of feminism (a al Santorum et al) is horseshit and nothing more than political maneuvering, and that it is has potential to do massive damage.

Andrew, I agree that sexuality is a part of the discourse surrounding Palin, especially among the talk radio types. I am specifically questioning how Kamiya uses sexual tropes and metaphors to make Palin both the violator and the violated, thus necessarily implying right-wingers are latent passive-partners in anal sex wanting to be penetrated while painting them as establishment sexists objectifying Palin.

And I'm not saying that none of this is pertinent to what is going on. It may well be. Both dynamics may well apply. Sure. I just don't think Kamiya is clear enough in his use of sexual imagery, and in his inversions of sexual roles. He is taking on more rhetoric than he is able to effectively use, and his argument suffers under the weight of imagery that should be supporting it.

Again, it could all work, I just don't think Kamiya uses it effectively and ends up confusing his argument. A more skilled rhetorician could probably make similar arguments about fantasies of Palin as both the penetrated and penetrator, of right-wingers as both violators and the violated and have it be both accurate and illuminating.

But sure, sex is definitely part of what is really going on in some of the discourse around Palin.