I tried to like Sarah Palin. I tried really, really hard.
I think the reason I tried so hard to defend this mysterious woman from Alaska, despite the glaring clash between our political views, was because I was morbidly depressed when Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic primaries. That, and I didn’t know anything about Palin yet.
In my defense, I was just excited to see a woman back in the 2008 elections in this country, where politics are almost unfailingly male-dominated. And naively, I hoped that a female perspective would sand down McCain’s opposition to birth control and abortion rights for women in the tragic event that their ticket actually won.
So for weeks I blindly denounced criticisms of Palin and attributed any barb about her intelligence or competence to sexism. The emotional stress of seeing Hillary lose drove me to the edge of a feminist tirade, and every time a criticism against Palin snuck up, I’d react with a hysterical, “It’s because she’s a woman, isn’t it?”
But then it dawned on me that it’s not because she’s a woman. It’s because she’s a stereotypical, white, middle-aged Republican man in a woman’s body. It’s as if she’s the end result of some creepy lab experiment gone wrong.
Given Palin’s meager list of credentials, which includes being mayor of a town of 9,000 and only two years of gubernatorial experience, the only point in her favor is cuteness, gosh darn it. Simple, unadulterated, awe-factor cuteness.
Sarah Palin knows this, and she’s abusing that rarest of skills to the point of exhaustion. Witness the vice presidential debate, in which she made sure to sprinkle one of her answers with a goofy question (“How long have I been at this, like, five weeks?”), a maddening number of innocent colloquialisms (“You betcha!”) and even a coquettish wink or two for good measure.
I don’t think I have ever seriously winked in my life, and I can guarantee — without having done any research — that no male politician has ever winked during a debate.
Sarah Palin is several things, but she is not a credible politician, and she is definitely not a feminist. To oppose a woman’s right to abortion, even in cases of incest or rape, while claiming to be a feminist is about as credible as people who call themselves vegetarians but eat fish.
Other embarrassments arose during the debate, such as when Palin revealed, adorably, that she still thinks of the Iraq war in terms of “winning.” I cringed every time Palin dropped the letter g from the end of her words (which occured about every 20 seconds). Most of all, I prayed that she would not fail me, the women around the world or the name of feminism any further.
It’s sad to see such a dynamic event in women’s history — Palin is the first female to run on a Republican ticket — become a complete parody of women’s involvement in politics, a show in which she blows off professionalism in favor of up-playing her feminine wiles. The former beauty queen actually capitalizes on the fact that she’s a Washington outsider and an average mommy from Pleasantville (who just happens to shoot wolves from a helicopter every now and then).
It’s sadder still to think about how this reflects on our society. It says we still think so little about women that for them to reach a position of power in politics, they have to wink and play the seductress.
After Hillary Clinton teared up during a speech in New Hampshire, some said she calculated the move to soften up her supposedly cold image. A catch-22, if you will, in which female politicians have to maintain a careful balance between being overly feminine and not feminine enough, with harsh criticisms coming from either end, and with little ground in the middle.
And, maybe for that, I still feel a little bad for Sarah Palin, gosh darn it.
Catherine Cai is a College freshman from Atlanta.