Feminism Friday: Right Wing Women, Sarah Palin, and Me

Beppie is a PhD student who reads feminist blogs to help her procrastinate think.

Right Wing Women

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about Andrea Dworkin’s Right Wing Women, a book that asks why so many women choose (or apparently choose) to live anti-woman lives—why they embrace the role of submissive wife, why they fight against bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. Dworkin’s analysis is subtle and complex, hardly capable of being summarised in a single paragraph, but the overall impression I was left with is that women do this—women turn against themselves—because, for many, it’s the best deal they can get while living in a patriarchal culture. The choice for so many is between being treated as a precious object or a worthless object—and it is unsurprising that so many choose the former over the latter, even if it does mean thinking of oneself as less than fully human.

With Sarah Palin in the news so much at the moment, it’s hard not to think about the way all of this operates. It’s very easy to identify her anti-woman policies, and it’s very easy to see the way that she’s put on a pedestal for these things. A nice shiny pedestal in a glass case where no one can really talk to her. It’s easy to see the many of the ways that, in spite of this pedestal (or perhaps because of it) sexism is used as a weapon against Palin—she’s reduced to a pretty face, a fuckbot, a caribou Barbie—play the game, make the deal, and we’ll let you stay on your pedestal (at least for now).

What has been more difficult for me (and I hasten to add that I am only speaking for myself now, and no one else), has been recognising the way that my own internalised sexism has come into play here. It’s hard to see, because of course I’m opposed to Palin’s anti-woman policies, and of course I defend Palin against attacks that target her gender. But for some reason, I still laugh louder when I see a non-sexist parody of Palin, than I do for similar attacks on McCain. I feel a greater glee when I see her stumble over her words, and I’m more likely to feel—passionately—that it serves her right. It’s not that I don’t laugh at Bush, or McCain, or other male politicians who say stupid things—but I laugh harder when it’s Palin.

I laugh at her, because I’m scared of the deal she’s made with the patriarchal world she lives in. I’m more vociferous in my laughter, because I know that, every day, I make deals too, and Sarah Palin reminds me of this and makes me uncomfortable. Certainly, I haven’t made exactly the same deals that she has—I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-comprehensive-sex-ed, I’m pro-free-speech, and all that good stuff. But I still make them—deals to create the illusion that I’m slightly safer and slightly less human.

Palin, to me, represents a part of myself that I’m afraid of, a part of myself that I don’t like admitting exists. She represents what I might have been, had I grown up in a conservative family, and she represents the person that I am anyway, every time I smile when I’d prefer to frown, every time I giggle when what I really mean is, “Get the fuck away from me,” and every time I close my mouth when I have the right—and sometimes the obligation—to speak out.

I’m not saying that anyone should stop criticising Palin, or that she should be an exception to the great tradition of political satire (so long, of course, as she isn’t being targeted for her gender). I’m more than happy to own my feelings in this case—they are my responsibility and mine alone. I don’t think it’s wrong to laugh at Palin just as one might laugh at any politician—but I do know that laughing at her in the way that I have done has forced me to look inside myself, and examine the way that I—like Sarah Palin, like so many other women on the left and the right and everywhere in between— interact with patriarchal culture every day. It’s forced me to look at the way that those interactions obfuscate my own anti-woman tendencies, and hopefully, it’s forced me to think harder about the deals I’d rather not make.



Categories: Culture, culture wars, gender & feminism, Politics, religion, Sociology

Tags: , , ,

38 replies

  1. Oh, oh, and here’s the perfect illustration for your post!


    Hoydens, can you do that new-fangled picture-displayin’ thing you do!? [done ~L]
    Artist is Zina Saunders

  2. “The choice for so many is between being treated as a precious object or a worthless object”
    Yes. Great post Beppie 🙂

  3. Or it could be she’s just a horrible person who believes everything she says.

  4. Fine, I’m not actually making any statements about what Palin actually does or does not believe, although I do think she probably does believe most, if not all of it. The “deal” that I’m talking about here isn’t something that many women make consciously– it’s something so ingrained that it rarely is noticed.
    But I did not write this to defend Palin or her views (I think I made it clear that I DO think she should be critcised, and that I consider her views to be highly anti-woman). Instead, I wrote it because I felt that I needed to examine my own personal reactions to her as a female right-wing political figure.

  5. Or it could be she’s just a horrible person who believes everything she says.

    Fine, what are you talking about? Some context, please? Both of your “she”s are unclear. In the flow of the thread, it looks like you’re accusing Beppie here.

  6. The “deal” that I’m talking about here isn’t something that many women make consciously– it’s something so ingrained that it rarely is noticed.

    I had several friends who were fundamentalist Christians when I was in high school and saw this phenomenon going on. Even as a teenager it struck me as horrible that they would be happy to be devalued and de-personed.

  7. One day I was having a grumble about Mr Purrdence not doing his share of the housework.
    My mother said “Why do you bother? It’s just easier to stop fighting and do it yourself.”
    I’ve also had similar coming from teachers about my battles dealing with redneck misogynistic high school students (mainly the boys). “Just ignore it, it’ll be easier for you.”
    So being treated like the help by your husband is ‘easier’? Letting another generation go forth and screw people around is ‘easier’? I don’t think I want to live like that.

  8. GREAT post, Beppie.
    Purrdence: “My mother said “Why do you bother? It’s just easier to stop fighting and do it yourself.””
    She’s probably correct, it probably *is* easier – but the point of fighting for what’s right isn’t that it’s easier, it’s that it’s *right*. Feminism isn’t always easier, sometimes it feels like swimming upstream. But it’s right, dammit.

  9. Lauredhel, no I’m not accusing Beppie of that! I’m saying that Palin may well have her mysogynist beliefs simply because they’ve worked well for her and she believes in what she says. She get to be governor of alsaka and run for VP after all. Her belief system has taken her a long way.
    I admire Beppie’s self-examination, but I think maybe she’s being too hard on herself. I don’t know that sometimes choosing the easy way out equates with Palin’s long career or right-wing mysogyny. I think we feminists can be too hard on ourselves sometimes.

  10. Appreciate the thoughtfulness of this post, Beppie – I feel like I’m seeing a lot of people struggle with it, but in a partisan and accusatory way rather than the inward examination you share here (which is a more useful approach, I think).
    I know for me there’s an additional thing going on in the Palin mire. Preface: I think the woman’s actions are evil, I hold her responsible for them as an adult (even one trying to survive in patriarchy), I think she’s actually far more politically dangerous than McCain (b/c of the evangelical stuff, primarily), and much else that is not your point or mine, but bears saying. Having said that, and speaking only for me and my own special dysfunctions in this patriarchy:
    I have high expectations of women.
    I have low expectations of men.
    Therefore, Palin pisses me off a great deal more than McCain.
    This is neither right nor fair, necessarily, but it is.
    I can know and know, cognitively, how internalized oppression works blah blah, and the right wing woman passionately enacting sexism still surprises me and gets a depth of visceral reaction the man doing it probably won’t elicit.
    What he is doing doesn’t surprise me, no matter how much I hate it. On some very primal and not-cognitive level, though, I have an expectation that the most basic instinct for self-preservation would lead Palin and women like her to behave differently.
    Add in the very real *heightened* consequences to all women when the right can use a woman to hurt women, and I have my more visceral rage-reaction.
    I don’t know if I expressed that clearly, but I notice it.
    One more thought: I don’t even know that the more-visceral rage is something to ‘fix’ as much as it is something to understand as yet another consequence of patriarchy.

  11. Fine, I’m not sure that I’m so much suggesting that my own compromises equate to Palin’s full-on misogynist policies, as I am saying that my personal reactions to Palin are informed by my desire to distance myself from that process of compromising and “making deals”– even though that’s something that all women have to deal with (usually subconsciously).
    And please be assured I’m not beating myself up over this a huge amount. However, I did notice that I was/am personally reacting to Palin differently to the way I react to male candidates that I don’t like, and I do think that bears examination.
    Theriomorph, I think you make a good point about holding women to higher standards than men, and I won’t deny that there’s probably a certain element of that in play for me too.

  12. Great post, Beppie!

    But I still make them—deals to create the illusion that I’m slightly safer and slightly less human.

    This actually came up in conversation with Mr. Bene last night, though not related to Sarah Palin, more in regards to how I’ve been reading Watchmen and not getting sickened; how we tune out things so not to go angry with rage.
    Lately the Big Thing has been the spending of $150K on a wardrobe for Palin and her family. Either POV begs the question of why we require a lot of lavish and posh outfits for female candidates and male ones can get away with five suits and several different ties.

  13. The thing about Palin though, is that she is not leading the kind of life that her beliefs, translated into policy, would condemn less fortunate women to. She is not the submissive domesticated woman – she has power, influence, wealth, str8ness and whiteness on her side and she is completely blind to those privileges and would no doubt put her success down to her “chutzpah” and others’ travails down to their personal failings.
    It is hard to sort out whether the inordinate amount of focus on Palin for VP is due to gender issues or the fact that McCain seems to be a dead man walking but I do know that the really egregious sexism and redneck-baiting stuff hasn’t come from any feminist but from the usual frat boy demographic who can be relied upon to be total tools, whatever the political weather.

  14. Su, you make a lot of good points. Certainly Palin is not someone who has chosen a life of domestic servitude for herself, although I would still argue that her position in the Republican party is dependent on her performance of a certain kind of femininity that reinforces unequal power relations between genders– and I think that’s partly why there’s so much p0rn out there designed to reduce her to a sex object; implicitly, I think it’s a sort of warning to her, reminding her that if she’s falls off that pedastal, she’s going to fall hard.
    And certainly, I agree that feminists in general are not perpetuating sexism against Palin. This was an analysis of my personal reactions, from a feminist perspective, and I certainly had no intention of making it a broad comment on feminism itself.

  15. Really interesting post Beppie. I love a bit of self-reflection and it was great to peer into yours stimulating some of my own.
    And Su – I always enjoy your comments.

  16. I agree about her performing that particular kind of conservative femininity, it just burns me that she herself is shielded from the real consequences for most women of accepting that diminished status. She is prescribing a condition for others that she herself won’t have to endure.

    This was an analysis of my personal reactions, from a feminist perspective, and I certainly had no intention of making it a broad comment on feminism itself.

    Yes I was kind of musing off topic there – I understand and I have some similar reactions. I just wonder to what degree women have ended up taking responsibility for crap perpetrated by sexist men. (Not that I am saying you are – it is just my observation of the whole attempt to wedge feminists on the subject of Palin.)

  17. Our comments crossed Bluemilk – thanks.

  18. Helen, yeah, I actually did have some resevations about sharing these thoughts lest they be construed by guys like that as “bitter feminist admits she’s just bitter” (even though that’s not what I’m saying at all, of course). I am not at all troubled by the fact that I dislike Palin (I would dislike any politician with her beliefs), I am simply troubled by the way I find myself reacting to that dislike.
    Su, I definitely see what you mean about women taking responsibility for sexist crap perpetuated by men– and while I realise that you weren’t aiming that at me, I do think that it is an important reminder for anyone engaging in this sort of self-reflection– there’s a difference, I think, between perpetuating a sexist paradigm and reacting to it, although those two do often feed into each other.

  19. there’s a difference, I think, between perpetuating a sexist paradigm and reacting to it, although those two do often feed into each other.
    Yes. And Su’s She is prescribing a condition for others that she herself won’t have to endure is essential (and maddening)for me, too –
    I believe Palin’s been picked and groomed as an extremely dangerous tool for the Right, and won’t be disappearing any time soon regardless of the election outcome, and will only get more dangerous. I’ll fight and fight against her policies and attitudes. I think of her as a Trojan horse for Evangelical Right wingnuttery who cannot be underestimated.
    And: looking at the larger dynamics of how sexism is tangled up with this for *everyone* is a different matter, I think.
    I guess that’s what I meant about the rage itself not being something to ‘fix,’ because I believe it’s justified and necessary. I don’t have to like or forgive or agree or give up if I examine my own reactions; I just have to fight harder and more honestly against all the consequences of this stuff, including the ones in me.

  20. Random thought: I’d have to say that religion does wonders for creating right-wing women such as Palin. They’re not seen as hypocrites, but as those with a godly mission, ‘sacrificing’ their traditional roles in order to bring the right way to others.
    Sigh.

  21. I guess that’s what I meant about the rage itself not being something to ‘fix,’ because I believe it’s justified and necessary. I don’t have to like or forgive or agree or give up if I examine my own reactions; I just have to fight harder and more honestly against all the consequences of this stuff, including the ones in me.

    WORD. Seriously, that is perfect, what you said there.

  22. I believe Palin’s been picked and groomed as an extremely dangerous tool for the Right, and won’t be disappearing any time soon regardless of the election outcome, and will only get more dangerous.

    The more I realise her egocentricity and opportunism, the more I doubt that (thankfully). She’s going to be offered the chance of her own TV show when she loses this election, and she’ll jump at the chance to be the Evangelical Oprah (and get out of Alaska away from those pesky impeachment noises). Does anyone think she’d ever have gone into politics in the first place if she’d been more successful in her earlier TV career?

  23. From your lips to Dog’s ear, Tigs.
    Saw something today about the ‘dream team’ of Palin and Michelle Bachmann (the Repug who’s been parroting Joseph McCarthy lately) as a future Presidential ticket and nearly threw up.
    My fear about her (made real by extreme-right buzz which will hopefully fizzle away) is that she’s the Ann Coulter people can accept: less overtly threatening, more ‘folksy,’ just as evil and more effective than Coulter (or Michelle Malkin, or any of the less heavily covered carefully crafted women sexbot attack dogs) for being really good at the populist crap.
    May I be wrong and tigtog be right. Argh.

  24. What with this from CNN today, it looks like what everyone’s guessed is pretty much right about Palin’s agenda: “[S]he is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party.”
    That said, I’m appalled but not surprised that the McCain staffer used incredibly gendered language. ‘Diva’? Would they talk the same way about the ambition of a male candidate? Doubtful.

  25. I can’t see her managing to hold the party together behind her for another 4 years. The moderate Repubs are already distancing themselves from McCain-Palin largey because of her, and that will only be worse after 4 years of an Obama presidency. She might dream of it, and even sometimes believe that she could do it, but it’s going to implode before 2010.
    She’s just looking out for Number One. She knows being picked as Veep candidate has boosted her public profile amazingly and that this will give her many opportunities over the next few years – she’s just waiting to see which one of those opportunities is the best one to jump at after they lose the election.

  26. She might very well end up being the last straw in a real break in the GOP, to be perfectly honest. I’ve heard that a lot of the moderate Republicans are sick of all of the morality BS that is now the party line instead of economics. The true issue is, of course, the fact that if they were to split, the Dems would most likely have a decent advantage–which is why this hasn’t happened yet.
    While I personally disagree with those economic standards, I at least would be able to summon up some respect for the Republican party instead of my instant visceral disgust.

  27. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Palin run in the 2012 primaries (and hell, if she becomes the evangelical Oprah, that may even help her), but I very much doubt she’d go very far in them. She might win Alaska and perhaps a few deeply red Southern states, but I can’t see that she’d actually come close to winning the nomination.

  28. The comment quoted below was made over on another thread, but Palin was off-topic there, so I’ve removed my comment and am reposting it here:

    informally yours said: I am a bit confused how come it is said of the character… “Rayyan is unapologetically a Muslim feminist, and her local feminist agitations, depicted positively, have been a recurrent thread throughout the series.”
    And yet Sarah Palin a Christian conservative couldnot possibly be a feminist and is described as being imbued with anti-woman policies.

    You seem to have missed the part where a Muslim feminist is not in any way equivalent to a Christian conservative, unless you somehow think that all Muslims are conservative.
    Sarah Palin is a multi-tasking opportunist, and will use whatever rhetoric serves the cause of advancing Sarah Palin, whether that rhetoric is feminist, Christian evangelical, gun-nut, conspiracy theorist or creationist. I find it hard to believe that she is particularly sincere about any ideology beyond the point where she looks good for espousing it.

  29. For the record, informally yours, this is the sort of thing we mean when we refer to Palin as having anti-women policies – Examining Palin’s Record on Violence Against Women:

    Palin’s record of standing in the way of progress and justice for those women suffering from the most egregious of crimes undermines her claim that she represents a step forward for women. Her record in Alaska makes clear that her chosen style of governing often means choosing to save a dollar rather than save a woman’s life.

  30. Bene, I think you’re right about the last straw in a GOP break.
    If that does actually happen, I wish I felt more certain that it would undermine the radical bigots enough to disperse them rather than cohering them into a smaller but more focused group.
    I keep thinking the real image-makers who can groom and place people in positions of power are in the more moderate group, but – while that may have been true before, it doesn’t seem to be now. The most rabid have learned the marketing.

  31. via Andrew Bartlett: The Anchorage Daily News in Alaska has endorsed Barack Obama, saying that while their Governor Palin has some impressive qualities in the abstract, in the particular she is nonetheless not qualified to take on the presidency should McCain fall incapable.

  32. I’m not a Sarah Palin fan, and I have to say I was expecting this, but it is still disappointing nonetheless
    From the SMH

    in the McCain camp there are growing recriminations against Mrs Palin and her public performance, which is being blamed for John McCain’s decline. An average of recent polls compiled by the website RealClearPolitics gives Barack Obama an eight-point lead nationally over the Arizona Republican.
    “She’s lost confidence in most of the people on the plane,” Politico quoted a senior Republican close to Mrs Palin as saying. He said she had begun to “go rogue” in some of her public pronouncements and decisions. “I think she’d like to go more rogue.”
    A second McCain source said she appeared to be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.
    Those close to Senator McCain accused Mrs Palin of deliberately straying off script, criticising recorded campaign phone messages when the campaign supported their use, and saying she disagreed with the decision to pull out of Michigan. “She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone,” said one McCain adviser.

    (my words) It’s all Sarah Palin’s fault. It’s not that he’s too old, or out of touch, or Republican after 8 years of bad Republican governing, no it’s all because of the woman.

  33. Exactly, Mindy. The campaign managers who told her she needed a new wardrobe for the campaign are blaming her for being a clothes-horse now as well.
    Now, I think there is a valid point to be examined in how she hoovered up the new wardrobe as yet another perk of running for office (much like the various unusual perks that she charged to the town of Wasilla as mayor and to the state of Alaska as governor). However, for the McCain “experts” to now be pointing the finger at her as solely to blame for WardrobeGate seems most unjust – they advised her that her wardrobe needed upgrading and she followed their advice. Wasn’t that what they wanted her to do?

  34. wow, i have been getting lots of hits from this blog cause of that illustration i used…. too funny. But all in all… glad it was used for this blog! Thanks!

  35. “She might very well end up being the last straw in a real break in the GOP, to be perfectly honest. I’ve heard that a lot of the moderate Republicans are sick of all of the morality BS that is now the party line instead of economics. The true issue is, of course, the fact that if they were to split, the Dems would most likely have a decent advantage–which is why this hasn’t happened yet.”
    And why it never will, much as we might like to dream it.

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