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.