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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gamming Up The Works

by digby

Joan Walsh was just on MSNBC this morning arguing that it was sexist to put Palin on the cover of Newsweek in her running shorts, when she obviously didn't pose in that particular outfit for that particular cover. Others on the show disagreed, saying that Palin just happens to be a politician who has nice legs. I think Joan is right, especially considering what is being said about the Palin Phenomenon among the village media in general:

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: ... Now that we're back to debating why Sarah Palin is just so polarizing for many people, can we finally acknowledge what's been unsaid? Yes, she's evaluated for her political views, for her campaigning experience -- her campaigning skills, her experience and her readiness. But there does seem to be another factor at play.

Look at this picture right here.[Newsweek cover] And what do you see? Can't we just acknowledge it? Sarah Palin is sexy, and she doesn't seem to hide from it. She shows her gams. She openly embraces her femininity. And how many other successful female politics do the same? Not Secretaries Hillary Clinton or Janet Napolitano, not Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison or Dianne Feinstein, or even next- generation female leaders like Jennifer Granholm, governor of Michigan, or California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman.

Symbolically, all these female politicians have played by the old pantsuit rules of the workplace. They don't pretend to be men. Every so often, they acknowledge their feminine side, usually by talking about motherhood.

But, far more often, American female politicians have seemed to keep their femininity under wraps, so to speak. But it's different with Sarah Palin. And it strikes a chord.

Republican political analyst Leslie Sanchez has written a book about women politicians.


LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: What very few people will say publicly in Washington is that Sarah Palin is sexy. What they say privately in the blogosphere is -- is every -- is all the evidence to -- to support that. They like her looks, her smile, her clothes, her hair, her legs, her shoes. What she's going that's different and unique is she's embracing her femininity in a very strong and powerful way.


YELLIN: Now, that doesn't entirely account for why Palin is popular or polarizing or what her skills are. But it -- it is something new in American politics.

And, Wolf, the question is, isn't it at least -- at least worth acknowledging?

BLITZER: That she's good looking?

YELLIN: She's good looking.

BLITZER: Yes, because a male politician is handsome. We all acknowledge that.


BLITZER: What's wrong with acknowledging that she's attractive -- a -- a beautiful woman?

YELLIN: That's right. That's right. It's an advantage for them.

BLITZER: What did women, in these new polls, say about their attitude toward Sarah Palin?

YELLIN: Well, it's interesting. Sarah Palin is -- tends to be less popular among women. And across the board, women are more likely to say Sarah Palin is unqualified than are men.

That's also true, interestingly, if you break it down and look only at Republicans. Our newest poll shows that a majority -- a significant majority of Republican men think she is qualified to be president. Fewer say she's unqualified. But Republican women are divided on the question. And a small -- a greater number, actually, say that she's unqualified.

So is it possible that Palin's public embrace of her femininity is part of that?

Several political analysts I talked to say, yes, they think so, but pollsters haven't gone there yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin, thanks very much. A good, good report from Jessica.

I'm honestly at a loss for words about this. How many ways can one short segment be offensive?

First of all, it was very thoughtful of Yellin to agree that other female politicians "don't act like men" even though they have "played the old pantsuit rules" of the workplace and don't "embrace their femininity." (This means, evidently, that they keep their "femininity under wraps" by not showing off their "gams.")

However, Yellin might have considered that most professional women have enough problems getting people to listen to what they say rather than staring at their legs, so they don't find it all that useful to show them off. Even Palin, before she became a celebrity, said that she wore those glasses and put her hair in a bun so people wouldn't obsess over her looks.

It's hard to believe that someone like Jessica Yellin would be so dismissive of women's difficulties in being taken seriously in the workplace, but then she's a television personality, not a serious professional, and for women in show business being sexy is paramount. I guess this makes sense for her.

But there's another dimension here. Most of the women she names as being frumpy, sexless and "unfeminine" are quite a bit older than Palin. They have ascended to the heights they have in middle age, after putting in many years working their way up the ladder. In their 50s and 60s most of these women are not going to don short shorts under any circumstances. They are beyond selling themselves on the basis of their gams, even if they wanted to --- they are selling their brains, experience, wisdom, hearts and commitment, which are really hard to market in a pair of Daisy Dukes, no matter what age you are.

Perhaps the gasbags and newsreaders in the infotainment complex find that distasteful or boring, but the women at least should probably think twice about perpetuating these stereotypes. They too will grow older like those other "unfeminine" women and won't be able to show off their gams or otherwise market their sexuality. It might be a good idea to think ahead a little bit and ask themselves whether it's a good idea to say that women who are no longer "sexy" are "playing by old pantsuit rules" and failing to "embrace their femininity." They too are going to be beyond the years of being considered beauty pageant material someday.

I won't even go into the notion that femininity equals sexiness because much smarter feminists than I have written volumes on the subject. Suffice to say that it's more than a little bit startling to see such a thing advanced in the year 2009.

None of this is to deny that Palin is attractive and yes, sexy. She is. And I would never deny that physical attractiveness is an asset in our media culture. But that story framed her as doing something that other female politicians refuse to do because of some stuffy, feminist rules about pantsuits and "acting like men" when the fact is that Palin is not playing a serious political role, but rather a celebrity role where physical attractiveness is required. She is where she is not because of her hard work, study or political commitment, but because she is a compelling media figure and a huge part of that is because she is so attractive. Fine. But let's not confuse these two things and tacitly condemn other women for taking their leadership roles seriously.

Angela Merkel is the most powerful woman in the world. She doesn't look like a pin-up and nobody expects her to. Just like most world leaders she is a middle aged person whose looks are incidental to their position of power. This is the way it works for men and should work for women too. The world has many beautiful celebrities to entertain us and god bless them all. What we have a shortage of is leaders with intellect and compassion and that can't be discerned by whether or not they sexually excite you.

(As for Palin being seen as unqualified among more women than men, I think it speaks to the fact that women only have one head to think with so things sometimes tend to be less confusing for them -- ;)

Update: Sweet Jesus:

“That day in sunny Texas when the divorce rumors were rampant in the tabloids, I watched Todd, tanned and shirtless, take the baby from my arms and walk him back to the ranch house so Trig could nap while I made calls. Seeing Todd’s blue eyes smiling, I chuckled. ‘Dang,’ I thought. ‘Divorce Todd? Have you seen Todd?’”

I'm guessing we now know the answer to Katie Couric's question. Palin reads romance novels.

(Not that there's anything ... yadda, yadda, yadda.)

Update II: I meant that last sentence about two heads to be an ironic little quip, not a sexist jab at men. When you think about it men are actually being remarkably open minded for not seeing Palin as unqualified. Apologies for giving offense. I don't know why fewer women see Palin as qualified.