Sarah Palin, feminist?!?

October 2, 2008

Michele Bollinger shows that the myth of Sarah Palin as an ordinary "working mom" couldn't be further from the truth.

BET YOU wouldn't have guessed that Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, considers herself a feminist.

"I'm a feminist who believes in equal rights, and I believe that women certainly today have every opportunity that a man has to succeed, and to try to do it all, anyway," Palin told CBS News' Katie Couric. "I've been expected to do everything growing up that the boys were doing. We were out chopping wood, and you're out hunting and fishing, and filling our freezer with good wild Alaskan game to feed our family. So it kind of started with that."

Okay, so maybe hunting wild animals like "the boys were doing" isn't the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of feminism.

But Palin's use of this political label to identify herself doesn't exactly fit with the record of the Republican Party right, from which she sprang.

John McCain's presidential campaign got a new lease on life when he chose Palin as his running mate. The prospect of a "President Palin" horrified millions of people, but it electrified the conservative base of the Republican Party.

Sarah Palin onstage at the 2008 Republican Convention
Sarah Palin onstage at the 2008 Republican Convention (Tom LeGro | NewsHour)

No wonder. Palin is a fanatic--a total war hawk, pro-death penalty, anti-gay, in favor of every policy that benefits the rich. Her views come from the fringe--she supports creationism being taught in schools, opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest, and believes that the U.S. war in Iraq and Alaska's natural gas pipeline deal are part of "God's plan."

So where does "feminism" come in? Maybe it's because the Republicans have been responding to any and all criticism of Palin as "sexist."

"They are attacking a woman," griped Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. "It's offensive, it's demeaning, it's belittling, and it's despicable--and it's the mainstream media that's doing this." This from the man who led the way in trashing Anita Hill for daring to speak up about Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991.

All this is truly a sight to behold: The Republicans--a party full of misogynists and chauvinists, which has led a relentless 30-year war on women's rights, and on poor and working-class women in particular--claiming to be pro-woman.

The reality is that Palin's selection was a political move to galvanize the extremely conservative Christian Right, which wasn't excited about McCain--and, less successfully, a cynical play for the votes of supporters of Hillary Clinton.

SINCE SHE was chosen for the ticket, Republican handlers have pushed her image as a "K-Mart mom," who was managing to juggle work and family, and who went back to her job just three days after giving birth to her son, all without appearing the least stressed out. "What I've had to do, though, is in the middle of the night put down the Blackberries and pick up the breast pump," she gloated to People magazine. "Do a couple of things different, and still get it all done."

The idea that Sarah Palin is some ordinary working woman is just a total lie.

"A check of financial records...shows the Palins live anything but a common life when compared with their fellow residents of their hometown of Wasilla," the Washington Times reported. "Their combined income of nearly a quarter-million dollars last year was five times the median household income for Wasilla's 7,000 residents. They own a single-engine plane, two boats, two personal watercraft and a half-million-dollar, custom-built home on a lake that is worth three times the average of other homes in town."

Not to mention four other lakeside properties worth over $100,000. As the Associated Press reported, "Add up the couple's 2007 income and the estimated value of their property and investments, and they appear to be worth at least $1.2 million."

All of that money explains how Sarah Palin magically "balances it all."

The vast majority of women face a "double burden" in which they are saddled with demands at the workplace and the responsibilities of childrearing and housework. But most of these women, unlike Palin, can't bring their babies to work with them, or have their husbands take leave from their jobs to help care for the children.

And only a small minority of privileged women like Palin get money--in her case, state funding in the form of per diems and reimbursement--for their hours spent at home, and when they need to take their children with them on business.

No one can seriously call Palin's candidacy a step forward for women. Her positions on women's issues are utterly backward. Her anti-choice views are vile--not only does she oppose abortion in all cases, but she is for abstinence-only education and against providing access to birth control. When Palin was mayor of Wasilla, the town's policy was to have victims of sexual assault pay up to $1,200 for their own rape kits.

It simply isn't true that "women certainly today have every opportunity that a man has to succeed," as Palin put it. Most women work harder for less money and fewer benefits.

Women still make 76 cents for every dollar men make. For working-class women (and men), maternity (and paternity) leave policies are woefully inadequate. Only 5 percent of workers earning less than $15 an hour have paid family leave benefits through their employer. And women's work in the home--raising children, caring for elderly parents and housework--has increased, despite the fact that working-class men actually do more, because more and more demands are being placed on individual families.

THE REPUBLICAN Party certainly doesn't want an honest discussion of any of this. They value other things about Palin.

"My wife loves her because she doesn't have a chip on her shoulder like some women politicians," declared Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former head of the Republican National Committee. "She is very normal, she doesn't tell you how smart she is."

Of course, most people wouldn't consider Palin and her views to be "normal" at all. And they would be both offended by the sexist dig at female politicians and repelled by the notion that women should hide their intelligence to make the men around them feel good.

However, if Palin is trying is trying to hide her intelligence, as Barbour suggests, she's doing a good job. Palin's vice presidential candidacy is fast becoming a train wreck, with the potential to sink McCain himself, especially if she flops in the vice presidential debate.

Saturday Night Live's ratings have soared as actor Tina Fey delivers spot-on parodies of Palin as a grade-A idiot blundering through lines like, "I can see Russia from my house." But even Fey's talent doesn't come close to the real thing.

In her recent interview with CBS's Katie Couric, Palin insisted she had foreign policy experience because "our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of." She added that when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin "rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska."

After a question about the economy, Palin rambled on and on and on:

But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it's got to be about job creation, too. Shoring up our economy, and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade--we have got to see trade as opportunity, not as, uh, competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation.

Palin's ignorance has been widely ridiculed by Democrats, but it is alarming Republicans, too. Her blunders have not only humiliated the McCain campaign, but are undermining whatever confidence the capitalist class still has in the Republican presidential nominee.

Thus, some of Palin's strongest supporters previously now think she may be a liability and should be dropped. As right-wing hack Kathleen Parker wrote in the National Review online:

Palin's recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I've been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I've also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted...If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself.

Of course, for McCain to drop Palin at this point would be conceding defeat a month early. The Republicans will do their best to find some strengths in Palin's candidacy.

Since they can't score points on the political front, expect more of the myth of the Hockey Mom--a myth that couldn't be further from the truth, and that does nothing to improve the status of women in a society which still thrives on the oppression of women.

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