Thursday, September 18, 2008

Patriarchy's New Poster Woman

Phyllis Schlafly was probably the most prominent poster woman for patriarchal conservatives in the 1970s - a conservative anti-feminist activist who, despite being a successful lawyer, newsletter editor and all-round career woman, maintained avidly that women should be full-time wives and mothers. She was perceived by many progressive women and men alike as a woman who wanted to strip other women of all of the opportunities and benefits that she had availed and enjoyed for herself.

Now we have Sarah Palin, who John McCain picked as his vice presidential running mate in a brilliant political move that energized and consolidated his party's base in a way that he was unable to until the Republican convention early this month.

One goal of the move was to pull disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters still reeling from the Democratic primaries into McCain's fold. Interestingly, though, the surge in support for the McCain-Palin ticket came more from men than women, by nine percentage points.

Palin ran primarily on the basis of being a 'values' candidate, a hockey mom and the mother of five children - the youngest of which has Down Syndrome - to the extent that a significant portion of her convention speech revolved around her family. She put her family out there, made them the nucleus of her candidacy, and then somehow placed them off limits, allowing them immunity from any kind of criticism or scrutiny.

She did not do any interviews or answer any questions from the press, and anyone who criticized her was charged with being sexist or condescending, including Charlie Gibson, who has conducted her first and only major network interview so far.

Instead of picking legitimately qualified conservative women like Senior Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, McCain chose to run with Sarah Palin - or Phyllis Schlafly Version 2.0.

For female Clinton supporters still wondering about whether they should vote for McCain-Palin because there is now a woman on the ticket (that would be about 17% of Hillary Clinton supporters), consider the following:

Palin is running with John McCain, the candidate who opposed the Fair Pay Act of 2007, which deals with equal pay for equal work for women. He didn't show up for the vote. The bill was defeated in 2008 by the Republicans who cited high lawsuit potential as their rationale for turning it down. Even more startling were McCain's comments on the issue:

"They need the education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else..."

McCain felt - think about this for a minute - that women need more education and training to be able to claim equal pay for equal work.

Second, John McCain voted - twice - against the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), passed in 1994 under Bill Clinton. Under the VAWA, states receive critical funding for their their sexual assault and domestic violence prevention and treatment programs. The act requires that states that receive funding be banned from charging rape victims for their own rape kits for evidence collection. Palin's home state of Alaska adhered to this in 2000, under Tony Knowles, who was governor at the time.

But before that, as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska in the 1990s, Sarah Palin actually cut funding for sexual assault victims, requiring them to pay for their own rape kits - which can cost up to $1500 - either themselves or through their insurance companies.

The Fair Pay Act was co-sponsored by Barack Obama, as was the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The VAWA was authored by none other than Democratic VP candidate Joe Biden, called a champion for women by the National Organization for Women (NOW). His selection as Obama's running mate triggered NOW to endorse the Democratic ticket, instead of the Republican ticket with Palin on it.

It is wholly convenient for McCain to have a poster woman like Sarah Palin to hide behind, giving his pro-women facade legitimacy, and it has worked so far.

Yes, families should be off limits, but a candidate's policy decisions should not. Palin's teenage daughter's unwed pregnancy should not be a press target, but her stringent support of abstinence-only sex education, which leads to increased unwanted teenage pregnancies, should.

Hopefully, in Sarah Palin's October 2 debate with Joe Biden, women's issues such as equal pay, domestic violence, and sexual assault prevention and treatment will figure as prominently in the dialogue as foreign policy. Hearing the woman on the Republican ticket defend John McCain's positions on these issues could potentially be a significant gamechanger.

In December 2006, Jews and non-Jews around the world watched as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held the now famous International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust in Tehran, Iran. Applauding in the audience was New York Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss (pictured at left with Ahmadinejad), whose parents were Hungarian Jewish immigrant holocaust survivors. He also spoke at the conference.

The presence and supportive participation of Weiss and other Jewish rabbis, scholars, and writers gave Ahmadinejad's conference legitimacy, blatantly implying, "You can't dismiss our argument now because we've got some of your guys on our side." For the Gotcha!-conservatives getting ready to pounce, the analogy here lies in the dynamic.

Yes, Palin is a little like Weiss here, and the legitimacy she gives to the conservatives' abysmal record on women's issues is dangerous. For a presidential candidate with that kind of record to hide behind a poster woman like Palin may be good political strategy, specially in a year where Hillary Clinton's candidacy shattered historical barriers for women. But it's unlikely to last long.


Fred said...

Is this supposed to be joke? If you're trying to satirize an Obama Supporter, I'm afraid I don't quite get it. Yes, I know they can get really deranged on Palin, but I think most of this is a bit out there. For example:

They need the education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else..."

McCain felt - think about this for a minute - that women need more education and training to be able to claim equal pay for equal work.

I realize a deranged Obama Supporter would find a way to spin McCain calling for more opportunities for women as an attack on women, but this is a bit out there. If you're going to make fun of Obama Supporters, you may want to start with a more worn path, or mock common talking points. For example, I did a recent post on the new Democratic talking point about McCain using super secret code words to influence votes by pointing out that Obama is black:

Of course, that's just 1 idea, and probably not the best one. There's plenty to mock in terms of Obama Supporters. Given your dry style, I would recommend starting with elitism - dry humor works pretty well there. Good luck on future attempts at humor!

Ali A. Rizvi said...

In context, the quote was his rationalization for opposing equal pay for equal work.

The complete quote:

"They need the education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else. It's hard for [women] to leave their families when they don't have somebody to take care of them."

He was saying that it wasn't a matter of discrimination, but one of women needing more education and training - until they get those "opportunities" that he is so courageously calling for, sorry, no equal pay for equal work. Too much lawsuit potential.

That's sad. I don't see the humor.