by Lynn Schofield Clark
I woke up at 4:30 this morning in a tense sweat. It wasn’t due to the usual university professor stresses of a new school year, though, or worries about my kid’s various activities. Today, my concerns weren’t about my own overcommitted life: they were about Sarah Palin’s.
Here’s a woman who, according to the Republican pundits, should be celebrated by working women like me. She’s juggling kids and a demanding job, like me. She’s competent, articulate, and clearly ambitious. She has a wonderful family and beautiful kids. Lots of women I know fit that description. She, pundits would lead us to believe, will understand our life experiences. But actually, I find Sarah Palin rather frightening.
This woman strikes me as more autocratic in her leadership style, more self-centered, and more mean-spirited than many of her male counterparts – and she is using her femininity to get away with being this way.
Sarah Palin seems to relish looking as if she can “do it all” — and in the true (and truly false) American ideology of individualism, she seems to like to look as if she can do it with no help. Make no mistake, though; this is not a feminist position. This is against everything that feminism has noted about how much our SYSTEM makes it difficult to juggle the demands of home and family for both women and men. It’s not that men working and women caring for the household is the natural order of things, as fundamentalists would have us believe; it’s that the system demands such full-fledged attention of its workers that it’s almost impossible for us to have any other arrangement.
That’s why I think asking about who cares for her kids is a valid question, and not an anti-feminist one: feminists acknowledge that SOMEONE needs to do the caregiving. The feminist point is that it doesn’t have to be the mom, or the mom alone. It can be the dad, and the grandma, and others, too. In other words, as Hillary Clinton has said, IT TAKES A VILLAGE. The fact that Sarah Palin refuses to acknowledge the village that makes her own life possible is what makes her anti-feminist, in my view. The fact is, if she had to acknowledge it, she’d be asked uncomfortable questions, such as why doesn’t she extend to others the same benefits of support that she herself enjoys – say, to single mothers, and disadvantaged families? Why shouldn’t women (and men) who have had less good fortune have support when they run into difficulties? Such questions would point to the fact that Sarah Palin’s views and policies are not only anti-feminist, but are deeply self-centered and callous. And those are not attractive qualities in anyone, female or male.
I’m shocked that the same people who mock Michelle Obama can somehow find something redeeming in a woman who discounts the importance of community. How in the world could a woman like Sarah Palin do all she does without a community organized behind her? But I’m especially angry that the Republicans are able to pretend to be so feminist in supporting a woman, and yet they cautiously avoided any images of her husband holding the new baby (it was Cindy McCain who held him during her speech). The worst thing for them would be if Palin came across as emasculating. And yet, isn’t it possible for men to support women without sacrificing their manhood? Isn’t that, too, a feminist position?
This is central to I think what makes Sarah Palin scary. Her very support system is a secret. Who does she listen to? We don’t know. How does she manage her various roles and commitments? We don’t know. There’s a lot we don’t know about this woman. But one thing I know so far: she’s no feminist.
Lynn Clark is an Associate Professor at the University of Denver’s Department of Mass Communications, where she oversees several research teams and teach courses for aspiring journalists, journalism educators, and media researchers in media studies, new media, media history, civic engagement, service learning, qualitative (interview-based) research methods, and the music industry. She’s also Director of the Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media, where she spends a lot of time writing (as you can see on the Estlow Center Web site ).