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The Devil’s in the Details, So We Better Be, Too

Okay, I know it’s probably a bad idea for me to write about the election in the U.S. right now, because I’m still a resident of freak-out-loss-of-perspective-ville, but this is a legitimate feminist comment on political media. Lisa Belkin’s piece in the Times magazine this weekend posited that when we talk about Sarah Palin, we’re really talking about our own feelings about women and the work-life balance in America. Still. Since Lisa Belkin also heralded news of the “Opt-out Revolution” and scrabbling youth in the city pulling in only $60,000 a year, I retain some residual skepticism. I must admit, I thought her column had some serious merit, although it feels like she hasn’t watched the news for two weeks.

I would, in fact, say that Sarah Palin got a twinge of my feminist sympathies in the first few days. It was cheap and intellectually dishonest for people for people to talk about how she has young children—as though that were the real problem they had with her. (It was even lamer if that was the problem they had with her.) And it was ridiculous that not enough people stepped up to say, Screw that—her positions are polarizing enough! You can know whether you’re for or against Sarah Palin’s positions without considering her mothering skills.

But, hey, lots of stuff has happened since then, and SNL has been doing a great job of documenting how ridiculous the whole process has been. And Queen Latifah, channeling Gwen Ifill, made a great point: we set the bar so low that now, Palin is perceived as jumping over it. Aside from my political concerns of the first degree (like how wonderfully tolerated I feel, and did I really want to get married, use tap water, or have a bank account in the next eight years, anyway?), I felt myself facing a feminist conundrum. Had we set the bar so low because she was a woman? Were we still, a la Lisa Belkin, using Sarah Palin as a symbol instead of recognizing that she, specifically, might one day soon (ptu ptu ptu) be in Dick Cheney’s office? Were we stuck in some Yom-Kippur-induced malaise, so weighted with our own sins that we couldn’t keep our hopes too high about our politicians’ abilities?

To be honest, I don’t think so. I think it is the habit of the twenty-four hour news cycle to harp on some issues, and certainly has a history of downplaying a candidate’s intelligence. (Seven years and eleven months ago, Molly Ivins was ranting about how stupid the media portrayed Bush to be—it masked the real problems, which hasn’t had so much an intelligence theme—more like reckless endangerment. For fun, imagine the columns Molly would write about Sarah Palin.) So let me say this right now, and set the record straight: although there may be some women who like Sarah Palin just because she is a woman, most of us are no longer judging her by her gender. Although some people have said stupid things about the relationship between her motherhood and her job, and she’s been useful for restarting a national conversation on work-life issues, the vast majority of us have moved on. The devil’s in the details, folks. There may have been some sexist assumptions about her abilities, but most concerns have never been sexist. Gender got a lot of play in this election, but to be honest, I think its role is waning. Let’s talk about Palin the politician for a while, and we can come back to all that symbolic stuff in a bit.

Agree? Disagree? Talk back below!

–Mel Weiss