WASHINGTON: In 1977, Bella Abzug, the former US congresswoman and out- spoken feminist, said, “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein
get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.” In other words: women will truly have arrived when the most mediocre among us will be able to do just as well as the most mediocre of men.
By this standard, the watershed event for women this year was not Hillary Clinton’s near ascendancy to the top of the Democratic ticket, but Sarah Palin’s nomination as the Republicans’ No. 2.
For Clinton was a lifelong overachiever, a star in a generational vanguard who clearly took to heart the maxim that women “must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good”, and in so doing divorced herself from the world of the merely average. In that, she was not unlike Barack Obama — taxed by his race to be twice as reassuring, twice as un-angry, twice as presidential as any white candidate. Mediocrity, after all, is the privilege of those who have arrived.
Palin is a woman who has risen to national prominence without, apparently, even remotely being twice as good as her male competitors. On the contrary, her claim to fame lies in her repudiation of Clinton-type exceptionalism.
She speaks no better — and no worse — than many of her crowd-pleasing male peers. She is a woman who is able to not only get by but also be quickly promoted on the kinds of attributes that were once the exclusive province of unremarkable white men: rapport, the right looks or connections, an easy sort of familiarity.
In the days leading up to Palin’s pick as vice-presidential nominee, according to a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, Rick Davis, who is John McCain’s campaign manager, said a friend had told him how best to choose a running mate: “You get a frame of Time magazine, and you put the pictures of the people in that frame. You look at who fits that frame best — that’s your V.P.”
Donny Deutsch, the ad executive turned talk show host, put it less elegantly on CNBC right after the Republican convention. “Women want to be her, men want to mate with her,” he said. The crux of the Palin Phenomenon: she was a breakthrough woman who threatened no one.
The McCain crowd would have you believe that Palin is the perfect representation of the post-feminist woman, a candidate whose very existence marks the end of feminism — of the old “liberal feminist agenda”, as McCain himself has put it — and the start of a more global kind of triumph for the great mass of women. But the finer points of what it takes for real women to make progress in seizing power don’t seem much to trouble Palin.
“Someone called me a ‘redneck woman’ once, and you know what i said back? ‘Why, thank you’,” she told the country singer Gretchen Wilson at a recent Repub-lican rally.
I guess Palin has never seen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” music video, which, in addition to images of an attractive Wilson driving a variety of fuel-inefficient vehicles, features a couple of stripper-styled babes dancing in cages, one of which is made of chains.
With her five children, successful political career, $1.2 million net worth and beauty pageant looks, Sarah Palin is really not an average woman, much less the worthy schlemiel envisioned by Abzug. She’s actually, as Colin Powell carefully said, quite “distinguished” — for her looks, her grace and charm, her ability to connect with an audience, her ambition and her drive. Those are admirable, even enviable qualities. But the American public, defecting from the McCain ticket in a slow bleed, is clearly not convinced that they amount to vice-presidential qualifications. Seems like “real America” wants something more than a wife, mother or girlfriend in a female political leader. Maybe we’ve come a long way after all.
6 months ago