Sarah and the Feminists
by Phyllis Chesler
The Culture and Media Institute has just released a study entitled Character Assassination: How the TV Networks Have Portrayed Sarah Palin as Dunce or Demon. It documents that the mainstream media's hostility to Governor Sarah Palin has been extreme, perhaps unprecedented. While the majority of the attacks have been launched by men, media women, including feminists on both sides of the aisle, have not been shy.
Many female journalists, including feminist activists Eve Ensler, Kim Gandy, Eleanor Smeal, Gloria Steinem, and Judith Warner, attacked Palin on the issues--abortion, birth control, equal pay, gun control, the environment, energy, and religion. This is entirely legitimate. But their tone was often unexpectedly and extremely personal, cruel, slightly hysterical. Palin gives Ensler "nightmares." Warner views her as "fake as they come" and as "America's Hottest Governor (Princess of the Fur Rendezvous 1983, Miss Wasilla)." Warner softens and, in a second piece views Palin as womens' "inner Elle Woods," the heroine played by Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde.
Some journalists, both male and female, including liberals and conservatives (Katie Couric, Maureen Dowd, Peggy Noonan, and Kathleen Parker), repeatedly insulted Palin and attacked her as both unprepared and unworthy. Dowd described Palin as "a fun zealot. She has a beehive and sexy shoes," and as "the two-year governor of an oversized igloo." Noonan writes: "She doesn't think aloud. She just says things." Parker, who initially praised Palin for having "common sense" concludes: "She is clearly out of her league." The mainstream journalists, both male and female, and the left-liberal blogosphere, criticized Palin's appearance, clothes and grammar, as well as her reproductive, parental, and beauty contest history. Fake pornographic photos of Palin appeared instantly and everywhere.
Shame on them—yes, of course, McCain picked someone who does not meet the usual standards for a male candidate but who meets his standards for a (modern) girlfriend or a wife. This is why career women feel "humiliated" and "unchosen" by him. But, of course, they are also jealous as hell. Palin, the Beauty Queen, has a handsome husband, five children, is also the honest-to-goodness governor of an American state, (you'd never know that if you heard them discuss Palin as an unqualified nobody), and to top it all, has now been picked to run for the Vice-Presidency. Who does she think she is? Why pick her and not me? Or Hillary?
Palin has driven them a little crazy. Palin is an ambitious and powerful woman, but she is not a secularist, a lesbian, or an intellectual. She opposes abortion--but describes herself as a "feminist" for Life. She believes in God--God! How reactionary can she get? By the way, Obama's relationship to Christianity has also been discussed but not in the same way. That he is a man of faith has not reduced him to a dangerous laughingstock.
Her record on women's rights is unknown, and McCain's is abysmal. However, Palin might potentially be a good law-and-order candidate on the issues of domestic violence, rape, incest, child pedophiles, and sexual harassment. And, most important and most underrated: She seems to "get" jihad and Islamic fundamentalism and knows that they're bad for women.
Obama's position on this is more... nuanced, cerebral, unknown.
But back to basics: The same people who privately view women as "bitches" towards each other are suddenly puzzled. Why are women attacking Palin, another woman?
The very question is, in a way, sexist. No one asks why male journalists routinely attack John McCain or Barak Obama. Open, direct, male-male aggression and competition are taken for granted.
Women, however, are socialized against competing openly. They are supposed to compete "indirectly," in "backstabbing" ways that include slandering and shunning a female opponent—and all with a smile. When women assume public roles, they are both guilty, (about departing from their visibly "nice girl" socialization), and afraid of being punished for adopting an openly male style of aggression.
Obviously, I am not talking about Ann Coulter or Camille Paglia who are, unapologetically, as aggressive as men.
Unlike men, who are trained not to take things "personally," women are trained to take everything "personally;" therefore, when women fight, they do so with passionate intensity, they hold grudges, they slander a woman so that her entire social-political world ceases to exist for her. They do not stop attacking until their female opponent is "dead," has been rendered socially invisible. Women do not usually re-connect, something that male competitors routinely do. However, because women also depend on other women for intimacy and bonding, they tend to disguise their differences and to avoid open warfare. What we're looking at now is an entirely new anti-ballgame.
I've documented this in my book Woman's Inhumanity to Woman which will be available in a new edition in the spring of 2009.
So, is Palin standing alone without any female or feminist support? Not exactly.
There are many God-fearing "hockey moms" out there whose views on marriage, guns, abortion, and personal and national self-defense match Palin's. They love her.
And, on September 7, 2008, feminist Tammy Bruce wrote a positive piece about Palin's gutsy and populist style and on October 8, 2008, so did Camille Paglia. Both stopped short of an outright endorsement. I also wrote about Palin's extraordinary charm and her ability to connect with a crowd and I condemned the way in which she was being attacked. However, like Paglia, I stopped short of endorsing her candidacy.
We three were in the minority until a handful of feminists, including Elaine Rafferty and Shelly Mandell held a press conference in Nevada, endorsing Palin. But who are these feminists? The Daily Beast describes Rafferty as a "former Ms. magazine editor." But in truth, Rafferty was a long-time California NOW operative and close friend of Los Angeles NOW President, Shelly Mandell. She was also at Time Magazine for a decade. Rafferty was the editor of Ms. magazine for only two years and left in 2005, three years ago. Rafferty writes that Palin is really "smart." Rafferty was hired to help draft a women's rights speech for Palin. Shelly Mandell has also been involved in California NOW for a long time.
Mandell, Rafferty and former California NOW President, Ginny (Galluzzo) Foat, were once close. Back in 1983, Mandell and Rafferty had a disagreement with Foat. Thereafter, Mandell split California and national NOW when she turned Foat over to the Louisiana police. Mandell got rid of a perceived opponent by turning her in on an outstanding warrant. Foat stood trial for the alleged murder of a previous husband whom Foat insisted had "battered" her and whom, she said, she had not killed. The star witness against her was another previous husband, John Sidote. Foat was found innocent and released.
Perhaps Mandell and Foat have made up; perhaps Foat has forgiven her for the agonizing time she spent in jail and for the stressful trial. Even so:
I'd advise Palin to watch her back and to look into Mandell's and Rafferty's histories before hiring them on a permanent basis.
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