Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is Liberal Sexism Against Palin OK? No!

Earlier this year, I caused anxiety among a few of my dearest friends with my unrelenting critiques of media sexism against Hillary Clinton. To them, Clinton was either ideologically too "problematic" to warrant feminist intervention or "it wasn't about sexism, people just hate that woman." Well, this blog entry will probably make some of them explode, because I believe that the focus on Sarah Palin's wardrobe is sexist too. Liberals, however, do not care about this because she is conservative.

I never imagined I would be in a position of defending a conservative, anti-choice, anti-gay, woman from sexism. But after witnessing so much sexism (and class bias and racism) during the Democratic primaries and so little critique of it from the so-called left, I'm already on a roll. During the primaries, Clinton's pantsuits caused an usual amount of media discourse on the candidate's clothing. Many women have already noted that men too wear "pantsuits," but do not receive attention for doing so. Now, the airwaves are ablaze over the RNC's purchase of $150,000 in clothing for Palin to use in campaign appearances. My first response was: "why is this even interesting." Given the state of the economy, war, and other problems, this hardly warrants attention. But then I decided to give the subject more attention by examining its sexist dimensions.

Why Is This Sexist?
Focusing on and ridiculing Palin's clothing purchase is sexist in a very basic way: it treats women candidates differently then male candidates and in a negative fashion. I do not recall much attention at all -- certainly no negative attention -- on the clothing of male candidates during this election year. Indeed, I only recall two moments of media coverage of a male candidate's clothes -- and in both of those instances, the analysis complimented the candidate. One round of articles focused on the very exquisite suits Obama wears, and later CNN shamefully posted video footage of a "cool" Obama in jeans, which soared across the web. Other than that, most of the media's clothing scrutiny has centered upon women candidates, and it has often been unflattering.

Analyzing women's clothing -- and not men's -- is also sexist because it focuses on their appearance, rather than intellect, talents and qualifications. One of the oldest sex stereotypes deems women as better "seen" than "heard." Historically, women could not vote because the men who ruled this country believed that they lacked the intellectual capacity to make an intelligent choice. Women, they argued, would only vote based on their emotions or, to the extent they were married, would only do what their husbands directed them to do. This stereotype lurks subtly in the pantsuit and Neiman Marcus fascination.

Why Do I Care About This?
With all of the serious problems in the world, one might wonder why I chose to analyze this issue -- even if Palin has indeed experienced some sexism. I am compelled to discuss this matter because sexism (and racism, homophobia, classism) among liberals is especially troubling. Liberals -- especially Democrats -- believe they are advanced on issues of discrimination -- and at their finest moments, they are. They want to control government in order to improve the lives of people who are disadvantaged. They shun the "hateful rhetoric" of conservatives. They want to strengthen civil rights legislation and enforcement. Great talk, and I share those goals. But if liberals exhibit the same type of biases that they purport to oppose, then they ultimately lack credibility on these issues and come across as opportunistically advancing discrimination concerns simply to ensure electoral support from women, people of color, the poor, and gays and lesbians. Paying lip service to antidiscrimination concerns is only marginally better than doing nothing at all.

The problem with liberal bias goes beyond sexism. When liberals attack "uneducated" (they really mean not having attended college or graduate/professional school) voters as not being sophisticated enough to vote, they stigmatize the poor and many people of color. When liberals use labels such as the "latte" or "lunchbucket" voters -- and describe the latter disparagingly -- they do the same. And when they mock people having to purchase clothing to run for office, they show a great deal of hypocrisy on issues of class; any poor person who could have the fortune to make it on a national ticket would require a large clothing allotment, given the fascination with appearance -- especially of women -- in this vain society.

If liberals truly believe in an unbiased and egalitarian society, then they should take the lead and demonstrate those ideals in their own lives. Until they do this, I will remain cynical regarding the prospect of progressive change if and when the Democrats sweep into national power.


Roger W. Gardner said...

Nice to meet you. Thank you for coming onto my conservative website.
Something very unique it seems is beginning to develop out of the boiling cauldron of this fateful election. There seems to be a growing awareness of an important common bond between anti-Obama liberals, such as yourself, and anti-Obama conservatives like me.
I think we have both become alarmed at the very real possibility of losing all that we hold dear in our American culture if Obama succeeds. To me this is a wonderful, heartening sign. As I have written in some previous articles -- most notably the pieces about that unbelievably obscene 9/11 cartoon in Daily Kos, and the Obama Convention 'American flags in the trash' scandal -- I have received may emails and comments from Hillary Dems who were as outraged as we were by these attacks on America itself.
I have read many articles now on Hillary websites that voice this common outrage -- some even linking back to Radarsite.
This was an education to me. I'm afraid that -- perhaps as you have done -- I had been linking all Dems and all liberals together. I see now that this is a mistake, and I am very happy to be so wrong.
I now believe that regardless of the outcome of this election there is a vast group of Americans out there, both Democrats and Republicans, who feel this same way, who have said, Enough is enough, we don't want our core values destroyed, we don't want our America changed beyond recognition, and we don't believe that America is the cause of all of the evils in this world -- just the opposite. We believe that we are the world's best hope.
I am even beginning to believe that these Americans are almost at the point of forming some informal third party, a party of true American patriots who will not allow this wonderful experiment of ours to be betrayed.

It truly is a pleasure meeting you.
I hope we will communicate again.
Drop by Radarsite anytime, you will be welcomed.
Roger W. Gardner

Anonymous said...

This is definitely about class. To very snidely discuss Gov Palin needing clothing to be on the campaign trail 24/7 is coded language to demean her. The press and other elites are saying she is too poor to run for public office. This only further shows the public the shallowness of elites and how they seek to control everyone like they were still in high school.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I would not call myself an anti-Obama liberal. Instead, I am oppposed primarily to a lot of the people who pride themselves on being such great liberals because they can support the first black president, but at the same time exhibit horrible sexism. This does not inspire confidence that they will do the right thing in office.

aSeaNamedSolaris said...


I am not so sure it's an issue of sexism because men are confronted with the same issue. That is to say men in politics all wear those horrifyingly drab blue and grey suits with those fabulously lame ties (hmmm, can you tell I'm gay, lol). Women are held to the same standard from Angele Merkel to Margaret Thatcher and Elizabeth Dole to Nancy Pelosi. There is an "outfit" or uniform that politicians wear which, regardless of party affiliation or sex, is unequivically boring. The party is simply trying to conform Sarah Palin to the unwritten standard. My best friend, who is a White woman, says Mrs. Palin looks like a stripper. She doesn't "conform" to political dress. I suspect this is what they are trying to change.

aSeaNamedSolaris said...

unequivocally boring, that is

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi. I agree that there is a range of acceptable clothing - especially at this level of politics -- but we only hear about women. Clinton wore professional dress, especially for someone her age. I don't think one could say she looked like a stripper...or someone not used to the national stage. But it became fodder for all types of discourse, most of which was negative. It seemed that people could not imagine their president in a pantsuit, at least not one without a zipper in the crotch area, so they joked about it.

I think the Palin thing just attempts to portray her as an empty "chick," who is being spoiled with a nice shopping spree. Before that, she was "white trash" (stripper) but now they are trying to dress her up. Most male candidates have a wardrobe budget -- even makeup for tv appearances -- yet no one has commented on this.

wombatwoman said...

If the comments were about the clothes themselves, I'd agree with you. But they're not: the issue is the amount of money spent on them. John Edwards got exactly the same treatment over his $400 haircut.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Wombatwoman - I think it is hard to separate the clothing from the money issue -- and I have seen both discussed. Do we even know whether Obama had a "fashion overhaul" before he ran for president? If I decided to run for president, I would probably buy tons of new suits and ties for the multiple campaign appearances. Obama has been running for president much longer than Palin has been running for VP. I wonder what his clothing, makeup, haircut, shirt, tie, and shoe budget for the year looks like. I'm sure it's not "cheap."

Also, with respect to a $400 (or whatever price) haircut for Edwards, I remember that debate as gendered too. He was the "pretty" and "metrosexual" candidate. Men aren't supposed to pay so much attention to their hair. Men Edward's age aren't even supposed to have so much hair in the first place.

Finally, the candidates in this race have spent hundreds of millions of dollars running for president. Obama raised and will spend that $150 million he raised in September alone. Clinton spent millions of dollars in her unsuccessful bid. $150,000 is NOTHING in that context. To make so much noise about it suggests that sexism is the issue.

Anonymous said...

Darren, you're spot on. This election has shown us that sexism reigns. Hillary, who represented one sort of candidate, was ridiculed for her clothing. Palin, who represents a very different kind of candidate, has been skewered for her clothing.

Even the feminization of Edwards with the "I feel pretty" video demonstrates the sexism that has been revealed as endemic in our society.

While there's not enough evidence to prove that sexism was a determinant in this election, it's certainly impacted it and it may well be responsible for denying Americans a real choice in leadership.

Thanks for calling attention to the 800 lb. gorilla in the room that members of the media have ignored.

Anonymous said...

HI Darren, Since the election has been decided long ago, these comments may be viewed as moot but here's my two cents. As for Palin's wardrobe, it was all about the money from the liberal point of view. The republican machine was marketing her as a small town mom who connects with the folks. Well, most folks don't receive a $150,000 free shopping card to spruce up their fashion image. Can you say hypocrisy? Fair or not, the republicans are scrutinized more for their contradicting positions than their liberal counterparts. The family value tag also is a little tough to take when Palin's teenage daughter is pregnant and unmarried. Yet, they trot her out there with her boyfriend and then complain when she get's grilled about her situation. You can't have it both ways. Now, we find out that the would be marriage was a sham and Bristol is just another statistic. Very sad indeed.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hello, anonymous. Thanks for your comments. I would argue that these same "campaign" contradictions apply to all sides - but you acknowledge that Reppublicans are probably scrutinized to a greater extent than Democrats. I would say that marketing Obama as a "community organizer" greatly conflicted with the extreme amount of money that his campaign spent and the cult of personality that surrounded him. His anti-war and anti-NAFTA tags were greatly compromised by him choosing Biden as VP, but this received very little attention.

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