• Carol Jenkins
  • July 04. Sarah Palin & Politics & Sexism & the Media
July 04. Sarah Palin & Politics & Sexism & the Media
Contributor
Written by
Carol Jenkins
July 2009
Contributor
Written by
Carol Jenkins
July 2009
Ever since she burst onto the national stage, Sarah Palin has complicated my work. I hadn’t even finished packing my bag at the end of the Democratic Convention in August, 2008, relieved that I’d navigated the Hillary and Barack rapprochement—not to mention the huge spatial challenges of Denver (had events ever been so far apart?) when cable reporters broke the news that John McCain had chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate. Who? What??? And that’s exactly what we’ve been asking ever since: who is this woman and what does she want? On this 4th of July weekend, the only musings I was counting on was my new Lisa See novel. Instead, sitting at the beach, book un-opened, I was thinking about Sarah Palin. Her decision--on the eve of a holiday, seemingly so suddenly--to resign from the governor’s job in Alaska spoiled a lot of vacations, not only mine. I’d watched her press conference on Friday—reporters and analysts were being rounded up, calling in from many delicious vacation spots—a veritable travelogue, now ruined by having to deal, yet again, with this “inconvenient “woman. The endless, and mostly useless talk (no one seemed to have a clue, except that her spokeswoman , a continent away in New York State, offered up the opinion that the world was Sarah’s “oyster” now) ran this way: there’s more scandal; she’s running for senate, president; a Fox talk show; time to write the million dollar book; time to make speeches in the "real "states, not saddled with Alaska; after all, she’d found out that having a disabled child really changes things…Republican strategist Ed Rollins, using the airwaves of CNN, said that if this was positioning to run for president, it was “stupid.” And this is where I begin to listen closely when people in the media talk about Sarah Palin—and all women political candidates. What is fair assessment? What is sexism? Over the course of her infamous residency in the center of a media maelstrom there have been, I think, frank sexist and “unfortunate” attacks leveled at her—as well as reasoned questioning of her abilities, her readiness to lead. David Letterman was wrong, and he admitted it. Katie Couric’s interview, perhaps the most damaging of all to Palin, was fair, I thought. Tina Fey’s genius impersonation was just that: genius. But when does satire become schoolyard bullying? Is there ever a limit to how much a person can be ridiculed? One of the reasons I worry is that I think the media’s treatment of women candidates is directly linked to the fact that only 17 % of our elected officials, the people who run our country, are women. The sexist remarks that media pundits felt comfortable leveling at Hillary Clinton—and the subtle condescension by the mainstream press—brought us all to a new level of understanding what the words “sexism in the media” mean—and their possible consequences.

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