Splitting hairs over sexism

11132360OK, I knew that this was coming. Yet part of me really didn't want to admit that I knew it was coming. Care of the Boston Herald:

Yes, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has a lot on her plate: a pregnant teen daughter, a son on his way to Iraq, an infant with Down syndrome and a looming national election.

But must her hair suffer? With her long, straight, often pinned-up locks, Palin looks one humid day away from fronting a Kiss cover band.

"It's about 20 years out of date," said Boston stylist Mario Russo of the Alaska governor's 'do. "Which goes to show how off she might be on current events."

I don't know about you, but I'm waiting for the in-depth, investigative report on whether or not the GOP focus-grouped the decision on whether to let her keep the hairstyle that she has used in recent years. Or is it months? Did she change it? When? Perhaps this is secret Pentecostal hair, a kind of code signal to theocrats in hair salons in Jesusland? Are people asking similar questions about Sen. Joe Biden's hair? Wait a minute. Don't answer that one.

In the wake of Gov. Palin's breakout address, all kinds of people are asking the degree to which sexism is shaping the mainstream coverage of her life and career. The flip side of this, of course, is whether feminists would be up in arms about the coverage if the woman in the cross hairs was a loyal activist in the Sexual Revolution, instead of being a heretic and rebel.

There is no way, of course, to comment on all of the coverage. It would take 100 GetReligionistas to even attempt it. But after wading through a whole lot of it, I would like to offer readers this suggestion.

In the next few days, ignore everything about Palin and her speech except for (a) work critical (in the best sense of that word) of her by conservatives and pro-life liberals or (b) work praising her or defending her by Democrats and/or people who are cultural liberals (mainstream media people are close enough). Trust me, this will save you lots of time, because you won't have much to read.

I always find it interesting to pay attention to people who cut against the grain and offer dashes of critical commentary about their own camps. In this case, it would be pro-lifers who are concerned about Palin's stands on the Iraq war or people who are pro-abortion-rights, yet think people at the Daily Kos and elsewhere really have crossed over the line into, well, the left-wing version of the Savage Nation.

So let me note one article out of dozens today. The Politico has, of course, been in the thick of things on the Palin stories and many readers are convinced the webzine has been out of bounds, a few times.

Then again, The Politico also published this article by John F. Harris and Beth Frerking, which ran with the headline: "Clinton aides: Palin treatment sexist." A sample, from a scholar whose work I have read for years:

Georgetown University professor Deborah Tannen, who has written best-selling books on gender differences, said she agrees with complaints that Palin skeptics -- including prominent voices in the news media -- have crossed a line by speculating about whether the Alaska governor is neglecting her family in pursuit of national office.

"What we're dealing with now, there's nothing subtle about it," said Tannen. "We're dealing with the assumption that child-rearing is the job of women and not men. Is it sexist? Yes."

"There's no way those questions would be asked of a male candidate," said Howard Wolfson a former top strategist for Clinton's presidential campaign.

The sexism charge was hurled with new intensity Wednesday afternoon by McCain surrogates, all women, at a news conference just hours before made her acceptance speech here -- a speech in which she said this about the media and Washington elite: "I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion '' I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."

palin 5The big hole in the article -- the ghost, in other words -- is that the reporters did not appear to ask anyone whether these sexist attacks are linked to Palin's stands on cultural issues or to her openly professed evangelical Protestant faith. In other words, is she a safe target? Is she a heretic, in the context of media orthodoxies?

However, it should be noted that the religion theme returned quickly when the same publication published an article that studied the impact of the speech on potential voters.

It is hard to overstate how underwhelmed most Republicans are by McCain and the current cast of GOP leaders. This was especially true of social conservatives, many of them religious evangelicals, who are most thrilled by Palin.

Now that Palin has cleared the bar -- truth be told, a fairly modest one -- of delivering an effective speech, McCain has much more flexibility to follow his own instincts. He can play up reformist rhetoric and play down socially conservative ideology -- the exact combination that in 2004 had some liberal commentators hoping McCain would abandon the GOP and go on the Democratic ticket.

Before Wednesday night, McCain was in big trouble when it comes to mobilizing conservative faithful. Now, Palin can help the party organize and turn out the same base of Christian evangelicals, Second Amendment supporters and abortion-rights opponents that proved instrumental to the back-to-back George W. Bush victories.

All this leads to one question: When will The Politico connect the dots on these two halves of the story?

Please respect our Commenting Policy