Palinism - taking advantage of feminism for personal gain

Susan Griffin
4 November 2008

Palinism - taking advantage of feminism for personal gain

Susan Griffin responds to The Wrong Turn...

I think we ought to memorialize Sarah Palin's candidacy with a new word, Palinism, to be defined as the practice of taking advantage of feminism for personal gain without supporting the rights of other women. (see also opportunism.)

Palinism offers rich territory for understanding how so many years of discrimination work to subvert and distort the most basic impulses women have. Within the enthusiasm some women have shown for Palinism, particularly among those who are aligned with or to the right of Bill O'Reilly and Phyllis Schafly and who until quite recently argued that women ought to stay at home to raise their children, Palinism offers a way out of an old conundrum.  When seeing women like Hillary Clinton out there speaking and achieving, if despite their best intentions these women find themselves wanting an equal right to participate in world affairs, they find that with Palinism, a woman can have her cake and eat a substantial slice of it too.  Just like Sarah Palin, as they defend all the fundamental tenets of male domination, including an opposition to abortion, they can work in tandem with men who favor domination and might over others, be they people, nations or other creatures. So these women will not have to relinquish the protection they believe that white fathers give them. They can be safe and adventurous (or mavericky), obedient and powerful, helpmates and in the limelight, all at the same time.

But there will be more chapters, believe me, in this story. We are already seeing one of them evolve. A little taste of power can be addictive. Especially when the brew is not diluted by any philosophies that preach equality. Pretty soon, many helpmates who perform on a big stage will want their own shows. Palin herself has acted out this chapter already in fact, as a helpmate to a male mayor and then a male governor, both of whom she replaced in short order.

And that brings me to the beauty queen part. I don't fault Sarah for being beautiful. And would I like more beauty queens to enter politics. You betcha! And do I feel sorry for the long line of dead ducks she's left behind her on her ambitious trail? Nope. And here's why. Do you think these guys would have given a woman with less appealing physical attributes the leg up (excuse the pun) they gave to Sarah? As far as I'm concerned, they've all been hoisted on their own petards. And do I fault Sarah for using her beauty? Nope, not at all.(Though I do question the $150,000 wardrobe her party paid for) But again, folks, sisters, isn't it feminism here again that is losing out, different (and wrong) standards applied to us again?

Don't get me wrong here. I think Sarah's very, very smart. But she is not educated. And she's not very swift at thinking through a question logically either. She must have fallen asleep during her civics and history classes. And this is a real problem. I find it insulting to equate ignorance with where you are on the pay scale. This is another rather unpleasant part of Palinism. A Palinist candidate pulls off a skilled impersonation of the way a working or middle class person thinks and talks, while at the same time promulgating policies that favor the rich over ordinary people. In Sarah's case she grew up talking that way, then learned to use her "gs" when it seemed to help her career. After becoming a millionaire and a governor, and then running for VIP of the USA, Sarah re-introduced and perfected her woman of the people parlance.           

Do you feel yanked around by this? I do.           

My Dad was a firefighter. And by the way, he would not have liked to be called "Walt the fireman" as if he were a cartoon figure like "Bob the builder." He was a three dimensional sort of guy, with a range of ideas and dreams like the rest of us. As a kid I used his working class grammar until my grandmother taught me another way of thinking. I will forever feel a great ambivalence toward that. Grateful that I learned to speak in a way that would help me to go on to college and become a writer. Sad for the subtle disdain toward my father that shaded her lessons.

Now Obama has been to Harvard and his oratorical skills show that. But boy am I glad both he and Michelle are such good talkers. Why? Because both of them and Joe Biden have put into words something that has been causing me great anguish over the last eight or more years. How much ordinary people are suffering in America; how bright kids without rich parents can't go to college like I did now, how young people like my daughter and son-in-law will be saddled for years with the crushing debt they had to take on to go to school. How working people's salaries never rose with the profits so many made over the last decade even though prices did. How more people are hungry now than I can remember.

So I say forget all the Palinist populist rhetoric. I don't mind if you say "votin' '" instead of "voting", if you give us policies that help working and middleclass people.

And there is one more thing. I suppose it's predictable that Palinism would have to include a fair share of the contemporary version of McCarthyism. When what you promise isn't all that appealing (or fair or just) you can always call your opponents "reds" or "socialists" or say that they "pal around with terrorists."  Name calling is an important element of Palinism, because, being driven more by ambition than common cause, Palinists lack a coherent approach to our problems. Except for fear and hatred, they don't have much to give us, whoever we are, men or women, black, brown or white, rich or poor: the message is really empty. 

Susan Griffin's -- most recent book, Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy, On Being an American Citizen, was published by Trumpeter Press in April 2008. Susan Griffin is an author and social thinker, whose writings on the historical fate of the female body (Woman and Nature), pornography (Pornography and Silence), and war (A Chorus of Stones) combine the personal and the political in unusual juxtaposition.

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