Barack Obama has referred to himself as a blank screen on which people could project anything they wanted (a reference Hillary Clinton used in her campaign against him).

Sarah Palin seems to have that same quality. Reactions to her range wildly, based largely on people’s hopes and fears.

This New York Times piece
on women’s reaction to Sarah Palin is kind of interesting. It reveals
more about the writer and stereotypes than it does about Palin.

If life is like high school, then today’s educated,
ambitious women, on both sides of the aisle, are the student-council
presidents and the members of the debate team — taught that if they
work hard and sacrifice something along the way, their smarts will be
rewarded.

This makes Sarah Palin the head cheerleader.

Sounds so….schoolgirlish and cliquey.

Whether we voted for Hillary or not, we weren’t about to
let Palin breeze in, with her sexy librarian hair and her peekaboo-toed
shoes, conforming to every winking, air-brained stereotype, and sashay
to the front of the line.

But note this:

It was an uncomfortable moment, when liberal women found
their personal worldview at odds with their political one. That there
are so few women in political office right now (about 17 percent of the
House and the Senate are women) means that each defeat seems like an
opportunity lost, yet supporting this particular woman also felt like a
step backward for feminism.

Each defeat of a Republican is a loss for Republicans, and each
defeat of a Democrat is a loss for Democrats. Why is the defeat of a
Republican woman portrayed here as a loss for feminism? And by the
way…..what is feminism these days?

Apparently, it hasn’t evolved.

So there was relief when Palin couldn’t seem to link nouns and verbs when talking to Katie Couric.

Relief? 

And when she really did seem to believe that living
closer to Russia than to Oregon was foreign-policy experience. And when
our suspicions that she was selected just because she was an attractive
woman were reinforced by the fawning of the likes of Rush Limbaugh…

True, our reasons to dislike her were in some ways as personal as
the reasons to like her, but we justified our judging because she
consistently makes her own politics so personal.

Who’s the “we” to whom the Times writer refers? Obviously, feminists
who cannot re-think women’s causes and the wide-ranging roles women can
play in politics and media to advance rights for women and their
families and communities.

Still, once you boil down this brew of distaste and
fascination, disappointment, ambivalence and justification, what’s left
is (perhaps a bit too much) satisfaction. We feel pleased to see her
fail. Because if she fails, then maybe the rules we were taught were
more than just platitudes. Maybe that nose-to-the-grindstone,
be-twice-as-good-as-a-man approach to life and work was not a naïve
waste of our time. Sure, Palin gets not only Oprah, but Barbara Walters
and the best-seller list. But she doesn’t get respect. And she doesn’t
get the job.

So politics determine respect? Elite media determine respect? No.
Everyone is deserving of respect, no matter what. But Palin’s pro-life
beliefs, and her open acceptance of and love for her Down syndrome
baby, are a provocative reminder of that. So is her acceptance of and
support for her unwed teenage daughter with a new baby.

And by the way, what job are we talking about here? Does she want an
elected job? Maybe she wants a media job. Which one threatens the
feminists….and the Times….more?

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....