Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Resex Me Here: The New Female Politician

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

The latest Bloggingheads video features two of my favorite feminist bloggers & commentators, Megan Carpentier of Jezebel and Rebecca Traister of Salon, discussing a paradox which has tied my feminist values up in knots: Sarah Palin's use of her femininity, and how far it should go.

On the one hand, we are moving into a welcome era, one where female politicians don't have to disguise their femininity to be perceived as powerful. The fact that Sarah Palin can bring her infant onstage after a vice presidential debate is a victory for women, no matter what Palin herself symbolizes. This follows a decade where we have seen two female secretaries of state, one who was forced to play up her "war-hawk" tendencies (read: masculinity), and one who is a decidedly feminine, yet powerful, figure. This change is occurring not just between Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice; Nancy Pelosi is another example of a woman who can take pride in her physical appearance without sacrificing her authority. We are far from 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro was asked whether she thought that the Soviet Union would take the United States less seriously if it had a female vice president - an era when women had, literally, to "unsex" themselves to be perceived as valid authority figures.

But at the same time, I cringe with every wink and flip of Sarah Palin's hair. She has taken her femininity to an extreme; it has replaced her qualifications as a politician. Although she is, arguably, a powerful woman, any authority that "Sarah Barracuda" once possessed has been buried under an avalanche of cute, empty phrases. Because this is a job for which she is not prepared, she is trying to flirt her way into office. All she is giving us to talk about is her physical appearance, because her policies are literally skin deep.

So if, in the future, feminine politicians are not taken seriously, I will blame Sarah Palin, for undoing the work of a decade, and encouraging the pundits who only a few months ago were treating Hillary Clinton's cleavage as an issue on par with John McCain's knowledge of the economy.


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