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Sarah Palin a change? What change?

By Ruby Hamad - posted Friday, 5 September 2008

The article by Ben-Peter Terpstra’s On Line Opinion article on Sarah Palin, “Girl power is back”, highlights the two main fallacies that have arisen since the tapping of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as Republican John McCain’s running mate. First, there is the claim that the nomination of a female vice president is automatically an indicator of “change”. Second, there is the patronising assumption that Hillary Clinton supporters will simply switch their support to Palin because she is a woman. These two separate issues are related by the fact that they are united by a single underlying mechanism: overt sexism.

That the article is to be riddled with blatant sexism is immediately apparent in the title; “Girl power is back”. Really? Girl power? We are not even into the actual article yet and already the female subject is belittled before our eyes. (Ed’s note: to be fair to Ben-Peter Terpstra I chose the title from a phrase in his article.)

Palin is 44-years old. Hardly a “girl”. Furthermore, this woman is running for the second highest office in the world’s leading power. And yet Terpstra, who claims to be supportive of her, has right off the bat dismissed her as a girl and likened her to a frivolous, has-been girl band of the 90s. Is this what passes for an endorsement of a female politician on the conservative side of politics?


And then, astoundingly, we have the opening sentence “Governor Sarah Palin represents a change I’m more likely to believe in”. A change? What change? Sure, she is a woman and while that may be considered a novelty by some, what about her policies: do they represent a change?

Let’s see. Governor Palin, is against abortion in all cases except immediate threat to the mother, favours teaching creationism in the science classroom alongside evolution, wants to teach abstinence-only sex education, and upon her announcement as running mate to McCain declared she did not believe that climate change is man made. This seems to be in direct opposition to the fact that as Governor of Alaska she created a sub-cabinet advisory board on how to deal with climate change and reduce gas emissions. Already we seem to have what the Americans derisively call a “flip-flop”.

But to address Peter’s statement, how exactly does Palin represent a change? Her policies are nothing more than a continuation of the neo-conservatism of the Bush administration and the epitome of the unrealistic ideals of the Religious Right.

Terpstra repeats this mantra throughout the body of the article, claiming, “Palin represents a real change”. But not once does he state what that change is. Not once does he actually discuss Palin’s positions on any single issue. He does however slam the Financial Times for calling Palin out on her inexperience and - incredibly - criticises them for overlooking Palin’s experience as a mother of five.

So all of a sudden motherhood is what it takes to be Vice President of the United States these days?

My mother has seven children. Should I pass her details on to the GOP? Hey, you never know. Apart from the fact that I don’t recall that being the father of a large brood of children has ever been a qualifier for the highest political offices (one word: sexism), that anyone could think that being a mother of five children somehow makes them a prime candidate for the vice presidency is as ludicrous as stating that living in Alaska, by virtue of its close proximity to Russia, gives one the foreign policy credentials required to run the country … oh wait a minute.


And then we return to the theme of the article. Terpstra once again states that the tapping of Palin “may make a strong case that the Republican Party isn’t running from change, but building on change”. What change Peter (for the umpteenth time)? The only conclusion that I can logically make is that Terpstra is alluding, that by the sheer virtue of the fact that she is a woman, Palin will bring change with her to the White House. This erroneous and incredibly sexist assumption completely overlooks the fact that Palin’s views on issues ranging from women’s’ reproductive rights to climate change to sex education are actually closer to the current Bush Administration that that of a possible McCain administration.

Why is this assumption sexist? Because it is judging Palin on her gender and not her political views. The fact that Palin is a woman does not override the fact that many of her policies are decidedly anti-women. This focus on Palin’s gender is siphoning attention away from where it should be focused - on her policies. Policies that could be disastrous to women were Palin to succeed McCain as President, which is not an unlikely scenario. To paraphrase the famous Democrat catchphrase, It’s the policies, stupid!

This leads to the second major fallacy in Terpstra’s article. Namely, the claim that Palin “may win over Hillary Clinton’s hurting supporters”. What he has done here is demonstrate, in the most galling fashion, just exactly why some in what he calls the “elite” media and the leftist and feminist blogosphere are so angry about McCain’s choice of VP. Because the appointment of Palin is seen by many not just as an attempt to win over the social conservatives who have never been overly fond of McCain but as a cynical and insulting attempt to pander to Hillary supporters by simply replacing one woman with another. Feminists are understandably angry as they perceive this as an insult, which suggests that they vote less on the issues and more on whether the candidate sports their genital characteristics. As one prominent feminist blogger noted:

“McCain’s selection of Palin is opportunistic, disingenuous, cynical, and an egregious insult to women because it suggests that women are A) interchangeable, B) monolithic and C) too unsophisticated to cast a vote based on actual issues”. 

Palin’s views oppose Clinton’s on every single major issue, including the issue of women’s rights. To suggest that women who voted for Clinton, a vocal pro-choice advocate will vote for Palin simply because she is a woman is to suggest that these women will actually vote against their own interests and beliefs. Palin may be a woman, but to many feminists and other Clinton supporters she does not speak for women.

And just for good measure Terpstra ends the article with another dig at the female gender. Palin, he says, “just may kick butt”. Yes, because men run countries. Girls? We kick butt. By focusing on Palin’s gender and not her policies, and repeatedly likening her to irrelevant celebrities and invoking pop culture mantras Terpstra is contributing to the sexism that inhibits women from ever achieving equality in the work place. Including at the highest level.

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About the Author

Ruby Hamad is a freelance writer and recent graduate from the Victorian College of the Arts, where she majored in film writing and directing. She also has a Bachelor's degree in Political Economy from the University of Sydney. Ruby lives in Melbourne where she is working on a new feature film script.

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