I’ve just learned that the attempted makeover of Gov. Sarah Palin included more than designer clothes and cosmetic artists. It seems the McCain campaign also hired a former editor of Ms. Magazine to polish Palin’s image as a feminist.
The result? Kind of like putting George W. Bush in drag. He might look a lot better, but he’d be no less dangerous.
In fact, layering feminist language on an anti-feminist platform is even worse, because the disguise is less visible and designed to deceive.
Gov. Palin’s candidacy does have some plus sides for feminists. It reminds us that fathers can care for kids, that a mother of a baby can run for high office, that it’s okay for a woman to have a more powerful job than her husband, that women can be feisty and stand up for themselves.
But the negatives, alas, far outweigh these factors.
The central problem is, people can’t claim to promote equality if they don’t recognize inequality – right here in the United States of America, not just somewhere overseas. Gov. Palin has declared on numerous occasions that since Title IX, women in our country can walk through any door. This dovetails nicely with the Big Boys’ claim that women can do whatever they want – if few are in high-paid jobs, must be because women choose not to be there.
The inconvenient truth is that doors slam in women’s faces every day – doors that say “exit” because you got pregnant or cared for a sick family member or needed time to go to your child’s school. Doors that say “unwelcome” because the boss can’t keep his hands off you or because you and your co-workers tried to organize a union or because the person you love happens to be of the same gender. Doors that say “unworthy” because the work you do is associated with women and therefore deemed less valuable.
Gov. Palin not only ignores these slammed doors, she opposes any effort to open them.
She says she wants equal pay, yet rejects a simple measure, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, that would help stop violations of the law by counting every instance of unequal pay as discrimination – not just the first one you had no way of knowing about at the time.
The vice-presidential candidate says she supports child care – but the ticket opposes expanding Head Start, child care assistance for women leaving welfare, or after-school programs. Her running mate voted not to provide health insurance to additional needy kids.
In speeches, Palin says she’ll advocate for working mothers, at the same time she declares her opposition to modest standards such as paid sick days or making family leave more accessible and affordable. The one change she supports is substituting comp time for overtime – thereby making overtime cheaper and more plentiful. Workers would be able to spend more time with their families only after being forced to spend time away from their families; they’d be allowed to take time only when the employer deemed it convenient.
Special needs kids would be a priority for Gov. Palin. Unfortunately, her main proposal is more taxpayer money for private school vouchers, a program that has proven to be stunningly unaccountable and supports schools that exclude most special needs kids. In Milwaukee, voucher programs that do make room for such kids rely on public schools to provide the services.
And let’s not forget that Sarah Palin would deny women the right to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, even when they’d been desecrated by rape or incest. In the upside-down logic of extremists, she would also deny young people access to comprehensive sex education that might prevent unwanted pregnancies. If Palin didn’t put in the order for women in Wasilla to pay for their own rape kits, she clearly never stopped it.
The list goes on – against the bill that would remove barriers to organizing labor unions, support for a constitutional amendment to intensify barriers for same-sex unions.
I don’t care what language Sarah Palin uses, anymore than I care what brand eyeglasses she wears. As our mothers used to say, it’s what inside that counts. In Palin’s case, that amounts to policies that are bad for women, their families, this nation.