by Kathleen McKinley | November 30, 2009 10:52 am
Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist and former advisor to President George Bush, has written a timely book about politics and the American woman. In “You’ve Come A Long Way, Maybe,” she takes a hard non partisan look at three woman in particular. Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton.
It is fascinating to compare such three distinctly different women, the paths they chose, and the paths which were chosen for them. Sanchez gives us an overview of what this means for the future of women in high office, and she asks the difficult questions on sexism and politics.
One truism throughout the book is that when it comes to these three women and women in politics in general, we seem to turn into “mean girls.” Much like the movie, we turn on each other in response to fashion, hairstyles, and the choices these women made.
But it is the stereotypes and blatant insults from the media, and even the male candidates, that we see the double standard with women in politics. The best example Sanchez gives is during the Democratic primary when many people were wanting Hillary to concede the race to Obama. Keith Olbermann on MSNBC was talking with Newsweek’s Howard Fineman and said this about Hillary:
“Right. Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out.”
This violent image would have been treated much differently if it had been about Obama. Yet, it hardly caused a ripple when said about Hillary. Mike Barnicle on MSNBC remarked, “She reacts to Obama with just the look, the look toward him, looking like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court.” And who could forget Chris Matthews saying, “the reason she’s a U.S. Senator, the reason she is a candidate for President, the reason she may be a front runner, is that her husband messed around.” The last two statements reduces Hillary to nothing but a wife, as if her career meant nothing.
There are hundreds of examples of what Hillary and Palin endured. From the “Hillary Nutcracker” to Palin’s photoshopped bikini picture holding a gun.
There is just no denying the unique pressure put on female candidates. Heck, even I was feeling sorry for Hillary Clinton at the end of the Democratic primary. But isn’t that a statement in itself? I felt sorry for what she had to go through, not as a candidate, but as a woman. Which brings us to Sara Palin.
I will give credit to Hillary for one thing. Sanchez points out in the book that Hillary refused to go after Palin like her campaign staff wanted her to. Hillary was not going to be a part of the vitriol aimed at Palin. But I did notice that although Hillary wasn’t a part of it, she didn’t defend Palin against it either.
As much as Hillary went through during the campaign, it was a picnic compared to what Palin endured. Sanchez writes how Palin was pilloried by the inside the Beltway Democrat feminist establishment:
“Bottom line: you are not a feminist until we say you are. And there you have the formula for diminishing what was a once a great and important mass social change movement to an exclusionary club that rejects women who sincerely want to joint and, God forbid, grow to lead.”
Sanchez drives this point home here:
“As Palin said in her convention speech, “among the many things I owe my parents is one simple lesson: that this is America, and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity.” Well, Palin found herself on the threshold of the doorway to power only to find herself blocked by the very same people who should have been standing off to the side cheering.”
Amen to that. Feminism should be about women making it on their own, equal rights, and equal opportunity. It shouldn’t matter what political party they belong to. But feminism gave that up long ago. Feminist leaders dismissed Palin out of hand. And that is the saddest commentary on them yet.
Michelle Obama tells a us a different kind of political story. She decided to take on a traditional role as first lady. She did not insist on an office in the West Wing as Hillary did. She told “The View” that she was taking cues from Laura Bush saying, “There is a reason people like her-it’s because she doesn’t, sort of, you know add fuel to the fire.” Gee, I wonder who Michelle was talking about there? Heh.
But don’t think that Michelle Obama putting her family first and taking issues such as helping military spouses hasn’t drawn criticism from feminists. Once again it seems with feminists that if you make more traditional choices for yourself, you made the wrong choices to them. Sanchez quotes one pundit in The Boston Globe:
However politically strategic and privately compelling, Obama’s decision to be foremost the “first mom” potentially sends a wrong message: that high-level paid work and motherhood don’t mix, or that women need to be the ones to step down to care for family……The point is, Michelle Obama has been a highly successful working mother and will be again some day. To hear her try to distance herself now from that role does a disservice to our children-and to our country.”
Really? A disservice? Good grief.
I think the one thing that stands out to me in this book is the amount of energy spent on what Hillary, Michelle, and Sarah look like. Countless articles and discussions on appearances, shoes, dresses, hairstyles, and makeup. I don’t think that will change anytime soon. It’s almost as if it is in our genetic code. Women politicians will always be judged more on the way they look than male politicians. I think we might as well get used to it. But what we shouldn’t get used to is how women in politics treat each other. We don’t have to be “mean girls.” We can respect each other for our achievements, accomplishments, and choices no matter what our political affiliation. That is what must be changed.
There are so many good things in this book. When you look at politics and women it is truly admirable and wonderful that women like Hillary and Sarah can bring in the big money just as their male counterparts. These women have proven they can bring home the bacon to their parties.
I’ve only touched on a few points in the book. I encourage you to go buy it and read for yourself how far we as women have come in politics, and how far we have to go. I think it would make an excellent gift for the young women you know. In this book they will see themselves, and they will see their mothers and all that came before, to where we are today.
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