With the confidence of a captain of the girl's basketball team, Sarah Palin swished her way into the office of Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, took a jump shot at being Governor of Alaska, and then slam dunked the nomination for the Republican vice presidency.
Along the way, she's accomplished a feat that often sidelines powerful women. Throughout her meteoric career, she has never made her husband look diminished.
How she has dribbled her way around this challenging issue is a subject truly worthy of debate and maybe something she wouldn't dodge. After all, studies in Social Forces and The Journal of Marriage and Family say that women who are more successful than their husbands have higher divorce rates.
Powerful women frequently come forward to admit that their careers have sent their relationships to the bench -- Pink and Reese Witherspoon have, and so have many business women. In this month's Vanity Fair, Amy Adams says she fell for her fiance because "he's not competitive with me. He does not think that my success is his failure." Sarah Palin, however, seems blissfully unvexed by this common struggle. Using her arsenal of charm like a lethal weapon, she is showing America that you can be unapologetically powerful and sexy at the same time. And you can keep your studmuffin by your side, looking happy.
Hillary Clinton, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Nancy Pelosi, Angela Merkelm - none of these women's relationships with their husbands conveyed much marital heat in public. The husbands were more likely to get their wives into hot water, or have been so lukewarm, no one paid any attention to them. Now we have Todd Palin, the hot political hubby.
At campaign stops, Todd Palin looks macho while doing nothing more than holding the baby. There isn't any apparent resentment as he applauds his wife at the political pulpit, nor does he hood his eyes on the rope line when she reaches for supporters' hands and beams her megawatt smile.
Calling him her "First Dude," Palin has also wisely devised a name that fuels his masculinity. Her folksy fawning about his prowess in the Iron Dog race, a grueling 2,000 mile marathon on snowmobile, also burnished her husband's he-man image. When asked what work her husband was expected to do as the governor's spouse, she cheerfully said, "I'll let Todd be Todd."
"Most men are easily emasculated by successful women," notes New York-based psychotherapist Lauren Howard. "While this causes many divorces, I tell my clients, it has nothing to do with the woman and everything to do with the man. But it's also true you do have to know how to work it." Howard notes that some women "falsely elevate their husband's successes to compensate for the career imbalance." Bad idea. Howard says that this will most likely backfire.
What has Palin done? Instead, she focuses on what her husband does well. Palin doesn't talk about Todd's take on Putin but instead about taking on the Alaskan pipeline and their commitment to "drill, baby, drill." (Her husband has worked for BP on the North Slope for years.) "She has also shown that she can separate her powerfulness from their romantic relationship," adds Howard. "A woman can rule the world and, behind closed doors, be coquettish. Palin doesn't seem to have trouble shifting into different role plays."
Nor does her husband. He could be the poster boy for stay at home dads. In describing his contributions to her role as Governor, she noted, "There is no way I could have done this job without his tremendous contributions to the home life. He's able to keep it organized, like a well-oiled machine."
Considering that in 33 percent of working couples the woman makes more than the man, more and more wives have to worry about crushing their husbands' egos. Resentment over career imbalances often simmer and boil into divorce. I encounter this problem often as the editor of firstwivesworld.com, a site that helps divorcing women. On our social network, there are forums where women vent about the exhaustion of working and then being expected to mange most of childcare. But now these women can say to their spouses, "Honey, why can't you be more like Todd Palin?" That type of man is certainly a better alternative than paying manimony.
It sure doesn't look like Sarah Palin will be facing divorce. While she may have difficulty explaining financial proposals or foreign policy, or firing her sister's ex-husband without causing a scandal, she is clearly proud to assert femininity and sexuality along with power, possibly redefining what in America a female candidate can now be. While in office, she had no qualms about being photographed with her children in the room while signing legislation. And even on campaign stops, she is comfortably cradling her baby and multi-tasking. Is she a brainy babe? Nope, she's not. But she is a clever one.
With a wink and a smile, has Sarah Palin taught us a few things? You betcha.
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