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Morra Aarons-Mele

Morra Aarons-Mele

Posted: September 9, 2008 04:15 PM

The Palin Trap: Meta Symbol of American Womanhood is a Dangerous Distraction


Palin is basically Rick Santorum cloned- but it's so much more fun to talk about her as meta-feminine symbol. Women, myself included, got so caught up in talking about what Sarah Palin-as-working-mother means, we helped build the GOP fairytale that Palin is just a hockey mom, not a regressive, GW Bush acolyte. The myth of Palin has helped McCain win over white women voters and tie the race.

Women are the change agents in this election, but our voices are most special to the media, it seems, when we talk about ourselves and our socio-cultural struggles. We saw it with coverage of Hillary Clinton, and we're seeing it now. Yes, we must work for equality at home and work but the constant discussion of such issues and the ensuing media pick up is a trap for women right now. If we don't have jobs in the first place, we got nothing. And McCain-Palin in the White House doesn't get us to equal pay or good jobs. John McCain voted against equal pay for equal work, and the McCain economic plan is more of George W. Bush's disastrous policy. That's the true meaning of Palin, not the fact that she's a working mom.

There are over a million hits in Google for Palin as "mom" and about 800,000 for Palin as "legislator." According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, coverage of Palin's family outstripped coverage of her record by a factor of almost two to one: "Together, media narratives about McCain and the convention--including the proceedings themselves, Hurricane Gustav's impact, McCain's speech, and George Bush's role--accounted for 43% of the campaign newshole. Palin themes, including reaction to her selection, her public record, her personal and family life, and the question of sexism--accounted for 45%."

Blogs on Palin are overwhelmed by comments, and like her tabloid covers, everyone's got an interest and an opinion in this fascinating story. But McCain and Palin are out there lying every day on the campaign stump, and talking mommy and family is a distraction from what's really at stake. Our livelihoods are at stake.

As a political editor at BlogHer.com, which showcases the writing of women bloggers, I'm committed to linking to the work of other women bloggers. When I'm writing about national security, this can be difficult. When it comes to Sarah Palin, I'm overwhelmed with the volume and variety of writing out there, much of it wise and like the very best blog writing, informed by personal experience. Leading female political blogs like Momocrats have already moved on to dissect Palin's record, but the mainstream media still covers the many discussions, online and off, of Palin's impact on working mothers in this country, ad nauseum.

And, from my experience, it is a sad but true stereotype that women write what they feel comfortable with. I do it. We also get booked on cable news for articulating what millions of Americans who are working mothers struggle with every day. From Hillary Clinton in the primary to Michelle Obama's patriotism to Palin now, women are given the media spotlight only when "our" issues come to the fore.

Palin as mom symbol is important to discuss, but there's too much at stake to get lost again in the gender wars, no matter how validating it feels to have our opinions asked. Palin's symbolism takes over from her dangerous reality. Bloggers can't control the media but we can be more disciplined as how we discuss Palin: politician first, woman-symbol second (or not at all).

And if we decide we do want to focus on Palin and women's issues, let's not talk for her. Let's ask her. As MomsRising said,

"So far Gov. Palin has been silent on the issues which are important to mothers. We want to hear about how she and Sen. McCain will deal with the fact that over 40 million people in our nation don't have healthcare; about how they'll address the fact that too few parents have access to affordable early learning/child care for their children. We want to know what they are going to do to make sure mothers stop getting paid less for the same work as men just because they have children."

I'll close with a quote from the inimitable Judy Blume:

"I don't know about you, but I'm making my decisions based on the issues. There are no "do overs" here. We have to choose a leader whose judgment we respect. One who doesn't make important decisions based on gut feelings. That's why I want the calm, thoughtful, intelligent, knowledgeable candidate who will surround himself with the best and the brightest. That's why I'm supporting Barack Obama.

 What I don't need is some sarcastic hockey mom who describes herself as a pit bull, who flaunts her pregnant teenager and her new special needs infant, a heartbeat away from the presidency."

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