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Palin' Comparison: Why a "Gynecological Twin" Could Mean 2008 Steps Backwards for Feminism

EG's picture




Why a“Gynecological Twin” Could Mean 2008 Steps Backwards for Feminism

June 7th, 2008was a big day for US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the senator from NewYork, who stood in front of thousands of her supporters at the NationalBuilding Museum to announce the suspension of her campaign and support forSenator Barack Obama in his bid for presidency this November.  Among Clinton’s supporters were membersof groups like “Feminists for Hillary,” “Smart Women for Hillary,” “LGBT forHillary;” the feminists, the queers, all the women – and men – who had spentsixteen months pushing Clinton a step closer to the White House.  Clinton watched it, Obama supporterswatched it, Republican voters watched it, I watched it. So did JohnMcCain.  And whether AlaskanSenator Sarah Palin knew it or not, June 7 was an even bigger day for her.  In only six weeks time, she would joinMcCain, making her even closer than Clinton to that milestone in Americanhistory – to becoming the first woman elected Vice President of the UnitedStates.  She was now arguably themost powerful voice of women, of people like me.    My first reaction to the news was a fit oflaughter; did the McCain team really thinkthey could stick any old woman in front of a podium after Clinton’s downfall,plaster her name under McCain’s on billboards and lawn signs, and keep theirscheme from being transparent?  Itwas impossible. 

If we eschew genderaside for a moment, the VP choice seemed odd.  Where McCain boasted decades of political experience andforeign policy expertise, Palin fell short.   She served two years as Alaskan governor with twoterms of mayoral tenure and a brief stint as a city counsel woman in herhometown of Alaska.  It’s nosurprise then, that Barack fans and former Clinton supporters alike werescratching their heads after seeing polls report that, in the first week ofSeptember, Palin was more popular than either McCain or Obama (PBS).  So where were these votes comingfrom?   Probably, I wouldimagine, from exactly where McCain had hoped: women; the same women that Palinaddressed in her speech accepting the nomination when she praised Clinton forthe “grace and determination in her campaign,” and said that, “the women ofAmerica aren't finished yet."  Well, some of them are, according to a Senior Clinton Advisor whoclaimed that dyed-in-the-wool Clinton fans would certainly not turn out forPalin, and called the McCain stunt “ludicrous”  (Duffy). Indeed, as the campaign has forged on, Palin’s support has already begunto plummet.  After a disastrousinterview with CBS news anchor Katie Couric in which Palin displayed shakyknowledge of foreign policy, major Supreme Court decisions, and McCain’seconomic achievements in nearly three decades in the Senate, her feminineappeal must have worn off quickly, as she rapidly became the least popularcandidate of all four involved in the race (Callibresi).

It seems then,that John McCain has brought Palin on board, not for her energy policy (and“area of expertise” in her own words), nor for her time as governor, mayor, oreloquence.  He’s compromised hisown experience and proficiency in exchange for someone with a uterus.  Sarah Seltzer of the Huffington Postwrites,  “It's as though the McCaincamp believes our irrational she-hormones will lead us, like sheep, to pull thelever for any candidate who looks like us--even if she has a strong record, asPalin does, of standing against women'sinterests”  (Huffington Post). 

The question,then, is which women are voting forPalin.  Though her popularity amongwomen voters is not as high as with men, she is raking in enough votes to raiseconcern for Obama and his supporters. The situation has been scrutinized and mocked; Jon Stewart“correspondent” Samantha Bee, a comedian posing as a fervent Democratic Palinsupporter, explains that though Palin is her “ideological opposite,” she is her“gynecological twin,” making the choice simple for her and every other womanvoting on November 2 (The Daily Show). Perhaps then, women supporting Palin see their endorsement for thecandidate as a crucial feminist move. I’ll define feminism here as a general movement and desire to achievewomen’s equality and justice in society. So in electing an under-qualified woman to the White House, aren’t womenregressing in their feminist goals and reinforcing the stereotype that putswomen in an inferior light to men? Not according to Feminists for Life, a self-proclaimed “pro woman,anti-abortion” group in support of overturning Roe V. Wade and putting Palin inthe White House (Feminists for Life).

Palin is a memberof the group herself.  Where wetraditionally think of feminists as supporting a woman’s right to choose, thesewomen have put their anti-abortion and anti-choice mission under a pro-womanguise, insisting that “Women deserve better choices," but providingnothing in the way of reforming or providing child care options. Whatever theirreasoning, it’s safe to say that Feminists for Life, which was founded just ayear before Roe V. Wade in 1973, is looking to overturn the Supreme Court casein order to illegalize abortion, and now they are a giant leap closer to doingit with their own member so close to the White House.  Palin’s anti-LGBT views have also been spun by the McCainteam, perhaps in an effort to cling onto any remaining Clinton supporters whojust wanted someone with a uterus to have a seat in the oval office.  Palin says that she’s “not out to judge anyone and has goodfriends who are gay” but would -- and did, in 1998 -- vote for an amendment toban same-sex marriage.  So,though she’s “pro-woman,” she’s not “pro-gay-woman,” “pro-queer-woman,”“pro-trans-woman” or “pro-any-woman-who-wants-to-marry-another-woman-yuck.”Could this pass as feminism?  Notaccording to comedian Margaret Cho, famed for her brazen sexual-politicalcomedy, who recently ripped into Palin for her claims of being a feminist whenshe told the Washington Blade, “I think [Palin] is the worst thing to happen toAmerica since 9-11. Someone who has no thoughts about women's rights and whowants to send women back to the Stone Age? You might as well not let womenvote”  (Washington Blade).  She’s not the only one of her kind tospeak out – women comedians Ellen Degeneres, Sarah Silverman and PaulaPoundstone have chimed in with the mocking of the Alaskan Governer and McCain’sconspicuous scheme.

The problem foreveryone else, then, is that women aren’t really sure what feminism meansanymore.  That might have been okaytwo months ago (After all, our critical feminist theory class came up with 25different personal definitions of the word, because it is ever-evolving,because it means different things to differently-gendered people, becausefeminism can be more personal than political).  But with this fluidity of definition, Sarah Palin’s posingas a feminist appears to be more influential than it should be.  Not all women are convinced that it maybe more “feminist” to elect a man into office who will campaign for women’srights, than to elect a woman into office who will not only offer littleexpertise in key political areas, but also workto overturn a Supreme Court decision that feminists have backed since 1973, aswell as promote a ban on ay marriage. Palin’s impending victory doesn’t just mean four to eight years ofinexperience.  With her votingrecord and imminent anti-woman voting tendencies, it could mean erasing decadesof progress made that has paved the way of gender equality.  Feminists have campaigned for years toput a feminist in the White House – with Palin, the McCain team has replaced“feminist” with “woman,” and not any woman at that.  By electing a poorly-spoken, in-experienced, sociallyconservative woman in the White House, we have confused the term even more andhave made women laughable,reinforced unfair stereotypes, and become wide open for an even more apparentpatriarchal social and political society.

So what?  If Palin is the voice of women in theUnited States, how will the real feministvoice still be heard, and, more important, how do we uphold the mountains ofprogress we have made for women’s equality thus far with Palin potentiallmaking it to Pennsylvania Avenue?  Thisis our project, and this is what we mustpursue as feminist women and men in desperate need of credit, justice, and avoice.  But before we take on thatdaunting task, perhaps it is wiser, for now, to remain actively hopeful that wewon’t need to resort to the same struggle we have already overcome for decadesof women’s rights work.  Perhaps inthis case, it is the men, and not the woman, we need most to recognize and savefeminism in 2008.







Works Cited


·     Callibresi, Massimo."Palin Less Popular with Women Voters than with Men." TIME

Poll.2 Oct. 2008.TIME.3 Oct. 2008




·     Duffy, Michael. "WillWomen Vote for Palin?" Election 08. 29 Aug. 2008.TIME.2

Oct. 2008



·     "FFL member nominatedfor Vice President of the United States."

 Feminists for Life of America. 29Aug. 2008.Feminists for Life.1 Oct. 2008<>.



·     "NOW. Poll --CBS." NOW. Poll. 27 Aug. 2008. NOW. 3 Oct. 2008



·     Osborne, Duncan."Palin and Gay Rights: the Straight Dope." Http:// Aug. 2008.GayCityNews.28 Sept. 2008.



·     Rosen, Zack. "Palin'worst thing to happen to America since 9-11':

ComedianCho rips GOP on gay rights." Washinton Blade Election 08. 16 Sept.2008.The Washington Blade.29 Sept. 2008 <>.


·     Seltzer, Sarah. "AFeminist Appalled by Palin." Weblog post. Huffington Post. 29

Aug. 2008. 3 Oct. 2008<>


·     Shales, Tom. "Palin OutdoesHerself, You Betcha." The Washington Post 3 Oct.



·     Stewart, Jon. "JohnMcCain Chooses a Running Mate." The Daily Show with

 Jon Stewart. Comedy Central. 2 Sept.2008.



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sarah palin's picture

I am intrigued

I disagree with you that palin was only chosen for her uterus. Even if she was, I find it odd that women even if they disagree with her views don't spring to her defenses especially when haters on the left and right create sarah palin hate sites. Allowing the first women republican vice president to be this hated cant be good for feminism

jlustick's picture

Thinking about Palin

I just wanted to let you know that I found your paper very interesting. I wrote my paper on the differing languages or feminist voices that are present in Palin and Clinton's speeches. It is interesting to consider the ways that these two women present themselves, are perceived by others, and are characterized by the media. I'm wondering whether Clinton and Palin would accept their characterizations and see them as well-suited.
Anne Dalke's picture

Feminist Humor?

I am also intrigued and puzzled by the Palin phenomenon, egleichm, and have been trying hard from the second day of our class to find some way to align it with what feminists since Virginia Woolf have said about woman's education, professionalization and war-making. I share your unease with our "gynecological twin"...

so am glad to have you turn a feminist lens on the current election: both to use Palin's candidateship to question the "universality" of the category woman, and to question the transferability of the political allegiances of those who rally under a feminist banner. (One of your classmates approached the same topic by doing a comparative study of Clinton's and Palin's convention speeches, which she characterized as feminist and anti-feminist.)

What makes me a little uneasy here, though, are the presumptions that there is a "real feminist voice," a standard for what constitutes feminism which Feminists for Life --"whatever their reasoning"--cannot claim. I think that taking up an position of outrage @ the outset of your paper might have kept you from doing some of the analytical work the project calls for, in trying to understand how the word works for those who are positioned politically in a place different from your own. (FFL do have a reasoning for their use of the word "feminist," which has to do with support for the most vulnerable.)

It's actually very striking to me that so many of your quotations come from female comedians--that says something about the absurdity of the situation, of course, but I wonder if there's some interesting thinking to be done about feminist humor, and how it operates. As Eugenides makes clear in Middlesex, comedy imagines upending the world. It is the genre of possibility:

the essence of something determined before you're born, something you can't escape or do anything about, no matter how hard you try.... a comic aspect....even a brand of harsh satire...typified the American belief that everything can be solved.

If humor is a strategy to open up a space for new thinking, an important feature of realizing how a norm functions to produce a reality, and a step towards "de-realizing" it, then funny moments might show us a way forward...

want to explore that idea?