Monday, October 20, 2008

Palin, Sex, and Women

A couple of thoughts on Sarah Palin now that several weeks have past.

The first comes from a piece by Tom Perrotta in Slate called "The Sexy Puritan" in which he discusses an archetype of political talking head, the sexy puritan of which Palin is only the latest instance. He reaches back to Anita Bryant, and points to contemporary versions like Britney Spears, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and Monica Goodling. Of course, to be added to the list are Ann Coulter and Michele Malkin.

The move is interestingly discussed by the General:

To what extent is the anti-sex party selling their anti-sex policies by using sexy women like Sarah Palin to deliver the sex-is-bad medicine with a wink and a nod?...

Sex is being separated from Sexiness, which shouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Being sexy isn't an invitation to sex and sex can be enjoyed without conforming to society's standards of sexiness. This separation isn't being done, though, to free people from impossible standards of sexiness but is rather exploiting and reinforcing those standards for ideological goals. This separation isn't being done to protect women's choices about sex, but rather to limit their choices even further.

The question before us, then, is how to properly challenge this without on the one hand reinforcing the tactic in ways that might make the anti-sex brigades' job easier or, on the other hand reinforcing some of society's notions about sex and sexiness which should be reformed anyway.
To what extent is sexual repression being played upon? To what extent is the unhealthy attitude we as a culture we have towards human sexuality being manipulated for political means that only reinforce that unhealthiness?

Secondly, is this connected with Palin's lack of popularity with women? From Time:
Overall, Palin is viewed favorably by 47% of likely voters and unfavorably by 40%. But her numbers are worse among women than men: 45% of all women surveyed have a negative opinion of Palin, compared to 42% who view her positively. Fifty-two percent of men have a favorable opinion, while 35% are in the unfavorable camp.
Clearly, the McCain folks had hoped that in light of Clinton's loss in the Democratic primary, that putting a woman on the ticket would draw women in, yet it seems to be driving them away. Why?

Some argue that trying to substitute a novice like Palin for a seasoned political veteran and obviously extremely intelligent candidate like Clinton is an insult to women by taking them to put identity politics above substantive issues. Others point to her displayed lack of coherence and intellectual curiosity during interviews...the few she has been allowed to do.

I don't want to argue that both of these are not truly contributing factors, certainly they are, but I also wonder if there is something else that is often operative, something that comes from the gut, not the brain. It comes from combining the "sexy puritan" schtick with the viciousness of the attacks from Governor Palin during her speeches. As I told a class a few weeks back, despite what we wish, high school never ends. Put sexy and nasty together and it takes many folks back to high school where everyone knew that in-crowd, the Heathers, the cool kids who would were in the top clique and always made sure that the rest of us knew we weren't one of them. My hypothesis is that one of the reason that women are less positive on Governor Palin than men is that there is an emotional association that women have that men do not.