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I don’t think much of Sarah Palin as a feminist, but the Alaska Governor has emerged as an interesting figure in the movement for one reason: she has encouraged conservatives to unwittingly defend women’s rights, and liberals to deny them. This MSNBC clip, featuring the Huffington Post‘s Katharine Zaleski and the Washington Times‘ Amanda Carpenter, is a perfect example.
Let’s find out how easily women’s issues fall to the side in the interest of ideological posturing. The stage is set: you’ve got your liberal pundit, courtesy of HuffPo; your conservative pundit, courtesy of WaTi; and your encouragement for the two to disagree on everything no matter what, courtesy of MSNBC. Let’s throw a feminist issue in there—-making light of rape—-and see what happens.
Here, Zaleski and Carpenter are asked to face off on David Letterman‘s recent Late Show joke. Letterman said this about Palin and her 14-year-old daughter Willow‘s recent Yankees game outing: “During the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.” Letterman later took the statement back in a joke-filled apology claiming that he had meant to make the comment about 18-year-old Bristol Palin, not Willow.
Here’s what Palin had to say about it: “I found out later the comment that was made about the statutory rape of my 14-year-old daughter Willow … that crossed the line. Then others, chiming in on other comments Letterman has made. It’s quite a sad commentary on where we are as a culture and a society … He doesn’t have to apologize to me. I would like to see him apologize to young women across the country for contributing to that thread that is throughout our culture that makes it sound like it’s okay to talk about young girls in that way.”
Carpenter, of course, took Palin’s side, arguing that the comment was unacceptable, and further, that Sarah Palin had bolstered her women’s issues cred by taking a stand over the comments. “It’s hard for women in general when accusations like this are made, dirty jokes and things. There’s always a conflict of—-do you turn your head, or do you make a statement about it and push back? And even when you make a statement, you’re accused of manufacturing outrage,” Carpenter said. “She took that risk. She said, this isn’t acceptable. And I think women are happy to hear that message. I’m certainly one of them.”
Zaleski, of course, took the anti-Palin side. Let’s check out her argument here:
“Sarah Palin basically ran the hate-speak express during the campaign. She stood there and watched people as they screamed ‘kill him’ at Obama and ‘terrorist.’ If she really wants to rise above this, she’ll talk about irresponsible speech in general, irresponsible speech that many of her cohorts on national networks are using, irresponsible speech that’s leading to things like what happened on Wednesday at the Holocaust Museum. If she really wants to make this an issue, she won’t make this about herself and her family all the time, her family who she persistently trots out there, and her daughter who she made a statement about on Thursday. . . . I challenge people like Sarah Palin, like people you talk to on Fox News, to really condemn the language that’s greater, this really reprehensible language, that’s not just about Bristol Palin but that’s about hate speech that’s basically leading to actions which happened on Wednesday. That’s what’s disgusting.
Again, I don’t buy Palin as a feminist figure. I, too, think she too often uses her personal life—-growing up fishing and hunting with the boys, and then finding great personal success in the Republican Party—-as a stand-in for female empowerment, while simultaneously ignoring women’s issues as candidate and Governor.
Still, there’s something about Zaleski’s arguments here that I find particularly anti-feminist. Let’s break them down:
1. Obama’s girls are off-limits, but Palin’s are fair game: “If she really wants to make this an issue, she won’t make this about herself and her family all the time, her family who she persistently trots out there, and her daughter who she made a statement about on Thursday.”
Read: “Some girls deserve it.”
2. Palin started it by making comments about Barack Obama (who is also off-limits), which is why her daughter especially deserves it. “She stood there and watched people as they screamed ‘kill him’ at Obama and ‘terrorist.'”
Read: “She was asking for it.”
3. “I challenge people like Sarah Palin, like people you talk to on Fox News, to really condemn the language that’s greater, this really reprehensible language, that’s not just about Bristol Palin but that’s about hate speech that’s basically leading to actions which happened on Wednesday. That’s what’s disgusting.”
Read: “Rape is not a real problem. You’re exaggerating.”
4. Letterman claims he had intended to make the joke about Bristol Palin, and we take Letterman at his word.
Read: “Officer, I didn’t know she was under 18.”