Sarah Palin. Is there any other name that can launch a thousand conversations with at least as many nuances as hers? Not right now, there isn’t. For better or worse, Sarah Palin is an icon of our times. As Newsweek recently proclaimed, “How do you solve a problem like Sarah?” But there is a simple and remarkably satisfactory answer to that question. “Treat her like a human being – for once.” That may sound too simple to many people, but only because they are caught up in the attempt to define Sarah Palin – and, sadly, all women who have the audacity to be themselves.
I admit that when Palin first came to the national stage I was caught up in the political battle that would define her early in a way that would marginalize her. It was too simple, I figured, to make sure that any depiction of her had the sound of banjoes ringing off in the distance. Politics has a way of getting us caught up in the fight rather than the principles of the situation, and I’m no different than anyone else when it comes to that. But with Palin, it was never that simple. I was terribly, delightfully wrong.
The reason Palin is important is a simple one. A few generations back, we had two main frameworks for evaluating women – mothers or sex symbols. These were nothing more than a rough modernization of the Madonna / Whore complex that had been with us for centuries. Women of my mother’s generation inherited a world where their sense of duty was exactly defined, and they could either embrace it or reject it. There was no other way.
One generation on, women fought long and hard for equality. The end result for many women in the 1960s was a terrific expansion of potential roles to include “Supermom” – the professional woman who can, and must, do everything – and “Crusader” – the feminist who could equate any situation to a vaguely Marxist power struggle, no matter how inappropriate. Hey, we had twice as many roles available to women! How could they not be pleased by the progress, right?
The women I grew up with got a lot of mixed messages as they tried to digest this “progress”. Women who were at all interesting to me as a young man would, if pressed, tell me stories of choices that guys like me simply never even considered. Weren’t we all told that we could be anything we wanted to be? Yes, but. There’s always that “but” that includes being the very first of “your kind” in an area, a willingness to stand out and be made to feel special or strange or even freakish just because you’re following your guts. Guys get this feeling, too, but for us it’s often considered bravery. Women often got a load of crap that suggests arrogance or mental instability for following the same path.
Sarah Palin is, for whatever it’s worth, Sarah Palin. She’s a human being who has consistently done what she thought was the right thing to do, just as nearly all of us do. Tapped to be a Vice Presidential candidate, she showed up to be little more than just that, assuming that she was chosen because of who she was. Who among us could refuse this calling, ready or not? It quickly became apparent that she wasn’t quite ready to stand in front of the blinding lights, so those who brought her to the situation tried to make her into something else. It just didn’t work, which should have been obvious up front.
When Sarah Palin resigned as Governor one year on, she gave a rambling and incoherent speech. What was more important to me was the look of determination and a glint of fear in her eyes. She wasn’t doing what she wanted to do, she was doing what she felt she had to. Levi Johnston says that the family needs money, and I accept that as someone who has been there. But why was she put into that situation? Why did the people who called on her to serve allow this to happen?
Her book, I fear, is going to be largely unreadable. That’s no slap to Palin, that’s a comment on the need to rush it into print to make some much-needed dough. No grand committee of ghost writers, editors, and all the other people in the publishing world can pound a memoir out that quickly and craft a quality work. The real story is that it has come to this. Who allowed her to be shafted this badly?
I don’t know Sarah Palin at all. I’m certain I’d never vote for her, as her political values are far too different from mine. I might not even like her if I had to spend time in the same room with her. But that’s utterly immaterial to what we have in front of us. Sarah Palin has been vilified for the simple crime of not conforming to a narrow set of stereotypes that are suppose to define what a woman is supposed to be. If we want to talk about real progress in this world of about 6 billion people, 3 billion of which are women, we won’t have real equality until the mythologies available to women as archetypes and role models are about 3 billion and one. One of those is Sarah Palin.
How do you solve a problem like Sarah Palin? By getting the Hell over yourself and just accepting her for who she is, damnitall. Even asking the question is sexist because a man would probably not have been put in this situation, and if he did find himself trapped like this he’d be admired for his tenacity and bravery. Deal with it.