Many Republicans wrongly assumed that Sarah Palin would, simply by virtue of being female, attract votes from normally Democratic-leaning women in the 2008 election. That turned out to be untrue. But some of the disclosures in Joe McGinniss's new biography, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, might just galvanize women behind the former Alaska governor.
Palin's not running for president this time, so it's not about electoral support. But the attacks on Palin in McGinniss's book touch a nerve in many of us, regardless of political philosophy.
There's the report that Palin had a one-night stand with African-American basketball star Glen Rice when Rice was a college player. Why is this meaningful? According to so-called friends McGinniss interviewed, this meant either that Palin had a "fetish" for black men or that she "freaked out" because she had sex with a black man. Both interpretations are deeply insulting to both parties. "Fetish" suggests that having an intimate encounter with someone of another race is something that needs to be rationalized or defended. And the alleged "freak-out?" It's not uncommon for people who had a casual sexual encounter to be a bit unsettled by it the following day—and not necessarily in a bad way. But what relevance is Palin's sex life anyway—particularly her premarital sex life? McGinniss also reports that Palin had an affair with a business partner of her husband's, but that claim was denied, so we can't even be sure about something that's none of our business anyway.
Then there's another complaint with sexist undertones, the story (reported in the media after the 2008 campaign) that Palin spent a fortune of the RNC's money on clothes. Fair enough, but only to a point. Female candidates, far more than men, are judged according to their wardrobes, and it was unlikely Palin even had weather-appropriate clothes for the campaign, so she was going to need to go shopping for a wardrobe. She may have been outfitted in clothes way more costly than necessary, but it's unfair to judge Palin on a certain level and then punish her for trying to meet that gender-biased standard.
And finally, we have the ultimate insult thrown at working women: that she was a bad mother. She didn't always like having the kids around, particularly not a baby, according to the book. And she once served them burned macaroni and cheese. Bad mommy! People seem to have accepted—sort of—the idea of women serving in positions of power, but the subtext is that her first role is to be a mother. The problem with that standard is that Americans tend to want their president to put the country first. Giving a working woman a hard time because she's not at the same time being some kind of hyper-attentive earth mother virtually ensures that a woman will never be elected president—at least not until her children are grown. The children have a father; where was the criticism on his parenting? We don't hear it, because no matter what else a woman has on her plate, it's still widely assumed she will take the primary responsibility for child care. Mother's Day is a celebration of the woman who sacrifices all for her children. The deal is, a mother sublimates her own ambitions and desires, stays up late baking for a school event and staying home when one of the kids is sick—imperiling her own status at her paying job—and in return, she gets taken to brunch every May. But she doesn't get to run for office.
Palin was flawed as a vice presidential candidate, and would have faced even more scrutiny had she decided to run for president. There is evidence that she was not well-prepared, not intellectually curious (or intellectually sophisticated), and not the workaholic one must be to serve in the White House. She gives simplistic, even factually wrong, answers to questions. McGinniss moved in next door to Palin to observe the "real" Sarah Palin, something she rightly said made her feel stalked and harassed. Surely there's enough to unearth about her worthiness as a candidate or public official. Attacking her as a woman is just cheap.