SIn this week's New York Magazine, Amanda Fortini is concerned that the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin set women as a whole back rather than propelled them forward, because Clinton and Palin reinforce specific gender stereotypes. "In the grand Passion play that was this election, both Clinton and Palin came to represent—and, at times, reinforce—two of the most pernicious stereotypes that are applied to women: the bitch and the ditz," Fortini writes.While Clinton's oft-proclaimed "bitchiness" was certainly not a positive development, Fortini argues that "It was far more destructive, we would learn, for a woman to be labeled a fool." However, Fortini's premise made me wonder if, as Barack Obama defied the negative stereotypes applied to African Americans, a woman would have to defy all negative stereotypes of powerful females to get elected. Or, to put it another way: if Sarah Palin had been brilliant, we would have been in a lot of trouble. "Here was a woman who—even if you didn’t agree with her politics—seemed to have achieved what so many of us were struggling for: an enviable balance between career and family," Fortini says. And indeed, Sarah Palin is poised and pretty and appropriately "female" in a way that is not threatening — nothing like Hillary Clinton. She defies the stereotype that women who seek power are ball breakers. However, Palin also defies notions of prissiness and weakness with her searing, borderline-cruel rhetoric and her much-touted moose killing. Thank goodness for those of us who like our abortions legal, Palin's "blithe ignorance extended from foreign policy to the symbolic value of her candidacy. By stepping into the spotlight unprepared, Palin reinforced some of the most damaging and sexist ideas of all: that women are undisciplined in their thinking; that we are distracted by domestic concerns or frivolous pursuits like shopping; that we are not smart enough, or not serious enough, for the important jobs," Fortini explains. However, I'm not convinced that Palin's inadequacy has set women back. Fortini quotes a study that said 69% percent of people think men and women are equally able to lead, and then follows up by noting that 60% of people thought Palin wasn't qualified to be President. To think that one woman has dismantled all the progress other women have made gives her too much credit. But, like all non-white, non-Christian males running for office, at first one must transcend stereotypes to become electable. As many have said before, if Barack Obama had been divorced, or Michelle had been a pill-popper like Cindy McCain, or if a teenage Malia Obama had turned up pregnant out of wedlock, you can be sure he would not have made it anywhere near the Oval Office. For a woman to get to break that ol' glass ceiling, she's going to have to do the same. The 'Bitch' And The 'Ditz' [NYM]
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