Reactions to Palin: Men mystified, women mad

Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2009

The reaction of the punditocracy to Sarah Palin's abdication as Alaska's governor broke, not surprisingly, along gender lines.

The guys were flabbergasted.

The women were furious.

It was almost fun to watch the men fumble for words in the wake of her decision to resign. When asked what her motive might be, they admitted their cluelessness. If this was her route to the presidency, they seemed to agree, it was through the wilderness.

But the women were angry.

"Caribou Barbie is one nutty puppy," wrote Maureen Dowd of The New York Times in the first of two scathing columns.

"Now we know she not only doesn't have the concentration to read a policy paper, she can't focus long enough to finish the job she was hired to do," opined Gail Collins in the same newspaper.

Sally Quinn of The Washington Post seemed to be saying that Palin should stay home and take care of her special needs child.

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, who received threats after a column criticizing Palin, called the governor out on her real reason for quitting. "Try to keep a straight face," she wrote. "On your way to the bank."

Cynthia Tucker of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution lectured Palin that personal attacks and pot-shots at family members by late-night comedians are part of the political deal.

Anne Applebaum of the Post said Palin's decision was not "about country. It is about hypocrisy and Sarah Palin is full of it."

Only Mary Matalin, the Republican apologist, called her decision "brilliant."

You can say there is a hypocrisy here -- we never liked her and we're mad that she quit. But women are angry. And the reason is not, as my Republican nephew contends, that we are all homely AP English chicks who hate the cheerleading captain on principle.

Sarah Palin's good looks are part of the equation, but jealousy is not. We're mad because Palin proved what we suspected all along: Looks matter.

Looks are a woman's most important credential, even in the rarefied atmosphere of national politics. Put red high heels and red lipstick on a woman with a cute figure and run her out there and we promise, nobody will notice her mangled syntax or her poor sense of geography.

Todd Purdum wrote in a profile of Palin in Vanity Fair that her looks "have captivated people who would never have given someone with Palin's record a second glance if Palin had looked like Susan Boyle."

Women are mad because Sarah Palin, in her rambling lakeside announcement, was confirming all the things eye-rolling men say about women who try to draw a chair up to the table: we're too emotional, we can't take the heat. We can't do the job.

Stanley Fish wrote in his blog that she quit because she was in "pain" and seemed to suggest that we feel sorry for her. Ouch.

Women are mad because whatever you thought of Palin's politics, she was our horse in this race and she failed to cross the finish line -- and not because of those politics. She bailed. And she bailed with a garbled torrent of excuses. She blamed the media. She blamed the haters.

Women are mad because Palin said she was being "altruistic, sincere and articulate," but she was not. She was self-pitying, melodramatic and scatter-brained. She was all the things women have been trying to out-run since we got the vote.

And finally, I think women are mad because Palin's tabloid family life and her political meltdown seemed to confirm what we are all afraid might be true: Women can't have it all. Work or family. Choose, or you will end up doing both jobs badly.

Columnist Ruth Marcus might have been speaking for all of us when she wrote, "I think my hostility has to do with our shared gender. I'm anxious to see women succeed in the political arena, as elsewhere, and I think (John) McCain's cynical choice of Palin and her faltering performance since has served to set back that cause."

Ross Douthat, the Times' newly christened conservative voice, said Palin's flameout was all about class: that we like to say that anybody can grow up to be president but what we mean is, only if they finish Harvard Law School first.

It is not about class, Ross. It is about gender. Sarah Palin is a woman first, and everything else is a distant second. That's why the women are mad.

• E-mail Susan Reimer at susan.reimer@baltsun.com.



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