Equal parts stunned, intrigued and insulted; my guess is I am not the only person who felt this odd mixture of emotion when John McCain nominated Sarah Palin as his running mate. The blatant ploy of plugging a woman of a certain demographic is an affront I heartily reject, all the more so after I, with 40 million others, watched Palin's acceptance speech.
When I heard Sarah Palin's name announced on National Public Radio, my heart began to race. I found myself speechless, and as the days have passed, rather than abating, the feeling has ballooned. Palin? George Bush and Jim Lehrer and Barack Obama talking about Palin like they know her? Commenting on her record in Wasilla? Like it is normal for the nation's leaders to be referring to a woman who was a stay-at-home mom only a few years ago?
Maybe in more populous states, nominations like this don't feel personal. But the truth is that Sarah Palin and I share a very small demographic. We are Alaska women. There are only about 200,000 of us, including adult women of all ages. More people live in many medium-sized cities down south. Narrow it down even further, to women around 40 with kids, and in that sense, we are practically sisters. But for Sarah and me, it's not all similarities. She is a longtime Alaskan; I was an adult transplant. She is from conservative Wasilla. I live in reliably liberal Juneau. She is a religious conservative; I am a Quaker Universalist. Her husband is a slope worker and fisherman; mine, an academic. She was a beauty queen; I haven't even seen makeup in the better part of two decades. Should be enough to separate us, to add some layers of distance between me and the possible vice president.
What is the pull of the sisterhood I feel with a woman I don't know and mostly disagree with? Her life and mine are somewhat like a Venn diagram's circles; not the same, yet, concurrent in a narrow strip where we meet. And that place where we meet is one that is essential to me. Women who have strapped an infant carseat into a Piper Cub, not just a minivan. Women who can pack three months of groceries from Costco to places roads don't reach. Women whose children play on the beach while they cast for salmon. Women who insist their children know food doesn't spring forth from Safeway wrapped in plastic. Women who steadfastly remain in a state not known for its friendliness toward women. And while she is publicly vetted, I feel like she lives down the street, a mother I might encounter at parent conferences.
Pundits have begun to paint her in a million palettes tailored to their audiences. It is certain these pundits will be cruising the state, seeking to tell the world what is different about us, especially Alaska women. They will try to tell others who we are, with pictures of gutted moose and Palin smiling in her fish-slimed raingear. To make things simple, we will all be "Caribou Barbie," packing an infant and a shotgun.
I doubt this is possible; Palin and I are similar enough to be painted in the same broad strokes, but it is the finer strokes that separate us. Yet every day, with her face splashed across the screen, it feels like a referendum on who I am, who the women I care about are. We are people who embrace the Alaska we dreamed of as girls and young women. We are women who neither fear nor romanticize wild places. Women who accept the challenges of a tough, quirky place. We are not Caribou Barbie.
Make no mistake: I will not vote McCain/Palin. When my daughter said, "Do you want her to win?" I answered a simple "No." But the full truth is rarely found in simple answers, no matter what politicians tell us.
Marie Ryan McMillan is a Juneau parent and teacher and columnist writer for the Neighbors section.
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