Posted by: eliseanne | July 7, 2009

Sarah Palin Was A Token….and is now a what?

Late last night, out of the blue, I was in a great conversation with hubby and Richard (common occurance, true) and I got smacked with a realization – Sarah Palin Was A Token in last year’s elections. I think I always personally knew it was possible, thought it probably had happened, but….held on to some hope and faith in women that told me despite my disagreements with her, she was still a step forward in the right direction. I now will begin the process of grieving that lost hope and false faith.

And I really have no idea what to do with the most recent info that she resigned! I listened to her rambly speech, and came away with less respect for her and a lot of confusion. I’d like to believe all of the benefit of the doubt ideas that come in to my head, but after I heard her own words…I can’t.

Back to last fall.  I struggled with my opinions on Palin – she seemed chosed just because she was a woman, she appeared unintelligent several times (note the word “appeared”….), and she seemed way to fresh and didn’t know a lot of her stuff, politically, which is a big deal in my book for a VP. But to see a woman in that position, in that potential, was empowering to me. To see a woman that didn’t get called “butch” or get called a “power hungry b-tch” for being assertive, who seemed to be both feminine (in our culture’s definition of the word) and sporty, was amazing. I saw so much potential for the future of women, the path to overcoming sexism, objectification, misogyny, patriarchal oppression, paternalism….etc etc you get my point. (I do realize that Hillary Clinton also gave gives me these hopes and potential for the progress of women, but this post isn’t focused on her…).

A photo in my Time Magazine 2009 In Review used to demonstrate the hopes I had for women in Palin. But today I realize it instead does the opposite. I couldn’t find the photo online (sorry) but this one is similar:

legs2 (The one in Time was a row of men in suits, and then a skirt, legs, and red heels).  I naively thought we could have arrived.

Contrast Sarah Palin and her image with Hillary Clinton and her image, using this photo to the left and the one in my Time magazine you can’t see, as examples (P.S., when you go to Google Images, and type in Sarah Palin, the first 3 drop-down suggestions are sexual, with another later in the list…type in Hillary Clinton and the 2nd drop-down suggestion is sexual, but it is the only one). Sarah Palin did not wear pants suits. She did not wear sensible shoes for lots of standing and walking. Her heels were often bright bold colors. She did not have a practical-by-nature hairdo. She winked. A lot. Hillary’s image is very different.

Can a woman be successful in politics without prostituting her image?
Hillary receives a lot of negative response to her supposedly unfeminine image, but she does not have nearly as many sexually doctored photos circling on the internet, have people voting for her because of her sex appeal, or have people passing her off as a ditz or bimbo. Sarah was marketed as the polar opposite. She receives a lot of negative attention for her stylish feminine image in the form of critiques and sexism, but she doesn’t have nearly as many people call her b-tch, butch, power-hungry, man-eating, man-controlling, etc.

The goal is to not sell out in either way. To be able to be “feminine” and respected as a woman, not a sexual plaything, and not as only as good as her designer label or complimenting accessories. To also be practical (duh!) in appearance and image, and respected as a woman, not as a b-tch, assumed lesbian, or man eater.

I think Hillary had to choose which way – be a sexual object, or be a man eater. I think she may have chosen the best.  I’d rather have men fear me and women disdain me than men value me for my sex appeal only and women disdain me. Sarah became a puppet who was used to manipulate people through her sexuality. And that story has just gotten old.

(P.S. – A token is a person who is “included” in a group to cause that group to be “diverse,” but the person becomes simply a symbol of diversity and has no real say or equality of power in said group).



  1. The goal is to not sell out in either way. To be able to be “feminine” and respected as a woman, not a sexual plaything, and not as only as good as her designer label or complimenting accessories. To also be practical (duh!) in appearance and image, and respected as a woman, not as a b-tch, assumed lesbian, or man eater.


  2. Elise, good job! You made some very interesting observations and have helped me come to a conclusion of my own about the Palin/Clinton complex.
    I think we are too quick to forget that although Obama wasn’t marketed as the “black” candidate (though something could be said for the “Change” campaign), many people (e.g. Republicans) also looked at … Read Morehim as a “token”. But because Americans were so desperate to see something different from Bush/Cheney, and because Democrats had a “different” candidate, it appeared that Republicans could do nothing other than choose a “different” candidate of their own in order to separate themselves from the status quo. Not that I’m defending the action, but I can see why they did what they did.

    The day they announced Palin as the VP candidate, I remember thinking (completely unironically), “Well that was really smart.” But as time went on and we learned more about who she is and her qualifications, it became more clear (to me) that she actually was chosen as a token.
    While Laurel sees a generational issue, I see an experience issue. No … Read Moreone called Palin a “b*tch” because no one *needed* to call her a “b*tch” in order to take her down. It seemed to me that no one really felt threatened by her qualifications.
    Since Clinton actually was qualified for the job she wanted, people had to get creative with the way they attacked her, and eventually had to resort to the b-word and other lame attacks that, frankly, don’t mean much anymore.

    We live in an interesting time for women, Elise. A lot of women are saying that feminism is dead, and being a feminist doesn’t do us any good anymore. And since I can’t remember personally experiencing overt sexism, I’ve been struggling with my own feminism for quite a while, too. All I know is that it’s probably our generation that decides … Read Morewhere we go from here.

    Sorry if this seems rambly and poorly thought out, it’s a bit early and I’m only halfway through my first cup of coffee. But there’s something to be said for these women, and it’s a great example of how we can treat our femininity as a gift or a curse. If Palin had been portrayed as a feminine HRC, she (and McCain) could have been a force to be reckoned with. And while I do think Palin (as she actually was portrayed to us) set “the cause” back a few years, I also think she’s shown us how far we’ve come.

  3. Andrea, I totally agree with your conclusion that Palin was not called a “b*tch” because she wasn’t too threatening, but I don’t think it was *entirely* about her qualifications (or, the lack thereof). I’m trying to imagine an alternate-dimension Sarah Palin who gave intelligent and thoughtful answers in the Couric interview, but even in this wacky… Read More thought experiment I can’t picture her critics calling her a b*tch like Clinton’s did. Palin is non-threatening partly because her soccer-mom-and-ex-beauty-queen-next-door persona conforms to female archetypes which men accept.
    But what is most interesting is that, looking objectively at the behaviors of both SP and HRC during the campaign, the former was more overtly aggressive in her political style, and it’s weird that her aggression was still viewed as non-threatening.

    I know lots of young women who reject the label of “feminist” for political reasons without considering the debt they owe to the feminist movement. It’s really sad.

  4. Though I do not feel progressive enough to call myself a feminist, I have gained a lot more respect for HRC since I have started paying attention to politics more. I am gaining the eyes to see the sexism all around and I must say it is still very pervasive.

    So thank you to the Womens Rights Movement and the Womens Sufferage Movement for all that … Read Moreyou have accomplished, but sadly the job is not complete. I want to see women treated as people, female people and no less. I wants this for the sake of women, and I want this because as a male, my liberation is bound up with theirs.

  5. @ Laurel: I agree that SP was more aggressive than HRC in her political style during the campaign, and yes Bizarro-Palin might not have been called a b*tch, either. But we must also consider the way the media portrayed her as a “down-home, just-like-you, Jane six-pack”, which (to me toward the end of the campaign when things didn’t look good for … Read Morethe McCain-Palin ticket) was taken too far and made her come across as a “naive, hillbilly, Cletus the slack-jawed yokel”. It’s hard to tell if Bizarro-Palin would have been portrayed the same way.

    @Tony: If you truly believe everything you wrote in your comment, you are a feminist. One of the biggest concerns of the feminist movement today is that women (and men) feel that being labeled a feminist is too “radical” or “progressive”. Feminism is simply the belief that women should be treated with equity. What you choose to do with that belief is up to you. So, I hate to break it to you, but you are a feminist. After all, you’re married to Elise. You have no reason not to be. ;o)

  6. […] under: Ministry — Tags: race, sellout, sexism, women — RichieDaley @ 2:22 pm   Sarah Palin Was A Token….and is now a what? « .Elise.Anne.. Can a woman be successful in politics without prostituting her image? Hillary receives a lot of […]

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