The morning John McCain announced his choice for vice president, an especially fierce firestorm broke out; that morning it looked like the choice of Alaska's first female governor was going to be a game-changer, and though it didn't change the game in an ultimately victorious way (as no VP nomination ever has), the enthusiasm Palin generated among the base of the Republican party was intense: Nine out of ten Republicans who in exit polls called Palin's nomination "important" voted for the McCain/Palin ticket.
Yet the intense reaction to her nomination was anything but one-sided. Indeed, the reaction of most feminists to her nomination was vicious - and from day one.
Such intense (and intensely disparate) reactions to Palin's vice-presidential candidacy symbolized what has become a deep divide among Americans, and especially American women, about what it means to be a woman, and about what it means to be a feminist.
Sarah Palin is a woman of many accomplishments, a fact that was largely ignored by the mainstream media during the 2008 campaign: Aside from being the mother of five children, she'd achieved the highest approval rating of any governor in the nation, shown admirable fiscal discipline (foregoing gubernatorial privileges such as the jet, the chef, and the chauffeur), cut spending in her state time and again, and brought about the construction of a natural-gas pipeline in Alaska that provided affordable energy to her state and potentially many others. Most impressive of all, of course, her appearance on Saturday Night Live brought in the show's highest ratings in 14 years.
Despite her grit and feistiness, and the fact that she took down many in the good-old-boy network of corrupt Republican politics in Alaska, Palin was greeted with uncommon vehemence by both the mainstream media and the mainstream feminist establishment (which could really be said to be one and the same thing these days). They called her nomination an insult to women, a betrayal. "Her greatest hypocrisy," one academic wrote, "is in her pretense that she is a woman."
Not a woman? Let's get it straight: She's not a woman because she's not in favor of abortion rights.
Some will object that she was lambasted in the media chiefly because of her evident inexperience, and because of her poor performances with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. On the point of inexperience, I will not deny that even this supporter would have preferred her to have been a second-term governor, to have traveled the world and befriended foreign diplomats. But I think it's false to say that the real hatred directed at PaHn on the part of many feminists was because she was inexperienced, or because she couldn't quickly recall during her interviews the newsmagazines she reads or the Supreme Court cases with which she disagrees. First, as many pointed out over the course of the campaign, her inexperience was rivaled by the equally conspicuous lack of experience on the part of now-President Obama, inexperience that the media - and apparently 52 percent of Americans were happy to disregard. And second, to contend that she is inexperienced is a rational type of argument, to which one can bring reasons and evidence, for and against. When it comes to Sarah Palin, though, the reaction of many feminists was hardly rational; it was rageful.
Here was a woman who called herself a feminist, had a successful career in public service, was as tough as nails - unflappable in the light of harsh criticism, "a model of courage and conviction that we'd like our daughters to be" (in the words of one commentator otherwise critical of her) - yet she was hated by the mainstream feminists.
Sarah Palin was hated because Sarah Palin, mother of five children, appearing after her convention speech and the VP debate holding her Down Syndrome baby, stood in clear repudiation of the central pro-abortion tenet, that idea that started with Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique and has been foundational for pro-choice feminism ever since (even though Friedan herself later found it wanting): that children, and especially children with special needs like Trig Palin, are a burden to women's success, freedom, and equality. …