Palin is no Everywoman

Say what you will about her, she's not an example of the average woman's political ascent.

Published October 27, 2008 9:05PM (EDT)

Former Rep. Bella Abzug famously argued that feminism will have succeeded only after average, rather than extraordinary, women do just as well as average men. Judith Warner argues in a New York Times Op-Ed that "by this standard, the watershed event for women this year was not Hillary Clinton's near ascendancy to the top of the Democratic ticket, but Sarah Palin's nomination as the Republicans' No. 2." After all, Clinton is "a lifelong overachiever" and "took to heart the maxim that women 'must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good,'" Warner says. Palin, on the other hand, "is a woman who has risen to national prominence without, apparently, even remotely being twice as good as her male competitors."

Nice work, feminists! Now that a less-than-extraordinary female politician has made the GOP ticket, I guess our work here is done.

Only that famous feminist motto relies on the assumption that extraordinary women -- those who attempt to be twice as good as their male competition -- will succeed long before ordinary women. Still, while Clinton certainly is more accomplished than the Thrilla from Wasilla, Palin isn't the Everywoman imagined by Abzug. As Warner writes, "With her five children, successful political career, $1.2 million net worth and beauty pageant looks, Sarah Palin is really not an average woman." Palin is the V.P. candidate selected not for her knowledge of the issues, but "her grace and charm, her ability to connect with an audience, her ambition and her drive" -- and perhaps because she would look good on the cover of Time magazine.

She climbed to great political heights without the qualifications of her male competitors, but that's not to say she doesn't have extraordinary assets -- they just aren't the ones we generally prioritize in a (male) politician. Palin's political success isn't a sign that the Everywoman has the same shot as the Everyman, but that men and women are generally held to different standards, and that there are so many more (and contradictory) ways in which women are expected to be extraordinary in order to succeed. That's the whole point of Abzug's argument.

So, in short: There is work to be done yet before we arrive at that vision of parity even in mediocrity.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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