Archive for the ‘election 2008’ Category

In my previous post, I promised I’d deal with feminist ethical objections to delving into the veracity of Palin’s claimed pregnancy with Trig. Is it illegitimate to ask questions about a candidate’s reproductive history? Are we invading Palin’s privacy, down to her very uterus?

The arguments for backing off from the tale of Palin, Trig, and her alleged Wild Ride fall into two main categories. (Let me know if you can think of others.)

1) Palin and especially her children deserve at least a modicum of privacy.

2) It’s always anti-feminist to second-guess women’s choices in childbearing and mothering.

On 1) privacy: As I mentioned in my last post, it’s standard operating procedure for presidential and veep candidates to disclose their medical records. While I would object strenuously to laws and policies that demanded the same of grocery clerks and accountants and locksmiths and (yes) college professors, the presidency isn’t just any job. There’s a reasonable case to be made for the citizenry knowing whether a candidate has a condition that might render her or him incapable of serving or exercising good judgment. We should have known, for instance, that Ronald Reagan was experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

We expect this disclosure of all candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency. Why should Palin get a pass? Why should her records remain private? Is it justifiable simply because she has a uterus? That would be sexist in its own twisted way, wouldn’t it – throwing us back to the days when ladyparts were still “unmentionables”?

Now it’s rather late to demand medical records be released, since Palin is no longer a candidate. But I think it’s still fair to say that Palin would have set the record straight on Trig’s birth, one way or another, had she only behaved like other candidates back in October 2008. Instead, she substituted secrecy for transparency (which didn’t surprise many Alaskans). She was nominated without any real vetting by McCain’s people, and they built an opaque wall between her and the press. She guarded her secrets while piling up lies. It’s not surprising that quite apart from Trig’s birth, the contents of her medical records would become subject to speculation.

Concern for the privacy of the Palins’ minor children (which included Bristol in 2008) is a legitimate and noble cause, one that I’ve consistently espoused. Let’s be clear: None of the brouhaha around Trig’s birth is actually about Trig. It’s about Sarah Palin.

The Palin children’s privacy has been breached, all right, but this has been almost entirely Sarah Palin’s own doing, apart from Bristol’s own self-promotion as a (*cough*) abstinence advocate. Who chose to use Trig as a political prop? Who decided to out Bristol’s pregnancy to the world instead of directly laying to rest the rumors about Trig’s birth? (Let us be clear: Bristol’s pregnancy in fall 2008 did not prove Sarah gave birth to Trig; it only made Bristol an unlikely mother to Trig unless he had actually been born earlier in the winter of 2008.) Who carried on a public feud with Levi Johnston’s family (which ultimately involved Palin’s grandson Tripp)? Who signed her family up for a reality TV show?

Mind you, I disapprove of the Gosselins and Duggars, too, for televising their children’s childhood. It’s just that none of them are running for president.

On point 2) – reproductive choice and trusting women – Melissa McEwan writes:

Birtherism, in which both conservatives and liberals are engaging, is a terrible and intrinsically misogynist game to play, entirely dependent on a belief that policing women’s bodies and reproduction is an acceptable recreation.

Actually, what’s going on here is not policing Sarah Palin’s body. What’s truly at stake is not what or who came out of her uterus. It’s what came out of her mouth. It’s her self-contradicting statements and outright lies.

McEwan tosses out a straw man when she says mockingly that the only acceptable evidence for “Trig birthers” would be video of Trig emerging from Palin’s vagina. Of course that’s silly. On the other hand, medical records showing that Palin truly was pregnant, underwent amnio, and gave birth when she claimed – well, that would be pretty darn conclusive. The unreasonable few would continue to hatch conspiracy theories. The rest of us – people like me and Litbrit – would say great; case closed; let’s carrying on dissecting why Palin, Bachmann, Trump, Santorum, and Co. are a danger to the United States. Andrew Sullivan would back off it too and devote himself more fully to his irrational quest for fiscal austerity. (Hmm, that’s one good argument for keeping the mystery of the Wild Ride alive.)

As I’ve written before, if Palin’s account of the wild ride is true, it displays epically poor judgment. By her own account, she board not one but two long flights after her water broke, without even stopping for a check-up before she left Dallas.

The party-line feminist response is: trust women. And I agree, we have to do that. Generally, women are trustworthy. That presumption underlies any pro-choice position on reproductive rights.

But what happens when a woman (or a man!) is reckless? What happens if a mother (or father!) makes egregious choices? Are we obligated to suspend judgment?

The consensus at both Shakesville and Feministe is that you turn in your official Feminist card as soon as you question the wisdom of anyone’s parenting or reproductive choices, no matter how irresponsible they may be.


To take a more extreme case, do I have to agree that it’s hunky-dory for a woman addicted to heroin and meth to have one baby after another, only to have them taken by Child Protective Services? As a matter of fact, I think it’s a pretty terrible situation. What makes me pro-choice is that I don’t want that hypothetical – but all-too-real – woman to be thrown into jail (as South Carolina has done, repeatedly, with pregnant women of color who are addicts). I don’t want her to be forced or coerced into Depo-Provera shots or Norplant. I do want the people who provide her prenatal and birth care (assuming she gets any) to compassionately counsel her about treatment programs. I want drug treatment programs to be abundant and free, so that no barriers prevent pregnant women from using them – unlike the many programs that have historically refused to admit expectant mothers! I want her caregivers to kindly and non-coercively explain her birth control options, including the potential benefits of long-term contraceptive methods (both the IUD and hormonal methods). I want her to have free access to birth control. If her children must be placed for adoption, open adoption should be the default unless there are very compelling grounds to separate the children from their birth mother.

That is a pro-choice position. I do see a need to exercise judgment. I do assert that childbearing while in the grips of an addition is a Bad Idea. Abandoning judgment, in such cases, would be abandoning responsibility. What makes this position pro-choice isn’t a refusal to judge; it’s rejecting punitive and coercive measures.

Now, Sarah Palin obviously is not comparable to a poor drug addict (unless you want to call power an addiction). Palin lives in a realm of privilege that insulates her kids, to some degree. CPS is not about to seize them even if she and Todd serve them Lucky Charms with crystal meth sprinkles for breakfast.

But the basic question still stands: Must feminists withhold judgment when a woman – or man! – makes reproductive or parenting decisions that are grossly unwise? Does it make us anti-choice to say that even though a woman has the legal right to implant eight embryos into her womb, it’s nonetheless an über-crappy decision? Does it make us anti-choice to say that medical evidence unequivocally shows that smoking is worse than crack for a developing fetus, and so every effort must be made to help expectant parents (not just mothers!) stop smoking?

And is it really anti-choice to say that Palin’s decision to fly home after her water broke not only potentially endangered her and Trig, but also exposed the whole plane to the risks of an emergency landing? I’m not saying “There oughtta be a law,” just that it was a piss-poor decision.

Again, this is not policing Palin’s uterus. This is questioning what went on in her brain. And if she runs again for POTUS, her brain is the organ that ought to concern us.

The good mother/bad mother dichotomy is still used as a cudgel. It’s one that feminists should always regard with deep suspicion.

But sometimes, bad mothering – and importantly, bad parenting – is egregious. When it occurs in politicians who position themselves as paragons of family values, it’s reasonable to ask about their general judgment and scrutinize them for hypocrisy. So while I regard it as out-of-bounds to criticize Todd and Sarah Palin for the fact that Bristol became pregnant, I do think it’s fair to criticize how they handled it in the national spotlight. When the Palins announced Bristol’s pregnancy instead of debunking the Trig rumors head-on, both parents threw their eldest daughter under the bus. (It was Sarah and her political who made that decision, but the First Dude was part of that inner circle and I’ll bet he could have vetoed it.) Similarly, it’s understandable that Sarah Palin would have kept her pregnancy quiet until late in the game. Most women who work for pay realize that they may be seen as less competent and committed once their pregnancy becomes public, and that goes doubly for female politician. What’s not reasonable is boarding a plane without any idea how imminent labor might be after leaking amniotic fluid.

If wanting politicians to exhibit sound judgment not just in public life but as private individuals – and yes, as parents – makes me an anti-feminist, so be it. Just let me know where I should turn in my F-card.

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Did Sarah Palin really give birth to Trig Paxson Van Palin – and should we care?

The case for Trig’s birth being a hoax has been revived in a scholarly paper penned by a Northern Kentucky University professor, Brad Scharlott. Luckily for him, Kentucky is very far from Alaska – and he’s tenured – so he’s unlikely to lose his job over this. If he were a trash collector or librarian in Wasilla, he’d surely be toast. But in my opinion, he’s also unlikely to find a journal willing to publish his article, even though his main scholarly point – that the mainstream media failed to even investigate the rumors about Trig’s parentage, shutting it down in a “spiral of silence” –  accurately describes the media response. If you write about rumor, you own work gets tinged with its stigma, especially if you make the case, as Scharlott does, that a rumor is probably true. In a series of interviews with journalist-novelist-blogger Laura Novak, Scharlott comes off as a credible, intelligent, non-flaky guy. In my estimation, he deserves to be taken seriously.

But still – does the story matter at this late date? The most prominent blogger demanding answers, Andrew Sullivan, has argued repeatedly it does because he sees Palin as a viable Republican candidate whose entire political persona is based upon lies. I agree that she’s a pathological liar. I fear she’s running in 2012.

I’m not sure how much the truth matters politically, though.

Let’s say some enterprising reporter were to uncover proof that Palin is not Trig’s mother. Would that really sway her hardcore political base? I suspect not. They’ve embraced her despite Troopergate and a passel of other ethics violations in Alaska. They tolerated her quitting in the midst of her gubernatorial term, whether to damp down ethics allegations or simply to make truckloads of money as a Fox commentator. They don’t seem to mind her millenarian Pentecostal beliefs that suggest she might not be opposed to Armageddon in our time. They tuned in to her reality show, for god’s sake! Given all they’ve swallowed, why should her loyalists mind if she’d fabricated her fifth pregnancy from whole cloth? (Or from fake bumps and scarves?) She has already shown her contempt for the reality-based community. Why would one more lie – however spectacular – affect Palin’s political future? (It might sway some independents, but we have to hope they’ll be repelled by her overall deceptiveness. If they aren’t, then we really are in deep shit.)

For those of us on the left, there’s little political gain in pursuing this story at this late date. If we do, we risk being lumped in with the Obama Birthers. Plenty of lefty bloggers are already doing just that: Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, Jill at Feministe, and Atrios, just for a sampling. (There are also specifically feminist objections to demanding the truth about Trig’s birth; my next post deals with them.) Through some bizarre political calculus, it seems that the right can only win when it promotes Birtherism (see: Trump, Donald), while we on the left are marginalized by our own kind as soon as we question the oddities surrounding Trig’s birth.

And yet, I want to know the truth, despite the lack of political upside. Blame it on déformation professionnelle from my training as a historian. Maybe I just read too many Nancy Drew books as a girl. But I want to know. And since Sarah Palin remains a powerful politician even out of office (!) it’s in the public interest to know whether she’s a pathological liar or just a reckless narcissist. If she did lie about Trig’s birth, it’s surely not the most important lie she has told (Sully has catalogued dozens in his series “The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin”), but it’s a pretty spectacular one.

The truth matters, especially when it concerns someone who was a candidate for high office – and may be again. It matters even if it’s not politically expedient to pursue it. In fact, if we’re not just political hacks and shills, the truth matters especially when it’s politically inconvenient.

Litbrit has made one of the best cases I’ve seen for Palin having faked the whole thing. She argues that it’s improbable Palin would have risked going into labor on one of those long flights from Texas back to Alaska. She exposes the hypocrisy and sexism of giving Palin a pass on a story that’s a key part of her political persona and appeal just as military heroism is for John McCain.

I’m on record as saying that the more likely scenario is that Palin exercised awesomely bad judgment in traveling in traveling from Dallas all the way to Wasilla after her water broke (by her own account). A recent article by investigative reporter Geoffrey Dunn concurs. (He’s got a forthcoming book titled all-t00-appropriately The Lies of Sarah Palin.) Palingates has a handy compendium of the facts (such as they can be known) about Palin’s Wild Ride. Politicalgates offers a set of questions that would help ferret out the truth, assuming that reporters dared to pose them and the principals answered truthfully (unlikely in Sarah Palin’s case). Early on, before we had other examples of Palin’s recklessness, the Wild Ride placed Palin’s acceptance of the VP nomination – for which she was utterly unprepared and unqualified – into a context. It suggested that delusions of grandeur and invulnerability might be hard-wired traits.

But even though I lean toward believing Palin is narcisstic and unbalanced enough to have risked delivery at 35,000 feet, I’m not at all persuaded by the debunkers that have sprung up like mushrooms in response to Scharlott’s paper. At Slate, Rachael Larimore suggests Occam’s Razor undermines any scenario except Palin being Trig’s birth mother. That argument would be more convincing if Palin’s life weren’t already chockfull of elaborate plots and ruses (see: Troopergate) and erratic behavior (her early resignation). Her life is literally a reality show. Why should we leap to the conclusion that the simplest explanation – while prima facie more likely – is thus bound to be true?

At Salon, Steve Kornacki argues that the Trig rumors are irrelevant because McCain didn’t choose Palin on account of her motherhood, he picked Palin because she was an exciting young female unknown, and thus Palin had no reason to fake a pregnancy. I don’t think anyone has ever seriously argued that Palin’s choice to mother a child with Down syndrome swayed McCain’s choice. It is, however, a potent part of her appeal to her base. Her decision to continue the pregnancy remains a pivotal story in the speeches she delivers to her fans. Whatever else Palin may be, she’s opportunistic. If you postulate that her pregnancy was faked, she might have had completely apolitical motivations, yet seized on the chance to make political hay out of “choosing life.” (One of Sullivan’s readers lays out a scenario where a faked pregnancy would have evolved as an improvised solution – I’m not endorsing this theory, but I do think it has a certain logic .) Kornacki’s argument is thus beside the point. He assumes that any plot by Palin would have relied on rational calculation. She’s politically savvy, but we have plenty of reason to believe she’s not rational.

But the main debunker – who claims to have definitively laid the rumors to rest – is Justin Elliot, also at Salon. Elliot cites numerous eyewitnesses who claim they saw Palin’s pregnancy up close. Among them is Wesley Loy, a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News who questioned Palin on the authenticity of her pregnancy in February 2008, two months before Trig was reportedly born. In response, Loy says (also at Salon), Palin lifted up her outer garment to display her belly bump. Of course, if Palin really was aping the fake-pregnancy plot line from Desperate Housewives (which she referred to in her interview with Loy), a fabric-covered bump proves nothing. (And no, I’m not suggesting Palin had an obligation to bare her belly, just that this is far from conclusive evidence, especially when said witnesses were men.)

If Loy was so convinced, why didn’t he say so at the time (as Gryphen asks at the Immoral Minority)? (Scharlott tried contacting Loy in the course of his research but received no reply.) Joe McInnis points out the oddity of both Loy and another Alaska reporter, Steve Quinn (also cited in Salon), coming forward with nearly identical accounts three years later. McInnis, who is also soon to publish a tell-all Palinography, positions himself as a “Trignostic.” Still, he’s not convinced – and he reminds us that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Gryphen further notes that Quinn may not be an impartial observer, as he was having an affair with a Palin staffer at the time.

Moreover, the eyewitness accounts cited in Salon do not stand alone. They’re contradicted – ta-dah! – by other eyewitnesses. Here’s what Geoffrey Dunn found:

One close friend of Palin’s–a widely respected woman who had given birth to several children as well and who had close contact with Palin in Juneau up until the time of Trig’s birth–told me that “Palin did not look like she was pregnant. Ever. Even when she had the bulging belly, I never felt that the rest of her body, her face especially, looked like she was pregnant.” When I asked her point-blank if she was certain the baby was Palin’s, she said, “No. I don’t know what to believe.”

The news of Palin’s pregnancy came as a complete surprise to Palin’s State Trooper security detail Gary Wheeler … Only two weeks earlier, in late February of 2008, Wheeler had accompanied Palin back to Washington, D.C. for a Republican Governors Association Conference … Wheeler remembers that Palin had changed into jeans upon her arrival in Washington, with no apparent revelation of pregnancy.

Wheeler also said that his wife, Corky, actually made fun of him when the news came out because he was supposed to be a “trained observer.” Wheeler simply shakes his head: “I had nary an idea she was packin’.”

As Wesley Loy of the Anchorage Daily News reported it at the time, Governor Palin “shocked and awed just about everybody around the Capitol” with her announcement.

This is at seven months.

Yup, that’s the same Wesley Loy who now says Palin showed him her clothed belly.

This issue could be laid to rest if Palin had disclosed her medical records while she was running for the vice presidency. This isn’t an extraordinary request. It’s simply what every other candidate has done in recent memory – including Obama, Biden, and McCain in 2008. Medical records would settle the case definitively. Palin claims she has provided a birth certificate, but that’s yet another lie. Instead, she merely released a letter from her family physician, Cathy Baldwin-Johnson (on election eve, no less). The letter was written mostly in passive voice, which is normal doctor-speak but allows for evasion and circumlocution. This letter included no documentary verification, and none has been provided to date.

In the absence of this data – which, again, is provided by EVERY other candidate for our highest office – rumors will continue to flourish. At Immoral Minority, a commenter from Wasilla states categorically that Palin announced getting a tubal ligation after the birth of Piper. If true, it would certainly explain why candidate Palin refused to release her medical records. If false, well, then why not release those records? Or do they conceal some other secret that could damage Palin’s pro-life cred?

We should ask: cui bono? As Laura Novak writes, “Forget follow the money. The question is:  who benefits from this controversy continuing?” Does Palin gain something by allowing the rumor mill to churn – notoriety, sympathy, or some other intangible? Or is she trying to hide a secret – perhaps one only tangentially related to Trig’s birth? We really don’t know.

However this plays out, it confirms that Palin is a reckless egomaniac, a liar, or – most likely of all – both. And while I disagree with Amanda Marcotte’s contention that the Trig rumors have been wholly debunked, I think she’s right to say they resonate with many of us because we already know that Palin is a “phony.”

Update, 4/26/11, 10:50 p.m.: As this high-school girl demonstrated, it’s not too difficult to fake a pregnancy over six months with the help of just a few confederates. (“A few” is probably key, because if large numbers are in on the secret, it’s bound to spill.) Of course, it’s probably easier to pull off a faux pregnancy if people are predisposed to believe it due to your ethnicity. :-(

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I’m fond of saying I learn something new from my students each quarter. It’s happened again, though I half wish I were still ignorant.

For the second day of class, I asked my intro to WGS students to check out Jeff Fecke’s post on that appalling “political cartoon” depicting Obama as having raped Lady Liberty. (Go check out Jeff’s post and then come back; I will not have that “cartoon” befouling this blog.) I’ve taken to starting the term with a blog post or two along with a few canonical articles on gender and oppression. My hope is always that a few very current examples will upend the assumption that we’re all post-feminist and colorblind now. I was afraid this post could upset students badly because it was so vile. It did rile them up – but for all the wrong reasons.

For one thing, several students thought that calling the cartoon racist was “pulling the race card.” Lady Liberty was green, after all, not a white woman. And we do have a Black president, after all, so what color should they cartoonist paint him? One bright young woman brought up the myth of the black rapist. Yep, I said; what do you know about its history? After a few minutes of circling around Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights movements, my students gave up. Lynchings, I said. Lynchings! They had no bloody idea that the history of lynching is largely history of black men being murdered on the pretext of allegedly raping white women. I guess this hasn’t trickled into the high-school curriculum. Maybe it’s not taught in Texas and thus not in the books? Or maybe teachers just don’t go there because sex and race are taboo enough on their own, god forbid they’d have to mix them? Or am I just encountering the same unflappable colorblindness that I saw last fall, too?

But while I was prepared for some resistance on the cartoon’s racism, I was sure someone would take umbrage at the rape metaphor. I asked if it didn’t trivialize actual victims of sexual assault. Forty faces looked at me blankly. Then one of the talkative men, who’s struck me as no dummy, said: “Well, it’s kinda like ‘fag.’ People use it all the time and don’t mean anything by it. It’s just slang.”

One of the women said, “Yeah. Like: ‘Wow, their soccer team totally raped us.'”

I picked my jaw up from the floor just long enough to ask if this was common. Forty heads nodded.

I wondered if this inflationary use of “rape” stems from the right wing’s frequent use of rape metaphors to protest Democratic policies and ideas. I tend to think not; Rushbo and his colleagues want their audience to be deeply outraged, which presumes that “rape” still holds some power to shock.

But my students are only rarely ideologues. Few of them listen to Rush or Glenn Beck; those guys are just too old. The young folks aren’t using rape as the ultimate metaphor for violation. They’re using it like my mom might say, “Oh, heck!”

So have any of you heard “rape” used as casual slang? “Fag” is problematic enough; as C.J. Pascoe shows in Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, it’s used to harshly police both boys and girls’ expression of their gender and sexuality.

But “rape”? As slang? I mean, I remember it from The Who’s Tommy (We’re not gonna take it!) but that’s about it.

An hour after class, one of the young women showed up at my office hours. “I just heard someone say ‘That test raped me.’ I wouldn’t have even noticed it before.”

What have you noticed? Is this a generational thing? Do I just live in a bubble? I’d be grateful for any clarifications and insights.

Update 4/13/10: Yesterday I spoke about all this with my neighbor, who’s a historian of 19th-century America. He said that he actually works with high-school teachers regularly and when he discusses lynching with them, they are very nervous about creating a local scandal if they were to include it in their curriculum. The intersection of racism, sex, and violence is just too explosive for many parents and school boards. I thought this helps clarify my students’ experiences (and confirms that they are not clued out – in fact, they’re a pretty sharp lot. And as Shinobi notes in comments, hearing about how rape allegations were employed in lynching later in life can lead to an potent “aha” moment.

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Someone please tell me why John Boehner has to be from Ohio? Weren’t we shamed enough back when convicted felon James Traficant was one of our congresscritters? (Now out of prison, Traficant is contemplating another run at the House. Yipes.)

Republican obstructionism: Boehner owns it!

(Via Skippy.)

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Historians are awfully fond of saying “It’s more complicated.” For better or worse, I’m a historian by training and inclination. Consider yourself warned: pedantry ahead!

Even though it’s a decade old, Amy Richards’ and Jennifer Baumgarden’s intro to Manifesta- a quick tour through women’s lives in 1970, the year both were born – is still a great read.  I use that chapter, “A Day without Feminism,” every quarter to kick off discussion in my intro class. Courtney Martin, writing in TAPPED, updates it for the millennial generation:

A tenth anniversary edition of Manifesta, updated and with a new preface added, has just been released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. And in many ways, our last decade was also a baptismal moment of sorts for women (though it’s certainly been less covered by the mainstream media). To steal a page from Jen and Amy, consider the state of all things feminist in the year 2000: Birth politics is a niche issue. Gay celebrities are a scandal. Feminism is about women, not gender, and most U.S. feminists have never heard of child trafficking or female genital cutting. The notion of a woman, much less a black, president is still more pipe dream than actual possibility. There are no feminist blogs.

Courtney is wonderful. She spoke at my campus a couple of weeks ago, and the students really connected with her. Her youth is one asset in her ability to build rapport (though far from the only one; she’s just a really effective speaker). And it’s always a good idea to take stock of where we are in the flow of history. But here, I don’t think Courtney quite gives earlier waves of feminism their due. I’m not a partisan of any particular wave; generationally, I fall in the trough between the second and third waves. I just think it’s easier to move forward if we can avoid reinventing wheels.

And also, well, the past really is more complicated.

To start where Courtney ended: Yes, feminist blogs are very new, and they rock. The only blogs I knew of in the late 1990s were a few people’s personal online diaries. That was it. But by 2000, there were lots of online communities. For me, Salon’s Table Talk filled some of the needs that blogs now meet. I’d just become a mother, and I remember (for instance) lengthy discussions of Andrea Yates’ murder of her children that helped me place her act in a larger, political context of untreated postpartum depression and fundamentalist Christianity. Of course there were trolls on Table Talk, too, but it wasn’t the nightmare that Salon’s letter section is today. So, while blogs were the best invention since wine and cheese, they also built on existing forms of online community.

The prospect of a female president seemed pretty remote in 2000, but then again, democracy itself was under siege with Bush v. Gore and the foiled Florida recount. But if you rewind a little further, there was a moment way back in 1984 when we had reason to hope. I don’t know that Geraldine Ferraro would have been the right woman for the job, given her inexperience at the time and her racist comments on Obama in 2008. But her nomination did signal new possibilities. As for a black president, Colin Powell flirted with the idea in the late 1990, back before he disgraced himself by telling the UN we had hard proof of Iraq’s WMD. At the time, he certainly seemed a more plausible candidate than Obama did at the start of the 2008 campaign.

Child trafficking? This is an issue that feminists have taken up periodically for almost as long as feminism has existed. In the 1800s it was called the “white slave trade.” By the mid-1990s, there was lots of talk about sex tourism by men who wanted to exploit very young child prostitutes in Thailand. What’s new is that some of us are realizing that men, women, and children are trafficked for purposes other than sex, and that this is no less reprehensible.

Female genital cutting? In the mid-1980s, there was a huge flurry of attention when Alice Walker publicized the issue – and African feminists informed her that she should butt out. Ever since then, Western feminists have been upset about the practice but often unsure what, if anything, they can and should do to help.

“Gender” was a central part of academic feminism by 1990 at the very latest. Scholars like R.W. Connell and Michael Kimmel were studying masculinity. Historians of women were strongly influenced by Joan W. Scott’s 1986 article, “Gender: A Category of Historical Analysis,” which called for intersectional analysis along lines of race and class as well. Throughout the 1990s, most academic feminists continued to emphasize the study of women but also took a relational view, comparing women to men and examining femininity and masculinity. By the time a lot of us renamed our programs “Women’s and Gender Studies,” we were just formalizing a change that had been underway for many years.

As for the politics of birth, the main difference is that high-achieving women like Courtney who were college students in 2000 are now thirty-ish, with motherhood no longer such a distant possibility for themselves and their friends. But birth has been politicized ever since the Lamaze method was popularized in the early 1960s. When I first started studying the politics and culture of childbirth in the early 1990s, there was already a rich feminist literature. By then, hospitals had introduced birthing suites in an effort to compete with freestanding birth centers and midwives, which had gained strong support from feminist activism. Sure, Ricky Lake gave home birth a famous face, but the issues were already highly visible twenty years ago. With c-section rates skyrocketing past 30% and maternal and infant mortality a national disgrace, we’re arguably losing ground.

So what has really changed in the past decade? Well, homophobia has a much dimmer future than I would’ve imagined ten years ago. While it’s not quite true that “gay celebrities were a scandal” (Ellen had come out and was still loved), famous gay people were much more likely to remain closeted than they are today. But the biggest shift is in young people’s attitudes. Even my most conservative, religious students are apt to take a live-and-let-live approach, or at least they realize that homophobia is incredibly uncool.

Trans issues have also started to get the attention they deserve. Something similar is happening with issues of ability and disability. In both of these areas, blogs are helping render people and experiences visible. They’re still highly marginalized, but the winds of change are starting to shift.

Feminists are also more aware of intersectionality in general. We talked about it in the 1980s already (before the term “intersectionality” was even coined), but change has been slow in coming. Those of us with multiple privilege still fall short. It’s not just unexamined privilege that’s the problem, either. Analysis is a lot more complex when you’re looking at multiple dimension. Political alliances require more effort when you try to bridge and understand differences rather than just ignoring them. The resulting alliances and analyses are a lot richer, though, and I’m hopeful that those of us with relative privilege are increasingly catching onto that.

And yes, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made history. So did Nancy Pelosi. Their victories might have seemed remote in 2000. But 1970 – Baumgardner and Richards’ benchmark year – they were completely unthinkable.

So yes, history is complicated, often more so than we think. It doesn’t neatly repeat itself or develop linearly. Nor is there any guarantee of progress toward peace and justice. (See, for example, most of the twentieth century, with its nuclear weapons and genocides.) Sometimes there’s cause for celebration anyway.

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John and Jackie Kennedy first brought the cult of the celebrity into the White House, but it’s hard to imagine a major national magazine would have published an exposé of them – or of any other politician – quite like the one on the Palin family that’s appearing in the latest Vanity Fair (via Feministing). You can’t access the whole article online; the Frisky has more excerpts than Vanity Fair actually provides. But basically the article consists of Levi Johnston talking trash about the family who very nearly became his in-laws. He portrays Sarah Palin as a neglectful mother and her marriage to Todd as a sham. After reading the excerpts, I headed straight for the shower. (Literally! I’d been doing the blogger-in-a-bathrobe routine.)

Even if Levi’s accusations are all accurate, they don’t have any bearing on Sarah Palin’s political credentials. She’s managed to totally discredit herself in that realm without his help. What this does signal, though, is a new nadir in conflating our politicians with our celebrities.

It’s bad enough that Jerry Spring fancies himself a politician. Now our politicians’ lives are grist for the Jerry Springer Show.

I don’t think that the Republicans have cornered the market on this, though Palin is the most egregious example of style and surface totally trumping substance. John Edwards had much better policy chops, but he also traded on his looks and made decisions that raised the National Enquirer’s credibility – no small feat.

Ironically, the same Republicans who brought us Palin tried to portray Barack Obama as a shallow celebrity in the summer of 2008. Yes, he has good looks, charisma, and a certain glamour. The big difference? He has dignity and an impressive intellect. I say this even though I’m pissed at him. He let the bankers dictate the financial bailout. Now he’s lost command of the health care debate, and to turn it around, he’d need to channel the  eloquence of his speech on race during the primaries. But even at his worst, Obama doesn’t provide fodder for the tabloids, unless you’re inclined to believe the birthers.

In the long run, I’m afraid we’re going to see many more Palins, male and female, white and black, Republican and Democrat. And I don’t have the slightest clue what to do about it. We can keep demanding better media. We can teach our children to look beyond superficial qualities. We can keep trying to educate the next generation to think critically, one young mind at a time. I’m afraid it won’t be enough.

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According to a Fox News Poll (via Salon’s War Room), a plurality of Americans think housewifery should, in fact, be Sarah Palin’s next job:

About a third of Americans think the best job for Palin is homemaker (32 percent), while nearly one in five see her as a television talk show host (17 percent). Vice president of the United States comes in third (14 percent), followed closely by college professor (10 percent), with president coming last (6 percent).

(More at Faux News.)

This is not just sexist but bizarre, given that Faux News has been one of Palin’s biggest cheerleaders. You’d think they’d want to build up her credentials instead of stereotyping her. As Alex Koppelman at War Room notes, the “housewife” option would never have been posed for a man. Seriously! Imagine asking whether Dick Cheney ought to become a househusband! Sure, lots of us would like to see him return to his underground cave – just as I fervently hope Palin will stay in Wasilla – but no one is suggesting Cheney ought to be baking cookies.

Also: WTF made Faux News offer the “college professor” option? And what makes 10 percent of American think Palin would be even remotely qualified? Attending five different colleges isn’t quite the equivalent of earning a Ph.D. What would she teach – public policy? She showed her policy chops in the Couric interview. Geography? History? Sports journalism?

Myself, I like the idea of the Palins starring in their own reality show, which Levi Johnston mentioned as a real possibility.

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