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Press Box

I’m Just a Girl


October 1, 2010

Suppose I wrote horribly misspelled stories that messed up basic facts, like claiming that the Capitol is in Escanaba and the state constitution was crafted by elves.

And suppose I managed to get a gig as a pundit on TV and radio, where I would play the part of the resident airhead. I couldn’t tell you how much the state budget was worth or who the lieutenant governor was.

But I was young, blonde and had a decent pair of sweater puppies.

Naturally, people would question my qualifications — and not just the barely literate folks who spend their days leaving comments online in all caps.

But thanks to my role models, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Delaware senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell, I would know what to do: shout sexism as loud as I could.

Clearly, they would all be targeting me because I was a woman — and a pretty one at that.

You see, it doesn’t matter that Palin doesn’t know what the Bush Doctrine is and can’t name a single newspaper she reads. Armed with her naughty librarian glasses and leather boots, she urged her tea party minions to “refudiate” President Obama’s policies. That ignorant gaffe wasn’t greeted with chortles, no. The Weekly Standard, once a bastion of snotty conservativism under the late William F. Buckley, hailed Palin’s stupidity as a stroke of populist genius.

Why? Well, consider National Review columnist Rich Lowry’s reaction to the Alaskan Princess’ 2008 debate performance:

“I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, ‘Hey, I think she just winked at me.’ And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling, it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.”

Um, let’s just say Palin’s male fan base isn’t thinking with their heads.

Meanwhile, Palin’s dimple-faced protégé, O’Donnell, is the GOP’s new It Girl, down to her auburn hair and shimmery eye shadow. She has a long history of spinning interesting theories as a teevee personality, like shooting down evolution because “monkeys aren’t still turning into people” and arguing Bill Clinton should have been investigated for Vince Foster’s murder. O’Donnell also has declared war on masturbation (don’t tell Mr. Lowry) and mused that we shouldn’t call those with AIDS “victims.”

Conservatives heralded Sarah Palin as a big plus in ’08, bringing much-needed star power to Old Man McCain (although polling indicates she cost him a whopping 2 percent of the vote). O’Donnell, however, has the unfortunate luck to be running in true-blue Delaware, where most folks aren’t terribly concerned if their neighbor rubs one out.

Most Republican Party poobahs like Karl Rove backed her opponent, long-time U.S. Rep. Mike Castle (and all-around good guy), so their party could actually take back the Senate. When O’Donnell triumphed, Rove made the mistake of being honest on Fox News, declaring she was unelectable because of her “nutty ideas.”

Well, Sarah Palin had a conniption fit that Mr. Man would dare insult one of her “Mama Grizzlies” (although O’Donnell is single and cubless). Rush Limbaugh, the thrice-divorced feminist icon, jumped on the bandwagon and ordered Dittoheads to go “balls to the wall” for the Divine Ms. O.

Michigan tea party activist Wendy Day picked up the baton with this embarrassingly weak argument on The Detroit News’ new conservative spinoff, The Michigan View:

“They are beginning to think that Christine O’Donnell isn’t the great candidate we had hoped for. Frankly, I have no idea if she is a great candidate or not. But I find it frustrating that good ol’ boys like Karl Rove are trashing her because she may have been struggling financially and doesn’t have an Ivy League background.”

And there it is. Not even Day can tell you if Christine O’Donnell is qualified, but it doesn’t matter. Mean old men like Karl Rove are picking on her ’cause she’s a girl (and a Real American, to borrow a favorite Palinism). That’s just not right.

If this is feminism today, count me out.

I guess I’m just old school. I want to be the best I can be in my career. And I feel immensely lucky to be gainfully employed and have a wonderful family. The last thing you’ll hear me do is whine about how hard it is to be a girl nowadays.

It’s what conservatives used to call taking personal responsibility.

Look, I’m not naïve enough to deny that gender has affected my career. Does it help that I’m a relatively young (blonde) woman writing about politics, a field dominated by middle-aged men? You betcha.

But there’s also the fact that three months after I started my first newspaper job, I became pregnant with my first child. Nine months of morning sickness and assorted other delights followed, but I couldn’t let on to my editors about the horrors — lest I get stuck covering the quilting bee instead of the 9/11 memorial. While I was on maternity leave, the cute intern took my place and soon won the police beat I had wanted.

I’ve had a half-dozen wonderful male mentors and only one female. Competition amongst the fairer sex is fierce and few women really want to help their younger counterparts.

I’ve been paid less than my male colleagues with less experience at almost every job I’ve had. I’ve been treated to some lovely bouts of sexual harassment from several of my former colleagues and bosses. When I had a miscarriage several years ago, the only thing my editor wanted to know is if I’d have my Sunday package finished on time.

And you know what? It sucks.

In an ideal world, things would be different. God bless groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) that are still fighting the good fight.

Unfortunately, in talking with other women in journalism, I don’t think my experience is terribly atypical. So I decided a long time ago that I was going to concentrate on what I could control within my career, which has meant writing as much as possible, reading a lot of history and racking up a fair number of awards and fellowships along the way. It sure beats playing the victim a la Sarah Palin.

But that’s the difference between being a girl and being a grown-up.

Susan J. Demas is a 2006 Knight Foundation Fellow in nonprofits journalism and a political analyst for Michigan Information & Research Service.

September 30, 2010 · Filed under Press Box Tags: , , , , ,

38 responses so far ↓

  • 1 George Corsetti // Oct 1, 2010 at 5:14 am

    Well done!
    Palin, et al set the women’s movement back about 20 years.

  • 2 Jack Finn // Oct 1, 2010 at 5:50 am

    While I may be partial to red-haired Irish (descent) women—don’t tell my wife—Ms. O’Donnell isn’t one of them. My daughters and I thank you, Ms. Demas! P.S. And now, thank God for NOW!

  • 3 Sharlan Douglas // Oct 1, 2010 at 6:13 am

    Brava!

  • 4 Susan // Oct 1, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Palin is an ordinary woman with an extraordinary gift for taking on the status quo establishment and winning. You can’t b.s. her – she sees through it. She derides the ‘good ole boy’ philosopy and bankers on Wall Street must be shaking in their shoes in case she does become President. They won’t be able to pull their ‘cheat the people’ stunts on her!

  • 5 Mary Pollock // Oct 1, 2010 at 9:30 am

    You go, Susan Demas! We say “Elect feminist women NOW!” – not the Palins and O’Donnells who opportunistically trade on the relative novelty of a female candidate to advance themselves and issues that are antithetical to women’s rights.

    Mary Pollock
    Legislative Vice President
    Michigan National Organization for Women

  • 6 Rachel // Oct 1, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Amen. As a woman who went from 6 years in a predominantly female office to the last 4 in a predominantly male environment, I can tell you that I’ve experienced my fair share of less-than-sensitive-treatment and some downright sexism (I was asked to “soften my approach” and told I was “intimidating” because I was more technically savvy than my male coworkers–something that I doubt would have been said if I were a man). While I wish I would have said something about these comments, the best thing that I could do is continue to do things as I had despite those comments. I ended up being my boss’s “rock star” as a result.

    Calling out ignorance and foolishness isn’t sexism. And feminism doesn’t mean you get a free pass just because you’re a woman. It means you get a fair shake despite being a woman.

  • 7 Barbara Gattorn // Oct 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Perhaps you can explain in a following article what the Bush Doctrine is since you are disdainful of Palin not knowing the answer.

    Actually, I will tell you because you won’t be able to locate it. There is no “Bush Doctrine”. Charles Krautheimer coined the phrase in an article to describe how Bush considered the Middle East issues he had to confront. There are only two official presidential doctrines: Monroe and Truman. Charles Gibson didn’t know there was a “Bush Doctrine” didn’t exist when he asked Palin that question.

  • 8 Susan Demas // Oct 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Madam,

    The free-market American Enterprise Institute did a fine summary of the Bush Doctrine in this 2003 article:

    http://www.aei.org/outlook/15845

  • 9 Richard W Juhnke // Oct 8, 2010 at 5:44 am

    Well done. I like your style of writing and your grit. Every system has its pitfalls. We just need to identify them and find a way to work around them. There just isn’t enough solution promotion these days. Thanks.

  • 10 Gregoire // Oct 8, 2010 at 5:53 am

    You’re “not “just a girl” as you tit;e this column! You’re a thoughtful political writer!

    Thank you for speaking the truth as you (and many of us out in the real world) see it!!

  • 11 Dick McKnight // Oct 8, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    My favorite Palinism: “I’d like to belabor that point.” And she did, rather than elaborate.

  • 12 JM // Oct 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

    What are your thoughts on the double standard that accompanies sexist behavior by Democrats. NOW endorsed Jerry Brown in California after an aide called his female opponent a “whore” and he complicitly obliged. He also questioned the efficacy of mammograms and flippantly said that “if 10,000 women are tested, three are saved” and then scoffs. If a Republican said something even close to either of those two statements, they would be considered dead in the water. Why is it OK for Democrats to embrace this sort of rhetoric?

  • 13 Gloria Woods // Oct 22, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Thanks for the great article, Ms. Demas. I too have felt very frustrated that women, like Sarah Palin and Ms. O’Donnell, who have benefited so much from the work of the women’s movement, do so much to undermine the gains feminism has won for us all.

    BTW, here is an excerpt of what NOW issued in response to the use of the \w\ word in the Brown campaign:

    \While our California chapter’s Political Action Committee voted to endorse Brown on the basis of his support for women’s rights, the National Organization for Women clearly and unequivocally condemns calling Meg Whitman, or any woman, a whore. This term is hate speech that carries with it negative connotations associated with women, and it has no place in contemporary society.

    As to Jerry Brown’s comments on mammograms, he is one of many who have expressed skepticism on its efficacy. There’s plenty of evidence that an MRI is much better at detecting breast tumors, but its common usage is evidently too expensive in the corporate health care world’s risk/benefit analysis.

  • 14 Dick mcknight | Infinityservic // Sep 7, 2012 at 1:09 pm

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