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.