Vanity Fair on Sarah Palin: JUST PLAIN SEXIST

Vanity Fair’s recent profile of Sarah Palin seeks to dissect the complex, powerful sphere Palin has created and expose the strangeness beneath. While journalist Michael Joseph Gross clearly has done his research, his analysis of the unrest in the Palin camp often depends on sexist tropes that are old news to women in politics. Though “Sarah Palin: The Sound and the Fury” claims to be a serious profile of a prominent woman in politics, the article is accompanied by a cartoon of Palin in Viking costume, complete with braids and metal bra. It further focuses on Palin’s temperament and role as mother in order to make its points.

Another section that depicts Palin as an impetuous leader, screaming at staff members one minute and making nice the next – using an interaction between a campaign aide and her husband, Todd Palin, to demonstrate:

When a campaign aide gingerly asked Todd whether Sarah should consider taking psychiatric medication to control her moods, Todd responded that she just needed to run and work out more.

Gross does not bother to analyze this any further - Putting the suggestion for medical treatment of a mood disorder out for speculation, it seems, is enough for his purposes.

The article further goes on to detail Palin’s role as wife and mother in her family in excruciating, but often confusing, detail. There’s a general consensus in town that Todd has been shouldering the bulk of the parenting, Gross writes that Palin’s relationship with her children has grown more distant. He writes of marital strife, the public perception of Todd Palin as henpecked, and Sarah Palin’s insistence that her children accompany her on the campaign trail where little homework got done.

By focusing on Palin’s mood and mothering skills, the article undermines its own purported goal of presenting a serious analysis of a serious contender in today’s political spectrum. Are the accusations of unpredictable behavior relevant? Perhaps. But would a profile of a similar male political figure focus on his fathering skills, or imply that his mood swings be treated with medication? Would either of these issues factor in at all? Probably not.

As Women’s Media Center co-founder and board member Gloria Steinem noted in her recent statement, reversibility in treatment of political figures, and indeed public figures of any kind, is key. For this reason, “Sarah Palin: The Sound and the Fury” ranks as Just Plain Sexist. We hope that Vanity Fair and other media outlets will recognize the sexist approaches such articles use in reference to political women, and take the Name It. Change It. Equality Pledge to ensure equal treatment in future.

Published by Kate McCarthy on 09/03/2010

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