Mama Grizzlies Vs. Who?: The Next Generation Of Women In Politics


If you look at the politics section of the Washington Post’s website today, you’ll see some familiar names: Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann. An article about Hillary Clinton can be found in the Arts & Living section. It’s about her hair.

Yes, as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann receive coverage for their participation in Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial, the Secretary of State is being celebrated for her “radical” hairstyle change. As the Post’s Robin Givhan writes, “Clinton’s hair, now creeping toward below-the-shoulders territory, is practically radical for Washington’s seasoned female power elite. Good for her.” Givhan argues that Clinton’s new style makes her a role model of sorts; someone who is stepping outside of the “rules” of aging and notions of appropriateness when it comes to being taken seriously.

It’s incredibly peculiar (and depressing) that we live in a political climate where a female politician’s hair can either be seen as an easy joke (a la Palin and her bump-its) or a “radical statement,” depending on her politics and her supporters. Palin’s detractors delight in mocking her ex-beauty queen appearance and lipstick/pitbull image, but her supporters could care less—they adore her image and most likely see her style, combined with her tendency to say whatever the hell she wants with no fears regarding the political consequences as more radical than a longer hairdo by the Secretary of State. Palin doesn’t hold a political office, but she’s still a masterful politician in terms of her ability, like her friend Glenn Beck, to capitalize on people’s fears and prejudices and ignorance and spin them to her own political and personal advantage. She is a very good saleswoman, and she’s selling pro-life, xenophobic, fear-mongering rhetoric under a relatable guise of “girl power” and sassy lady posturing.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State is placed in a box of “elitism,” and made to look like a member of the old guard who needs to be commended on her daring new hairstyle, even though her politics are markedly more progressive than Palin’s. The fact that we’re even discussing it shows the split between the women of the Democratic party and the women of the Republican party: Sarah Palin is off and running in her lipstick and heels, spouting out all kinds of nonsense to cheering crowds and influencing various elections, and liberal women are supposed to be thrilled that the Secretary of State has made a “radical” hairstyle change? In 2010? Still? I don’t think so. With the threat of many Democratic women losing their congressional seats this November, the stakes are too high. A “radical” hairstyle change isn’t enough to celebrate at this point. The state of women in politics—whether we like it or not—is changing, and liberals need to catch up to their “Mama Grizzly” foes.

But as Jezebel’s founding editor Anna Holmes and Salon’s Rebecca Traister note in today’s New York Times, perhaps the most irritating aspect of Sarah Palin’s seemingly relentless rise to political prominence has been the left’s inability to provide her liberal counterpart: “The left should be outraged and exasperated by all this,” Holmes and Traister write, “but at their own failings as much as Ms. Palin’s ascension. Since the 2008 election, progressive leaders have done little to address the obvious national appetite for female leadership. And despite (or because of) their continuing obsession with Ms. Palin, they have done nothing to stop an anti-choice, pro-abstinence, socialist-bashing Tea Party enthusiast from becoming the 21st century symbol of American women in politics.”

Holmes and Traister go on to point out that part of the problem is the Democratic party’s own inability to groom and celebrate female politicians. In 2004, only having been in office for a few short months, Senator Barack Obama was chosen to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, which propelled him to national political stardom and gave him the necessary exposure needed to eventually run for—and win—the Presidency. Similarly, Sarah Palin was picked from relative obscurity in Alaska by John McCain to be his running mate in 2008, and though I’m sure we all wish that had never happened, it doesn’t change the fact that her moment as his running mate created a political star that has not yet burned out. Perhaps if the Democrats stopped brushing Palin off as an idiot and simply wishing she’d go away (she’s not going anywhere—we can’t even get rid of Spencer and Heidi and they don’t have a massive, sign-waving following), they should take Holmes’ and Traister’s advice and start looking toward the next generation (and supporting their needs by not selling women’s rights out at every convenient turn, but that’s another post altogether), the women who don’t see Palin as a temporary annoyance, but as a real threat to their rights, as a villain who won’t stop shouting until her heroic equal starts screaming right back.

In Her Latest Act Of Defiance, Hillary Rodham Clinton Gets A New, Longer Hairdo [WashingtonPost]
A Palin Of Our Own [New York Times]
GOP Tide Could Reduce The Ranks Of Women In Congress [LATimes]

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