Sarah Palin’s Toenails
Huffington Post is catching some grief over a post by Anya Strzemien titled “Sarah Palin’s Toenails: What’s Painted On Them? (PHOTOS, POLL).” Apparently, the Alaska governor and former Republican vice presidential nominee had some manner of decorative adornment on her nails which were in display in some orange strappy sandals:
While some are taking HuffPo to task for journalistic silliness and questioning whether they have a foot fetish, the most prevalent theme of the critics is whether it’s sexist to comment on how a female public figure looks.
We’ve said many times that focus on a woman’s body parts instead of her ideas and actions is sexist, and that such belittling is aimed at women on both the left and right by both men and women. In this case, some will argue that HuffPo is just having a little fun. However the comments posted after the stroy are classist, sexist, and hateful, which can’t be a surprise to Huffpo. So what about encouraging comments that you know are going to be a mysogyny fest? Is that sexist, too?
Teresa Kopec, who tipped me to the story via Twitter, observes, “There is a lot of anti-woman BS that is going around lately against Palin, Sotomayor, the women targeted by Playboy, etc.”
While perhaps it’s splitting hairs, I would distinguish between sexism and double standards. There’s not much doubt that the way women look is more commented upon than the way men look. That doesn’t necessarily translate into thinking women’s intellects or skills are less important than those of men.
I don’t think, for example, that Hillary Clinton or Sonia Sotomayor have been viewed as silly sex objects. It’s certainly true that Clinton’s appearance has been at issue as long as I can recall her being in public life (which is to say, since 1991 or so). When she was First Lady, her hairdo was especially commented on, as was her choice of pantsuits vice dresses. And WaPo’s Robin Givhan devoted a whole story on C1 to Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. And then there was the case of Condoleezza Rice’s commanding clothes which, according to a C1 story in WaPo, spoke of “sex and power,” also from Givhan.
Do we comment like that on how male public officials dress? No, we don’t.
Still, Clinton is almost universally perceived as an extraordinarily bright and competent woman. She catapulted to the United States Senate despite no real record of her own and was considered the hands-down frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination six years later. And Sotomayor’s words and judicial record, not her toenails or fashion sense, are what we’re focusing on.
Palin is almost a separate case. She was a virtual unknown on the national scene when McCain tabbed her, so her national image was forged by instant impression. By vice presidential standards, she’s extraordinarily attractive. She’s young and a former beauty queen. Further, she dresses in a way that plays up her sexuality. Why, a recent scientifical study found that Palin’s sexiness hurt the ticket. Naturally, the news of said study sparked a round of blogospheric discussion about Palin’s hotness and a backlash against bloggers talking about Palin’s hotness.
Still, while the focus on her appearance goes well beyond what would be normal for a male candidate, it’s not like there wasn’t plenty of commentary on her preparation for the job. Indeed, I’m sure she’d rather we spent more time talking about her legs.
As to this particular controversy, it’s a silly blog post and some of the commentary it drew was particularly unattractive. Palin is a polarizing figure, which doesn’t help. Then again, one can scarcely imagine, say, Tim Pawlenty appearing at a public event in jean shorts and sandals, the male analog to what Palin was photographed in.