Friday, October 03, 2008

Elias's Take On Last Night's Debate

From Elias:

Any woman who works in a field traditionally dominated by men knows how much higher the standards are for her performance than they are for her male colleagues. The same lapses in discipline and professionalism that often have no discernible effect on the reputations of men can easily stall the careers of women. Although our explicit aim as a society is to create an environment in which job applicants are judged and compensated according to their capabilities, without any consideration of gender (or any number of other irrelevant factors), the latent prejudice that deems women generally inferior to men continues to demand that they be superior in order to be equal. Of course, as more women show themselves to be extraordinarily capable in any number of positions of power and responsibility, that prejudice is weakened. Still, nobody can seriously maintain that we’ve arrived at our goal of equality.

Now let’s turn to Sarah Palin. While performance standards for women aspiring to high level positions are usually higher than they are for men, it is clear that the standards for Sarah Palin’s performance in her vice-presidential debate were lower than they have ever been in the entire history of debate (including high-school debates). How is it possible that a society that generally demands better performances from women than from men can have decided that a woman applying for the second highest office in the country might be able to demonstrate her qualifications merely by speaking with some degree of coherence, preferably but not necessarily in accordance with the rules of English syntax? No matter if she says nothing whatsoever of substance. No matter if her statements are untrue. No matter if she says the same thing over and over again. No matter if she admits that she simply won’t answer any questions that she doesn’t like. So long as she avoids reverting to speaking in tongues, she wins the debate. What’s going on here?

I know it’s not very fashionable right now to bring up Marx, and it surely won’t win over any conservatives, but I think the Marxist notions of ‘ideology’ and ‘false consciousness’ are relevant here. For Marx, the ‘dominant ideology’ is not just the political philosophy of the ruling class (as the term is more or less used today). Rather, ‘dominant ideology’, in a Marxist sense, refers to the interests of the ruling class when they are presented in a particular way by that class, namely, in such a way as to appear to be the interests of the lower classes. And the resulting confusion, whereby the masses mistake the rulers’ interests for their own, is called ‘false consciousness’. In accordance with this definition, Sarah Palin is clearly being used ideologically, in many respects but perhaps most transparently in respect to gender. She is being presented as a champion of gender equality by those in whose interest it is to maintain traditional gender inequalities. For one who has been taken in, she is a symbol of progress, evidence that women can be anything they want in this country; while the actual symbolic effect of her rise to prominence is to reinforce many of the stereotypes that have kept women from achieving an equal status with men, while at the same time discouraging progress by creating the illusion that that equality has already been reached. Of course, many of her supporters are very conservative women, who have been suffering from false consciousness for a very long time.

Conservatives were not happy with Palin’s performance in the interviews that led up to the debate because, even as an empty symbol, she was not convincing, and therefore not ideologically effective. But they were thrilled with her performance in the debate, where they had some hope that she had managed to charm America with her small-town traditionalism, her adorable unfamiliarity with beltway politics, and (I don’t know how else to say it) her girliness. Of course they were glad that, for the most part, she didn’t speak any gibberish; but as for her general lack of intelligence – or, to put it more generously, her lack of interest in any national or international issues – in the balance, they consider that an asset. On the one hand, sowing a general distrust of intellectualism and education has proved a very effective way to inhibit inquiry, by convincing voters that it is in their best interest to shun knowledge: a fairly blatant example of false consciousness. But on the other hand, in Sarah Palin’s case, the ideological message goes even further. Paired with John McCain, she conveys a symbolic message about the difference between the qualities that should be sought in men and those that should sought in women who are applying for the same job. Men should be wise and experienced; women should be attractive, and they should be able to smile, wink, and flirt a lot. Anyone who watched the debate on CNN saw that the approval meters on the bottom of the screen showed men and women reacting very differently to Palin. Specifically, whenever she did something ‘cute’, men approved, and women did not. But to suggest that this discrepancy is entirely due to sexual attraction is too simplistic. Men have an interest in seeing the value of women defined by such qualities as ‘cuteness’; women do not.

3 Added Something:

Blogger lucy4 quipped...

Yeah, it's interesting (or insane) how the Republicans can use Christianity to convince people to support war or to play the pro-life card yet still be for the death penalty.

Being a scientific American, I read this interesting article that might explains it. Seems that depending on how easily freaked out you are, it might reveal your political leanings.

I have more to say but I have to go to the market (after checking the terror alert level first, of course).

Friday, October 03, 2008 6:41:00 PM  
Anonymous anna quipped...

Oh but come on, she learned how to pronounce "Ahmadinejad" - points for that one...

But seriously, not only was I soundly unimpressed with her in the debate, I am back to questioning my citizenship in a country wherein someone like her is even allowed on the stage in the first place. Since I have a little Republican buried deep within, I consider it hopeful that I was hands down disgusted and depressed by her entire performance (which, as you know, has not always been the case). Maybe that means other thinking people who hold conservative values in this country didn't like her idiocy and "adorable unfamiliarity" with anything resembling basic knowledge of the running of a nation. (One can hope) (Note: I don't so much hold conservative values as I have a gut level resonance and sympathy for conservative perspective. Just to clarify)

Saturday, October 04, 2008 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger Cloudy quipped...

Oh, you Betcha!

Monday, October 06, 2008 11:08:00 AM  

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