Columns 2008

Palin isn’t shattering any glass ceilings

Here’s the difference between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. Sarah wears skirts. Hillary needs pants suits.  Most women aspire to look like Sarah but on a good day fall woefully short. On a bad day, they make Hillary look like Miss Wasilla material.

Before finding a way to be paid for sitting home in a sweatshirt with no makeup, bra or heels to constrict me, I worked in an office.  Some mornings while getting ready for work, I’d suspect that life was just messing with me. There is not a working woman alive who hasn’t had one of those days, the one where you put on mascara and clump you lashes. You try to unclump them only to smear your entire eyelid with black. You’re lucky if you leave the bathroom without ebony streaks down your cheeks.

Which of us has never gone into a meeting holding a notepad to our chest, not because we are ashamed of our breasts. but to hide the coffee/jelly stain that inexplicably showed up on the shirt right before we left home and right after we discovered we had nothing else to wear.

Now is there anything at all about Sarah Palin that would indicate to you she ever has days like that? Ever?  You can see where she might end up annoying a lot of women. Hillary, on the other hand, looks like she knows exactly what it’s like to have clumped mascara.

When Hillary Clinton ran in the primaries, there were more than a few snarky comments made about her hair, makeup and sense of style. It sometimes felt as if certain commentators, male and female alike, were annoyed that a woman they did not consider beautiful in the classic sense of the word had the temerity to put her face on camera every day and not feel a need to apologize for it. It’s as though they resented that a less than total babe would dare to think that she deserved air time.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for those same pundits to start making snarky comments about Sarah’s beauty and style, as though having those qualities means she couldn’t possibly have any good ideas or intelligence.  After all, how is the nation supposed to take seriously a woman who was once Miss Wasilla and a first runner up to Miss Alaska?

The fact is that all the interest and effort put into how a woman candidate looks often means missing the broader point of her candidacy.  Sarah is being touted as the Republican answer to Hillary for Hillary fans who feel cheated. But there is a critical difference in the two candidates. Hillary fought for her party’s nomination. She fought a good fight based on an organization she built and, against all odds, came within a hair’s breath of the nomination. What she earned, she earned on her own.

Sarah was plucked from the relative obscurity of Alaska’s gubernatorial mansion – ok, house in Wasilla – and handed a nomination for which she never had to fight.  She has been gracefully placed by McCain’s side to be the beauty to his beast, the young to his old, the change to his status quo, the staunch social conservative to his maverick middle.

But in no way has she shattered any glass on her way to this nomination. She was picked by a group of men needing someone to balance their act. Had this been a year when the Republicans felt more of a need for a male from the Midwest to carry some demographic there, Sarah would be still be in Wasilla driving her SUV to the office every day.

Hillary Clinton depended on no man to pick her to be anything. She saw what she wanted and she went for it. Hillary Clinton shattered the glass ceiling whether or not she ultimately won the nomination because she proved a women’s ability to mix it up with the guys and hold her own. Sarah has yet to prove that on a national stage. I hope she eventually does.

But right now, the only ceiling she should take credit for shattering is the one the Republicans erected above their women when they enshrined Pat Nixon and Nancy Reagan as the ideal American women.