Is Sarah Palin Creating Her Own Sexism?

Fri, November 20, 2009

Making Our Political Voices Heard

My gut reaction when I saw the cover of Newsweek with Sarah Palin in her tight runner’s shorts, coyly posed in that former beauty queen stance, I was ready to throw something heavy at editor-in-chief Jon Meachem.

Palin Newsweek

Looking at the impact that the former Alaska Governor is having on the political world now is fair.  Putting her on the cover of a major news magazine in a tight, revealing outfit makes me wonder — would they do this to any notable woman given the chance?

The buzz on the cover story has been mixed.  The Women’s Media Center, which created a video during the 2008 presidential campaign entitled, “Sexism Sells, But We’re Not Buying It,” issued a statement saying:

[We] strongly object to Newsweek’s cover featuring Sarah Palin in short shorts and a fitted top. It is clear that, under pressure to be provocative, Newsweek is using Sarah Palin as a pin-up girl to sell magazines.

Like all political figures, Palin’s record, policies and performance should be subject to rigorous media critique. However, The Women’s Media Center opposes media coverage focused on her appearance and sexuality. This positioning of Sarah Palin undermines any serious analysis of her role as a national political figure.

What Mr. Meacham and his colleagues fail to realize is that, by portraying Sarah Palin in this light, they have added an additional barrier for all women and girls who aspire to political leadership. It is no coincidence that women make up only 17 percent of Congress while comprising 51 percent of the nation’s population.

What about Palin’s role in this?  Clearly, she must have thought this was a perfectly legitimate way to portray herself and, as a mother of daughters, must not be worried about what message she’s sending by posing in what used to be called “hot pants,” even for a runner’s magazine.

I hold publications like Newsweek to a higher standard, though.  I don’t want my fourth-grade daughter to get the idea that the road to political office is paved with short shorts, a suggestive pose and lots of eye makeup.  Or that for a woman politician to be on the cover of a major magazine, this is what you’ve got to do.

For me, the bigger issue is the cumulative effect. It’s not just about Palin looking like a sexy runner in Newsweek.  It’s also about portraying Michelle Obama as the shy party girl on the cover of Glamour and the brouhaha over Hillary Clinton’s cleavage. It’s about looking at the bigger picture and asking, “Is it ever OK?”

Newsweek is using sex to sell magazines.  It’s no secret that Newsweek is in financial trouble, so it’s no leap to assume that hoping to sell more magazines was one of the considerations in choosing the cover photo.

At the end of the day, the question shouldn’t be whether Palin deserves this treatment because she’s the one who allowed the photo to be taken and whether she set herself up (again) to be viewed as the victim, even though the original photo was for Runner’s World.  The bigger issue really is about all women.  Because if the media thinks it’s OK to undercut and minimize high profile women with the use of a photo like this, then what would make them stop when it comes to how they write about and cover the rest of us?

When they call us “mommybloggers” as a way to belittle our writing or tell us not to worry our little heads about whether we get our mammograms at 40 or 50, it’s all a form of sexism, just as the use of this photo is.

Part of me does feel like Palin deserves what she gets.  But if I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that same sexism, then don’t I have an obligation to speak up when it happens to her, even if she had some role in it?

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19 Responses to “Is Sarah Palin Creating Her Own Sexism?”

  1. Dr. Val Says:

    Unfortunately, Sarah never posed for Newsweek. They got the photo from a shoot she did for Runner’s World. So double shame on Meachem. Context is everything when it comes to sexism. ;-)

  2. Joie at Canned Laughter Says:

    Dr. Val said it first. To take a photo from another publication’s story encouraging family fitness and cut & paste it onto a new background in a demeaning context is reprehensible. Perhaps they should change the name of the magazine to Misogyny-week.

  3. Colleen Says:

    While I think Newsweek should have been more careful in their choice of photo, I think that the photo is entirely appropriate for a runners magazine. I don’t think it looks sexist – I think she looks strong and fit. I don’t see your problem with the shorts – lots of women run in similar attire.

  4. Em Says:

    The picture doesn’t bother me because I’ve come to expect some type of angle from every publication. At least it’s an actual shot and not some Photoshopped job, but the extra large text covering the Blue Star banner – they could have worked that a little better and showed some respect.

    Crazy, I know.

  5. Mary G Says:

    I have no problem with what she is wearing. If you are out running, that is what you wear. If the photo showed her in a tank top and no bra (not after five kids, what am I thinking?) that would be different.
    I have trouble with the ‘Beauty Queen’ leg arrangement. A runner does not stand like that. I also have trouble with the flag – what is that doing in the shot – and that Newsweek borrowed it for the cover when there are hundreds of shots of her in business dress available.
    On the other hand – are we not supposed to notice that women are women? There has to be a happy medium. Somewhere.

  6. Debbie Owensby Moore Says:

    I agree Mary. It’s the stance and what appears to be panty hose under the shorts. But regardless, when the outfit is placed on the cover of Newsweek instead of a runner’s magazine, I view it as sexism. I hate that I agree with Palin on this!

  7. Karen Maezen Miller Says:

    Sarah Palin always seems to know what she is doing, as did Newsweek. What she is doing is what I know I did when I was younger, cuter, and just as smart as I am today: use sexual attraction as power. And Newseek used it to undermine her power. That’s “the problem” they refer to.

    Every woman knows what Sarah knows, and how to use it. Why didn’t she insist that she be photographed running? Because she knows what her power is, for now.

  8. Daisy Says:

    Can Newsweek not afford its own photographers, that it has to buy a photo from Runners World?

  9. Sisterlisa Says:

    I watched her interview with O’Rielly last night and she is NOT happy about this photo. If people vote for Palin it is because of her ability to do the job, not how great she looks in shorts. Although if the votes come in because of the shorts, I doubt she’ll argue the vote. ;)

  10. Julie @ The Mom Slant Says:

    I’d be interested to hear how others on the right are reacting. I genuinely can’t understand why any publication would think this is acceptable.

  11. Boston Mamas Says:

    Well put. I see a cover like that and I cringe because invariably my 5 year old sees things in the world and asks about them. And I’m supposed to explain that this person was vying for the vice presidency (and probably will run for the presidency in the future)? It makes me cringe.

    I agree with Karen; if she wanted to be featured in a running magazine, why not be photographed running. Doing a pin up pose like this one is essentially just as suggestive (but with enough room for caveats and objections and justifications) as the fig leaf spread by Levi. -Christine

  12. meredith groenevelt Says:

    Where’s Sarah Palin in all this? Is she offended by the Newsweek cover? Because, if Ms. Palin approves of this cover than I believe Newsweek did its job and portrayed Ms. Palin accurately. Yes, as a woman and mother to three girls, I find this cover very offensive. But then again, I’m offended by Ms. Palin, so it’s what I’d expect.

  13. meredith groenevelt Says:

    O.K., just told, Ms. Palin is not pleased with Newsweek’s cover. But I still wonder, have any of her counterparts posed in shorty-shorts for any magazine covers? I’m just curious.

  14. Debbie Owensby Moore Says:

    Karen, thanks. Your comments bring clarity for me. You are right, Palin might not be an intellectual but she does know how to use her attractiveness.

    I knew there was something greatly amiss if I was agreeing with Palin!

  15. Lisse Says:

    No serious female politician would ever have allowed herself to be photographed like this, even for a running mag. If Ann Coulter dressed like this, no one would care, but someone who wants a position of leadership?

    Yet another example of Sarah Palin as a walkin’ talkin’ winkin’ flirtin’ major setback with a hunting license.

    Thanks Sarah, you’re our own worst enemy!

  16. anon Says:

    Accusing someone of “creating” their own sexism is pretty much the lowest blow to feminism you could think of, especially coming from a woman’s mouth. Dr. Val is right, and if you had even checked one resource on the subject you would’ve known that. I only heard about it on the radio and knew that they had taken the photo from a totally different photoshoot. Shame on you!

  17. PunditMom Says:

    Um, I knew the photo was from a runner’s magazine, as I indicated. I still think it’s a fair question, whether you agree or not.

  18. Gunfighter Says:

    As in all things, Joanne, perspective rules all. I saw that magazine cove and thought: “Geez, what a dope!” I never gave the fact that she is wearing shorts a further thought.

    As for Newsweek, if this is what they call selling sex, then they have failed, massively.


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