The problem(s) with Palin

So I got up this morning, thinking I was going to get some work done (much to do before I go off to Vietnam) --- but then I made the mistake of reading the local news. I still hardly ever read The Straits Times, but I occasionally dip into Today to see if I'm missing any kind of critical Singapore news.

As it turns out, had I not read today's Today, I would've missed the very critical Singapore news that, in contextualising Sarah Palin's Republican candidacy for US Vice President:
Well. Nothing like news first thing in the morning to make me angry.

Okay, first of all, I'll give the writers some benefit of the doubt, in that perhaps their essays have gone through the usual newspaper editorial process and may not represent their complete views on Palin and "women's roles". In particular, I've read some of Singam's other more writing, which is typically more progressive, so this one seems uncharacteristic. But unless either writer offers a clarification of her position and/or posts an unexpurgated piece for the world to read, I'm going to have to take these published versions at face value.

And that face value is a very disappointing one indeed. Here you have opinion pieces by two representatives of modern Singapore women (Rajaram is the deputy editorial director for news, radio and print at MediaCorp, which publishes Today, even though it wasn't footnoted in her essay), and neither one takes Palin to task for all the very substantive reasons her policy positions are a problem for women, regardless of Palin's gender, and why her being a woman per se is no reason to support her.

Sure, Singam mentions in passing at the beginning (right before the gushing about how charismatic Palin takes over), "I am not sure if I want a superwoman and a conservative like Mrs Palin to make public policy decisions that affect my life." But then there's no elaboration. At the end of her essay she concludes, "women are still not powerful enough to change the value system that currently expects women to be superwomen and excludes men and women from achieving work-life balance." Amen, sister! But why wasn't this the primary argument of the essay, as opposed to the aforementioned gushing?

And if Singam's going to quote Gloria Steinem saying that the Republican Party is "trying to appease the gender gap with a first-ever female vice-president", why not go the whole hog and point to Steinem's critique of Palin's policy positions in that same opinion piece ("Palin: wrong woman, wrong message", published in the LA Times)? Specifically, Steinem writes:
Palin's value to those [right-wing Republican] patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves "abstinence-only" programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers' millions for a state program to shoot wolves from the air but didn't spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation ... [emphasis mine]
Rajaram, while you're busy saying you "respect the fact that [Palin's] decision [to support her pregnant daughter in keeping the baby] is based on her own values", you might want to note that Palin is keen on imposing those same values on the rest of America (and possibly the world, if Dubya's record with abstinence-only Aids aid to Africa is anything to go by). Which means that women and families wouldn't actually get to make their own decisions based on their own values anymore.

I think what annoyed me the most about the two Today essays was how much the underlying message was: "Palin's a woman, ergo we identify with and support her." Behold the gushing:
  • Rajaram: "Mrs Palin, 44, is one of us — a wife, a mother (to a brood of five, at that!) and a career woman all in one. All of us 40-something baby-boomer women can identify and bond with her."
  • Rajaram: "Three days after the baby was born, she was back at work. All mothers know how difficult that must have been ..."
  • Singam: "The combination of these qualities makes her attractive to both men and women."
  • Singam: "Women, can relate to her — a woman who has succeeded as a wife, mother and a public figure and who had to face the challenges of bringing up a child with Down’s Syndrome and face the problem of teenage pregnancy. Which family hasn’t had its problems?"
Okay, look: One does not support a person, political candidate or otherwise, only because of their gender (or age group, for that matter). Because then boys would only vote for boys, and girls for girls, and ... I mean, do I really need to explain this?

And if you are going to, in Rajaram's words, "identify and bond with her", how about examining the whole Palin package first? For a start, see the Steinem excerpt above (or the full article, while you're at it), or Slate's Sarah Palin FAQ. Instead, Rajaram's love-fest highlights the fact "before she was Alaska’s governor, she was the mayor of her hometown, Wassila [sic]". That would be the Wasila with a population of 5,400-9,000 people (depending on who you ask), i.e. the town had about as many people as 3-6 Singapore secondary schools? Singapore doesn't even have a constituency that small.

This, you know, is the evil genius of the Republican Party in the US: that in putting up Palin as their vice-presidential candidate, they have unleashed --- even in faraway Singapore --- a discussion of "women's roles" that demeans the very subject. Singam notes:
[Palin] symbolises family values dear to the aspirations of conservatives everywhere. Singapore policymakers would love her. Can they get Singapore women to have as many children and be active in the workforce?
Unfortunately, she only briefly critiques that Singapore position, pointing out that "[h]owever successful [Palin] is, she still goes home to her responsibility as daughter, mother and wife" while men are not subject to similar expectations of being son-father-husband. Meanwhile, the concluding paragraphs of Rajaram's essay happily flogs that conservative Singapore position:
... She is a small-town girl, who has worked hard to get where she is today.

Whether she gets voted in or not, Mrs Palin's small town values of family, fidelity, honour and responsibility will certainly hold her in good stead.

At the end of the day that's the backbone of what makes a good man ... or a good woman ... a great leader. [emphasis mine and what is up with those misplaced ellipses?]
Ah, conservatives and their "small-town values" (read: Asian values?). Because everyone in the big city doesn't give a damn about "family, fidelity, honour and responsibility" (just like anyone with those damn "Western values"). Thank you for buying into the culture wars, both the American and Singaporean versions. Thank you for so elegantly reframing the discussion of women's issues. NOT.

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At 9/06/2008 3:36 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I refuse to even BLOG about her now. First pass was just sheer surprise. Now, she is vile.

At 9/07/2008 10:14 am , Blogger Dot said...

Gawd I am so glad I didn't see those two pieces. I would have had an aneurysm. Are these the women in Singapore we trust to speak up for us? Or is the govt expecting a McCain-Palin victory so they are laying their sucking up groundwork now?

At 9/08/2008 7:20 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Palin's a woman, ergo we identify with and support her."

Not sure if you caught the Jon Stewart show of the Palin nomination.... its hilarious!

At 9/08/2008 2:57 pm , Blogger ichoisarius said...

Word, word, word, word, word. To which I add:


At 9/09/2008 1:51 am , Blogger Kiv said...

way to go TYM! I find it disturbing when women go "women power" for no reason other than that they belong to the same gender.

At 9/10/2008 9:16 am , Blogger ran ran said...

Personally, I applauded Singam's article when I saw it a few days ago. I read it as a pretty suave attempt to fit the Palin issue together with Singapore's current concerns. To do so, she engaged in hyperbole till she came up with a picture of Palin that seemed impossible to replicate, and then she subtly slips in a critique of Palin's "anti-abortion stance" and her promotion of abstinence and opposition to sex education, which by association becomes a questioning of everything that she praises Palin for in the entire article, including the problem with local conservativeness. But I would agree that the gushing may be too much.

At 9/11/2008 10:37 am , Blogger Jess said...

i know we can use facts to argue abt/against Palin, but on a visceral level, watching her speak made me nauseous -- she's evil.

At 9/12/2008 12:27 am , Blogger budak said...

why do you hate America?

At 10/03/2008 11:42 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, what? We don't hate America. What liberals/progressives take offence at is the insular, imperialistic, neocon way US politics is being run now.

To everyone else: I completely agree, Palin as McCain's running mate is nothing short of patronising. This is a woman who allowed rape victims to be charged for their rape kits under her tenure as mayor, who defended her daughter's "choice" yet wants to take away the same right to choose from all American women, who thinks offshore drilling won't hurt the environment (global warming? What global warming?), who wants to take polar bears and beluga whales off the endangered list... I could go on and on, but I think most of the commenters here are already familiar with her dodgy stance ;)

Seriously, though, I am very concerned about the unthinking support she is receiving from Singaporeans who identify as conservatives and hence support her anti-choice, anti-LGBT rights, fiscally "conservative" world-view. I have a conservative teacher who supports McCain because McCain is against Roe; even after informing said teacher about all the aforementioned points, he still believes that opposition to Roe trumps concerns such as the sovereignty of Pakistan, negotiations with Iran, etc.

The SNL sketches, in my opinion, provide the perfect snapshots of Mrs Palin as she is.


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