Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Feminists: Madonna, Oprah and Palin

Even if she disappears from the scene forever after a McCain defeat, Palin will still have made an enormous and lasting contribution to feminism. As I said in my last column, Palin has made the biggest step forward in reshaping the persona of female authority since Madonna danced her dominatrix way through the shattered puritan barricades of the feminist establishment. In 1990, in a highly controversial New York Times op-ed that attacked old-guard feminist ideology, I declared that "Madonna is the future of feminism" -- a prophecy that was ridiculed at the time but that turned out to be quite true. Madonna put pro-sex feminism on the international map.

But it is now 18 years later -- the span of an entire generation. The instabilities and diminishments for young women raised in an increasingly shallow media environment have become all too obvious. I had grown up in a vibrant pop culture with glorious women stars of voluptuous sensuality -- above all Elizabeth Taylor, sewn into that silky white slip as the vixen Manhattan call girl of "Butterfield 8." In college, I feasted on foreign films starring sexual sophisticates like Jeanne Moreau, Anouk Aimée and Catherine Deneuve. Sex today, however, has become brittle and superficial. Except for the occasional diverting flash of Lindsay Lohan's borrowed bosom, I see nothing whatever that is worth a second glance. Pro-sex feminism has worked itself out and, like all movements, has degenerated into clichés. And even Madonna, with her skeletal megalomania, looks like a refugee from a horror movie.

The next phase of feminism must circle back and reappropriate the ancient persona of the mother -- without losing career ambition or power of assertion. Betty Friedan, who had first attacked the cult of postwar domesticity, had long warned second-wave feminists such as Gloria Steinem about the damaging exclusion of homemakers from their value system. The animus of liberal feminists toward religion must also end (I am speaking as an atheist). Feminism must reexamine all of its assumptions, including its death grip on abortion, if it wishes to survive.
Camille Paglia at Salon Magazine

I think there are two things going on here with Palin and I think Paglia gets that.

One, she is a political extremist and her experience is too involved in the "good ol boys" posturing politics, for me.

It is those kind of politics that I don't like about Palin and basically that is what liberals don't like as well.

Instead of articulating such...liberals HAVE responded emotionally to her. They have been petty. They have been namecalling and snobbish.

The Democrats instead should focus on the campaign and on communicating why they are the party for people and helpful to economc growth and security and focus on the country.

The second thing going in fact true to what Paglia says. Palin may not be exactly my kind of politican...but she is a huge leap to the mainstream for the emotional imagination of women and feminism.

Palin embodies a formally ignored feminist.

It is also true that the feminist effects of Madonna didn't surface until all those little girls who sang along to "papa don't preach" and "express yourself" started dating and getting into the work force. Those simple childhood passions in music filtered into girls who were raised in macho latino families, in repressive patriarchal suburbs and gave those young women a sense of empowerment.

I think Paglia has missed something though...and that is the power of feminist icon of Oprah. The thing is Oprah has represented and served the "homemaker feminist" for two decades across race and economic incomes.

When Oprah endorsed Obama her ratings dropped massively. She has lost part of her audiences.

What Palin that lost Oprah audience.

Except for her actual politics and policies Palin is representing all kinds of women across the board even upper class women who are liberal...they might be complaining and trashing her right now...but that is because they have worked hard at smoothing out the rough edges via university and Martha Stewart or studying "high culture" like wine, bookclubs, home decorating and art.

People have vastly underestimated how Palin has captured the imagination and she is a force to be reckoned with: it's pure genius.

But don't get me wrong, she is not my cup of tea, I am not a "fan" but I am able to see and uderstand that she is touching lots of people. I also don't think she is stupid. I think she has policies that are so rigid it makes her appear stupid. She is not.

Did you see the Couric stuff?

Now my breakdown of this clip...that has been floating around the internet with jokes is such: Yes, Palin does look dumb when she is asked "what sources for news does she read?" she says ahe reads "um, all of them".

...BUT...see how she catches Couric. She points out that Couric isn't really asking her which papers she gets her news from...
Couric is under polite pretense saying "Alaskans are dumb and don't have newspapers are cut off from culture or public life etc"

Palin has heard it all before. She is aware of the kind of redneck jokes people tell about people in rural areas. (we have Newfie and Polish jokes in Canada) she knows the world thinks remote places like the Appalacians, Alaska, or Wyomming are not considered cosmopolitan or international or worldly: hicks, inbred, stupid, parochial...and Palin recognizes the game Couric is playing.

For me Couric looks like a snob and a "mean girl" in that clip. And Palin is not to be suckered in. She may not have the answers that liberals want to hear but she is well savvy with knowing the point of their questions is to cut her down...not find out who she is...

The thing is...there isn't one kind of feminist. Like women there are all kinds ranging from having beliefs against abortion to being pro-choice, for the death penalty, against it. Palin's presence in mainstream culture is a sign of the varieties of thinking among contemporary culture. Many of the issues that Palin supports are long overdue to be revisited, discussed and argued about within women's society. And within our culture in general. Palins presence and popularity in mainstream culture is also a sign of civil conflict.

Oprah turned down having any politicians on her show for the election. She said she couldn't because she is not neutral...but the interview of the century just might be a future one with Palin and Oprah.

P.S. If you're looking for a hip roast of Sarah Palin, please read the Rolling Stone neo-Hunter S. Thompson article by Matt Taibbi clicking on these yellow letters.

The Economist set up an image of what if the whole world were voiting, click on yellow text.


Anonymous said...

"Shallow, fake... Sarah Palin is beyond parody
The kid-glove treatment of the Republican vice-presidential candidate is an insult to women..."

Rest of the Times Online article

Candy Minx said...

Hi Anonymous,

Yeah, I saw that Times article. I dunno...telling someone they have to go to college sounds...well snobby to me.

The Times article is a very good example of the kind of stale fancypants attention people like Couric are giving Palin.

I will repeat what I said in my post, Palin is not my cup of tea. Politically she is an extresist so thats a deal breaker for me.

But Martin Samuel sounds like a total buzzkill. I'd rather have a beer with Palin. She's funny. Martin Samuel sounds kind of out of touch on the Palin situation.

I'm not giving Palin props, I'm not into her...but she is a voice of feminism and she is an overnight huge mainstream icon. A red flag goes up for armchair anthropologist side gets interested.

I think it's counter-productive to just write like Martin Samuel and namecall and insult her intelligence. She's not stupid.

That's the point, she's a very good public speaker despite not liking what she has to say.

As long as journalists and politicians keep trying to marginalize Palins charisma and intelligence they will be out of touch with her supporters...and out of touch with contemporary culture. How does trying to deflate or marginlaize Palins power help people find the best candidate?

If Obama can communicate the primoridial need we all have to take care of our lives, take care of the nation...and help others while showing it is a logical and economic advantage to live is such a way, maybe the U.S. won't become a dinosuar.

China is doing works on this notion but with dire consequences (pollution, human rights compromised). Surely in Europe and North America we can find a different result by using the same human drive for economic comfort but combine it with community sensibilities?

Now if you want to enjoy a much more lively roast of Sarah Palin...and I love politicians getting roasted...I much prefer the neo-Hunter S. Thompson rant by Matt Taibi to stale ol Martin Samuel.

The Times? Come on I'm a rock and roll punk rocker...give me Spin or Vibe or Juxtapoz or Rolling Stones for roasting viterol...sheesh!


Matt Taibi in Rolling Stone magazine:

mister anchovy said...


Gardenia said...

It is amazing to me that Palin could even be considered as Feminist as I think she was chosen to garner the conservative Christian vote and to pick up any voters who might swing because of Hillary (who I think is a true feminist) and she is a friend of big oil. She is there only because she is "allowed" to be there by the male establishment.

Her rise from a remote governorship has certainly given many of us much fodder for thought.

In a state with such a small population base, ambition and doing what those in power want in an amicable yet tough outcome is often more important than qualification in politics. Or maybe that IS the qualification for "baby" politicians.

But enough said - history will bear witness to the feminism premise.

She does speak quite well even though she is unable to go into much depth (for a politician) and is quite repetitive (even for a campaign).

I'll have to go back and visit the links & video you provided - have been sooo busy - - -

I find it interesting how quickly her image was remade - in only a couple of weeks the unruly ponytail was gone and she was wearing suits ala Mrs. McCain style instead of back country flannel.

I think the liberals perhaps don't care for her because she doesn't seem authentic - only an invention of a political system, and ultimately is being used by the male ruling establishment - she will be a good "pet" - much like Condi. Not to say she doesn't have enough cunning to survive it much as Condi - although I believe Condi is much smarter and has much more class, even though I don't really care much for her either - I have never heard her have a voice of her own either.

Rebuttal? I have no one in my circles that will take my thoughts on this as anything more than blasphemy against higher powers, let alone throw out some discussion. I praise your post once again!

I would have thought Madonna would have been an unlikely candidate as a feminist icon - because few men would and I doubt still do not relate to her as the savvy businesswoman and artist that she is-but rather as a sex symbol, i.e., object. I have recently read snide remarks about her age - when in reality she is still one of the most sexually powerful women around on the public scene.

But she was awesome in the fact that she dared take sexuality to places wheretofore only men performers could go an aggresive sexual stance.

Too many males consider a woman's sexuality only valid when the woman can be controlled.

My friend who spent quite a few years as a County Clerk thinks that Palin has a "school marmy" sexual attraction which has garnered support from men. So has it come to that? "H" refuses to discuss such with me. :)

On a personal emotional basis, I really resent, as a person that makes under 5 million a year, being referred to as "Joe Sixpack." And I would like to say to her, "Honey, do you realize how many babyboomer women are out there that vote - as you call all Soccer Moms to unite behind your war party?"

I would rather have had Demi Moore OR Madonna cast in Palin's role. :)

Am I that far out of any inkling of what is going on in contemporary culture? Because one of the very interesting similarities I see in Palin and the 27 year old new County Clerk where I came from is a short, stocky sort of Rachael Ray physique, a lot of giggly, winky, and either feigned or real naivity but lots of fox cunning which very often is a great substitute for real intelligence. (You are 100 times smarter than Palin ever thought of being.) Is this what Joe Six Pack really wants to run his country? Egad.

Is this cunning animal smart type of woman a pioneer for the very intelligent cerebral woman that will arise in public power when a more enlightened humanity realizes that intelligence is not synonomous with "elite" necessarily? Now, we could use one of those!

Yoiks, I have probably just went out of bounds with blogging/comment etiquette.

Candy Minx said...

Hi Gardenia, you are not out of bounds at all!

I think I should have put in the title of this blog post "feminist icons" rather than just feminist.

Maybe I will amend that in a few minutes.

For me, feminism isn't in one package...and I think we are seeing such a revolving set of female images in the last hundred years as something that supports this changing perception.

If we posted pictures of suffragettes and then Betty Frieden and /gloria Steinem and Madonna and Palin and looked at them and said...these are all feminist might be confusing and interesting.

In the political struggle for womens rights we have many icons and images. What the suffragettes claimed as rights have been added on in following generations. The struggle s of women in a previous generation to me are not the same as any struggles I have fought as a woman. I grew up with equal rights, with laws allowing for pro-choice, for voting, with equality in household matters, with rights for lesbians etc.

Where I experienced feminist struggles was not in these issues but in fighting to wear what I wanted without being called a slut. For dating and staying single for a much longer time period in my youth. For rejecting when men put their conversation and social powers before women. These aren't always "legal" struggles...what women are often dealing with in the last twenty years is subtle social status, defending our clothing, our sexual or intimate practices on a much more intimate level. Prostitution is now "sex workers", for example.

The most public struggle or many women has been that of the single mom...who has and often still is...the dirge of society. Now we have sitcoms where it is single moms.

Another struggle has been the public discussion of whether women can work outside the home and adequately be "hands on parents" (this is now an ethical struggle for all genders including gay couples!)

Sarah Palin is a fenminist icon in the same way Andrea Dorkin is: they exist politicaqlly at the extremes of womens issues.

Whether we "like" Palin is not the issue of the recognition that se is in a role of becoming a feminist icon. Madonna did it without us hardly realizing it.

Madonna isn't just a feminist icon because she has good business savvy. (although I agree with you that is a part of her persona) She is an icon because she has stood the test of time of first being a "ditsy disco dance pop star"...she is an icon because she had continued to write music that touched people emotionally while she changed her image nd experimented with sexual personas in the public eye. Personas of women "roles" as sexual objects, as whores, as motherly, as career, as dominatrix, especially a sexually demanding female.

These may not be landslide political or legalissues...but they are profound intimate personal issues of freedom for many women and gays.

People have dismissed Oprah's audiences and programs as "soap operas" "sensationailism" and "materialistic" for years...but she has a huge following and dialogue with many women who do not feel they are represented in public, in society or in their own homes.

We can see in the past few weeks that the majority of media does not respect the "homemaker feminist" or "mother feminist" by the reaction...often completely melodramatic of Sarah Palin.

I think people have freaked out a little too much.

This is again, not to say, I "like" Palin as a politician or agree with her. But I think she has revealed a part of female struggles by the backlash against her.

I think Palin is an extremist politically. I don't lie that. In the same way I did not lie Margeret Thatcher in England in the 80's. I could not understand why people elected her...she was a dangerous force I think. But now that time has gone by, I have learned more and am older...I can see that despite my dislike of her...she was a powerful feminist icon.

There isn't one package or political issue of feminism. It is a force of many costumes and flavours. The issues surrounding womens voices and politics are much vaster than we could have predicted in the 1970's.

Women need to understand that as a group we have vast issues that we may not share between us but we share as a gender and even beyond gender.

We need to listen to the various branches of womens issues rather than typecast a feminist as someoen "who wants to make money, support abortion rights, walk alone at night safely, and have partners who do housework. We are much more diverse than those issues and until we accept the social challenges of our community we will always be stuck fighting over the superficial petty issues. Women bickering over who is a worthy feminist icon isn't a positive political or social action. Women embracing all peoples struggles and opening dialogue is much more survival oriented.

I believe the secret to our potentials lies in acknowledging there isn' t one face to feminist or human rights in general.

Accepting diversity and polarity is a future survival and spiritual principle for healthy community.

* (asterisk) said...

I'm with Mr A: hmmmm.

I think she is stupid. Perhaps even more stupid than Bush. And that is very scary.

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