Sunday, October 18, 2009

You've Come a Long Way, Maybe by Leslie Sanchez: A Review, Part I

Leslie Sanchez, the author of a recently published You've Come a Long Way, Maybe: Sarah, Michelle, Hillary, and the Shaping of the New American Woman is a CNN journalist, a Republican, and a former adviser to President George W. Bush. Based on these qualifications, I was sure I would hate her book on the coverage that Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Obama received during the 2008 election campaign. So when I received the book I settled down nicely with it preparing to revel in anger and disgust at yet another incoherent, silly and badly written text coming from a Conservative. This, however, did not happen.

Sanchez represents that rare breed of Republicans who can write a book that would be of interest even to hard-core liberals such as this blogger. The main point she is trying to bring across in her book is that our society is still so profoundly sexist that a woman who aspires to political office has her chances severely limited by her gender. I couldn't agree more and the main question I have to ask is why Sanchez would want to belong to a party that is dedicated to promoting sexism on all levels. Being in the same room with woman-haters like Ross Douthat, Rush Limbaugh, George W. Bush and others is offensive to any woman, let alone actually belonging to the same party with them.

The part of Sanchez's book that I didn't like too much was, of course, the chapter dedicated to Sarah Palin. Sanchez believes that Palin was a valid candidate who was derailed by sexism which is still prevalent in our society. As much as I hate sexism, I do not believe that it is to blame for this particular poltical disaster.

What Sanchez fails to notice is that after having a very similar kind of person in power for eight years, people were weary of electing yet another uneducated, semi-literate, unintelligent, incoherent religious fanatic to one of the top ofiices in the country. Sarah Palin is simply a female version of Bush, Jr., and we have all seen where his policies have brought us. Without a doubt, Palin has suffered from sexism just as much as any woman trying to get elected has. But she can hardly complain since nobody promotes sexism in America more vigorously than the fundamentalist voter base that she embodies and represents. You cannot be a woman-hater (which anybody who supports the ban on abortion while advocating against sex ed in schools undoubtedly is) and complain that woman-haters have damaged your career. There is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that Palin's profound hypocrisy of being a career woman and promoting an ideology that dreams of seeing all women barefoot and in the kitchen backfired and put an end to her political ambitions.

Sanchez blames the media portrayal of Palin for her political failure. However, I can say that I personally do not remember watching any coverage on Palin. (Things were going on in my life that left me with no time to waste on anybody's commentary. I only watched the debates and the candidates' speeches, nothing else.) I haven't watched a second of SNL parodies or Jay Leno's jokes about Palin that Sanchez describes in her book. Why would I if Palin herself was the comedian of the year? Nobody told me to consider her ridiculous. I arrived at that conclusion completely unassisted simply because she is. 

Sanchez poses an important question: why was Palin so demonised by so many people? Her answer is sexism. I think that might be part of the answer. However, the most important reason for people's hatred of Palin is that for many of us she represented a version of George W. Bush, who by that time had become extremely unpopular. The very idea of yet another version of Bush in power for several years more drove many of us crazy. And for me personally (and probably for many other feminists) the very idea that a woman would promote such anti-women ideology was perceived as a major betrayal of women everywhere. An African-American who supports the Klan might be hated even more than a white Klan member. Sanchez is outraged that women weren't upset enough about sexist attacks against Palin to vote her into office. However, voting for someone whose central goal is to destroy women's lives in order to spite sexists would be kind of self-defeating.

I agree with Sanchez completely that the questions about whether Palin is a good mother and whether having many children would prevent her from doing her job as a Vice President were completely sexist and wrong. However, Palin herself is partly to blame for putting her motherhood at the center of the discussion. You can't keep repeating ad nauseam that being a  mother is what qualifies you for a job and then be upset that people start analyzing your claims. Palin's greatest problem, in my opinion, was that she strove to present herself as 'an average hockey mom' in a country where voters have finally come to realize that mediocrity does not represent a valid claim to a high elected office. We don't need an average anything in power any more because we have all seen where that brings us. We need outstanding, better-than-average, excellent, unique.

Sadly, as Sanchez convincingly demonstrates, when we get that, we still allow our sexism to cloud our judgment. Sanchez's analysis of Hillary Clinton's treatment by the media and many voters during her campaign proves that brilliantly. Talking about the incident where two men told Senator Clinton to iron their shirts, Sanchez asks the following question: "What if, during one of Michael Steele's speeches, these two young men had stood up and started waving signs and shouting at him the slogan "Shine my shoes!"?" I have to agree with Sanchez's answer: "My bet is that, if "Shine my shoes!" had been the slogan of the day, it would have galvanized us as a community and fomented  protests in a way that just didn't happen when Clinton was aked to iron shirts. In a way, that couldn't happen because she is a woman and, as a culture, we don't yet take sexism nearly to heart the way we do racism and other forms of prejudice." Sadly, sexism is so prevalent that we often fail to notice it when it occurs right in front of us.

I absolutely agree with Sanchez that Hillary Clinton's decision to talk about gender as little as possible during her campaign was a grave mistake. She tried to please male voters so much by her constant attempts to prove that she is as tough as members of the old-boys-club that she ended up repelling many female voters. I kept waiting for her to come in strong on gender issues but, sadly, that moment never came. For me, it signalled Clinton's reluctance to be a strong champion for women. As a result, I saw no reason at all to continue supporting her.


Natalee said...

Wow, this must be the longest post you've ever written. :-)

Simon Owens said...

Great analysis, Clarissa, I'll see if I can get Leslie Sanchez to respond in the comments.

Jenni Brand said...

Clarissa, thanks for this in-depth analysis of the book. I've been dying to dig into it, but alas, something called work has gotten in the way... Now, I have a renewed energy to read it right away - thanks for venturing there first!

Clarissa said...

Thank you, Simon! And also thanks for sending me the book!!

I'm so glad I could be of help, Jenni. Enjoy!

Stacy said...

I have to say, I agree with your analysis of Hillary Clinton trying too hard to be part of the boys club and prove that she was tough as nails- ironically, it was men like Mark Penn who urged her to do that.

I just got my copy of LWM in the mail this weekend and hope to have the book read and my review up by Thursday- and you've definitely motivated me!

Clarissa said...

Thank you for commenting, Stacy! It allowed me to discover your blog which looks extremely interesting. I will be looking forward to your review!

Alamar Fernandez said...

I agree with your review of Leslie's Book. I am a Liberal Democratic Party Member. I, too, was hesitant about reading "You've come A Long Way, maybe"; knowing that Leslie is a Republican. But I have come to admire her for many reasons...some common ground: Hispanic women born & reared in Texas and Mexican Music...she's the first Republican woman I have come to genuinely like. I pre-ordered her book, and have been reading it, as often as I can with my work getting, in the way. I am half-way through it and I believe that it also offers alot of food for thought, in the area of how women treat other women, and of course, how the Male Media is so sexist and seem to not know or care....because they can. What will change this is a mystery to me....except perhaps it's gonna take women coming together somehow and making a meaningful change...perhaps if women would give each other permission to choose to live their lives as they choose...with all the rights to choose, whatever and everything...
It's a Self-Esteem Awareness issue to me. But I am just an ordinary woman who has lived for 66yrs and have exp'd lots of Sexism, Racism, bigotry, Misogyny, etc. I work hard at being aware of my own moments of Sexism, Racism, Bigotry, Misogyny...and take myself to task for it.
I believe it is an important book to begin a meaningful dialogue and of course there will be disagreement because even though we are women, we are different.

Clarissa said...

Muchas gracias por dejar un comentario, Alamar. Me encantaria ver más gente Latina en mi blog.

I'm so glad that people are finding my review useful. I also agree that the important thing is to start a dialogue and I especially liked it that Leslie Sanchez has manage to find a respectful and intelligent tone for this discussion.

Alamar Fernandez said...

Thank You, Clarissa. Unfortunately, I am not bi-lingual. I know enough Spanish to get by. One of the by-products of being born in Texas in the 40's and going to segregated schools and being prohibited from speaking Spanish in Schools. My Grandpa was a very wise man...he was bi-lingual, and he began speaking to me in English when I was in the womb. My Grandma spoke to me in Spanish...but the English stuck.
I look forward to reading more of your blog and I hope you will visit mine when you get a chance

Clarissa said...

I love your blog, Alamar. i will be following it now. Thank you for coming here!

Alamar Fernandez said...

Thank you Clarissa for looking at my blog. I am honored that you will be following it. Makes me want to write some more:)
Thanks again!