Governor Sarah Palin And The Feminists: What's Up?

This year's Presidential and Vice-Presidential election spotlights the important contributions made by women in our society - be they single or married, mothers or not, young or old, rich or poor, from big cities or small towns, in high-powered careers or down-to-earth jobs. The women in this election season are as exciting and controversial as any male candidates have ever been. Each has found her own unique equilibrium between the passion she contributes to her chosen career and the love she bestows on her family.

Of course, the woman who has initiated the most discussion about this balance is Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, 44-year old Governor Sarah Palin. Palin has been combining a political career with motherhood for the past 16 years. Now with five children, her candidacy brings to the forefront the continuing struggles of working mothers.

Those struggles are not just internal but also for acceptance with society as a whole - and women in particular. Sarah Palin symbolizes different things to different women. To some she is the ultimate ceiling breaker, the first woman on a Republican Vice-Presidential ticket. In her acceptance speech at the convention, Palin said of her place on the Republican ticket it proved that, "Every woman can walk through every door of opportunity." She was poised and comfortable - a natural - as she stepped into the spotlight of history, a woman showing her toughness, yet with a smile. At the same time, she positioned herself as a typical mother acknowledging, "Our family has the same ups and downs as others."

But, just as a double standard is often applied to them, not all women themselves agree that she is the right choice. For these, she embodies the ultimate contradiction between family values and personal ambition. They wonder out loud if she can adequately mother her children while carrying on the national responsibilities required of a Vice-President. But is this argument anti-feminist? Interestingly, due to Governor Palin's political beliefs, the rhetoric comes more from liberals - traditionally feminists - than from conservatives.

The position on women's rights and opportunities seems to have flipped as far as this issue is concerned. Some of the most liberal feminists contend that Sarah Palin should not be on the ticket whereas conservatives declare she can balance her family responsibilities along with one of the most important jobs in the federal executive branch.

These kinds of questions have not been raised when a father of five takes on enormous challenges in his work life, even today when fathers are more involved in the daily lives of their children. Is this a double standard or justified by the reality of family needs? Do women face unique pulls when they become wives and mothers?

What voters need today is not a criticism of her personal story but a discussion of the real policy differences between Sarah Palin and the other candidates. Tina Fey's impersonation of her on Saturday Night Live brought more viewers to that show than have tuned in for many years. With Fey as Governor Palin and Amy Poehler as Senator Hillary Clinton, the sketch featured the women joining together to attack sexism in the election, even as they demonstrated the dissimilarity in political beliefs and positions.

Sandwiched Boomer women are looking for role models today as they juggle career and family - and wondering what direction the fight for women's rights will take now and in the future. Governor Palin, an unlikely kind of feminist, has shown that she is willing to get into the trenches and join the fight for herself, her party and her sex. Let's judge her credentials on their merits and her positions on their credibility - not on her status as a woman.

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Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are founders of, a website for midlife women and, a Blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about Baby Boomers and family relationships. They offer free newsletter Stepping Stones.

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