I have noticed a recurring pattern in reactions to the selection of Sarah Palin, both anecdotally and in polling: men have tended to be unusually enthusiastic about her, while women have tended to be more cautious and critical in their responses. This is not an absolute rule, since there have certainly been skeptical and critical responses from men as well, but it has been the case that women I have spoken to in the last few days, regardless of their own political leanings, have been much more likely to question the choice and Palin’s acceptance of the VP slot on the grounds that she is a mother of several young children. The objections were often expressed in practical terms (“how is she going to take care of her children and do this job?”), but the concern was fundamentally moral. It was the answer to the practical question, which they already knew (“she isn’t, someone else is”), that prompted this concern.
For decades, perhaps long after most of them stopped believing it, most conservatives have objected to the distortions of the sexual revolution and the pretense that there were no meaningful differences between the sexes. Stressing the distinctive and complementary roles of men and women, bristling at the suggestion of an identical equality of the sexes and railing against the idea that men and women are simply interchangeable in their roles, conservatives have pushed back, at least rhetorically, against the destructive and perverse notion that men and women are in all important respects the same. Perhaps it has been the last seven years of embracing the anti-jihadist propaganda praising secular modernity and women’s emancipation that has helped to erase these ideas from the minds of most conservatives, or perhaps it was the quintessential modern conservative delusion that we can “have it all”–complete with political Amazons leading the charge for traditional culture–that has blinded everyone to what is being compromised here. You could hardly ask for a better representation of the spiritual illness afflicting American conservatives than this: the subordination of familial and particularly maternal obligations to the service of party political activism. This is the illness that drives people to Washington to “do something” rather than remain at home preserving and creating the sane culture they claim to desire that the politicians praise and do nothing to protect.
Men’s responses have been considerably more favorable to her, and this is not only a function of partisan and ideological affinities. Among men, her favorability ratings are 65% compared to just 52% among women, and of that 65% among men 45% rate her very favorably. There is probably a number of reasons why this is so, but it is hard to get away from the creeping suspicion that men’s favorable responses to her are based to a significant degree on a combination of her looks and the transgressive, masculine traits they identify in her. The joke that Sarah Palin is the political equivalent of Lara Croft now seems to me to be an unfortunately apt explanation of why many men are falling all over themselves to praise her. Some part of the response to Palin from most men is probably as disordered as the priorities of the conservatives who are trying to make a virtue out of the fact that their preferred VP candidate has several young children whose upbringing she will necessarily have to neglect if she is to fulfill her political role.
P.S. Peter Suderman discusses the Sarah Palin-as-action hero idea at Culture11.