COMMENTARY | There are several reasons that average Americans do not find former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann credible as strong female leaders. It has very little to do with their conservative political values or the fact that they are not part of the liberal Left's vocal feminist movement. It has everything to do with their subservience to the patriarchal theme, their lip-service to pushing against the "glass ceiling," and their unwillingness to make a stand against those of their own political persuasion in the interest of perceived and actual equality for women.
Both Palin and Bachmann exhibited these less-than-flattering attributes this week in response to the flap initiated by conservative talk radio show host Rush Limbaugh on Feb. 29 when he attacked Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke for her testimony before a congressional hearing on women's health care. Instead of backing Fluke's right to state her opinion without being subjected to ad hominem attacks by chauvinistic male figures like Limbaugh (who has shown a propensity for making sexist remarks over the years), the two took the chance to point out the hypocrisy of the media in reporting on the incident. They both noted that the media seemed in outrage over Limbaugh's remarks but had barely reported on incidents where they had suffered personal attacks themselves.
"I think the definition of hypocrisy is for Rush Limbaugh to have been called out, force to apologize and retract what it is that he said in exercising his first amendment rights," she told CNN when they caught up to her at an Alaska polling station in her home town of Wasilla, "and never is the same applied to the leftist radicals who say such horrible things about the handicapped, about women, the defenseless."
Palin's words were almost a direct echo of Bachmann's words uttered the night before on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight." After tap-dancing around the issue for several moments, she chose to attack the media as well.
"If you're a conservative woman, it seems like there is no level of vitriol that's beyond the pale. I've been on the receiving end of it. We all know Governor Palin has been on the receiving end of it. You don't see this level of outrage."
Although both Palin and Bachmann had a point that outrage over derogation targeting them weren't exhibited in the same manner (unless one counts Fox News Channel and conservative talk radio, which showed plenty of outrage and reaches more people than many of the other news media outlets combined), they both miss the point that they are public figures and subject to targeting, whereas Fluke was simply stating her opinion on a matter, much as anyone could or would do in any public forum. The difference in Fluke's case was that an individual with tremendous media reach not only voiced his opposition to her statements but twisted them into a mischaracterization that painted her a "slut" and "prostitute." Limbaugh went far beyond the general name-calling that is common among those in political opposition. Millions of people listening to his show found out that, according to Limbaugh, Fluke, a heretofore unknown law student at college, wanted constant promiscuous sex using contraception at taxpayers' expense (another mischaracterization as employers and health care providers pay for the contraception that Fluke spoke about, not taxpayers).
And Palin and Bachmann had nothing to say about the attack on Sandra Fluke herself. Whether or not the attacks on themselves were covered by the media was secondary to the attack on Fluke as a woman, something that Palin and Bachmann should have rallied around, firmly supporting Fluke's right to her opinion (even though it was opposite their own). They should have railed against the overt sexism, the chauvinistic domineering that it implied. They should have stood up for the young woman, therefore making themselves appear the strong female figures they have been attempting to convince Americans that they are.
But they are not.
The reason that the former Alaska governor and the Minnesota congresswoman lack credibility amongst many women has nothing to do with their credentials as conservative politicians. It has everything to do with appearing to be window-dressing for the Republican Party, token examples of the great strides made by women in the party of "old white men," paying lip-service to the shattered glass ceiling of inequality while at the same time cleaning up the mess made doing it so that the males that dominate can continue their politicking virtually undisturbed.
Palin and Bachmann are seen as well-dressed hypocrites by many women in America and every time they appear on camera and fail to support and equality issue or to stand behind another female, whether she be a liberal, a conservative, independent, or apolitical, they lose a little more of their credibility even within the ranks where they are strongest - conservative females. Because conservative women understand that strong women do not need to play politics with what is right and what is wrong. They do not deflect and misdirect when it comes to questions about fairness and equal treatment. Because these things are not political. They are universal. And strong women, unlike Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, stand for their right to be strong, to be equal, and for others to be the same.
The politics can come later...
No, strong female leaders would not allow another female -- no matter her political stripe -- to be publicly humiliated by some bombastic chauvinist entertainer for ratings purposes without some form of remonstration. Unless they are not quite as strong as they would have others believe.
There is no leadership, strong or otherwise, in abdication. Palin and Bachmann can now stop pretending to be strong female leaders.