Is Palin a Step Backwards for Women in Power?

Bella Abzug -- the shrewd, hard-hitting, passionate and idealistic legislative genius who led the women’s movement and represented New York in Congress -- once remarked that we would only have true gender equality when an incompetent woman could go as far as an incompetent man. That milestone appears to have been achieved with the nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President. Which is not to say that Palin couldn’t become competent, but Bella, who understood and believed in government so profoundly, would be horrified at how little expertise Palin brings to the table right now. Even the reportedly clear glasses she wears to play down her beauty-queen credential and enhance her gravitas can’t make up for experience. This is not an anti-woman statement; it is a pro-national leadership statement. Running the country is not a learn-as-you-go job.

It has been argued by her defenders that Palin -- the Hockey Mom -- can do it all and that any suggestions that she can’t are sexist. We, who know what sexism is because we helped define it before we began working to defeat it, can tell you that Having It All has been one of the crucibles of the struggle for equality. When the term began to circulate in the 1970s many women felt oppressed by the supposed message that in order to be "new women" they had to have high power careers, raise multiple children -- and, as Jane O’Reilly once wrote, be “multi-orgasmic til dawn.” As the conversation went on, women modified that message and began to reassure each other that "you can have it all -- just not all at once." Until we have more reliable and universal child care and special needs options and until we can offer all teenagers advice besides the "abstinence only" approach Palin subscribes to, a mother in her circumstances would have a hard enough time getting to work every day, let alone being a heartbeat away from leading a family of nations she has never even traveled through.

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