Online women magazine Jezebel is asking out loud the question that has been in everyone’s mind since Sarah Palin stepped out of the vice-presidential spotlight: in all objectivity, how much does her feminity and overall appearance affected the votes? Far from suggesting that her lack of analytical skills and general puzzlement over political analysis were less important to voters than the average mysogynist would call for, statistics on the effect of  her appeal (or lack thereof) to voters may have to do with being a woman. Was she objectified because of her incompetence, or was she deemed incompetent before she was objectified? If Sarah Palin already has an answer (the gotcha mainstream press was after), this chicken-or-egg debate is given serious consideration by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Sarah Palin: if this is the option for a female politician, Id rather have none, thankyouverymuch.

Sarah Palin: if this is the option for a female politician, I'd rather have none, thankyouverymuch.

According to Nathan Heflick and Jamie Goldenberg, who conducted the experience, focusing on a woman’s looks and appearance is likely to create a lesser sense of humanity, apprehending the individual in a “more robotic way”. Are they actually saying people believed Sarah Palin was incompetent because of her glasses, and not after her incredible Katie Couric interview? They explain that “perceptions of competence and humanness played a mediating role, such that appearance focus lowered perceived human essence and competence, which in turn reduced intentions to vote for John McCain.” Your average voter’s brain is apparently incapable of multi-tasking,and all the fuss surrounding Palin’s transparent-rimmed glasses took a serious and demeaning advantage over her dubious credentials. If anything, such distraction worked to her advantage. Her outfits are somehow less humiliating than her confessed ignorance of the Bush Doctrine.

The most worrying part of Jezebel’s commentary, however, is their interpretation that focus on looks somehow made voters incapable of understanding the other criterias on which one is supposed to base their judgement. “Both men and women, as well as liberals, moderates and conservatives, tended to objectify Sarah Palin and Angelina Jolie and judge them less competent when asked to contemplate their looks exclusively”, they said, which sounds just about right to me, since competence is definitely not based on looks, and if anything, Angelina Jolie could never be deemed “competent” by the shape of her lips, the same way Sarah Palin couldn’t have suddenly become a viable vice-presidential candidate if one based their opinion solely on the tailoring of her skirts. Voters need information: they need background, they need opinion, they need debates, and first and foremost, they need to be taken seriously, and not mislead, misinformed, and misguided in order to create an aura of legitimacy where there isn’t one. If Sarah Palin is currently accusing McCain’s campaign staff to have used her for better poll results then trashed her like a discarded orange peel once the election was lost, it’s not because McCain’s PR team focused on her haircuts – it’s because there simply wasn’t anything else for voters to rely on. It came across, in various interviews, that Sarah Palin wasn’t politically savvy enough to be a Governor, let alone to be the White House number two.

Discrimination can only cease if such questions disappear from the political sphere. It’s not about whether Rachida Dati, the French Attorney

French AG Rachida Dati: a permanent tabloid fixture, letting magistrates down.

French AG Rachida Dati: a permanent tabloid fixture overburdening magistrates.

General, is considered as a failure by the public opinion because she’s a woman, because she wears high heels or chose to be a single mother. She is on her way out for the simple reason her reform of the judicial system is restricting civil liberties and general access to legal counsel, because she believed in sending minors to regular prisons instead of educative institutions, and because her budget restraints were creating legal voids. Those women’s failures to appeal to a broader range of voters – and even to women – are hardly the fault of their alleged beauty, or of the glass ceiling. There is no denying the complexity of juggling feminity and feminism in the political sphere; sadly Hillary Clinton knows this too well. But hardly have anyone judged Clinton or German Chancellor Angela Merkel incompetent. Never have Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni mentioned a male-based conspiracy aimed at pushing women outside of the governing sphere. Because they chose to keep their private lives private, and to concentrate on their responsabilities towards their government and their people, because the quality of their work is demonstrated on a daily basis, they earn the respect of their colleagues and their consistuencies, regardless of their gender.

Angela Merkel, a new start: thats already more like it.

Angela Merkel, "a new start": that's already more like it.

It is true introspection and self-reflection hurts, but self-pity has never dragged anyone out of the dark well of ignorance. Sarah Palin has been an easy target because of her incompetence. There is nothing else to blame but perhaps John McCain, eager to please an electorate he never appealed to before – more liberal, more feminine, more interested in national policies – and picking a candidate that didn’t have the appropriate training or relevent experience to succeed in its task.  The choices made by Barack Obama for his White House staff reflect not just a desire to create equality for men and women, but to make sure said men and said women were the most qualified for the positions he assigned them to. This is not about shoving a woman into the spotlight for the sake of appeasement or political correctness. As a woman, I want my leaders to be accountable, responsible, competent, and open-minded, regardless of their gender.  I’m not ready yet to give Sarah Palin the benefit of the doubt for the simple reason she believes there is a place in Hell for me for not having supported her when I allegedly should.

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