Entry from July 10, 2009

Venomous attacks in The New York Times on the woman whom that paper’s frightfully witty op ed columnist Maureen Dowd so wittily calls “Caribou Barbie” are of course no surprise, but at least hitherto they have more or less stuck to criticism of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s actual words and deeds. By “criticism,” it will be understood that I mean hate-filled scorn and ridicule, and by “actual words and deeds” I mean what can pass in a dim light for nothing worse than a vicious parody of same. But still. Even Governor Palin’s most fervent defenders would have to concede that there has been a tether to reality, there, however slight.

No more. In the most bizarre of all these hysterical and paranoid screeds to date, Judith Warner, who writes the paper’s “Domestic Disturbances” blog, slips the surly bonds of civil discourse altogether in order to slam its favorite hate-figure for events that happened in Montana and had, apparently, nothing whatsoever to do with her. It seems that a woman named Bridget Kevane — you might want to make a mental note of the fact that she is a professor of Latin American and Latino literature at Montana State University, in case this subsequently appears to be in any way a relevant datum — dropped off three children, aged 8, 7 and 3, at a local mall in Bozeman in the charge of two 12-year-olds, who proceeded, as 12-year-olds tend to do when relieved of adult supervision, to go their own way, abandoning the younger children to their own devices. I am reliably informed that Sarah Palin was nowhere near Bozeman, Montana at the time.

So what, then, did she have to do with Professor Kevane’s lapse of judgment? Read on! Not quite surprisingly, the professor was subsequently arrested and prosecuted for child endangerment. At one point, says she, the arresting officer told her to “Be quiet.” Also, when the case came to trial, the prosecutor “said she believed professors are incapable of seeing the real world around them because their ‘heads are always in a book’.” Not that anyone has ever made an observation like that, quite unrelated to gender, and on flimsier grounds than this before. But that was enough for Ms Warner to find in these events evidence of a widespread “hatred” of educated women in America that is “spiraling out of control” —

This simmering resentment is common and pervasive in our culture right now. The idea that women with a “major education” think they’re better than everyone else, have a great sense of entitlement, feel they deserve special treatment, and are too out of touch with the lives of “normal” women to have a legitimate point of view, is a 21st-century version of the long-held belief that education makes women uppity and leads them to forget their rightful place. It’s precisely the kind of thinking that has fueled Sarah Palin’s unlikely — and continued — ability to pass herself off as the consummately “real” American woman. (And it is what has made it possible for her supporters to discredit other women’s criticism of her as elitist cat fighting.) The idea that these women really should “be quiet” comes through loud and clear every time.

No cat-fighting here, folks! No desire for any other woman to be quiet! And, of course, no “hatred” on Ms Warner’s part for those unreal women who want to keep other women in “their rightful place.” Odd as it may seem, it appears that it is Mrs Palin and not Ms Warner who is the one guilty of hating here.

Perhaps you will not find it shocking to learn that there is no syllable of evidence supplied for the proposition that “simmering resentment” of educated women “is common and pervasive” — let alone that either Governor Palin or her admirers have anything to do with it if is. That Miss Dowd incurs no censure for averring, on another page, that “Caribou Barbie is one nutty puppy” emboldens me to invite the reader similarly to assess the mental balance of Ms Warner on the basis of her peroration, which otherwise I should not bother to quote at such length:

It made no difference how much work groups like the National Organization for Women did on behalf of battered or economically powerless women. It made no difference how much advocacy was done for legislation promoting pay equity (a particularly acute problem for women at the lower end of the economic spectrum) or for affordable child care. The media — then as now — was interested only in more educated, more affluent women, and so it was these women who came to define the women’s movement in the popular imagination. And it was these women, too, who came to be identified with social change, and who came to be despised when that change proved frightening and difficult. This is why Palin — in her down-home aw-shucks posturing — is the 21st-century face of the backlash against women’s progress. This is why Kevane could be threatened and humiliated in front of her kids, menaced with jail time and ultimately railroaded into cutting a deal with the prosecution, once she realized she’d never be popular enough with local jurors to have a shot at making a successful not-guilty plea in court. (Paradox of paradoxes, as part of her deferred prosecution agreement, she was sentenced to even more education: in the form of a parenting class.) The hatred of women — in all its archaic, phantasmagoric forms — is still alive and well in our society, and when directed at well-educated women, it’s socially acceptable, too. Think of this for a second the next time you’re inexplicably moved to put an “elite” woman in her place.

“Phantasmagoric,” I should say, was just the word to describe Ms Warner’s own hatred of one particular woman who so far exceeded her place as to run for vice-president — but then she’s not “real,” is she?

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