by Meredith O'Brien
As a girl, she was a self-described nerd of a bookworm who played the flute and basketball. After graduating from college, she married her high school sweetheart and started working two jobs, one at a customer service desk and another at the local TV station part-time. A year later, she had the first of five children — with two miscarriages in between — then went on to work as a part-time proofreader for the local newspaper and pen sports columns. In between her work and her kids’ activities, the PTA member was recruited by a local pol to run for city council, a post for which she campaigned by bringing her children along with her as she knocked on doors, pulling her kids in a sled.
She became the embodiment of the modern working mother in City Hall, bringing her baby with her to council meetings, even breastfeeding during a radio interview so the baby wouldn’t cry. When she decided to run for mayor, she was told there were three reasons she’d never win: Her gender, her age (32 at the time) and her three children (even though the incumbent mayor, a man, had four children). She became pregnant with baby number four during her tenure as mayor and brought her newborn to City Hall with her the day after she gave birth just to check in on the city’s business.
Time and again, she was told she didn’t have what it takes to make it in politics. During her re-election bid for mayor, the man who she’d already bested ran against her again, deriding the former hoop player as a “cheerleader” and a “Spice Girl.” After beating that guy again, she later ran for lieutenant governor and lost, though she used it as a learning experience, forging ahead and having a fifth child after she got herself elected as her state’s first female governor, months before being tapped to be her political party’s first female vice presidential candidate. She was the one who had to change her baby’s diaper just before going on live TV to make a speech to the GOP nominating convention.
Sarah Palin — whose life story she related in her new memoir — makes people a wee bit crazy. On one end of the political spectrum, she’s adored by her fans as an effervescent conservative spokeswoman, a spit-fire who doesn’t shy away from a fight. On the other end, she’s chastised as a dimwitted gaffe machine whose politics people despise. And then there are others who believe that the only reason she’s now a household name is because she’s a fortysomething, attractive, charismatic female with young children . . . very similar to the reasons an old male pol told her she’d never become mayor of her hometown.
As I waded through the chapters of Palin’s life in her book Going Rogue , I couldn’t help but think of another high-profile political woman whose personal life, offspring, career accomplishments and body has been ripped to shreds by haters: Hillary Clinton. Maybe Clinton kept cropping up in my mind because in Going Rogue Palin apologized for ever having said that Clinton was whining when Clinton complained about the sexism that was lobbed her way during the 2008 presidential race: “. . . [B]efore criticizing her on this point, I should have walked a mile in her shoes.”
Clinton has for years been demonized by those who not only hate her politics, but hate her in general and channel their negativity into sexist attacks. For years, Clinton has been dissed for remaining married  to her cheating husband instead of being a “strong” woman and giving him the boot, likened to an unfeminine nutcracker  (in fact, one company created an actual nutcracker where Clinton’s legs literally crush nuts between her thighs), told to iron men’s shirts  instead of campaigning for president, ridiculed by paraphernalia which called her all manner of sexual vulgarities , mocked for her physical shape , her cleavage , her make-up , her clothing choices , and the tone of her voice. (How many times has she been tagged with the females-only smear of being “shrill ?” She’s been called an ice queen  on the one hand and manipulative for crying during the New Hampshire primary on the other, and unflatteringly likened to a heroine from a Lifetime TV movie . All because she’s a woman.
The viciousness with which people have gone after Palin  -- using her attractiveness , her choice of footwear , and the fact that she’s in shape as a negative (with all the phony, sexy, Photoshopped images of Palin  floating around online) as a means to undermine her – reminded me of Clinton’s treatment. Consider that a recent issue of Newsweek took a photo of Palin in running shorts  – a photo for which she’d originally posed because she, a dedicated runner, had been told would appear in a running magazine which features men and women in work-out attire – and put it on the cover. Then its editor tried to convince readers that the photo was only selected it because it was “interesting.” Also consider that following the lame explanation, one national commentator  said Palin deserved to be portrayed that way because when Palin was in college she’d participated in beauty pageants (contests Palin said in her book she competed in to earn money to put herself through college).
Putting politics aside . . . seriously, put partisanship on a shelf and consider this question: Why is it okay for people to level gender-specific attacks against these women, rooted in their looks, their bodies and their maternity as a means to undercut them as serious public servants? Why do we allow politics to color our responses, muting or amplifying our reactions, instead of simply objecting to all sexist treatment of women pols regardless of party? Why do some Palin supporters think it’s okay to herald the former Alaska governor as a strong woman yet lash out at Clinton in a personal, sexist fashion? Likewise, why do those who support Clinton or other Democratic women feel free to go after Palin’s looks, clothing  and manner of speaking while, at the same time, call her anti-woman  because they disagree with her policy positions? (Last time I checked, conservative women are women too only they don’t agree with liberal women on all issues.)
Both Palin and Clinton are powerful political women who’ve raised children (and in Palin’s case is still raising them), faced career obstacles, broke down doors and, as female politicians, are held to altogether different standards than are their male peers as they’re labeled divas  or Lady MacBeths . Both wrote memoirs and, when they went out to promote them, as Clinton did in 2003 with Living History , sustained personal attacks and criticism along the book tour.
So when I’ve read and listened to what people have been saying about Palin as she goes on her book tour, I don’t hear a whole lot of folks talking about her inspiring working mom tale which brought Palin from campaigning while pulling her kids along Wasilla sidewalks in a sled, to sitting in the governor’s office signing bills into laws. And when I’ve heard the haranguing, I’ve found myself wishing that the criticism would be – with both Clinton and Palin  – about policy positions, not Palin’s legs or Clinton’s cleavage.
And when journalists ask leaders of women’s organizations  whether they think that putting a photo of the second female vice presidential candidate in US history on the cover of a major news weekly in shorts is sexist and they evade the question and blame the woman for the photo, I start feeling as though something has gone terribly awry.
More on Sarah Palin:
Sarah's Spanx 
Designing a Vice-Presidential Candidate 
Pitbulls at Work 
Sarah Palin's Papoose 
Yes, Sarah Palin Has a Vagina 
Read My Lipstick