Waterboarding, Baptism and the Dilemma of Women in Politics

1398707253422.cachedSarah Palin’s statement while speaking at the NRA Convention this week “if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists (as quoted in this article from the Daily Beast) once again shows that she is not a person given to connecting brain to mouth.

Yet, I also wonder, given how she phrased it – and her followup comments: is the underlying motivation for these thoughtless and harsh words because she does not want to be perceived as “soft,” per a common stereotype for women?

This is a charge often leveled against women in political office: Are they tough enough?  Are they capable of actually making hard decisions?   Are they the person you’d want to have in the Oval office when a crisis is at its’ peak?  We’ve seen such language and accusations used against not only Palin, but also Hilary Clinton, Wendy Davis, and even (for those of us who remember the early 1970’s) Shirley Chisolm.

Jeannette Rankin
Jeannette Rankin


It probably did not help this stereotype of women being “soft” when the first woman elected to the House of Representatives (in 1917, even before women had the right to vote in national elections!) was Jeanette Rankin, a committed pacifist.  (And a Republican, I should note!)  She was one of the 50 representatives in the U.S. House to vote against declaring War on Germany in 1917.  When elected again in 1940, she became the only person in either the U.S. House or Senate to vote against declaring war upon Germany and Japan (following Pearl Harbor in December, 1941).  She did so despite heavy criticism from other members of Congress and hisses from the gallery, saying “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”  She was considering a third run for the House to protest the Vietnam War at the time of her death in 1973.  Rankin was thoughtful person who stood by her principles, and battled through massive (mostly male) opposition to achieve great things, regardless of how much criticism was leveled at her – either in person, or in the Press.  So, despite being a pacifist – which was (and is) not a bad thing – bravery and toughness defined who she was.

The thing that separates Palin from Rankin and the rest of these women is not her lack of courage, nor her toughness and tenacity in the face of opposition.  One difference is an apparent complete lack of awareness (or interest) in the implications of what she says.  The other is her focus on appearances, something that cannot be said of any of the other three female politicians I’ve mentioned here.  What seems to matter to Palin is the appearance of being tough, of conveying the impression that she has “it” – whatever she envisions “it” to be.  Any sort of consistency of that message, and connecting it to a broader vision for the future of this country (as well as her agenda if she ever attains office again) is completely lacking.   What matters is how it plays to the media, how it looks.

Toughness and bravery are of little value, if not entirely counterproductive, if they are thoughtless – as we see when considering the famous “Charge of the Light Brigade.”  Palin’s “toughness” makes a mockery of those (like Rankin and Chisolm) who blazed the path she seeks to follow.  Being a leader is not about being tough, but about leading others along often challenging paths and difficult choices to achieve things of value and importance.

Palin is not a leader: she chases public opinion and the media, banking on her incongruous delusion that someday we’ll look behind and find something worth following.


Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Author: Allen

A would-be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is the proud father of a daughter and son, and enjoys life with his wife near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PastorAllenV/.

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