In her Elle piece profiling a handful of successful young conservative women, Nina Burleigh discusses the “bankability of the telegenic, witty right-wing blond willing to trash the ‘identity politics’ of feminism.” And why would conservative women have a problem with “identity politics”? Maybe because of articles like Burleigh’s.
I’m not sure what Burleigh was aiming for in this piece, but it seems like she wasn’t content to settle for a listicle of interesting conservative women to watch, so she segues into one group’s protests of The Vagina Monologues, makes a bizarre observation about Michelle Duggar, star of 19 Kids and Counting and then ties the whole package together with the literary equivalent of a shiny red ribbon, calling the group “Baby Palins.” Because they all like “guns, low taxes, and motherhood,” apparently.
Two problems with this: one is that none of these women exactly fit the particular mold that Burleigh has cast, and second is that Palin herself is an enigma. Depending on what you read, she either likes to shoot wolves from helicopters and prides herself on being able to field-dress a moose, or she doesn’t know how to handle a gun. She’s either an evangelical-Christian-young-earth-creationist, or she’s the governor who vetoed a bill denying rights to gays as unconstitutional. She’s either the tough, hardworking woman who took on the old-boys network and corruption in Alaska and became a respected governor, or she’s the dim bulb who scolds President Obama from Facebook. It’s not impossible that she’s all those things. But that makes it both extremely easy and utterly useless to imply that an entire generation of young women are modeling themselves after her.
Burleigh profiles Regis Giles, a gun-rights advocate and entrepreuner; Ashley Sewell, a young professional and Tea Party supporter who’s socially moderate; S.E. Cupp, a Fox News commentator; Dana Loesch, a righty pundit, former Democrat, and mother of two; Alyssa Cordova, a young professional who’s a pro-life Christian conservative, and Karin Agnesss, a D.C. attorney who formed a network for conservative women; and she mentions a few other conservatives in passing. Even just by their titles, it’s obvious that this is a diverse group of women who came into their conservatism by different paths and for different reasons.
The first time I read the article, I thought to myself, “And liberals wonder why conservatives see a liberal bias in the media.” But bias isn’t quite the right word. I don’t think that Burleigh set out to demean her subjects. But by writing about their diverse backgrounds and careers and beliefs, and then lumping them all together as “Baby Palins,” that’s the affect she achieves. It becomes apparent that the comparison is not a flattering one, as Burleigh keeps coming back to hunting (a pastime for both Giles and Hunt) and meat-eating: “Cupp was born and raised a meat eater (which has practically become a conservative litmus test, what with all the people lining up to attack organic gardener Michelle Obama and her fellow ‘food police’).” Whaaaaaaaa?
I’m a conservative woman with very conflicted views about Sarah Palin. But I know few liberal women have similarly complex thoughts about her. And when the media uses her as a basis for comparison, it never comes across as a compliment.