April 2014
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Newsweek, Sexism and Sarah Palin

On October 13, 2008, Newsweek ran this cover:


And for November 2009, Newsweek runs this cover:


For the October cover, the photo is a close-up of the populist governor of Alaska, before she prematurely left office.  It exposes the flaws in everyone’s face, and Newsweek decided not to retouch the photo.  Perhaps they were making a statement of Palin being a populist governor with nothing to hide: she likes us and is like us.  Yet, a long line of research in women and politics shows that media outlets tend to focus on the physical features of women candidates more so than men, and Newsweek’s cover for October and November follow that script.

Newsweek had this to say, officially:

“We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do,” Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham said. “We apply the same test to photographs of any public figure, male or female: does the image convey what we are saying? That is a gender-neutral standard.”

Sarah Palin had this to say:

The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this “news” magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant. The Runner’s World magazine one-page profile for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness – a subject to which I am devoted and which is critically important to this nation. The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention – even if out of context.

Eleanor Clift of Newsweek wondered why the conservative media ran to her defense, and comes up with this explanation:

Why do right-wing men rush to Sarah’s side to defend her? My theory is that this is payback time. They’ve been called sexist and racist, and subjected to media ridicule of their allegedly retro views. Palin is their way to push back against the elites that have marginalized them.

Clift goes on to call Palin “mediocre:”

Palin embodies the backlash against the intellectual and geographical elites that the folks who live in flyover country blame for wrecking the economy and denigrating their values. She’s a vehicle for their rage. After all, there is something to be said for mediocrity, declared Republican Sen. Roman Hruska in 1970 defending G. Harrold Carswell, an undistinguished Supreme Court nominee who was ultimately rejected by the Senate. In the words that immortalized him more than anything else, he said of Carswell, “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters, and Cardozos.” Substitute whatever names you like for those legal giants, and you’ll plumb the whys and wherefores of Palin’s appeal. She’s ordinary folk, and in times like these, when the elites have messed up, the segment of society that feels most marginalized?white, working-class men who more often than not are conservative?have found their heroine.

Palin is right to call this sexism.  Could there be no other photo of her other than that which exposes her legs?  Why not the same type of photos the magazine has run of men: in business atire, with serious faces?  Newsweek wanted to poke fun at Palin, but in the process that kept to the same sexist script major media outlets use to portray woman candidates in America.  I think anyone — conservative or no — should denounce this script.  It is possible that conservatives are sensitive to being called sexist, but for the women running for office who are the victims of sexism, such sensitivity — and outrage – is justified.

6 comments to Newsweek, Sexism and Sarah Palin

  • Jill

    i think if this photo would have appeared on the cover during the election, then it might be considered sexist. now – i don’t think so. she’s a private citizen and that changes the standards.

  • Joshua

    I see your point. Perhaps its better said that women political figures get more comments on their physical appearance than men, which would make it sexist.

  • jill

    definitely, women get more attention paid to their physical appearance than men, and that is true in most fields.

  • Von

    God I really don’t like her for some reason. The weird thing is that the day she came out on the campaign, I really liked her. Looking back I think it was just the excitement of it all and that she was something exciting compared to McCain. Now, she REALLY gets on my nerves. It disturbs me even more that so many on the right love her so much…

  • Joshua

    It seems that she spent her time after the 2008 election getting weirder: she quits the governorship, starts talking about “death panels” and then pens a book where she spends a large percentage of the book criticizing the McCain campaign.

    Al Gore took a turn for the weird after the 2000 election, what with the incredibly boring “An Inconvenient Truth” and other environmental crusades. I suppose time out of office gives some people too much free time. Kerry was lucky: he went right back to work, and besides making some awful jokes that sorta make you glad he lost (though, for me, not too glad), has risen to the top of his party.

  • Sarah Palin is an amazing woman. She did very well on the O’Reilly interview this week. What she is not is a credible presidential candidate. The president faces tough challenges and when she quit her governership early, she submarined her credentials ro hold another important political office. And her reason, “I knew I wasn’t going to run again and wanted to spare the citizens of Alaska from a lame duck Governer.”

    I love you Sarah. You are a great Christian, family mom, and have a great future in the public limelight. But not as an elected offcial.