I wasn't surprised when I watched David Letterman's jokes about Sarah Palin last week. I wasn't particularly outraged, either. In fact, to be honest, I laughed a little.
For anyone who missed it, the latest scandal in Palin world unfolded after the governor and her husband objected to Letterman's jokes about Palin looking like a "slutty flight attendant" and her daughter (either Willow or Bristol, depending on how you read it) getting "knocked up" by Alex Rodriguez. Letterman made a weak apology. Palin went on the "Today" show. People organized a "Fire David Letterman" rally. Letterman made a more serious apology. And then Palin Facebooked that she accepted it on behalf of young women everywhere.
My first thought when I watched the clip of Letterman's jokes at my desk last week was this: Hot lady winks at debates and wears Naughty Monkey pumps and encourages her daughter, the teen mom, to talk about not having sex on national television, and now she's mad somebody made some sexist jokes? She opened the door. And, Letterman (who isn't above going lowbrow for a laugh) just walked through it.
And I wasn't alone. My Facebook filled with messages about how Palin was asking for trouble. Over the weekend, at the Alaska Run for Women, the governor's flap came up in several conversations. I didn't hear a lot of sympathy. I did hear questions about the timing. Palin and her family have been victims of sexism since they came to the national stage. Why didn't she complain about the incest joke on "Saturday Night Live" last fall? Or the Eminem video where she's depicted as a porn star? It seemed like opportunism. She is no feminist, people kept saying.
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"My young female students react to her," a former teacher of mine told me as we ran together for a while on the trail. "They really, really dislike her."
I thought about that for the next mile or so. Most of the women I talked to didn't agree with Palin politically, but I wondered about their reaction, and my reaction for that matter. Part of it was about politics, but it was about something else, too.
The last time I saw Palin in person was in November at Kaladi Brothers in Wasilla. It was early in the morning on Election Day. She was wearing old jeans and a Carhartt jacket, but she still seemed electric, sipping her white chocolate mocha as she smiled into a mob of cameras.
Palin has "that thing" people often ascribe to male politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan. She's warm, photogenic, telegenic, spunky and easy on the eyes. In male politicians, people call it charisma, but for women, the same quality is more complicated. My guy friends, especially the ones who voted for her, boil it down to one word: hotness.
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