Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Mocking Sarah Palin and Her Daughters

By Jean Mavrelis - 06.17.2009

I am a womanist– that means I’m FOR women – all women-all cultures-all ages.  I am proud and delighted to be a woman and yet I caught myself laughing at David Letterman’s jokes about Sarah Palin and her daughter last week. He said Palin had updated her “slutty flight attendant” look during her recent visit to New York, and experienced an awkward moment during the Yankee’s game when her daughter was “knocked-up” by Alex Rodriguez.

I asked myself, “Why did I laugh?  Why wasn’t I immediately outraged at the double slam of a promiscuous daughter and a ‘slutty-looking’ mom?”

The answer is, something made me laugh before I got to the part that objectified women.  I think it was this: a lot of people talked about how the treatment of the candidate would have been different if it had been a Black candidate whose daughter had a baby out of wedlock. I think my initial reaction was to the irony of a “sanctity of marriage” mom/political figure having a daughter who may have embarrassed her.

I would NEVER laugh at a child being placed in a sexually inappropriate situation – it never crossed my mind…until later, when I was ashamed that I didn’t get it quick enough.

The other part of the joke, the slutty stewardess part, seemed to me more like a joke a woman would make rather than a man. I wonder who the writer was.   If the line been delivered by a woman on comedy central it might have had a different meaning.  A joke like this, delivered by a woman would have had more of a self-deprecating tone. The joke would have been the comedian mocking herself as a catty woman rather than male teller’s sexualization and objectification of women.

Who tells a joke does matter. If a woman comedian described a beautiful woman as a “slutty stewardess”, the joke would be on the comedian who was envious as well as on the targeted woman.  I’m not saying it’s ok for women to objectify each other any more than it’s OK for men to objectify women.  In fact it may be worse, but we do it and we laugh.  Later maybe we feel disappointed in ourselves for trying to mock the woman who has more power or who is prettier, but we still do it.

In the case of the Letterman joke, Palin responded with anger at the talk-show host. I think she may have made a mistake there.  Instead of making it about Letterman, Palin could have taken the opportunity to speak of the beauty and wonder of her daughters, rather than fueling the fires that objectified them. Remember how endearing her youngest daughter was slicking back her baby brother’s hair at the Republican convention?

What do you think?

Is Sarah Palin empowering women?

Did you laugh at Letterman’s joke?

Leave a comment