A week has passed since the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States, and I’m still high on the history and possibility of that moment. So, yes, my head’s in the clouds. But, my feet are planted firmly on the ground and I believe, despite much evidence to the contrary, that this campaign season represented a breakthrough for women.
Of course I recognize that women came close but did not win the presidency or vice presidency. Of course I recognize (and have written about) the sexist treatment of women by the media and, more recently, by certain campaign staffs. Of course I recognize that Michelle Obama had to tone down her political opinions and ramp up her “First Mom” rhetoric to be more acceptable to the American people.
But I also recognize that most of the standout players in this election year were women.
For starters, it was the first time a woman nearly clinched the Democratic nomination for president and the first time a woman was on the Republican ticket as the vice presidential nominee.
It was also the first time that Oprah, Queen of All Media, endorsed a candidate, and she’s credited with swaying voters in Obama’s favor simply by virtue of her Oprah-ness.
Katie Couric’s now infamous interview with Sarah Palin reminded audiences of Couric’s disarming style and revitalized her career, but it was an earlier interview with Hillary Clinton during the primaries that caught my eye:
Couric: “I know you’re confident [the winner] will be you, but there is the possibility it won’t be, and clearly you have considered that possibility.”
Clinton: “No, I haven’t.”
While Clinton went on to explain the importance of holding onto a winning mentality as you’re campaigning, that exchange reinforced a perception of Clinton as arrogant.
And who could forget Campbell Brown’s scathing indictment of the McCain campaign for sheltering Palin from the press: “Stop treating Sarah Palin like she is a delicate flower that will wilt at any moment….Free Sarah Palin. Free her from the chauvinistic chain you are binding her with. Sexism in this campaign must come to an end.” Brown had discovered her calling as a political commentator, and CNN came to recognize what they had on their hands: a worthy competitor to Bill O’Reilly on Fox and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. They began airing “Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull” shortly before Election Day.
Even the much-watched yet much-maligned all-female cast of The View earned respect from unlikely quarters after John McCain’s turn in the hot seat. At one point, co-host Joy Behar looked McCain straight in the eye and said, “There are ads running from your campaign… Now we know that those two ads are untrue, they are lies. And yet, you at the end of it say you approve these messages. Do you really approve these?” Behar’s gutsy, no holds barred style caused columnist Frank Rich of The New York Times to dub her “the new Edward R. Murrow.”
Perhaps most surprising among the rise of female media stars was the ultra-quick ascendancy of Rachel Maddow in her self-titled political program on MSNBC. Maddow, who also hosts a radio show on Air America, is not only a woman, she’s a left-leaning lesbian with…short hair—a television first!
This campaign season the notion was put to rest—forever, I hope—that women are not as funny as men. Only one comedian had everyone—everyone—talking, and that was Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. (In fact, post-election life feels a little empty without Fey/Palin.) I believe that even the next three most memorable comedic performances were also by women. There was the extremely pregnant Amy Poehler rapping about Sarah Palin while Palin sat at the SNL Weekend Update news desk and grooved to the beat, Samantha Bee on The Daily Show “forcing” attendees of the National Republican Convention to utter the word “choice” in connection with Palin’s pregnant daughter, Bristol, and Sarah Silverman’s “The Great Shlep” video aimed at getting the grandchildren of bubbes and zadies in Florida to vote for Obama.
On the internet, Tina Brown, the legendary former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker launched her latest political-cultural offering, thedailybeast.com, Arianna Huffington’s website continued to be a go-to place for politics, and Joan Walsh, editor in chief of Salon.com, was a frequent guest on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, distinguishing herself with her reasoned analysis spoken in a quiet but firm manner. And, let’s not forget Obama Girl, with her internet hit, “I’ve Got a Crush…on Obama.” Silly as it may seem, she lent Obama, who sometimes seems too cool to be hot, sex appeal.
Some political Mean Girls got their comeuppance, which is good news for the rest of womanhood. In one SNL skit, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin described herself as “one part practiced folksy, one part sassy and a little dash of high school bitchy,” which seemed to perfectly capture Palin’s persona. Needless to say, Palin lost the election. And then there was incumbent Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, previously considered a genteel Southern woman, who, in an act of desperation, ran an ad accusing her opponent, Kay Hagan, of being “godless”. Listen up, Mean Girl: Hagan’s in, you’re out.
Finally, the White House is about to become home to three of the world’s most famous females: Michelle, Sasha, and Malia Obama (and maybe a fourth, depending on the puppy’s gender). It’s also going to be home to a man who has a grace about him normally ascribed to women, and whose demeanor serves as a rebuke to the womanizing ways of Bill Clinton and the macho swaggering of George W. Bush. And guess which gender put Obama in the White House? Women voted 56 to 43 percent for Obama while men only voted 49 to 48 percent for him.
And so, we still don’t have a woman president or vice president despite the fact that women form 51 percent of the American population. But, take heart: Americans have a lot of women winners, this election.
Katie Couric Interview with Sarah Palin
Katie Couric Interview with Hillary Clinton
“I Got a Crush…On Obama” By Obama Girl
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