One of the cultural developments of the latter decades of the 20th century, now at full song in the 21st, is the increasing role women play in the halls of power. Movement in this direction promises to accelerate, as for decades now, many more young women pursue college degrees than do young men. For the first years of this phenomenon, it was a decidedly liberal trend. Women in the political world were mostly of a liberal stripe, with several noteworthy exceptions. Frequently demeaned as less able or less strong, many of the early entries into the field went out of their way to mimic strong male figures in their behavior in order to stifle these chauvinistic criticisms. Often, this led to suppression of their femininity, in character and fashion.
In that sense, it was a hard time to be a woman in elected office. All of that has changed forever, as women now enter into politics from other professional fields, and no longer feel the need to mimic men. Contrary to expectations based on notions about pervasive chauvinism, it has been widely embraced by voters both male and female. This, in turn, has had a wonderful effect on the nation’s young women: Raised predominately to believe their sex is no actual limitation upon their success, surveys indicate that detailed political awareness is more common among young women than their male peers. Of all current female politicians, none is having a greater positive effect on America’s young women than Sarah Palin.
The effect Sarah Palin has had on America’s young women has been amazing. As a role model, she’s a wife, a mother, and an entrepreneur, as well as a politician. More importantly, perhaps, Sarah Palin has made it normal again for young women to be conservative. This is the property of Sarah Palin’s effect that the left most earnestly seeks to smash. Having enjoyed a philosophical edge among young women for two generations, this portends a great shift in the nature of what is feminism, particularly should Palin become President. The effect might well be so thorough as to create a generations-long shift in the baseline political leanings and thinking of women.
Many women have felt the need to delay family to have careers, or set aside careers in the name of family. What Sarah Palin shows young women is that through a committed, enduring marriage, and a lifelong devotion to purpose, women really can have it all. Little else could provide a more inspiring and powerful symbol to aspiring young women. I see this, even now, in my own daughter. She and millions of other young women view Palin as a sort of symbol of the rise of women to true equality. You might call it “Feminism 2.0.”
The other glass ceiling Governor Palin is likely to shatter, particularly should she be elected President, is the psychological one young women have imposed on themselves by virtue of adherence to pop-culture stereotyping. More and more, the balance of women to men in the fields of technology is shifting towards parity. Even in that traditionally male-dominated sphere of engineering and the hard sciences, women are lining up in greater numbers to put their minds to work in more thoroughly intellectual fields. It’s never been for lack of talent or ability, but for an inculcated lack of confidence. Now, women study aeronautical engineering alongside men, and compete for seats in the academies of the Air Force and the Navy, not to be nurses, but to be combat pilots launching from and landing on floating steel postage stamps in the vast oceans of our world.
This limitless view of their own potential is further buttressed by Sarah Palin. Fierce determination in the face of crushing media mockery that has adopted a decidedly sexist tinge offers up yet another example of both grace and strength under fire. The passion in her approach is particularly appealing to young women, who see a forceful leader unencumbered by earlier stereotypes about strong women. This bodes well for the future of our country, and it is in this way particularly that a President Sarah Palin is likely to have an enduring cultural effect on the nation. With her as an example, the nation could hardly fare better, and the effect will be immediate. In certain respects, it already has been.
If you watch Sarah Palin traverse a public event, or really anytime she shows up in the public space, you’ll notice something odd begin to happen. Observing her in public, as she pauses to talk to people in the adoring crowds, you’ll notice that she comes to be surrounded by a growing number of young women if she stays in one place very long. It’s more than just your typical political star-power display, and it’s really not coincidental. She’s a powerful magnet to young women who want to emulate her: Strong and independent, but decidedy feminine. This may be the secret power of Sarah Palin’s true political advantage. While she captivates every crowd, none are more fully engaged with Governor Palin than the multitudes of young women who see her as a powerful icon of their own potential.
The coming campaign season promises new and exciting possibilities, but for young women, like my daughter, who have been taught that their sex is no limitation upon their futures, with the prospect of Sarah Palin’s entry into the race, this election may well offer the final proof of that thesis to the enduring delight of millions of young women and girls both here at home, and around the world.