Sunday, September 28, 2008

Superwoman and the Story of Sarah

I am interested in an ad for Citi credit cards in the May 2008 issue of O. It shows a woman working under a car, her white jeans rolled up, and on her feet, red high-heeled shoes with ankle straps. She is supposed to have bought them both on credit.

Even the inducement to use a credit card seems so last economy. And would anyone work under a car in white jeans? Not twice. But what troubles me most about it is the implicit story: you can do men’s work and still be valued as a traditional feminine sex object. This story spreads, like a drop of ink in a small glass of water, to a larger very American idea: You can do it all and have it all, and that will make you happy. You can!

I think this in part accounts for the wierd popularity of the inexperienced Sarah Palin. She is the one woman who seems to have brought it off: husband, kids, stellar career, masculine hobbies, beauty queen, athletic ability, profound self-confidence. And I think that all across America women are failing miserably to carry this heavy package.

But they—or we—want to believe it’s possible. It’s the new fairy tale, the distortion of the feminist ideal by the fundamental American story: greed is okay, the individual matters most of all. The Story of Sarah says to overburdened women, many of them I believe, the working poor, Have faith—it can be done. It is a myth that benefits only the bosses.

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