Living the Skit: I am Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

Summer 2011 – Sarah Palin post at our Peace Couple website: here.

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

The comedienne

candidate photo

Kimberly Wilder: candidate photo

My name is Kimberly Wilder. I am a Green Party member who has run for office inside my party to try (unsuccessfully) to win the nomination for Lieutenant Governor, and in the regular election as a write-in for various offices, and on the ballot for Suffolk County Legislator.

I know that I am not as funny as Tina Fey. And, I hope that I am not much like Sarah Palin, since: I believe in women’s reproductive rights; my energy plan does not include nuclear power or drilling in the ANWAR; and I believe in non-violence so much I am against the War in Iraq and the War in Afghanistan. So, I cannot claim too much similarity to either woman.

Though, when Tina Fey puts on her Sarah Palin persona, somehow, there I am, in the middle of things.

I think that one reason for the resonance I feel is that Tina Fey’s skits, and the way she portrays Sarah Palin, are a way to explore what it means to be a woman politician. Tina Fey is “Everywoman The Politican.” Her comedy is based on the struggle of figuring out how does a woman hold herself when she is trying to carry an air of leadership and authority, while at the same time, trying to win over voters? Especially when some of those voters hold the patriarchal expectation that a woman should be feminine, and might even hold the expectation that a woman should not be the leader.

On the one hand, people have to believe that a woman politician is strong and capable. On the other hand, to be a woman in our culture, is to know that the way to win most people over is with a certain charm and bubbly friendliness. As women, we are trained to smile graciously, tilt our head to the side, and use beauty and fashion to win people over. We cannot just entirely drop these social expectations and social cues when we run for office.

Some of these “women’s social tools” are deeply ingrained in the patterns of our families and communities. Some become personal habits which we can not unlearn or reverse even after studying feminism, or wanting to become more gender neutral in later life.

And, what if we could suddenly discard these habits and social tools? Would it be wise to discard such powerful tools when we are running for office, in a contest to win people over and get their support and vote in a short amount of time? These tools we have are similar to a man who has learned to wear a tie at the right time, and use a firm handshake. And, these are the resources we as women have instead of being able to wear a tie and show off the strongest handshake. On both sides, the tools are part of our socialization. They are such deeply engrained gender etiquette, reinventing them would be like reinventing our whole selves. (And, we can’t do that in the short course of a campaign.)

So, I can forgive Sarah Palin for her blatant use of “women’s social tools”. Though, I really enjoy watching Tina Fey mock these actions by Sarah Palin. [Saturday Night Live VP Debate video is here.] And, I feel like I am also seeing Tina Fey poke fun at the things I, myself, have had to do. I have never gone so far as to wink during a speech. Though, when I see Tina Fey do the gushing compliments, the half giggles, and the rocking back and forth with a little hip action, I don’t just see Sarah Palin, I see myself when I am tanking in a political speech, and trying to reach my audience again.

I also think about how women like Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, utilized “women’s social tools”, which in her time were “women’s social rules”. I have to admit, I only read the book, and did not see the movie yet. Though, Georgiana was famous for being one of the first women to truly take her fame and her fashion “power” to the political arena. A famous example was when Georgiana dressed herself and her friends up as frilly soldiers, and rode horseback to boost the morale of troops in war.

I have to admit, seeing Sarah Palin running the gauntlet of mainstream media politics in our still patriarchal culture, has given me a little more empathy for Senator Hillary Clinton, too. Hillary Clinton endured a lot during her run for President. And, she was not always treated fairly. Because I have strong political differences with Hillary Clinton, and because I had no desire to choose sides in a Democratic primary, I stayed out of the battle of deciding and commenting on if the media was fair to Hillary Clinton during primary season. And, I know that they probably weren’t. But, watching Sarah Palin in action, and watching Tina Fey portray Sarah Palin in action, reminds me that our whole country and culture was unfair to Hillary Clinton as she tried to run for President.

Like Sarah Palin (and me, when I run for office), Hillary Clinton still has to worry too much about her appearance in public. We – all of us women politicians – have to decide for every event if we should wear a skirt and dress or pants. Wearing a dress will make us look more charming; will meet cultural expectations of women dressed up; and will utilize — or is it exploit? — our sexual power. While wearing pants will make us look like one of the gentlemen’s club, will make us look more official and authoritative, and will hide the double-edged sword of our sexual charm. At the Vice Presidential debate, Sarah Palin decided to show some leg. And, so did Tina Fey when she portrayed her. When I ran for office, I often took the middle ground and wore my feminine, but very long, and culturally anti-authoritative hippie skirts.

The fashion dilemma that Everywoman the Politician faces makes me think about Hillary Clinton’s bold decision to adopt the pantsuit for almost all appearances. When Clinton ran for Senator in New York, she wore a black pantsuit almost everywhere. When she ran for President, she switched gears a bit and wore single color pantsuits in a rainbow of colors. I think the way that Hillary Clinton wore those pantsuits is some lesson for women politicians. Hillary Clinton’s rejection of skirts and a Sarah Palin-like female professional wardrobe may be nearly as important as Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire being the first woman to apply her fame and fashion directly to the political arena, and as bold as the women at Seneca Falls wearing bloomers.

This political season, I also learned another great fashion trick for women politicians. The woman I am supporting for President of the United States is former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. At Ms. McKinney’s big event – the Green Party Presidential Convention – she wore a white pantsuit which stood out in the crowd like a bride’s dress.  Combining professionalism, with one of the most common images of a woman at the center of an event, was a great maneuver. When Cynthia McKinney gave the political speech of the season and celebrated on stage after winning the nomination, the whole crowd was with her in a unique and mesmerizing way, and you couldn’t take your eyes off of her.

I don’t think that Tina Fey’s portrayal hit directly on this, but Everywoman The Politician also has a lot of problems to deal with in regards to names. Men, and even boys, often relate to themselves a lot by their last names. A boy’s last name is often his nickname. An American male doesn’t even have to think about it, he keeps his last name his whole life. For women, our names might change when we get married or divorced. And, still in these times, more of a woman’s identity is often closer to family and community situations where people tend to use her first name.

As a woman politician, and a supporter of other women politicians, I notice all the time how I want to say “Mr. Biden” or “Biden” in a story about a man. But, I want to say “Sarah”, “Tina”, “Hillary”, “Cynthia” or “Kimberly” in stories about women. In fact, in my house, we refer to Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire fondly as “Georgiana”. Though, the mainstream movie industry gives her only the title she received when she married, and as I hear tell, offers a story that ends up focusing way too much on her husband. (But, I do have to see the movie to see for myself.)

The AP stylebook suggests that after the first mention, both men and women are referred to by their last name only, ie: “Biden” or “Palin”. But, I think that the problem of equality is not exactly solved that way. There is a certain feeling of disrespect that rises up when hearing a woman referred to by her last name without any title. And, last name only is not a way most women are referred to in social situations. So, the AP stylebook solution foists upon women a decision that they may not like. And, it also takes away the power of a woman’s first name, and  the name recognition/directness/warmth/connection a woman has earned in relating to people through her first name, if that is the way she primarily calls herself.

Then, there is the whole difference between a man calling a woman by her first name as opposed to a woman calling a man by his first name. There is some sense in which women of our generation still feel the leftover social requirement to symbolically “lower one’s eyes” towards men by being extra respectful. (Am I the only woman who feels this?) And men or authority figures can pull rank on people by becoming too familiar, too fast, a strategey which can play out because of leftover overtones of patriarchy in our current culture and manners. I felt that man-woman tension was some of the hidden awkwardness in Sarah Palin asking if she had permission to call Senator Biden “Joe”. Not sure Tina Fey understood it the same way I did, but Fey sure noticed the moment and the awkwardness of the whole situation.

So, like any woman, and like Everywoman The Politican, I can really laugh at the Tina Fey portrayal of Sarah Palin. And, I can see myself in both women – the real woman and the invented character.

Though, I have even stronger reasons than these to assert that I am Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. My husband and I were browsing a bookstore the other day, and I noticed how quickly someone had put together a book about Sarah Palin’s life. I laughed, because one of the photos was Sarah Palin as a student, playing the flute. Flute is my instrument, too, and a part of my identity.

When Tina Fey pulled out her silver flute at the mock Saturday Night Live Vice Presidential Debate, my husband called me over to the screen laughing in hysterics. In 2002, when I tried to win the Green Party of New York State’s nomination for Lieutenant Governor, I had to make a speech at a meeting hall far away in Ithaca New York. As a newcomer to politics, with more enthusiasm than experience and speeches in me, I decided to emphasize the joy of politics, and how I would bring young people in. So, Tina Fey: I did it first. I was the woman politician who really, truly played flute on the political stage. And, even though I thought that my fellow greens were the perfect audience, even they did not take my enthusiastic and passionate presentation as a sign of leadership. I lost the vote. Though, shortly after, I did earn a place on the Executive Committee of the same organization.

So, if Tina Fey’s wish comes true, and she does not have to portray Sarah Palin after November 5th, maybe Sarah Palin’s performance at the VP debate will earn her some kinds of accolades after all.

Like Sarah Palin, and Tina Fey-as-Sarah Palin, Kimberly Wilder plays flute

Like Sarah Palin, and Tina Fey-as-Sarah Palin, Kimberly Wilder plays flute


Green Party Presidential Candidate Cynthia McKinney

The woman politician I admire most: Green Party Presidential Candidate Cynthia McKinney

Cynthia McKinney’s web-site is: here.

One Response

  1. “SNL:” Fake Palin to Meet Real Palin?

    Possibilities are endless, as you can see, and bet whatever you have left after the market crash that this Thursday on NBC, the greatest face-off of the season may well take place on the primetime edition of “Saturday Night Live.”

    Yes, the real Sarah Palin may do a cameo.

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