Eastern Michigan University Professor Rhonda Longworth of the Political Science department and Point Loma University Professor Linda Bella, recounted the career of Sarah Palin in a case-study presentation last Thursday as part of Women’s History Month.
Sponsoring of Women’s History Month comes from the EMU department of Women and Gender Studies. According to Linda Pritchard, head of the department, events are either suggested or people familiar with Women’s History Month request to do a presentation of their own.
“It’s a collaborative process that everyone in the University is welcome to participate in,” Pritchard said. “It’s a major undertaking.”
The presentation, Framing Sarah Palin: Pitbulls, Puritans, and Politics, was a case study Longworth and Bella have been creating for a number of years. Both professors work specifically in the field of politics and popular culture.
“What’s great about studying Sarah Palin, starting in 2008, is that uniquely, in many ways in American politics, she sort of burst on the scene and was almost an unknown quality,” Bella said.
Bella and Longworth have worked on the case study of Palin’s career through what they call framing.
“The idea of framing is that a lot of the ways we make sense of things— the world and politics particularly— is through narratives and stories, and they tap into these cognitive and emotional schemes that we have so that we can take these details and fit them into these larger narratives that help us evaluate and generate strong feelings of warmth or repulsion,” Bella said.
According to Longworth, the frames work together to help tell a story about a person.
“The frames are not mutually exclusive categories,” Longworth said. “They intersect with each other and they overlap with each other [to] create a picture of a person they reinforce each other to a large extent.”
Longworth and Bella’s case study was done through looking at the career of Palin’s life is six different frames— a Frontier women, political outsider, reformer, beauty queen, hockey mom and post feminist role model.
“The frontier woman in frontier narratives has a certain set of qualities and is somewhat different than the frontier men,” Longworth said. “These women are strong and tough and they do what needs to be done, but there also comes a point in time when they return to traditional notions of femininity.”
Longworth spoke of how, as a political outsider, Palin worked throughout the 2008 campaign to portray herself as an average American citizen.
“Unlike a lot of other woman candidates, she’s embracing this role,” Longworth said.
Palin’s effort to portray herself as an average citizen was noted in her habits of speech, in which she would not pronounce her G’s, and her constant wearing of jeans.
A frame was also presented of Palin as being a reformer.
“To one degree or another, Sarah Palin, clearly herself claims the reformer label,” Longworth said.“She’s starting to kind of create this narrative of ‘women are stronger and more capable.’ That’s a narrative that was used to justify why women should have the right to vote during the suffrage era is that they were normal, that they would protect the morality of society.”
Longworth and Bella’s framing of Palin as a beauty queen focused on her as runner-up for Miss Alaska in 1984.
“There’s something really interesting going on with her where she’s trying to take this thing that’s been seen as maybe a negative stereotype that women politicians have to fight and maybe turn it to her advantage,” Bella said.
“Of course motherhood is central to her kind of stance and position and appeal as a candidate,” she said, which also placed Palin as a frame of a hockey mom.
Bella also noted Palin’s strong stance of being pro-life and Palin’s happiness for her daughter choosing not to have an abortion.
“It’s really part of her appeal, but part of the debate too,” Bella said.
The speakers analyzed Palin’s stance as a feminist.
“She claims that word, which a lot of republicans have not claimed, so it’s really interesting that she chooses to call herself that,” Bella said. “There was a lot of debate about what matters more. Do you want to see a woman win or do you care about the issue positions? Sarah Palin clearly did not espouse many of the traditional feminist political issue positions on choice or on other women’s issues of child care or health care.”