Via Sociological Images — a truly great blog I discovered recently — comes this story about a Sarah Palin lookalike contest held at Vegas strip club (oh, sorry, “gentleman’s club”). Lots of bikinis, sexualized use of guns and sexism abound. You can view more photographs of the event here.
The saddest thing is that it’s not the most offensive display of sexualized misogyny that has been directed a Palin. The sex doll came close, but I’d say that award goes “Nailin’ Paylin,” the Larry Flint pornographic film starring yet another Palin lookalike, the existence of which all of us should have seen coming.
There are two problems with both the porn film and this strip club contest, and neither one of them is about porn and stripping in general. The first issue is consent. Sarah Palin did not consent to having her image used in this way. Portraying her sexually like this without her consent is a violation — and contrary to what many people apparently think, existing as a woman in public is not the same as consenting to use of your body as public property. This isn’t satire or parody; it’s just sexist and degrading.
Which brings us to the next issue. The entire reason that anyone gets to hide behind the parody and “all in good fun” arguments is precisely because portraying Sarah Palin sexually is intended to be mocking towards her. It’s taking a powerful woman and working to make her non-threatening by turning her into a sexual object. And it’s the very opposite side of the coin as calling Hillary Clinton ugly and denying her sexuality. Both reinforce the ideas that women exist to sexually pleasure men, and that sexuality is the only power we have (or should be allowed). Whether revoking or affirming that “power,” the result is an attempt to render the woman inferior and powerless.
We still live in a world where women seemingly cannot be seen as sexual and at the same time be taken seriously. We still live in a world where sexuality itself is seen as degrading to women. That is the purpose of these types of exercises — to debase Palin by reminding everyone that she (presumably) has a vagina and is therefore only good for fucking. I truly believe that if sex was not still viewed as inherently degrading to women, we wouldn’t be seeing these sorts of displays at all.
The goal is to mock Palin’s intelligence not by engaging with her foolish beliefs and ignorant rhetoric, but by pointing and saying “look, boobs!” or “I’d sure like to hit that!” And making her non-threatening isn’t only dangerous politically when Palin is in fact in a position to potentially do a lot of harm; attempting to make her non-threatening in this way is dangerous to all women who hold power, who want to be taken seriously, and who dream of being able to be proud of their sexuality and brains all at the same time. An acknowledgment of female sexuality shouldn’t be seen as mocking — these portrayals of Palin only reinforce the idea that it is.
This is degrading to Sarah Palin, particularly as a woman, both because it ignores the right of consent and because the very intention is for it to be degrading. It’s in no way a celebration of sexuality (since in order for it to be, it would by definition have to be consensual), but a ridicule. And in the end, all women are the butt of the joke.