Sarah Palin and Caroline Kennedy Aren't Victims of Glass Ceilings, There is Something Wrong with the Floor.

Both Palin and Kennedy were obviously unprepared for the offices each sought. Had a ceiling not stopped them, we would have more serious social issues to deal with.
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In this morning's Washington Post, discussing the recent political experiences of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Caroline Kennedy, Anne Kornblut asks whether a glass ceiling still exists for women in politics.

Like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin before her, Kennedy illustrated what some say is an enduring double standard in the handling of ambitious female office-seekers. Even as more women step forward as contenders for premier political jobs, observers say, few seem able to get there.

There is a major problem with suggesting that there is a glass ceiling holding women back from being appointed to the Senate. One, Hillary Clinton already won that seat. Two, Kirsten Gillibrand, a woman, is being appointed by Governor Paterson to succeed Clinton. If there truly is a glass ceiling holding women back, then Gillibrand must have one hell of an operatic voice to cause that ceiling to shatter.

Kornblut is not the first to make this assertion. In fact, in an interview with John Ziegler, Sarah Palin herself wondered how the media would handle Caroline Kennedy and the implications for what that would say about how the media dealt with her:

"I've been interested to see how Caroline Kennedy will be handled and if she will be handled with kid gloves or if she will be under such a microscope. ... It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out and I think that as we watch that we will perhaps be able to prove that there is a class issue here also that was such a factor in the scrutiny of my candidacy versus, say, the scrutiny of what her candidacy may be."

Palin assumed that Kennedy would get the royal treatment from the media and that this would prove a more global theme regarding media elitism against herself and by proxy the average Joe the American.

Palin was wrong, though. The media's treatment of her was not classism. Kennedy was skewered in the media and was criticized for many of the same faults Palin exhibited: unpreparedness and confusion of thought and position. Kornblut was also wrong though. Women in general are not being held back from the Senate. Caroline Kennedy was being held back from the Senate. Women are not unelectable as a vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin was unelectable.

That is not to suggest that there are no issues with the way women are viewed in public life. It is just that looking at the glass ceiling is the wrong issue to examine.

There is a difficult ceiling to break through for public office. That ceiling stopped both Palin and Kennedy. That is not the problem, though. In fact, that is a good thing. They needed to be blocked. Both Palin and Kennedy were obviously unprepared for the offices each sought. Had a ceiling not stopped them, we would have more serious social issues to deal with.

However, there is still a problem and an implicit sexism in the handling of these women. It is not that the ceiling for them was too thick, but that the floors on which they stood to reach those ceilings were shoddily built on rickety foundations. The sexism is not that they were stopped from achieving their high ideals of public office, rather it is the very fact that they even got as close to these positions as they did.

This is, to slightly alter the phrase, the subtle sexism of low expectations. I am glad that both Kennedy and Palin were stopped by a ceiling, but I am saddened that with their unimpressive command of the issues, they were so easily propped up in the rafters. As long as the Sarah Palins and Caroline Kennedys continue to get this close, the subtle sexism of low expectations will continue to hound our society.

So forget the ceiling, and let's do something about fixing the floor.

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