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Of Sarah Palin, Hegemony and the “Old Double-Standard”

During the final month of the 2008 presidential campaign it came to light that the Republicans spent more than $ 150,000 (Leonard, 2008) on clothes for vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. It is arguable that a candidate who calls herself a “hockey mom” and claims an affinity and identification with the “every woman” of middle-America is acting hypocritically in accepting/making these purchases, which came from none other than Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman-Marcus—when (especially) in these difficult economic times most “hockey moms” are shopping at Target or Sears; however, there is an underlying message within all of the media hoopla and questioning surrounding Palin’s shopping trip that smacks of a double-standard .
Almost immediately, questions regarding the legality of Palin’s purchases were raised (later the campaign disclosed that the clothing will be donated to charity following the election); however, few and far between are the questions concerning the costs of any of the male candidates’ often-exorbitant attire. Early on, there were mentions of John Edward’s $400 haircuts and John McCain’s $520 Ferragamo shoes (Leonard, 2008)—but scrutiny surrounding these purchases came and went and was nothing when compared to the media raucous Palin’s purchases caused. Fundamental to the mild disparity in the national discussion of gender and clothing is a deeper, hegemonic double standard regarding the importance of style and ‘looks’ in politics. A woman in the Western political scene must look fashionable as well as well groomed. MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski–an Obama supporter—in defending Palin states that the pressure for women to “look good” on television and in politics is a burden not shared by their male counterparts (2008). Brzezinski notes Britain’s Margaret Thatcher who famously commented on the need for women in the political arena to always be well dressed and stylish.
The idea that any woman in the public eye running for office within the dominant Western culture would dare to be less than sharply dressed and ‘looking her best’ is repugnantly taboo.  From newscasters to political candidates and office-holders—women in the eyes of the Western media must be well coifed, well groomed and attired in the latest designer wear.  Further, one may argue that their male counterparts must also ‘look their best’—but the question is begged: What does ‘looking their best’ for men involve? Basically, it involves a nice suit, haircut and a shave…
The dominant, Western ideas of ‘looking good’ for women are a lot more complicated. Hillary Clinton’s “traveling pantsuits” represent a courageous stand against the double-standard; yet Hillary is often chided for her body-type, so-called thick ankles and in the past, her ‘restless’ hairdo—which often changed in an obvious attempt to conform to the hegemonic-idealized female type—blond and pert—as opposed to her former light brown, relaxed ‘do,’ not to mention the loss of her glasses that looked (god forbid) too intellectual or feminist…
There is another aspect to obtaining the ideal Western female image that seems to run contrary to the ideas presented thus far—but is actually another dimension of the same theme: The idea that a female leader can be too attractive.  Nicholas Kristof observes: “Surprisingly, several studies have found that it is actually a disadvantage for a woman to be physically attractive…” This is because, according to Kristof, strongly attractive female contenders are “…subconsciously pegged as stereotypically female and therefore unsuited for a job as a boss” (2008).

For Britain’s John Cleese’s perspective on Palin see:

Therefore, with the triple whammy of the disclosure and media play concerning the costs of her clothing budget, the high-expectations regarding her fashion choices and appearance as well as her basic high physical attractiveness, Sarah Palin—along with all women who appear within the scope of the dominate Western media—suffer disadvantages in the form of sexist scrutiny and biased judgment that their male counterparts simply do not have to endure.


Kristof, N. (2008, February16). Modern Age Prejudices Limit Women
Leaders.livemint.com. Retrieved September 30, 2008, from
Leonard, T. (2008, October 23). Republicans Spent More Than $150,000 on Sarah
Palin’s Clothes. Telegraph.com.uk. Retrieved October 25, 2008, from
Licht, C. [Executive Producer]. (2008, October 10).  Morning Joe. [Television
broadcast]. New York, NY: NBC News.


About ageer370

I'm in my final semester as a grad student of media studies, I'm also 'Mom' to my 15-year-old autistic son. My interests are film history--its analysis and criticism; the art of rhetoric as well as cultural history from about the Edwardian period to the present.


3 thoughts on “Of Sarah Palin, Hegemony and the “Old Double-Standard”

  1. You make some good points in your statements about double standards. I have been guilty myself of hardly noticing what men in the media wear but will often notice what a woman is wearing, especially if I find it unattractive. Being what I consider a modern woman, I hate it when I do that! It seems to be easier for men to dress the part. Women do have to consider color and style as to whether the clothing is too feminine or too masculine. During the campaign before the primaries I found myself thinking Hillary should add a little more variety to her wardrobe, even though I think that she chose her pantsuits for ease, convenience and comfort for travel and making public appearances. And there is nothing wrong with that. After reading your thoughts I wondered if Sarah Palin’s attractiveness is part of the problem people have with her. Many of her statements certainly opened her up for ridicule but did she deserve as much of that as she got? To have come as far as she has in her poltiical career, she must have something akin to ability. She did use that huge clothing budget to buy outfits that looked nice on her and every time we saw her on tv, my daughter would comment about how she has great hair. Maybe these things were not to her favor in the end.

    Posted by Pam | November 13, 2008, 6:46 pm
  2. I thought this was going to be about the 150k she spent, not a supposed double standard. Unattractive women don’t have a disadvantage, nor do attractive ones. Palin only got that far because she was attractive – while others who are not, but are intelligent, can and do succeed on their own merits. Angela Merkel is not attractive, but she leads Germany. Thatcher was not ‘hot’, but a historical leader. They got success because they had what it took – brains over beauty.
    Smart women who can get their message out are successful, even if they are not good looking. Palin is not smart, but successful because of her looks. To me there is no double standard, except that good looking people who are not qualified might get a pass – but that applies equally to men and women alike.
    p.s. – I’m taking Dr. Mahaffey’s class – the one you took in 2008 – persuasion… peace.

    Posted by smtccca | January 30, 2012, 12:19 am

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