The GOP's nomination of Sarah Palin as vice-president is a milestone we should not fail to observe. I've no doubt that for McCain it was merely political maneuvering--he didn't intend to endorse, fully and finally, the objectives of feminism. But he did.
It was a Democrat who said the infamous lines in 1963 that the antidote to women “poking around in something she doesn’t know anything about” was to “get her pregnant and keep her barefoot.” But it has been the GOP, as the conservative party, that has always been a refuge for those who find the idea of gender equality offensive. It is the party that resists change, and holds onto cherished, fixed beliefs.
In the early days, men really did believe women incompetent to do basic things. I'm just old enough to remember the jokes about "women drivers." Women weren't strong enough to do the work of men, of course, but they weren't as smart, either. And obviously--this hardly needed to be mentioned, it was so obvious--they were emotionally weak. They lacked judgment and common sense.
Eventually, as women proved themselves men's equal in matters of the brain, men shifted their vanity to their brawn. Recall the ugly reception women got at construction sites and later, in the military. I was in Salt Lake City in 1984, when Mondale selected Gerry Ferraro as the first Veep candidate. At that point, we were forced to seriously discuss whether a woman had the "temperament" to have her finger on the button. A popular campaign button around town was "T--- and Fritz, the two biggest boobs in Washington."
Feminism, of course, is the rather uncontroversial idea that men and women are entitled to equal rights and respect as well as equal access to jobs and equal pay for them. The controversy was that anyone ever thought differently. Sexism hasn't gone away, but it has been debunked, dulled, and diminished. It reared its head in the primary with Hillary. Things have changed, though--the current variant really isn't an argument, it's an attitude--certain kinds of strong women are culturally distasteful to certain kinds of social conservatives ("How do we beat the bitch?" and Hillary nutcrackers).
But when they selected Sarah Palin, the GOP finally threw in the towel on all arguments that women are in any way inferior. This is a woman who could very easily become the leader of their party--and they love the idea. In the selection of Sarah Palin, they have unwittingly made a huge admission: women are able to do anything men can, including lead the country. It's not a serious question anymore, and no one will seriously ask it. BlueOregon readers no doubt oppose Palin over any number of policy disagreements. But let's not overlook the importance of what her selection represents as a social landmark. We're all feminists now.