What is it about Sarah Palin that generates such rancor from other women? I cannot count the number of columns, blog postings, and comments that have suggested that she is either a) unqualified, or b) needs to get home with her family, or the latest, c) she looks too good in her fancy new clothes.
I submit to you that the rancor has far less to do with her experience and policies (because let's face it, few of us really understand public policy to the degree that our posturing and blustering around the water cooler would suggest), and it has far more to do with the fact that she's not listening to the critics, she's not backing down, and she looks like she is having a good time on this journey.
For some reason, many women don't seem to like seeing other women look happy. Too many feminists draw far too much of their inspiration from women who are angry, combative, and blaming. They are less likely to draw inspiration from women who simply chart their own course and live it well.
For the past two years I have been privileged to be part of a national research project where we are interviewing working mothers about their notions of "flourishing" and how they are able to do that in the context of their busy lives. I say "privileged" because I have been so inspired hearing the stories of these women - how they seek out avenues to grow and use their talents, and how their families are better off even if the logistics of being a working mom can be daunting.
One of the recurrent themes that intrigues me is the number of participants who say part of how they are able to flourish in their lives is because they rarely listen to advice. One woman said, "People will tell you what to do. Don't listen to them. I will even tell you what to do. Don't listen to me. You have to figure out what works for you." As a result of this "no time for guilt" approach, these women are running departments, running companies, leading civic organizations, and raising their families, and - by their own definitions - flourishing.
One woman told me, "If start getting stressed about the different messages I hear about what I should be or what I should do, I just tell myself, "Okay - there maybe some truth there that you need to pay attention to, and once you go workout, then you can take 30 minutes to think it through and decide what to do about it.'" The result of this approach is that she looks and feels fabulous, and she doesn't spend a lot of time second guessing her own decisions. She is happy and it shows.
These interviews have made me realize that I personally have wasted far too much time apologizing and cringing for my choices, instead of reveling in my modest successes and seeking to grow my talents and contribute even more. And, to my shame, these interviews have also made me realize how quick I am to judge other women simply because they dared to set big goals and go for them, and they looked happy with the results. For some inexplicable (and frankly, lame) reason, I take their accomplishments as a personal judgment on me and get irritated. The worst part of this counterproductive behavior? It sets a wretched example for my 12-year old daughter when I constantly battle myself or other women about our choices instead of reveling in them - it doesn't give her permission to live her life and go for her dreams regardless of the naysayers.
Like her or not, Sarah Palin's behavior is very permission-giving for working moms. We can choose to let that either inspire us or scare us. Regardless, I have a feeling that whatever the outcome of this election is, Sarah Palin will not be overly concerned with how women judge her personal choices. She will simply continue on through life with an attitude of not backing down from challenges, and enjoying herself along the way. My commitment for the upcoming year is to do more of the same!