Brand building through storytelling

The plus side of Palinania

I could have sworn my mental gaskets had been blown by Palinania. I was baffled, weary and plain fed up thanks to all of the following: John McCain for selecting such a stunningly unqualified running mate; our gal Sarah herself for being so damn charismatic and…well, likeable, despite her alarming stance on every one of the issues; teeth-gnashing liberal commentators for writing her off as “an Alaska hillbilly” instead of giving any thought to the roots of her formidable appeal; conservative cheerleaders for shrugging off evidence that the sworn foe of corruption and cronyism is breaking her own rules back home in Alaska; and myself for devouring the whole shamefully addictive drama all like too-sweet chocolates with gooey centres. Instead of trying to get my head around the economic crisis, I surrendered to a wave of innuendo and emotion.

But however this bizarre tale concludes, Sarah Palin’s impact on women of all political persuasions has already been profound. She has made it okay to be a political mother—even among voters who resisted the idea until now.

That’s the implicit message of an unexpectedly fascinating survey from the Pew Research Center, which set out to determine whether moms or dads make better candidates in the eyes of American voters.

Conducted early this summer, when Palin was still largely unknown outside her home state, the survey found that “women with young children pay a ‘mommy penalty’ among Republicans if they run for Congress.” Only 21 percent of Republicans said they were very likely to support “Ann Parker,” candidate with kids, compared to 31 percent who were very likely to support “Andrew Parker” with the same personal and professional profile. Among Democrats, the pattern was reversed, with Ann drawing significantly more votes than Andrew (36 percent vs. 19 percent).

When I first heard the news of Palin’s candidacy, my many exclamations of dismay included this: “Conservative voters will think she should be home with her kids! She’s got a baby, for God’s sake!” It hasn’t worked out that way. Palin quickly won fans among white women with small children, and even among evangelical women. In fact, one voter even told a reporter that she wanted to vote for Trig’s mom.

Now I wonder why I found this so terribly surprising in an era when most mothers work and want their work to be respected. Most women want to take part in their communities, whatever their views on abortion on the censorship of books in local libraries. As the former editor-in-chief of Canada’s best-read magazine for women, where readers’ frank, heartfelt letters and e-mail turned my desk into the country’s biggest kitchen-table conversation, I had been struck countless times by how much women shared in spite of their differing opinions, how strongly they could identify with another woman’s desire to live her life her way, not her mother’s or her neighbour’s.

BeehiveThose readers came to mind as I pondered a New York Times story on The Beehive, the little pink beauty shop in Palin’s home town of Wasilla where the potential future President still gets her cut and colour while fine-tuning speeches and chit-chatting to regulars who know her as their Sarah. The shop’s owner, Jessica Steele (pictured), brings her three kids to work but sometimes feels stricken with guilt for loving her business, not just her family. One day Jessica burst into tears—and got a pep talk from her most famous customer, who told her “not to make excuses for why I am not a stay-at-home mom or have my kids at the shop.”

Just what I’d have said myself.  I’m betting the beautician will never forget those words.

Until now, conservative women haven’t had a role model who embodies both their personal values and their need for assertive public selves. No wonder they’re embracing Sarah Palin. Her approval ratings have begun to waver as voters take a closer look at who she is and what she stands for. I can practically hear the shouts of glee from detractors who hope that she’s a 15-minute obsession.

They could be right, but I’m not rushing to join the chorus. I remember when the not-so-distant days when working women were asked what kind of birth control they used, and when my son’s classroom antics were blamed on my career by a succession of finger-wagging teachers. If mothers can at last take their rightful place alongside fathers in the corridors of influence, surely Sarah Palin deserves her share of the credit.

Posted by Rona

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