As my husband observed early on, McCain the mortal couldn't mind having an attractive woman all but singing arias to his greatness. Cameras frequently capture McCain beaming like a gold-starred schoolboy while Palin tells crowds that he is "exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief." This, notes Draper, "seemed to confer not only valor but virility on a 72-year-old politician who only weeks ago barely registered with the party faithful."
It is entirely possible that no one could have beaten the political force known as Barack Obama -- under any circumstances. And though it isn't over yet, it seems clear that McCain made a tragic, if familiar, error under that sycamore tree. Will he join the pantheon of men who, intoxicated by a woman's power, made the wrong call?
Who knows? Maybe Parker's right. It's not like McCain is ever going to tell us why he really decided to choose Sarah Palin (except that it was a "cold, calculated move" apparently perfectly primed to piss off all those unattractive, unhappy liberal feminists). That said, I don't begrudge Parker her op-ed. She certainly makes some interesting points (especially in regard to a Canadian research project--the published article titled aptly "Do pretty women inspire men to discount the future?"--which studied the effects of attraction on decision-making). However, her piece really irked me because of the gendered socio-cultural assumptions on which her opinion is founded.
I am so so so tired of the "pretty woman" excuse. And I have a hard time understanding why men aren't furious. (Unless it's true, which to me, were I a man, would signal a problem I'd want to work on.) Isn't it as bad to say that men are easily distracted by beauty (and hence make poor decisions) than to claim--as is so often done--that women are too emotional to be rational thinkers? Actually, it's the exact same indictment--passion trumping logic--except that women are to blame in both cases. Women are too emotional. That's our own fault. But if a pretty woman distracts a man into making a stupid decision, that man just couldn't help himself. What. The. Fuck.
This is not a new argument, obviously. It's frequently used to defend rape ("she was asking for it"). It's cited as a reason why Islamic women must wear a hijab or burqa. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve:
To the Sirens:
Not to mention Helen of Troy:
Oh, right, and...Sarah Palin:
How is it possible that after hundreds of thousands of years of human civilization (arguably more), we're still laboring under this notion? The femme fatale seduces and destroys the hopeless, unsuspecting man. The powerful, evil, gorgeous woman weakens the man's resolve through no fault of his own. He succumbs to her beauty. In these narratives, why do men not have any agency when in many other scenarios men have all the agency?
I'm not saying women can't wield power sexually. Of course we can, as can men. We can also be powerful in many other ways, as can men: through intelligence, might, intimidation, charisma, fortitude...the list goes on. So why does this idea of the femme fatale--the man helpless in the wake of a seductress--persist? Is it a convenient excuse? Is it yet another of the myriad examples of female objectification and villainization (vagina dentata, anyone?)? Is it simple misogyny, another way to diminish women's agency/female power as suspect? Is is vagina envy? I mean seriously, I'm flummoxed.
Cross-posted at Open Salon (I'm trying it out...)