The Magazine

Game Changer

Will the battle of 2008 turn out to have been won on the playing fields of Alaska?

Sep 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 01 • By JESSICA GAVORA
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The modern feminist theory of girls and women in athletics is that we are all lingering victims--even in 2008--of the patriarchy. The theory explains away girls' and women's lower interest in athletics with the assertion that years of being shut out of athletics (never mind that the years in question were four decades ago) have conditioned females not to like sports as much as men. It's not that we don't like to play sports as much as the guys, it's just that we don't yet know that we like to play sports as much as the guys. We need to be educated about our interests, and it is the government's responsibility to ensure that schools create women's teams--and/or eliminate men's teams--until we come to our senses and behave just like the boys.

Palin takes this theory of the victimized female, prisoner of false-consciousness, and drives a stake through its heart. She didn't need anyone to teach her that she was an athlete back in the seventies, and she won't allow anyone to call her a token female today.

For all their talk of the sameness of the sexes, what feminists want for female athletes today is preferences, quotas mandated by the federal government and handed out by schools. But what Sarah Palin has achieved no one has given her; she has manifestly earned it.

It's difficult to overstate how entrenched--and how male--was the political culture that Palin upended in Alaska. The state's governing Republican troika of Senator Ted Stevens, Congressman Don Young, and Governor Frank Murkowski (known simply as Ted, Don, and Frank) together had more than a century on the public payroll--in a state less than 50 years old--when Palin challenged Murkowski in the Republican primary in 2006. For decades, they had relied on the not-unpersuasive argument that failing to return them to Washington would be fatal to a small state like Alaska with only three snouts in the federal trough.

But it turns out that playing basketball taught Sarah Palin the importance of a quality more valuable than seniority: competitiveness. Instead of shrinking before the political machine that was responsible for delivering billions of federal dollars to the residents whose votes she sought, Palin challenged it head on. Not content with exposing her own Republican party chairman for ethics violations, she defeated a sitting governor of her own party and called the FBI investigation of Stevens and others for official corruption an "embarrassment" to Alaska.

"Competition defines and refines a person," she wrote in 2004. "Character is revealed. It's really nothing to be afraid of."

But liberal feminists are, in fact, afraid of Sarah Palin. For the first time, they face real competition in their claim to speak for women. For decades, feminist groups have insisted they are the voice of American women, when in fact they are the voice of a narrow, liberal fringe. It's an argument that has convinced the media and has cowed politicians of both parties. And it's an argument that Sarah Palin is busy blowing clean out of the water.

If she wins, that hissing sound you will hear will be the air wheezing out of modern feminism. And even if she doesn't win, she will have given America--and, more important, American politicians--the example of a female former athlete who knows who she is and what she wants and doesn't need Big Brother to protect her from the old boys network.

And to think it all began in a gym in Wasilla.

Jessica Gavora, a native Alaskan, is a writer and speechwriter.