My oldest daughter has always been petite — one of the smallest kids in her class. As recently as last month, a woman in our congregation asked her whether she’d begun sixth grade this year (she’s a sophomore). My daughter takes it in stride — except if someone makes the mistake of declaring her “cute”. The deep-freeze chill that instantly enters the room makes it pretty clear to the transgressor that the word is not considered a compliment.
This attitude runs in our bloodlines: the women in my family don’t do “cute”. My younger daughter is far more interested in her skill and strength at riding horses than in how she looks in the latest fashion. My aunt was the first female ranger and then biologist in Yellowstone Park, and has faced off grizzly bears, rutting elk and renegade buffalo in the course of her years there. My Montana cousin and both her daughters hunt deer and elk enough to feed themselves and a few lucky relatives, and they do everything themselves: from tracking the animals to making them into steak and sausages. My sister sells commercial real estate in Chicago, where she routinely plays hardball with the big boys. And I came into ministry early enough to be told from more than one male colleague (though not within my own denomination) that a woman in the pulpit was an abomination.
We do very well, thanks. We’re tough and smart and skilled; we’re opinionated as hell, and sometimes way too judgmental and impatient. Along with these qualities, some of us are even damned attractive. But ‘cute’?
Enter Sarah Palin. During last night’s debate, I was startled the first time she gave that flirtatious little wink of hers. The second and third times I was simply revolted. This is the woman the Republicans think should be the political partner to the President of the United States? This is the woman who wants our help to bust through the glass ceiling right next to the one Hillary Clinton almost cracked? This is the woman we’re supposed to believe could competently lead our nation if a President McCain should die in office? And she’s letting us know that she’s ready for all of this because she’s so…cute??
It’s probably too much to hope that Palin feels a bit ashamed of herself. She’s been using these li’l lady tricks for much too long. But the Republican party, and especially smart, competent Republican women, should be ashamed. What we need is experience and savvy, intelligence and creativity, skilled diplomacy, intellectual curiosity, compassionate attention to those who suffer, brilliant problem solving, a good dose of humility and as little self-righteousness as is humanly possible.
“Cute” isn’t even on the list.