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The New Republic: The Palin Women And Feminism

Sarah Palin greets Bristol and her boyfriend Levi Johnston after addressing the Republican National Convention in September 2008. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Sarah Palin greets Bristol and her boyfriend Levi Johnston after addressing the Republican National Convention in September 2008.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Michelle Cottle is a senior editor at The New Republic.

God, what is it with the Palin women? Every time they do something stupid, their immediate response is to blame someone else.

Forget Mama Grizzly's obsession with the media haters. What is up with Bristol's pity-me puling about her latest split with Levi? Boo hoo hoo, he lied to me about his trip to Hollywood. Boo hoo hoo, he admitted he might have knocked up another teenage girl. Boo hoo hoo, he tricked me into appearing on all those magazine covers with him. Boo hoo hoo, he cares more about the spotlight than me — says Wasilla's most famous baby mama, in her EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with People magazine.

(Not to doubt Bristol's distress, but a cynic might suspect that her slap at Levi's fame-mongering stems less from a desire for a normal life than from envy that he's milking his unwed-parent status so much more spectacularly than she. Bristol may be raking in the bucks, but Levi is clearly having all the fun.)

But just when I'd written off young Bristol as too tiresome even for late-night tabloid reading, a throwaway quote from her lawyer in Wednesday's WaPo made me reassess her whole relationship with Levi. Offering his armchair analysis of the lovebirds' most recent troubles (beyond Johnston's being a juicy slice of trailer trash, of course), attorney Rex Butler mused: "[Bristol] doesn't want him in Hollywood. ... She wants him to sort of be like Todd Palin in the background while she does the running around. Levi, on the other hand, is not ready to settle into that role."

I ask you: How awesome is that? It seems Bristol Palin has been raised to assume that a man's role is that of supportive helpmeet, that it is Dad who's supposed to keep the home fires burning while Mom goes out and sets the world on fire. If that's not a progressive perspective on gender roles, I don't know what is. Way to fly that feminist flag, Sarah! And, oh yes, you too Todd.

I'm serious here. Sarah Palin may be the worst thing to happen to reasoned political discourse since Joe McCarthy, but teaching her daughter that women aren't born to play second fiddle is an impressive feat — particularly in the macho environs of rural Alaska — and one that many conventional feminists still have plenty of trouble with.

Sure, it's entirely possible that Rex Butler is talking out of his bum. (That is one of the first things they teach you in law school.) But his theory rings true. Parents can lecture their offspring about this or that world view all day long, but kids are stubborn about that whole-do-as-you-do-not-as-you-say approach to absorbing life lessons. And you gotta give Palin props: She offers one of the most striking examples of a gal who kicked ass and clawed her way to the top while relying on her hubby to be the family's quiet, supportive rock.

This in no way suggests that Todd is an emasculated girly man. Commercial salmon fishing and working the North Slope oil fields are the stuff of many a manly legend. By traditional guy standards, the strong but silent Todd is more macho than the legions of cigar-chomping peacocks strutting around the steak houses of Washington. Which makes him an equally valuable role model, especially for the tradition-minded right-wingers who comprise the bulk of Palin worshippers: See, guys? Just because your wife is a bigger deal than you doesn't mean you're a wuss.

So, while Bristol is still young and foolish and clearly has plenty of adolescent angst left to work through, I remain optimistic about her future. Whatever else she may have learned from mom (and dad), it's cheering to think that she absorbed at least one revolutionary lesson: Behind every great woman there is a great man.

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