Some polls are suggesting that after gaining an initial bump, McCain's campaign is being hobbled by Sarah Palin's vice-presidential candidacy. The voters who are deserting her fastest, some of whom are even calling on her to withdraw, are mostly women.
Ah, women, the consistently, tragically underestimated constituency. What the Democrats learned during the primaries and the Republicans might now be finding out the hard way, I learned at my very academic, well-regarded all-girls high school: that is never to discount the ability of women to open a robust, committed, well-thought-out vat of hatred for another girl.
Women are weapons-grade haters. Hillary Clinton knows it. Palin knows it too. When women get their hate on, they don't just dislike, or find disfavor with, or sort of not really appreciate. They loathe deeply, richly, sustainingly. I do not say this to disparage my gender; women also love in more or less the same way.
When men disagree, the steps to resolution are reasonably clear and unsophisticated. Acts of physical violence are visited upon one another's person or property, and the whole thing blows over. Women? Nu-unh. We savor the discord. We draw it out. We share our contempt with our friends, like a useful stock tip, or really good salsa. And then we all go hate together: a mutually encouraging group activity for when the book group gets quiet.
The hatred women have for Sarah Palin, and others had for Hillary before her, is not necessarily about politics. Anybody can run the numbers on how many people Palin's pro-life, pro-gun, socially conservative policies will seduce and how many they will alienate. Rather, the test that the McCain campaign failed to put her through was the Abbotsleigh Ladies College test. (Named after my high school. Go, green and gold!). It's a simple three-point pass-fail exam: Will the other girls like her?
Here's why Palin doesn't make the grade:
1. She's too pretty. This is very bad news. At school, pretty girls tend to be liked only by other pretty girls. The rest of us, whose looks hover somewhere around underwhelming, resent them and whisper archly of their "unearned attention." So, if everyone calls your candidate "hot," you're in a whole mess of trouble. If the Pakistani head-of-state more or less hits on her, well, yes, she'll get a sympathy vote, but we're in Dukakis-in-the-tank territory. It's an admiration vaporizer. (Of course a candidate can't be too ugly, or it will scare the men, who are clearly shallow as a gender.)
2. She's too confident. This also bodes ill. Women have self-esteem issues. But they also have other-women's-esteem issues. As almost any woman from the head of the Budgerigar Breeders association to Queen Elizabeth can attest, it's almost impossible to get confidence right. Too timid and you're a pushover. Too self-aggrandizing and you're a bad word unless it's about a dog, or Project Runway's Kenley. Or Michelle, my best friend until 9th grade, after she won that debating prize and got cocky.
3. She could embarrass us. History is not on Palin's side. Every time a woman gets a plum job, be she Hewlett-Packard's ex-boss, Carly Fiorina, or CBS's Katie Couric, there's always that whispery fear that people will think she got the job just because she's a woman. So if things don't go well and a couple of YouTube clips have suggested that they're certainly not going well for Palin women are the first to turn on her for making it harder for the rest of us to louse up at work.
The fact of the matter is once a female decides it's over with another female, it's like an end-stage marriage. No matter how seemingly benign, every attribute becomes an affront: the hair, the voice, the husband, the moose-shooting, the glasses, the big family, the making rape victims pay for their own rape test kits.
I know, I know. With all this extra baggage a female candidate has to bear, the chances of finding a woman whom other women won't hate seem skinnier than last year's jeans. But don't despair, if all else fails, we could just do what we always do and just vote in some guy. It's worked so well for us in the past.