by Ginny Grimsley
New York, N.Y.
IS SARAH PALIN THE MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN IN AMERICA?
NEW YORK, N.Y., Oct. 1, 2011 -- What makes Sarah Palin so irresistible?
She hasn't held a public office since she resigned as Governor of Alaska and hasn't declared herself a candidate for president, but the release of a tell-all book thrust her back into the limelight and a recent McClatchy-Marist poll showed her trailing President Obama by just 5 points and leading him among independent voters.
Historian Michael Foster, co-author of A Dangerous Woman about Civil War-era superstar Adah Menken, believes that Palin's irresistible hold on the attention of Americans makes her a dangerous woman. He believes that her unique combination of qualities and the timing of her notoriety make her a very dangerous quantity in today's media-centric culture.
The idea of Palin being a dangerous woman is a step beyond feminism, according to Foster, who holds a degree in philosophy from Cornell and a Master's Degree in Fine Arts, and who taught at NYU.
"Historically, certain woman have been considered ‘dangerous' whether in a political or military sense," he said.
"Palin's ascendance mirrors that of women like Joan of Arc, who threatened the male dominated culture of her day. It's not that she was the first vice-presidential candidate from a major party, but rather, the way she embraced that role.
"Geraldine Ferraro, who was on the Democratic Party's ticket alongside Walter Mondale, campaigned as if she was almost apologetic about being a candidate. Palin campaigned as if she had a birthright to be on the ticket, which empowered conservative women in a way that hadn't been seen in a long time. Her assertive nature is what she shares with history's other dangerous women," he said.
Foster, born in Brooklyn, is a novelist, biographer and historian who graduated from Cornell with honors in philosophy. He received an MFA from the Writer's Workshop, Iowa. His novel, Freedom's Thunder (Avon), was praised by Nobel laureate Isaac B. Singer.
Foster also believes that Palin's attractiveness contributes to her dangerous nature.
"History is replete with influential women who were, in all fairness, not physically attractive, and as a result, were not as dangerous," Foster added. "They were certainly formidable, but they lacked Palin's edge. Sexuality is as much about power as it is about attraction, and a woman with a sexual appeal can carry a greater influence than a woman without, especially in a media-driven culture."
As a historian, Foster compares Palin to Menken, who was a superstar of the Civil War-era, seizing on the blooming media of the time - newspapers - and the front-page scandals that followed. Menken combined her shifting political allegiance to both the North and South, her sexuality as a performer of erotically-charged stage shows, and her role as the first pinup queen and darling of the troops to become so famous even Mark Twain wrote he was both attracted to and afraid of her.
Foster says Palin generates a similar feeling among the public. However, it's the combination of sex appeal, maternal instincts, intelligence and femininity that is ultimately distracting in a media-based culture, he says.
"Sex appeal gives Palin a certain measure of her power, but not all of it." Foster added. "Sarah Palin is as famous for being a mother as she is for being in politics," he added. "She's motherly without forfeiting her appeal as an attractive woman. And so far, she has been able to balance all of her qualities to keep the cameras focused on her and the media mesmerized."
Ginny Grimsley is a publicist based in New York. Foster is a client.