// 30 August 2008

How many hours since the US Republicans selected Sarah Palin as their candidate for vice president? Well, on cue the sexist reaction has started.

Actually, according to the Huffington Post someone registered the domain name www.vpilf.com two months ago. (VPILF, as in MILF, as in “vice president I’d like to fuck”).

Warning note: the HuffPo post is celebrating this as a moment of “sheer genius”, see Hoydon About Town for more.

Shakesville is already on Palin Sexism Watch #3

One of the commenters there points to this quote from a pundit on CNN, about Palin’s ability to be vice president and take care of her small child with Down’s syndrome:

The baby is just slightly more than four months old now. Children with Down’s syndrome require an awful lot of attention. The role of Vice President, it seems to me, would take up an awful lot of her time, and it raises the issue of how much time will she have to dedicate to her newborn child?

I’ll finish with a quote from Melissa at Shakesville:

We defend Sarah Palin against misogynist smears not because we endorse her or her politics, but because that’s how feminism works

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 30 August 2008 at 10:37 am

Huffington Post claims website VPILF is ‘humourous’- no in fact it is endorsing male sexual violence against women. This is just the beginning of yet more violent misogyny against women masquerading as ‘fun. Melissa of Shakesville is right – defending Sarah Palin against this vicious, deliberate campaign of misogyny is central to feminism. Men attacking women as a group are unremitting.

Robert // Posted 30 August 2008 at 12:22 pm

I wonder how a male candidate would take such a website being set up targeting them. Is it particuarly the violent nature of Fuck that is found offence, due to its violent conotation? Or is it simply that it treats Palin as a sexual object. What if a website had been set up along the lines of, i wish i was married to palin or i have a crush on palin. Would these be equally objectionable because they still centre around sexual conotations or could they be taken as light hearted. Please do not take my comments as anti feminist, they are not, they mearly mean to delve deeper into the issue.


Sian // Posted 30 August 2008 at 12:42 pm

Someone at The Times has also questioned her ability to be VP and care for her children. Literally hours after we hear about this. I completely agree with Melissa-I stand against practically everything this woman is for but she’s in for a tough time here and I don’t want to stand for that.

Harriet // Posted 30 August 2008 at 1:25 pm

Don’t Gordon Brown and David Cameron both have disabled children? But of course, no one would ever dream of thinking that made them too busy for a political career…..

Anna // Posted 30 August 2008 at 2:24 pm

I am in agreement about her childcare – the fact she’s in a position economically to palm her kids off on other people and then rants about the importance of women in the family and the evils of abortion makes me quite sick.

Mystery Dyke Squadron (Bombing Division) // Posted 30 August 2008 at 4:26 pm

Well I would.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 30 August 2008 at 5:05 pm

Ugh. I think I’m swearing off the Huffington Post. You’d think Adriana Huffington would know better. I have to agree with Melissa- I don’t like the lady’s politics, but we still have to defend her.

Renee // Posted 30 August 2008 at 5:20 pm

While it is wonderful to see feminists come out so strongly against sexism I must point out hypocritical the immediacy of this action is. Palin has been on the national stage for barely 24 hours and women have gone running to her defense yet many of the sexist taunts aimed at Michelle Obama continue to be ignored. To me this highlights the fact that you only count as woman if you are white.

Shea // Posted 30 August 2008 at 8:25 pm

@ Renee– I think perhaps that is a little unfair. Its a bad sign if a movement that aims to support the equality and political enfranchisement of women cannot stand up for one of its own, even if her politics radically differ. I also think that the fact that feminists are defending Palin has more to do with her actually running for a political position, rather than Michelle Obama who will be in a ceremonial rather than actively political position (although the racist and sexist attacks on her seem especially disgusting for this reason). Perhaps I’m being too generous, maybe in fact you are spot on.

Ruth // Posted 30 August 2008 at 9:51 pm

Personally, I’m disgusted (but not, sadly, surprised) at all the so-called liberal commenters essentially saying “she should have aborted that DS child, they are defective objects that all have miserable lives and wreck families”.

Ignorant, ignorant, ignorant. I know quite a few people with DS (and their ‘wrong, selfish’ parents, AND their ‘neglected, resentful’ siblings) who would like to have a word with idiots like that.

vxn // Posted 31 August 2008 at 2:22 am

@Robert: I’m not in the best position to answer your questions, but my bit is that- at least the website names you suggested aren’t focussed on “fuck”ing Palin as if she’s a piece of meat.

A better website would be that which focussed on her politics, and just that.

As in, a website which completely ignored her gender and sex.

I mean, even “Palin is amazing” could hold some kind of comedic innuendo, while not degrading her..

But as I said, I’m not in the best position to answer.

Anyway- I took the plunge and looked at that site and some of the comments.

*shock horror* surprisingly, none of the men/people on that site treat Palin as if she’s human. There was one who noted that Palin was “Creationist and anti-choice”.

Though the use of “anti-choice” makes it seem like it was someone who disagreed with her posting.


kate // Posted 31 August 2008 at 12:52 pm

There’s an interesting take on this at the Pop Politics.com, including some stuff about the ‘Feminists for Life’ group that Palin belongs to. I don’t necessarily see arguments against how the media portays her nomination as being the same as defending Palin herself. Rather, it’s part of a broader feminist response evident during the US primaries. This includes the problematic way the media has treated Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. But this could just be semantics.

Anne Onne // Posted 31 August 2008 at 1:32 pm

Agreed with Harriet: More than one of the most important men in this country have children with disabilities, and that hasn’t been raised in such a negative light, to

@ Robert: I think it is different for every feminist, since we all understand what offends us, and articulate it differently. But for me, it boils down to the following:

1) Do all the male candidates have websites dedicated to whether or not people would like to fuck them? Answer is probably not. If things were equal, it wouldn’t always be the women who are focused on in these terms.

2) Context: Whatever women do, we are often reminded that what REALLY matters is not how accomplished we are, how skilled or wardworking, or how good a person we are, but what we look like and whether any man would fuck us. What about whether we’d fuck them? What about whether we even want the focus on fucking to begin with?

3) More context: This is occuring against a backdrop of rampant sexual violence against women, where women are believed to consent to sexual attention or sex by virtue of walking around, wearing remotely ‘sexy’ clothes and being female. The obsession with whether men would fuck women, and the entitlement that men are encouraged to feel (that whether they would fuck a woman is much more important than whether she would want to fuck, that men are entitled to sex as some sort of a right, that they are within their rights to push for sex) is leading to sexual violence against women, and problems in who-knows-how-many relationships.

4) She’s a politician who could possibly become the next Vice President of the USA. Surely there should be a focus on POLICY here? No matter how good-looking a male politician is, the primary focus has never been on his appearance or fuckability.

There is nothing per se wrong with a fansite, or having a ‘crush’ (which is after all implicitly sexual) on a man or woman, it’s the way in which it is expressed that is the problem. In this case, Palin has already become an object in some people’s eyes. Instead of being seen as a capable full human that happens to be hot, she’s seen as a hot object that happens to be in the public eye for some political reason. It’s about how the focus overall is already ninety-something percent on how she looks/ whether some dude would fuck her/whether she should be with her kid/in the kitchen and a few percent on her actual policy and what that means in the elections.

It’s not an anti-feminist question, at all. With some things, it’s all about how they’re asked. :)

@ Anna: True. The thing is, that’s kind of the only way women get to be in any position of power in the Republican sphere. People like her and Ann Coulter can only get attention and position if they spend enough time criticising women for working, and insisting that the best thing would be for women to stay at home, listen to their man and preferably not vote. The Right has a need for women like them because it can then say ‘we’re not being sexist, even women know it’s best!’ and there are plenty of women who’ve been programmed enough to want crumbs at the Patriarchy’s table.

Granted, I find their arguments deplorable, and particularly hard to combat, because they’re women, so it’s particularly frustrating that they’d want to give other women’s rights away because they never felt they needed them (or just used them secretly because they’re rich). But it’s still important to fight the sexism against them, even though they don’t have our back, just like it would be wrong to ignore racism or homophobia against a sexist man. Especially when the bile is coming from supposed progressives, we need to remind ourselves what we stand for.

@ Renee, I do think there is a large dose of racism involved, but I think it’s more complicated than just that. For one thing, there’s going to be more focus on acutal candidates than their spouses because they are the actual candidates. This is actually unfair, since their spouses and families recieve as much of a grilling as they do, but lots of us like to kid ourselves that this is about actual politics, not character assasination.

And in some ways, I think we need to remind each other to defend and notice sexism against both women more. Obama because stories about white women predominate the sphere and our attention, and because she doesn’t deserve the slander or the stereotypes any more than a white woman. And Palin, because the fact that she’s anti-choice and anti-feminist doesn’t mean that we should fall in and insult her. The discrimination against the two in the liberal sphere is very different: Obama isn’t outright insulted, but sexism against her is often ignored, and that’s not even starting on the ‘they’re so clean!’ racism. Palin and Republican women, by virtue of not being liberal somehow apparently means some liberals full permission to insult them in every sexist way possible, from how fuckable they are, whether they look like a man (mAnn Coulter) etc, as if their being on the wrong side somehow makes sexism OK. It’s not. It’s not if they’re black, white, mixed-race, young, old, ugly, beautiful, able-bodied, disabled, heterosexual, LGBTQ, liberal or not. And we need to remind people of that.

Incidentally, Shakesville have been running a Racism and sexism watch on how Michelle Obama is treated in the media which is probably still ongoing:


I have seen quite a bit if coverage on how unfairly she’s been treated, but it could just be that I try to frequent liberal sites that I feel don’t ignore such issues. You’re right in that many have focused less on her than on sexist campaigns against white women. I do think it is important we try to keep a watch on candidates’ spouses, particularly when racism and misogyny collide, because nobody, whether on our side or not deserves that.

judith weingarten // Posted 31 August 2008 at 2:46 pm

Renee says, “many of the sexist taunts aimed at Michelle Obama continue to be ignored. To me this highlights the fact that you only count as woman if you are white.”

I’m not so sure this is generally true. I regularly read a virulently anti-Obama (pro-Hillary) website, NO QUARTER. When they put up a vile, sexist Michelle Obama post, I and many other readers protested in the comments. It’s never happened again.

Robert // Posted 31 August 2008 at 3:35 pm

@vxn. I think this particular debate highlights how disinfranchised (sp) women are in american politics. If a website was set up along thouse lines for a male politician it would be generally taken as compliment and most like spun by the spin drs to become something of an asset. But if it is set up for a women it shows that no one is foccusing on her politics mearly her asthetic value. Would it possibly help if she was unatractive as it would force people to focus on her politics.

None of that came out particuarly right but i hope you get my point.

Western Mass Fem // Posted 31 August 2008 at 4:29 pm

As far as Sarah Palin being seen as a sex object. She is a former beauty queen, and posed in Vogue magazine just last year, so I don’t know how opposed she is herself to being viewed as a sex object.

Peter Shams-Avari // Posted 31 August 2008 at 8:13 pm

Isn’t it interesting how those who would cry out the loudest against job discrimination based on one’s family situation (small chilren, special needs children, etc.) are now saying she shouldn’t be V-P because she has a four month old special needs child.

Robert // Posted 31 August 2008 at 11:21 pm

@Anne. I do get what your saying i suppose its all about the perceived intention and assumptions behind an action or statement. Hopefully a lot of the assumptions about women being sexual objects are fading with the last generation.

Just a thought why the hell was there never a campaighn to get Obamas wife on the ticket. I think she could have made an amazing VP.

Robert // Posted 31 August 2008 at 11:25 pm

Was in my first year of uni and my classical greek lecturer was giving us a lesson on women in classical greece and she summed it up rather well. ” some of the worst suppresors of womens rights have been women”

Coincidence // Posted 1 September 2008 at 4:42 am

McCain’s ex-wife, current wife and now his VP pick are all former beauty queens. Coincidence???

It seems like McCain’s primary reason in picking a woman, whether for a partner or the VP position in his campaign is that she must be hawt.

Bee // Posted 1 September 2008 at 9:17 am

Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I hate all that MILF business.

And I hate even more that women are, apparently, supposed to construe this as a compliment.

And I hate even more than that that some women do, apparently, construe it as such.

With regard to the double standard, anyone remember “Obama-girl” (“I’ve got a crush on Obama”)? Silly, yes, but somehow a lot more flattering/less derogatory than all this VPILF nonsense.

Sheer genius it ain’t.

Robert // Posted 1 September 2008 at 11:55 pm

@bee. Why do you think it would be diffrent for a man.

Anne Onne // Posted 1 September 2008 at 11:57 pm

Western Mass Fem, a person doesn’t give up their right to be taken seriously if they enter a beauty pageant. They especially do not give up the right to be taken seriously if they were a model or whatever a couple of decades ago, and changed careers to become a politician, because they’re no longer modelling/doing pageants etc.

In an ideal world (and Dear God are we far from that!) anybody should be entitled to work as whatever they wish, and not be disprespected for what they have worked as in the past. One day, (probably never in my lifetime) I’d like to see a former sex worker as Prime Minister. I’d like to see people able to move on without having people jam what they once did down their throats, and insist that any woman who has taken her clothes off isn’t worthy of a high-flying job afterwards, because doing what the patriarchy rewards women richly for is repulsive. Until people can move on with the fixation that women who have taken on a remotely sexualised role can’t be capable or smart, we won’t have equality.

It could be that she might like this attention, I don’t know, I can’t (and have no desire to) speak for her. But the default assumption should NOT be that a woman who has in any way been seen as sexual gives up the right to be taken seriously.

Even a recent photoshoot where she chose to pose provocatively (or not… I have not seen it) doesn’t necessarily mean that when she IS talking politics, she wants people to be talking to her breasts, or that she should get back to the kitchen.

Especially given the the pressure women are under to be seen as attractive to get anywhere, the fact that society teaches women that validation for your looks is the MOST important reassurance you could have, it’s especially cruel to then dismiss women for trying to maximise their chances in a world where looks matter.

Geez, we’re not having this discussion about Schwarzenegger, and he’s been seen in fewer clothes than Palin probably ever has. Nobody doubts that a man can be a sex symbol of sorts and have the right to be taken seriously if they enter politics (at least in the US, it seems to happen every so often), whereas the assumption here is that if a woman was a beauty queen, she’s condemned to be eternally judged on nowt but her looks.

Let’s do feminism a favour assume that she’s in politics because she is into the (morally repugnant) Republican manifesto.

@ Robert: I wish I could share your enthusiasm, but I don’t. The really obvious things (a la John McRirick) are drying out, but the subtle manifestations are not, instead passed on as familiar ‘ways we do things’. We humans are so good at carrying on traditions without thinking (it’s postulated that it’s a reason we are more intelligent than the other apes today) that it’s impossible for us to make progress unless we make a consious effort. And that, for most people, is like pulling teeth.

Only today on the Wright Stuff, the topic of whether everybody is racist came up, and although the panel agreed that everybody is prejudiced (dude! That’s what racism etc are! Prejudice!), they insisted that racism was somehow different, though they couldn’t say how. Racism etc are seen as Very Bad things, but people are so afraid of being ‘racist’ they refuse to examine their privileges or the many subtle ways they are being racist. Without examining one’s privilege, one can’t become less prejudiced, and the unwillingness most people have to admit ANYTHING is sexist etc unless it is really damn obvious makes me despair.

Mystery Dyke Squadron (Bombing Division) // Posted 2 September 2008 at 10:54 am

Well I would.

And anyone saying that this is misogyny obviously hasn’t seen Obama Girl. She wants him baaad…

Robert // Posted 2 September 2008 at 6:32 pm

@anne. You raise the issue of subtle sexism, I.E the assumptions behind language. Now i hope in my comments and debate on this blog i have proved i am not sexist. I take all people as being equal, in that i am a humanist. However a lot of my inheriated cultrual traits may come across as raciest or sexist. However it is not my intent to be sexist or raciest it is just a hang over from my cultrual background.

Case in point im a devonshire lad and as such have picked up some of my home counties linguistic traits. One of them is using love/lover/beauty(be-u-te) as terms of enderment towards my female friends. I do not think this makes me sexist. I still respect these women as my equal and i dont have any real gender assumptions behind such phrases. Its just a set of language i use to express warmth and kindness. Many of the girls use me handsom (hansom) as a term for the men. Would you take this as deeprooted subtle sexism or just a cultrual hangover?

PS These language traits has got me into trouble a couple of times when i aint talking to people from the west country.

Anne Onne // Posted 6 September 2008 at 4:11 pm

@Robert: I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m sexist. I’m sexist when I look at a woman and for a second judge her on her looks. I’m sexist when I feel guilty about my own sexuality. I’m sexist in a million tiny ways, and I’m a feminist.

The moral of this story isn’t that I’m evil (or at least I hope not), but that all of us, no hard we try, still fall back on the way society has trained us. The thing that matters is how we deal with it. Being feminist doesn’t make one immune to making mistakes or falling back into conditioning, it means that we try to catch ourselves, try to remember why it is wrong. and we try not to make the same mistake. Trying to achieve equality and undo the conditioning isn’t easy. It requires a lot of listening, and a lot of home truths, especially if it’s an area we have privilege in. When in doubt, it helps to assume that if you have privilege, and a less privileged party tells you you’re being something-ist, take it.

You don’t have to want to mean harm or hate people to end up oppressing in a way. There’s no such thing as simply appearing to be sexist or racist, but not being it, just because you don’t mean it, sadly. This seems to be a common meme, which makes sense, because nobody wants to think of themselves as hurting other people, even unintentionally, and these tags often have quite a bit of stigma attached. But intent isn’t all, and the way to not be sexist or racist is to try and avoid justifying ourselves and listen to what people are telling us when we are being accused of it. Racism and sexism (and homophobia, ageism etc) are not only confined to huge acts of injustice, they range from the everyday to the extreme. they are also not separate to culture and tradition, but an integral part of it that we must fight to unravel. We often oppress without realising, in small ways. In fact, to some extent, we will always oppress, because as long as the system is as it is, people who are male, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cissexual etc will, no matter what they do, have more advantages than people who are not. Simply by living and working and having relationships, the way the world is set up, we still oppress others because our comfort and wishes are favoured. We can’t change it all, but we can try to do what we can to minimise how we affect others.

So I can’t say that you’re not sexist, because no human on Earth is not sexist. Nobody lacks all of the conditioning we’ve had. The plus side is that nobody expects us to be perfect: we all mess up, but as long as we think about it when it’s pointed out to us, apoligise and try to bear it in mind and improve, it’s fine. Read, listen and think: it’s what we all have to do, and through that and time, we develop a better understanding.

Humanist as a title is all very well in a general sense, but sometimes it doesn’t catch all. See, all humans are not treated equally on the planet. As we know, some humans are treated worse, and these humans are those who are poor, POC, LGBTQI, women, disabled, fat, old or very young. Therefore, if someone is truly humanist, they must recognise those which need particular attention, and how they are affected. You can’t be a true humanist without recognising that women are oppressed and have less privilege than men, and that would make you a feminist as well as a humanist.

If you’re afraid of the feminist or pro-feminist label, that’s an issue in itself that limits how non-sexist someone can be.

In the case of your language, it all depends on who you’re talking to. If your friends like it, and there’s an understanding and reciprocation, there’s nothing wrong, and I doubt anybody would complain. The thing to remember when talking to strangers, particularly ones where it is not an accepted thing, and particularly where such language is only used to women, is that they can be insulted. It’s safer to avoid informalities with people we don’t know, because we’re never really sure how they’ll take them.

Words such as ‘sweetie’ ‘love’ etc aren’t a problem between friends or lovers as long as they don’t mind, because they are terms of endearment.This is particularly true in your case where there is a male equivalent. Where they are a bit inappropriate is if used at work, in the professional context, especially if women are getting adressed as ‘love’, and men are being taken seriously, because it’s belittling to someone, kind of like giving them a nickname. I’d guess the rule is only call people nicknames or things like that if you know they don’t mind.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds