Think Sarah Palin and Donald Trump Are the Same? A Gender Analysis

mediumIn January, Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump. Since then, there has been a lot of discussion about the similarities between Palin and Trump. Everyone from Rolling Stone to FiveThirtyEight to the New York Times has weighed in.

However, despite their similarities, it’s not fair to compare Palin and Trump for a simple reason: Trump isn’t being subjected to the gendered attacks Palin faced when she ran in 2008 on the Republican ticket.

Here are just a few examples:

Both have made mistakes in foreign policy discussions. Palin didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine was. Trump didn’t know what the nuclear triad was. Palin believed the proximity of Alaska to Russia spoke to her foreign policy credentials, and Trump was unable to distinguish between Hamas and Hezbollah, saying he would learn the difference “when it’s appropriate.” Palin was called ignorant and compared to Goldilocks, while Trump only “appeared to struggle” and “stumbles.”

Both are the parents to young children. While she was running for vice-president, Palin had two children under 10. Trump has a son who is nine. Palin faced questions about her ability to be a mother and an elected official, with a New York Times article stating, “There’s nervousness among working moms of both parties that how she does in this race will reflect on the overall ability of working moms.” In contrast, a piece in Time Magazine about Trump’s children doesn’t mention his nine-year old at all, except in the caption under the family photo.

Both have had their appearances commented on—repeatedly. “Caribou Barbie” was part of the political lexicon of 2008, and I can’t remember a time before I heard jokes about Trump’s hair. A study found that the objectification of Palin made individuals less likely to think she is competent. I’ve yet to hear anyone suggest Trump is not competent because of his hairstyle.

Similar situations, vastly different media coverage. If that’s not evidence of inherent sexism, I’m not sure what is.

This list could be much longer and, yes, I’m sure there is coverage and commentary we can point to as the exception to the rule. But, when we applaud the exceptions, it’s time to change the rules – we can’t level the playing field for women in politics without addressing the double standards in media coverage.