I'm also pretty sure that this phenomenon isn't about Palin or her politics, for that matter. Rather, I think our reaction to Palin reveals some surprising things about us, and our true feelings about diversity, that fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
To be specific, we do an awful lot of talking about how far we've come in terms of our acceptance of diversity, but our behavior indicates otherwise. To be even more specific, we seem to be terrified of powerful, women leaders who don't think and behave the way we would like them to.
Now, when I consult with companies and executives, I look for disconnects between perception and reality. And I've got to tell you, this sure looks like the mother of all disconnects, to me. Furthermore, it probably has some far-reaching implications in the business world.
So what's the evidence for all this? Well, there's no denying the woman's star quality, her charisma, her ability to electrify people and galvanize a nation-wide movement, i.e. the Tea Party. As Pat Buchanan said almost two years ago:
"When [Sarah Palin] was picked as Governor of Alaska about 18 months in, she came down to St. Paul and she was a national sensation. She had something in terms of authenticity, guts, her accomplishments up there against the establishment as a young woman and a governor, raising a family, doing all these things at once.And yet, she's been broadly attacked with vitriolic hatred, for example:
"The country fell in love with her. She terrified the Democratic party, Biden was wailing maybe they should have picked Hillary. She had something in those two weeks and demonstrated it. No other political figure, man or woman in either party, could have done."
- According to Carl Bernstein, "She's a demagogue. She's ignorant. She's a flake ... [McCain] committed an almost unpatriotic act in picking Sarah Palin because she's manifestly unqualified for high office." That's just one of thousands of attacks on Palin in the media, not to mention the millions in the comment sections.
- Palin's early interviews with ABC's Charles Gibson and CBS's Katie Couric were labeled train-wrecks, which they probably were, but far-too many people ridiculed her or attacked her intelligence when the real issue was that the McCain campaign did a terrible job of preparing her for the national stage.
- She was labeled an "idiot" and "stupid" for writing notes on her hand before a Tea Party Convention speech. Why, I don't know. I use notes for every speech I give.
So, why do they do it? Why the disconnect? Simple. Our behavior doesn't match our words because, in reality, we're not as forward-thinking or accepting of diversity as we say we are. Here's What Our Reaction to Sarah Palin Reveals About Us:
- We're a "do as I say, not as I do" culture. We tell our children you can't tell a book by its cover, we say everyone's created equally, but when it comes to walking the talk, we balk. Palin's beautiful, not very sophisticated, and not particularly eloquent with her words. How do we read that? Dumb bimbo.
- We're threatened by powerful women. Look, I'm no shrink, so don't expect me to explain why that is. Of course I have some theories, but why bother; the evidence speaks for itself. Anger comes from fear, period. I don't even think politics has anything to do with it. The same issues may have been in play in Hilary Clinton's 2008 campaign.
- We love knocking leaders off pedestals almost as much as we love hoisting them up there in the first place. Our obsession with creating cultural icons or heroes and enjoying watching them turn into train-wrecks is exactly the same thing children do with their parents. That's right, reality television appeals to the child in us.
- America's silent majority is alive and well. People seem to either love Palin or hate her, and the split is perhaps 50-50, but you'd never know it from the media, the blogosphere, or hanging out on either coast or in big cities. Even in the information age, when we think we're all connected, the silent majority remains largely silent.
- Our gadget-crazed sound-bite culture is taking us in the wrong direction. It seems to enhance the "judging a book by its cover" effect because, these days, we rarely take the time to actually look under the hood to see what's really going on. How can we when we'd much rather enjoy the distraction of a shiny object, i.e. a sound-bite, email, text, or tweet.
Now you know what I think. What do you think? Is there a disconnect between the way we talk about diversity and how we really feel about powerful women leaders? If so, why do you think that's the case?
Also check out:
- 10 Leadership Lessons From Machiavelli
- Leadership Lessons From the Giffords Shooting in Tuscon
- 10 Leadership Lessons From Food Network Chefs
Image: sskennel via Flickr