Posted tagged ‘lowered debate’

Cake Casuistry and Sarah Palin

November 17, 2009

Eaten Cake Too

“Can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

For much of my life, I did not understand what that expression meant.  Oh, I understood its general import; I heard my grandmother sigh it with a sorry shake of her head often enough.

But I couldn’t understand how it actually worked.   Didn’t you have to have your cake in order to eat it?

Even when I finally did get the literal meaning of the words, (“have” as in “continuing to have”, “eat” as in, you know–), I still resisted their logic.  Why couldn’t you save half the cake and eat the other half?  Even if you did eat the whole piece, didn’t you still have it –in your stomach?  At least for a while?

Ultimately, I think my problem was not so much with the expression’s words as with its meaning, especially its meaning for women of my generation.   There were just so many cakes that we wanted to have and eat too—an engaging career and time to attentively raise children; a good paycheck and creative, non-corporate work; a husband who worked and was available to his family; a daily blog and adequate sleep–

So many secret little nibbles of cake, so many secret little hoardings of crumbs, so very many empty or half-empty mouthfuls.

The parceling out of cake, even talking about parceling it out, was simply very hard for some of us;  it continues to be hard for many younger women too.   (Many women, for example, still feel the burden of keeping quiet about a sick child, an aging parent, a wayward husband, simply to protect perceptions of their job performance.  Others find that the job performance problems created by these factors aren’t limited to perception—such non-work matters demand their energy, time, and decision-making on a dailybasis.)

The genuine complexity of these issues is, I think, one reason why some women find Sarah Palin so troublesome.  Although Palin has clearly had her own difficulties with choices of this kind, she glosses these over, trying to have her cake and eat it too in the very same (somewhat disjointed) sentence.

She purports, for example, to be both attentive mom of five and also hands-on executive, lover of the wild but also driller, generous-spirited but also vindictive enough to ward off challenge, winking Josephine Six-pack but also policy “wonk”, perky but contemptuous of the perky, Alaskan hunter of moose and nationwide hunter of bucks, quitter but also stay-the-courser, insulting, reductive and libelous, but quick to find insult, reduction and libel in others, a self-declared claimant of down-to-earth clarity who obfuscates and confuses.

As my family will groaningly testify, I have sometimes expressed a surprising sympathy for Palin (even when cringing on the opposite side of the fence.)   I don’t like to see any woman ridiculed; I understand how difficult it is for a woman to carve out an individual or powerful style in our culture.  But her glibness has lately introduced so many  quoted untruths into common parlance that it is hard for me to retain much sympathy;  these have not only lowered the debate but significantly damaged it, and, when added to Palin’s  pursuit of earnings in the millions, have lately brought another “cake” phrase to mind.  Not the old saying of my grandmother’s, but the, perhaps, older one of Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat….”