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"Warrior Queens"?

In todays New York Times Magazine, theres one of those interviews "conducted, condensed and edited by Deborah Solomon." Margaret Atwood is answering the questions, including one about Sarah Palin; Atwood's response includes this:"Read the book by Antonia Fraser called "The Warrior Queens ." You will see that no woman ruler has been successful if she has been an advocate for women at large. Not one, ever. Its the Thatcher model, which is, All women should stay home and take care of their babies except me."Thoughts?

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I'm surprised that anyone still consents to do these interviews with Solomon. I've never found them satisfying to read -- they bear so little resemblance to the way people actually converse that they're practically prose-poems, or excerpts of absurdist dialogue. Like little sketches from an Ionesco play. Is it credible that Solomon asked, "Do you feel you anticipated the likes of Sarah Palin?" and Atwood responded, "Ha. You can order action figures of her now." I don't believe that's even close to the spirit of the exchange. It's too fractured. So before I reach the question-and-answer that follows -- the one you cite -- I've already grown frustrated and turned the page.All that said, I think the next exchange is potentially of greater interest around these parts:"[Solomon] On the other hand, Palin is tapping into Madonna iconography by appearing in public with her infant. [Atwood] The Virgin Mary was known for being modest and demure. She is not a gun-toting mama. Im sorry."Tapping into Madonna iconography? I must say that thought has never occurred to me.

Mollie,Assuming your never was emphasis rather than irony . . . I don't know about "Madonna iconography," but it does seem to me that Mary and Sarah Palin are the only two women I can think of who have been given a huge amount of credit for consenting to bear their sons. It seems to me that many in the pro-life movement focus on very little about Palin other than she chose to bear Trig rather than abort him. It seems to me, in any case, that the point Fr. Komonchak threw out for comments is probably true. Were Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gahndi, or any of the women that come to mind when you think of leadership on the national level remembered for being great proponents of women's rights? Two other names that come to mind are Corazon Aquino and Benazir Bhutto, whom do not know enough about to speak with any certainty, but I don't think they were advocates for women in the same way as, say Hillary Clinton. They did not come to power promising to break the glass ceilings of The Philippines or Pakistan, although they may have made things better for women in those two countries.

I don't know what being "an advocate for women at large" means. Equal pay for equal work? Higher allocation for research to cure female diseases? Special safety nets for women with children? Quotas for women in the workforce? Better elder care for widows? Separate schools for girls? All of the above?My guess is that Warrior Queen Margaret Thatcher would say she is an advocate for her nation, and that includes the women of her nation. So perhaps successful women rulers are those who do not SPECIFICALLY advocate for women but attempt to raise up everyone.Possibly that's why Obama and not Clinton is the Democratic candidate. Obama never specifically advocated for black Americans at large, whereas Clinton went on about working women and glass ceilings and generally making men feel defensive, which always results in balky and uncooperative behavior.If you want a man to do something, whether it's mowing the yard or voting for you, the politically savvy Warrior Queen explains the situation in the most logical and dispassionate way what the situation is so the man draws the correct conclusion for himself.Example: The neighbor complained about the length of the lawn, and my x-ray shows I have a herniated disk. Example: My tax reduction plan would result in an average yearly savings of $3,000, about the cost of a good quality two-man bass boat with outboard motor.

Yes, David, emphasis! And also, while it's true that Palin has appeared in public with Trig, she isn't usually holding him herself. There's nothing wrong with that, but it may explain why the connection to the BVM hasn't occurred to me. I don't know, though -- even if Palin were cuddling Trig during every speech and interview, I probably wouldn't have thought "Madonna." Not every mother-and-infant makes me think of Our Lady. Does that mean I have broader experience than Solomon, or simply less creativity?

Not every mother-and-infant makes me think of Our Lady. Does that mean I have broader experience than Solomon, or simply less creativity?Molly,I wouldn't make too much of it. It probably just means you're not very religious. :-)

Did Thatcher actually follow policies, as Atwood suggests, of discouraging women from working outside the home? I don't recall it, but then I wasn't paying attention, anyway. I would assume that when someone like Atwood scores other women for not being sufficiently feminist she is talking about abortion rights. It seems to me to be the subtext.

It is almost impossible not to get into identity politics especially in the US.Kennedy being the first Catholic president is a big part of the American Catholic mythology that carried through for many decades and remains an important part of American Catholic political folklore.Certainly Obama being black is symbolic of healing a painful period in American history. In fact, there have been conversations here that has offered evidence that Catholics who are not voting for Obama are racist. And if Obama does not win, there is no question that race will not be discussed as a factor.It isn't quite the same as Palin is a VP but Palin does represent something interesting for American women and American feminism. She has not been able to identify herself. There are a myriad of forces, including forces in the campaign, that are seeking to superimpose an identity on her - a shallow sexy bimbo, an independent minded reformer, a working mother, a wacky Christian evangelical, or all or any of the above.One could analyze the phenomena from a very postmodern feminist perspective and see it as pornography in the sense of people from all different points of view (including those in her own campaign) wanting to LOOK at the BODY and manoeuvre that body into a particular shapes. (i.e. You have to be serious, no you have to be relaxed, no you have to project confidence, you have to show competence, you have to show a command of all things, you have to be the voice of the proverbial main street or Wal Mart, you have to be accessible, you have to be respected, who are you, what are you all about, did you ever have an affair, etc. Yikes, the conservatives who are yelling Free Sarah Palin are on to something. Just let her be herself and let the chips fall where they may.On the whole theme of warrior women and the difference between other countries and the USA. Paglia writes that a woman candidate for president of the U.S. must show a potential capacity for military affairs and decision-making. Our president also symbolically represents the entire history of the nation -- a half-mystical role often filled elsewhere by a revered if politically powerless monarch. Here is Paglia's take on Palin:http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2008/09/10/palin/index1.html"Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment. In the U.S., the ultimate glass ceiling has been fiendishly complicated for women by the unique peculiarity that our president must also serve as commander in chief of the armed forces. Women have risen to the top in other countries by securing the leadership of their parties and then being routinely promoted to prime minister when that party won at the polls. But a woman candidate for president of the U.S. must show a potential capacity for military affairs and decision-making. Our president also symbolically represents the entire history of the nation -- a half-mystical role often filled elsewhere by a revered if politically powerless monarch. As a dissident feminist, I have been arguing since my arrival on the scene nearly 20 years ago that young American women aspiring to political power should be studying military history rather than taking women's studies courses, with their rote agenda of never-ending grievances

I would assume that when someone like Atwood scores other women for not being sufficiently feminist she is talking about abortion rights. It seems to me to be the subtext.Elaine,Yes, clearly she had abortion rights in mind, since she cited as evidence of her case Antonia Fraser's The Warrior Queens, which is about Queen Boadicea, Isabella of Spain, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Rani of Jhansi, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, and Margaret Thatcher. They all loom large in the history of abortion rights.

High-glam pro-sex dominatrix with guns ramming things down throats. Ye gods! Poor Camille can hardly keep the drool from oozing all over the page. Sadly, the real Palin hasn't studied military history--or much of anything, as recent interviews reveal.Like everything Paglia writes, the piece about Sarah Palin always points back to Paglia. She's entertaining in a kitschy, performance artist way, but I wearied of the relentless attention-seeking "dissident feminist" schtick after the first decade.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.