Thoughts on “pit bull with lipstick”

Late today it belatedly occurred to me that Sarah Palin’s description of herself as a pit bull with lipstick, which I didn’t particularly mind when I first heard it, was unpleasant and wrong. A pit bull is a uniquely dangerous and vicious creature. Every few weeks you read about a person who has been mauled, even killed, by a pit bull. Do we really want a pit bull at the top of our government? Can you imagine any prospective national leader in American history describing himself in such brutal and, indeed, threatening terms?

This is part of a new phenomenon that has emerged since the announcement of Palin’s nomination, a rural / working class chauvinism that has been expressed by many of Palin’s supporters and by Palin herself. In her acceptance speech, she seemed not to be reaching out to all Americans, but rather to be implying that people like her, small town Americans, are the real Americans, while the rest of us, who don’t cure and cube moose in our basement, who don’t act like pit bulls, are not.

On another point, while some of her ripostes against Barack Obama were well done and deserved, given the previous onslaught against her and the fact that she had a legitimate need to demonstrate her toughness, there was too much of the attack dog in her speech. She’s a total newcomer to the national stage. Other than her constantly asserted campaign against “good old boys’ networks” (an anti-male phrase we could do without), we have no idea of her positions on national questions. It seems to me that she needs to establish her own national political profile before she has the standing to attack other national politicians.

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Laura W. replies:

I was very dismayed at this pit bull analogy, even more dismayed to see it hailed today as wisdom. Sadly, it represents a real phenomenon: the busy, fast-paced Soccer Mom who fills her children’s days with activities and competitions, but provides no time for reflection, no anchor to times past, no deeper sustenance. As Palin finished her joke, I had a vivid picture of her barking in the bleachers during one of her children’s sporting events. Her ascendancy to power seemed at that moment a mere extension of this empty assertion of self. As to the equating of women with pit bulls, need we further proof of the wish to destroy what is best in femininity: honor, gentleness, intuition, repose, and the selfless desire to serve those one loves.

Here is an earlier comment by Laura on this subject that I had missed.

Laura W. wrote:

Republicans are celebrating Palin’s tawdry comment about “hockey Moms.”

“What’s the difference between a pit bull and a hockey Mom?” the GOP nominee asked during her speech, a speech now widely hailed as the greatest thing since Churchill’s addresses to his people on the eve of war. “Lipstick.”

Anyone who knows the vilest examples of hockey Moms today, their unembarrassed aggression in the bleachers, their vacuous self-satisfaction, their empty conviction that the very highest good they can give their children is a top position on a suburban sports team, can only weep. So this is the epitome of American femininity? Raw aggression—with a little lipstick to sweeten its sting.

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Bridget writes

You continue to amaze me, Lawrence! Hit the nail on the head again with this post. I, too, didn’t like the “pitbull” reference, I know it’s a “hockey mom” thing, but I’m not a “hockey mom” nor do I know any so the phrase is off probably to most Americans. I also thought that there was far too much attack in this speech and delivered with a sneer and derision instead of a good-humored chuckle like Rudy Giuliani’s speech directly before hers. I also have hated the “good old boys’ network” phrase ever since Dayton and that was when I liked her. It is anti-male and I didn’t think I’d find that in the Republican party. Since the announcement of her selection, I’ve realized, to my dismay, that there are more feminists in my party then I ever would’ve believed. I’m also uncomfortable with the populism that is in her speeches.

Anyway, since finding your blog, via one of your posts at hotair, I’ve been very thankful to not feel so alone in my convictions with this whole mess. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Alex A. writes:

I guess that I’m among a number of VFR readers who find Laura W’s opinions especially interesting and well expressed. She repeatedly emphasizes core moral values and comments on the passing scene with shrewd insights. What she has to say about Sarah Palin’s pit bull analogy is a case in point.

From: Ray G.
Subj. nit-picking over pit bulls…

As much as I like and appreciate you, I think you’re over-thinking this Sarah Palin thing.

The pit-bull remark is just funny; it has no other significance than that. I grew up playing hockey and hockey is a tough sport that attracts kids (and parents) who are physically tough.

She’s not perfect; no one is. As far as republicans go though, she seems a bit better than most and a breath of fresh air. Also, she seems a bit more conservative than most today. I think she is the “X” factor that will win the election for McCain—who again, I’m not a fan of but we simply have no choice. We must prevent a smooth talker with Islamic and communist leanings in his background to win the Presidency.

LA replies:

Are you calling me a nit-bull?

Ray G. replies:

You’re making me laugh! Did I misspell something or leave a word out?

Of course I’m not!

LA writes:

I realize that the criticisms that have been expressed here of the pit bull reference may strike some readers as fussy, elitist, school-marmish, etc. They’ll think that we are rejecting the genuine populism of Palin that drives the liberals crazy. They’ll also think we’re taking too seriously something which is meant as a joke.

I don’t entirely dismiss that view. I understand it. But it may come down to valuing an exciting style over substance. If Palin’s gutsy, confident populism were in the service of a real conservative cause, it might be more justified. In reality, however, it’s only going to be in the cause of McCainism.

LA writes:

Peggy Noonan writes:

Much has been said about her speech, but a few points. “The difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick” is pure American and goes straight into Bartlett’s. This is the authentic sound of the American mama, of every mother you know at school who joins the board, reads the books, heads the committee, and gets the show on the road. These women make large portions of America work.

I’m sorry, but I really find that offensive. To describe ordinary women who are contributing to their communities as “pit bulls” is to portray the work of civilization as a form of savagery. It is to degrade ourselves in our own eyes.

I know that some will say I’m failing to appreciate the true populist voice of America. And maybe it’s true that I take the image of “pit bull” too seriously. But to me a pit bull is a horrible thing. I see nothing positive about a pit bull. I’ve read of too many people who have been horribly maimed or killed by them. It think the legal ownership of pit bulls is a mark of the brutalization of our society. I don’t think “pit bull” is a phrase that should be given positive meaning. I don’t think we should seek to emulate pit bulls.

I’m reminded of the notorious Bobbitt case years ago when a woman cut off her husband’s penis, and for years joking references were made to the incident, especially in the context of angry women giving their annoying husbands their just deserts. I was horrified by this. To treat the dismembering of a human being, the cutting off of a man’s penis, as a joke, even as something positive, was to brutalize ourselves.

“Pit bull with lipstick,” though not as bad as the Bobbitt situation, is nevertheless degrading in the same way. I don’t want Americans, and particularly American women, to see themselves as pit bulls. That is not an ideal to which we should aspire.

If that makes me an elitist, so be it, so long as we understand elite in its true meaning, not as .some self-regarding group standing apart from the society seeking its own privileges, but as those who uphold standards. Pure populism is not good. All communities need to be led by leaders who establish standards, and populated by people who themselves enforce and follow those same standards.

M. Jose writes:

Whatever she may call herself, Palin is less a pitbull with lipstick than she is the lipstick on a pig. And that pig’s name is McCain.

LA replies:

That’s VFR’s quote of the week.

Laura W. writes:

It’s not simply the use of the term “pit bull” that is offensive. It is the phenomenon itself. Palin was right in associating the words “pit bull” with a certain type of woman in America. She was wrong in celebrating this type of woman, instead of distancing herself from it.

I hate to break it to Noonan, but the real women who make America work are not those who display unbridled aggression in the bleachers. The women who make America work are those who quietly and wisely go about the age-old business of bringing the next generation to maturity without self-glorifying Oprah-esque drama and without the unsightly aggression of a female brute.

When I say that the term pit bull describes a real type in America, I don’t just mean the loud woman in the bleachers. I also mean the following:

* The mother who lets no teacher criticize her child and reacts to poor grades and disciplinary measures with outraged indignation, with the fury of a mad dog.

* The aggressive career woman who is too busy to spare more than mild-contempt for her slavish, hard-working husband and tongue-lashes him when he refuses to mop the kitchen floor correctly.

* The endlessly self-asserting college girl, who complains in class at the slightest hint of regard for the male sex on the part of a professor and cries “foul” when a boy ends up in her bed when she’s drunk.

* The brash female retiree who indulges all desires for pleasure, ignores her community and family, and dresses in sickly-sweet candy-colored clothes.

The important thing is that if the “elite,” as Mr. Auster calls them, are going to venture into the business of describing what is best in women today, they should distance themselves from all these very real examples of contemporary womanhood. If they’re going to acknowledge that there are indeed female pit bulls, they should criticize and rebuke them, not coo and revel in the fact that there are women who possess such over-sized egos.

Roger G. writes:

Your pitbill concern is overwrought. Like when you distinguish between suitable and unsuitable girl T-shirt models.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 04, 2008 09:15 PM | Send

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