Why women are (or are not) reading Sarah Palin

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"When women talk about Palin," points out Lisa Belkin, "it’s not just politics, it’s personal." No kidding. And that at least partially explains the fervor of Palin fans like cousins Nicole Colter and Stephanie Jefferson who drove 4-1/2 hours (Colter) or flew six hours (Jefferson) to Springfield, Mo., to get Palin to autograph their copies of "Going Rogue" and then to hear her speak at the College of the Ozarks

But Belkin, who published a piece called "Why Women Can't Let Sarah Palin Go" in The New York Times, sees at least as much animosity as admiration in the female response to Palin. She believes that hardworking, educated women respond to Sarah Palin the way they did to the head cheerleader in high school. (Even though in fact Palin was not a cheerleader but the captain of her high school basketball team.)

"Pretty and popular, with no apparent interest in studying, she’s the one who industrious girls were tacitly promised would not succeed in the real world," writes Belkin."Whether we voted for Hillary or not, we weren’t about to let Palin breeze in, with her sexy librarian hair and her peekaboo-toed shoes, conforming to every winking, air-brained stereotype, and sashay to the front of the line."

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And yet, she admits, "Which is not to say we didn’t like her for a moment. We were intrigued by this woman who could govern a state and raise five children and field-dress a moose; who seemed to do what the rest of us could not manage – to have it all."

Eilene Zimmerman, writing for True/Slant, says she sees an even more basic reason for women (or men) to dismiss Palin:  "[S]he’s simply not smart." And yet Zimmerman has trouble reconciling that perception with this fact: "She’s sold a million books in two weeks."

That's a lot of readers – male and female. And Zimmerman argues that the people standing in the "lines [that] snake around bookstores" waiting for a glimpse of Palin will be enthusiastic readers, no matter what her book contains. They "will read and believe, no matter how inaccurate the information contained within," she writes.

Of course, there are others who insist that, in the long run, "Going Rogue"is too short on substance to help Palin, at least in a political sense. In her piece Belkin quotes Lisa Copeland, a lifelong Republican and Texas native, who is a founder of a nonprofit group, the Project 19 Foundation, to move more women into political and professional leadership roles.

“When [Palin] gave her convention speech, I sat in my living room and wept,” Copeland told Belkin. “She was my age, she looks like me. I really thought she would save the party.” But then, she says, Palin began to talk. “She embarrasses me.”

But to return to Belkin's basic point: for many women, when they talk about Palin, "it’s not just politics, it’s personal." And that takes us back to Palin supporters like Colter and Jefferson, who sound like many of other buyers of "Going Rogue" who have been interviewed as they have been waiting on astoundingly long lines all along the path of Palin's book tour.

"We love everything about her, we love what she stands for," they told OzarksFirst.com.

Will Palin fans like Colter and Jefferson actually read "Going Rogue"? You betcha. But will large numbers of other American women – the ones mostly too busy at work or taking care of their children to wait overnight on bookstore lines – follow suit? And if they do, will they or will they not be pleased with what they read there? That remains to be seen.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe.

(Chapter & Verse readers are reminded that they can access the Monitor’s Books podcast either at iTunes or by clicking here.)

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