Bristol Palin first gained media attention as the pregnant teenage daughter of Sarah Palin. Though she is now twenty-one, I firmly believe that she is still very much under her mother’s control. Even though this is the case, I believe that she is old enough to be accountable for her own actions. Bristol was recently at a bar riding a mechanical bull when she was heckled.
As she fell off the mechanical bull, Stephen Hanks yelled out, “your mother’s a whore”. He even had the nerve to ask, “Did you ride Levi like that?” Unsurprisingly, Bristol walked over to confront the man. I don’t care what kind of marginalization a man negotiates, slut shaming a woman as a form of attack is sexist. For her part, Bristol said,”Is it because you’re a homosexual and that’s why you hate her?” When he answered, “”Pretty much … and why’d you say I’m a homosexual?” She responded with, “Because I can tell you are.” The
shouting match conversation ended with Hanks calling Bristol Wassila Trash.
What this conversation shows us is that when you deploy an ism to fight an ism, there is no way to have a conversation that is conducive to change or a possible positive outcome. There is no doubt that the Palins have said racist and homophobic things however, using sexism to attack them does not address the issue with their statements. It is simply reaching for something to hurt them viscerally, while invoking privilege. Hanks may indeed be a gay man, but he will never know what it feels like to be slut shamed or how this contributes to the continued divide between men and women. Similarly, as a straight woman, Bristol has a lot of privileges that she clearly has ignored and normalized.
Below you will find a follow up interview that Stephen Hanks did with TMZ.
I personally am not a fan of anything Palin, so you know, I’m just glad it wasn’t Sara there. That’s just basically it. I don’t like that family and I think she proved who she was last night, for sure. I wasn’t looking for it, but I have to say, it kinda felt good to get it off my chest. Someone next [to] us – someone on the bar said, “are you an actor, are you a plant?” Uh no. No, I was just there being me. I’m very passionate about politics, I’m passionate about this country, and I am passionate that these people are very dangerous. I acted upon my feelings and I would do that anytime, anywhere. I did the same thing to Newt Gingrich at the Four Seasons in New York.
I really want to support Hank for speaking out, but I simply cannot because he called Palin a whore and commented on Bristol’s sexual behaviour with Levi. It disgusts me that once again I find myself having defend the Palins in any way, but morals only mean something when you hold onto them in the tough situations. I wish that Hank had found another way to express his displeasure, because he is right — the Palins are indeed racist homophobes, who if they had their way would eliminate rights for all marginalized people.
I believe as liberals, we need to be more accountable for our language. We cannot on one hand decry when a conservative engages an ism, and then respond in the same fashion. How does this establish a difference between the two sides? People like the Palins may be incapable for any real and lasting change, but that is specifically why we need to make sure that there is a clear difference between sides for the young that are learning to navigate this world, and for people who are just beginning to understand how coercive hierarchy truly is. Furthermore, when we respond with an ism, we simply continue the circle of oppression, because it suggests that under certain circumstances that it is correct to dehumanize someone. If we are to be truly social justice minded, instead of cheering Hank, we need to once again assert that a zero tolerance is where we need to stand on using an ism to attack anyone.
Nothing, either of the two Palin women have done justifies the sexism engaged in by Hank. Just as Hanks commentary did not entitle Bristol to sneer when she asked about his sexuality, furthermore, Bristol was not entitled to ask about his sexuality either. No one won anything in that exchange and while Hank believes that Bristol showed her true colors, he really should consider that he showed his as well.