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Sheriff Joe Arpaio Gives Sarah Palin Pink Underwear

I caught a little news item yesterday that just had so many issues about gender going on in it that I had to blog a bit about it.

It seems that "Sheriff Joe" Arpaio (the Maricopa County Sheriff) gave Sarah Palin a pair of pink underwear while she was in Phoenix for a Tea Party rally on Friday. After doing so, he tweeted it.

Boy.  Where to start?

Let's start with the background.  Sheriff Joe makes many of his male prisoners wear pink underwear.  He explicitly does this because he believes that it humiliates the prisoners, with the stated official reason that because of this humiliation, it reduces the stealing of underwear.

I don't doubt that his method is effective.  Men are taught at a young age that our masculinity, despite being defined positively (that is, being defined by what it is), is also very much defined negatively (being defined by what it is not).  And what masculinity is not, we are taught, is feminine.  The genders are taught to us as being mutually exclusive.  One cannot have feminine traits and still claim to "be a man."

We're taught this pretty young, too.  It's fighting words to a ten year old to be told that he "throws like a girl," and fighting words to a teenager that he's a "pussy."  Even grown men, Senators no less, are told "man up" as a way to attack their masculinity, and thus their identity.

I think there's something else going on in this "gift" of pink underwear to Sarah Palin.  Sure, it's sort of Sheriff Joe's symbol, but underwear is not something you give to someone, at least not someone you don't have an intimate relationship with, in my experience.  Certainly you don't give underwear to someone professional, and you don't give it to a professional politician.

I think that Sheriff Joe giving Palin pink underwear is a sexist way to undermine her credibility as a politician.  While I am not fan of Sarah Palin, I certainly think she's been the victim of chauvinism and misogynist commentary in the media.  I've not heard of Sheriff Joe gifting pink underwear to any other politician, man or woman, and this kind of creepy, sexual gesture speaks profoundly to the views that people like Sheriff Joe have towards women.  I would speculate that Sheriff Joe gives it to Palin because she's viewed as an attractive woman, not as some sort of "here's my little token and I give it to every politician."  It demeans Palin, by treating her as an object of male sexual desire, rather than as a professional politician.

I don't know what kind of appropriate response Palin could make, other than respectfully declining Sheriff Joe's gift.