June 16, 2009 / Media - News Reporting & Analysis, Sexism

Sexist Blogger Margaret Carlson


This essay originally was published on the blog of the author, who expresses her own opinions, not necessarily those of The New Agenda. 

Margaret Carlson

Margaret Carlson

An article posted on The Daily Beast, entitled “Palin Can’t Outsmart Letterman” and authored by Margaret Carlson, is rife with sexism and gender-coded language. The title of Ms. Carlson’s article sets the tone for the entire piece.Ms. Carlson starts off by belittling Palin’s intelligence, claiming that Letterman has the bigger brain of the two. This attack on Palin’s intelligence is obviously sexist. There are numerous examples of male politicians without ivy league educations whose intelligence has not been called into question, e.g. John Edwards, John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name a few. What evidence does Ms. Carlson have that Sarah Palin, a self-made woman and successful governor, is dumb?

Ms. Carlson goes on in her article to use gender-coded language by saying that “The governor has spent much of her public life in high-pitched feuds-but taking on late night’s prince shows a complete lack of political sophistication.” The term “high-pitched” is referring to a woman’s naturally occurring vocal range, which is higher than a man’s. The use of the description of a woman’s natural vocal range as a disparaging adjective is a textbook example of gender-coded language that has been around for a long time. Another common, derogatory term used is “shrill.” This type of language is demeaning, misogynistic, and reminiscent of the Victorian era.

Ms. Carlson then went on to say that since Letterman’s joke was really about Bristol, Palin’s 18 yr. old daughter, it is excusable. Indeed, she says that: “When you become the ambivalent poster child for unwed motherhood, you attract off-color jokes.” Or in other words, Bristol was asking for it. Bristol deserves to be the butt of misogynistic jokes. I guess that if a black person becomes a public figure, then they similarly deserve any racist jokes thrown their way? Using Ms. Carlson’s logic- they do.

Ms. Carlson’s piece is clearly a pile of s***. What she doesn’t seem to understand, is that by perpetuating stereotypes and participating in mainstream misogyny, she is ultimately hurting herself because she is one of us- a woman. And as a woman, Margaret Carlson won’t be spared from sexist attacks herself, just because she has also participated in them.

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  • msakel

    This is a truly insightful article. When I read Margaret’s post at the Daily Beast I couldn’t believe it was written by a woman, and a feminist at that! Really? What is the definition of ‘feminism’? Partial inclusion of those with the ‘politically correct’ ideology? So half the little girls have to be treated like excrement? Well, Margaret should have advocated for Sharia Law. It would follow her argument against Palin.
    Having heard Margaret’s voice in the past, I felt it sounded very very ‘shrill’ and ‘whiny’ and babyish. Her powers of logical argumentation are, of course, because she’s a woman who wears glasses, suspect. She’s probably spent aeons reading romance novels. Wonder if her daughter’s been ‘knocked up’ by anyone in the ‘hood lately?

    But let me disagree with Unapologetic Feminist here and say that I find her comment that “shrill” is derogatory, misogynistic and reminiscent of the Victorian era to be incorrect. Unless the Obama campaign was conducted (against Hillary and Palin) in the Victorian era. Gee, I guess we haven’t come a long way at all, baby!

  • Juliette

    Obama said during his trip to Cairo, that if you calculated the number of Muslims in the United States America would be the largest Muslim country. That statemnet, aside from being really scary, was outragiously inaccurate. If Govenor Palin had said something so stupid the entire Obama-media would have roasted her alive.
    Margaret Carlson also said that women are good in a position of second place, when Obama offered HRC the positionof SOS.
    Why are so many left wing women so self-loathing?
    Margaret Carlson, you are a joke!

  • http://thenewagenda.net/ Amy Siskind


    I agree with the author that “shrill” is used in a sexist way.

    The New Agenda has already spoken out twice on this word:

    Sept 5, 2008: Sen Reid said it about Gov Palin

    And we wrote a letter to the WSJ when they used it on Sen McCaskill

  • JustMe

    Oh my good Lord. “Palin’s final mistake was to refuse Letterman’s invitation for a late-night make-up appearance, a moment on the studio sofa every bit as good as make-up sex for smoothing over any scandal, misunderstanding, or affront, real or imagined.”
    I guess bringing in sex makes people feel provicative as bloggers and comedians… how sad.
    Having a daughter myself, I can say that she’s reacting LIKE A MOTHER. No, Palin is not a fembot, sorry. She’s capable of feelings.

  • lahana

    I completely support Palin’s not agreeing to appear on Letterman — but wouldn’t it have been interesting to see Letterman try to explain to Willow that it was OK because he was only trying to insult her sister Bristol and why it was appropriate to say that Bristol was a slut because she had had a child.

  • k finch

    margaret is just being snarky look at palin and look at margaret, mmm one looks like the political Angelina Jolie and one looks like strawberry short cake.

  • Sarah F.

    These comments are remarkable. You say you decry sexism, but then turn around and use sexist language against a woman whom you believe to have expressed sexist views.

    To suggest Ms. Carlson isn’t as good as Mrs. Palin because the former looks like “Strawberry Shortcake” while the other looks like “Angelina Jolie” is sexist. If you disagree with Ms. Carlson, arguing against her on the basis of her appearance is not substantive.

    To say that Ms. Carlson’s voice is “shrill,” “whiny,” and “babyish” when you are upset she said Mrs. Palin has enaged in “high-pitched” disagreements is sexist. It also goes way beyond anything Ms. Carlson said about Mrs. Palin.

    I have seen several posts & comments on this blog and on Huffington Post written in opposition to those who say, “Sarah Palin doesn’t support women because of her anti-abortion stance, so its okay to make sexist comments about her.” If your line of reasoning is to be believed, then this means you cannot make sexist comments in response to what you regard as a sexist column by Ms. Carlson. If sexist comments against conservative women is still sexist, then sexist comments against Ms. Carlson are still sexist.

  • http://thenewagenda.net/ Amy Siskind

    Sarah F,

    This blogger’s piece is about the use of “coded” words to bring down another woman.

    If you disagree with The Unapologetic Feminist’s point of view, please do feel free to submit a blog piece explaining why and we will gladly post it.

  • Sarah F.

    Ms. Siskind,

    I understand what The Unapologetic Feminist’s intent was in writing her post. I was responding to those who have previously commented about the post; they are the ones who called Ms. Carlson “Strawberry Shortcake” and claim her voice his “shrill,” “whiny,” and “babyish.” I do not like gender-coded language which is why I find it remarkable that those who have commented here in agreement with TUF would in turn use gender-coded language to deride Ms. Carlson. Two sexisms don’t make a right.

  • Heather

    One of the most offensive things about Margaret Carlson’s hideous article was highlighted by Ava and C.I. Sunday


    Mags then goes on to trash Bristol and you have to wonder how she’d fill if someone put her own daughter through the “whore” glass? And to prove how truth-free and classless Margaret Carlson is, she then insists Sarah Palin should have sat down on David Letterman’s show because it would have been “every bit as good as make-up sex.” Yes, it does appear she’s the daughter of Clayton Williams and, no, that’s not a good thing.

  • http://thenewagenda.net/ Amy Siskind

    Sarah F.


    Since we have so many new viewers on our website, I just want to let everyone know that we encourage our viewers to submit blog pieces expressing their POV.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Bes

    While liberal standardized sexist behavior towards Palin and other women candidates is outrageous I still feel a lot of the smug superiority they feel regarding Palin is not sexism but classism. She doesn’t come from their little east coast elitist world so they don’t understand her and like a bunch of middle schoolers they mock her. What is really amazing is they have no idea how half witted their behavior makes them appear to the majority of people.

  • Marjorie

    I, too, was surprised at Letterman’s defense– he was not referring to the 14 year old daughter being “knocked up” by the baseball player, but rather the daughter a few years older than 14. If that defense was his idea of a joke, it was awful; but if he really believed referring to the older daughter being “knocked up” by the baseball player was an acceptable joke, that is down right scary. It seemed to slip out of his mouth without him hearing what he said. A classical Freudian slip.

  • Kathy in CA

    Marjorie –

    I agree with your comment that making jokes about an 18 year old being “knocked up” is unacceptable. As a mother myself, this is never acceptable to talk about children that way (at any age!). I am also suprised that our society thinks it’s OK to make such disparaging remarks about a Governor’s kids. But then again, our society thinks it’s OK to treat a female Governor as if she is a punching bag.

  • http://outwrong.com Out

    Unapologetic Feminist. Well done to you! Your piece has gotten us all thinking, and discussing. We need more bloggers like you!

  • goesh

    There is nothing I can add, even in opinion, that has not been adequately expressed already. Good work TNA in continuing to expose ignorance! Keep pouring it on!!

  • http://www.unapologeticfeminist.com Jane


    You make a really good point- I agree that there is also classism going on here. I think a good example of that dynamic is the blog feministing. The Palin bashing has always been quite loud on that blog, and I get the clear sense that the women writing for the blog have gone to elite schools and majored in women’s studies, but have had no real-world confrontation with sexism in their careers, at least not to the extent that a woman running on a presidential ticket would experience. And not to the extent that I have, for that matter, as a woman in a male-dominated scientific field.

    I don’t have the luxury of being super-picky about what women to like or not like in my field. There are so few of us, that we have to find a commonality and stick up for one another or we will be eaten alive.


  • Jeff

    I’m not saying Margaret Carlson didn’t use coded language to demean women in that column, but it d be ironic if that were the case. She would seem like a role model for American girls: She earned a law degree from George Washington University and went on to become TIME magazine’s the first female columnist.

    C’est la vie.