Palin, Vanity Fair, and Postpartum Depression
Yes, I cracked and read Todd S. Purdum’s It Came from Wasilla in Vanity Fair. And something about it kept gnawing at the back of my mind, outside of the actual content about former VP candidate and now-former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. It was this:
Some top aides worried about her mental state: was it possible that she was experiencing postpartum depression? (Palin’s youngest son was less than six months old.)
This line is nestled between comments that Palin did what she wanted to, wasn’t sure who to trust, and didn’t maintain “civil discourse” with one adviser. No, it wasn’t a snippet from a discussion about Palin’s actual health, it was part of speculation as to why she couldn’t be predictable and play nice.
I’m no fan of Palin. I’m also, however, not a fan of speculation and assumption that a woman might have a mental health problem because she didn’t turn out to be easily handled. I am likewise not a fan of idle speculation about what can be a very serious condition, with no indication that there was any support or outreach being offered if this was truly suspected.
Katherine Stone at Postpartum Progress – which focuses on postpartum depression – has a very nice post on this as well, and expands on the frequent references to mental health in Purdum’s article:
I might actually have been able to shrug this article off to media ignorance about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, were it not for continued references throughout the article to mental illness. Purdum uses words, either his own or those of whom he chose to quote for this article, to describe Gov. Palin like “erratic” and “whack job.”
One of the subheadings of his article: “Polar Disorder.”
She asks: “Does Purdum think his constant references to mental illnesses will help to convince us all of what an awful person Sarah Palin is?”
Palin’s politics aside (I mean it, we’re not debating them here), I’m troubled by this idea that a candidate who could not be appropriately managed and molded must therefore have been herself mentally ill, and that perhaps that mental illness had to do with her ladyparts. You know, without any actual evidence or apparent support, or acknowledgment that people can both have mental health issues and be competent and manage to play well with others. In addition to the creepy sexism and ableism of it, let’s not forget that the people telling these stories have an incentive to blame all campaign missteps on some inherent and unaddressable “crazy” of Palin’s, and not any on their own shortcomings as vetters, handlers, campaigners, and staff members.