The choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate seems like a stroke of political genius.  A beaming picture of perfection, the hockey mom and mother of five who talks like the woman next door may well do wonders to consolidate a segment of the conservative Republican base.

It’s important to point out however, that Sarah Palin is not ‘a woman’ (i.e. a generic model).  She is very particular kind of woman.  Her type is called the ‘superwoman’, a feminine being who effortlessly balances both a full time career and traditional domestic duties such as child rearing.

Plenty of sociological studies (for example the work of Arlie Russel Hochschild in ‘The Second Shift’ and ‘The Time Bind’) show that this woman does not exist in middle America.  If this was the dream of a certain generation of early feminists, when submitted to the empirical test, the idea that women can ‘do both’ and ‘do everything’ has rapidly fallen away.

So while she may appeal to a swath of middle conservatives who still herald the superwoman as the-woman-to-be, the middle women who are in a position to actualize this model will immediately recognize that she is false and unattainable.

So will that other segment of so-called elite women who have pursued high-powered careers.  Palin may have fired the gubernatorial chef, but she didn’t tell us who actually prepares her family’s meals.  Certainly not her if she’s busy campaigning, solving the energy crisis and dealing with national security.

Why does this point deserve its place on a ‘social studies of finance’ blog?  Because the financial situation of Americans will have a lot to do with who really identifies with Sarah Palin.

The U.S. is in a period of deep economic crisis it seems doubtful that that US families dealing with unemployment, divorce and overindebtedness are trying to live up to outdated cultural standards such as those projected by the Palin family.  Idealism prospers in times of prosperity, but in times of discomfort the bottom line is pragmatic.

If theories of practice are correct, ‘American families’, that most revered category of US voters, are struggling to forage new models to meet the challenges of contemporary family finance. In this electoral environment Palin’s image of woman and family may prove to be all but politically irrelevant.