A couple of years ago, when I was still living in Dallas, I drove over to Fort Worth to see a costume exhibit at the National Cowgirl Museum. I grew up east of the Mississippi and as much as I love the American West, I'm a dedicated urbanite. So I'd never seen, or even thought about, cowgirls. When I heard the word, I thought of people like like this. (It could be worse.) I expected the museum to be stupid.
It wasn't. In stark contrast to the ridiculous Women's Museum in Dallas, which (the one time I visited it) featured a strange combination of populist kitsch and social-constructionist feminist dogma, the Cowgirl Museum showcased women of no-nonsense character, pioneer (and pioneering) achievement, physical daring, and unapologetic femininity. Full of inspiring role models, the museum presented a piece of feminist history that gets left out of the city-oriented accounts most of us learn. There's a reason Wyoming was the first state to let women vote and that the first female Supreme Court justice (a member of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame) came from Arizona. The thinly populated western frontier couldn't afford to waste women's talents (though Arizona and New Mexico were among the last states to give married women full property rights).
This all came back to me when I heard Sarah Palin's convention speech and thought about how so many smart--but parochially "cosmopolitan"--people miss the enormous appeal of her persona. She may have wrangled fish rather than cattle, but she shares the cowgirl tradition.
UPDATE: Alex Massie has further thoughts. And for more Sarah Palin stories, check out Quick Links at the top of our middle column.