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Directly following her husband’s 2008 election, Michelle Obama assumed the moniker “mom-in-chief,” and in her tenure as first lady she has extended this role to “mother” the children of the nation through her policy choices. Noting her Ivy League education and her prior work as a high-powered attorney, many White feminists decried Obama’s maternal focus. Black feminists, however, rejected those critiques, pointing to the progressive potential of Obama’s maternal persona. In this article, I explain these divergent perspectives by examining Obama’s maternal first lady rhetoric through an expansive understanding of context. Specifically, I argue that the varied readings of Obama’s maternal performances reflect the racialized rhetorical contexts within which she was acting and through which audience members understood her. This analysis points to the importance of investigating the rhetorical contexts within which both audience members and rhetors circulate and participate. 2016
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... As a prominent African American woman, she faced significant obstacles in winning the support of the American public, including gendered racism and racialized sexism (Junn 2017;Simien 2007;Smooth 2013). In presenting herself to the public, Michelle Obama had to contend with the negative stereotypes all too commonly invoked about women of color (Guerrero 2011;Harris-Perry 2011;Hayden 2017). As Melissa Harris-Perry observes in her book Sister Citizen, Michelle Obama had to carefully and strategically craft a public persona to counter harmful images of African American women, including conversations "about her body, discussions about her role as mother, and speculations about her marriage" (2011,277). ...
... Nevertheless, Michelle Obama recognized the public's preference for tradition and adeptly crafted her image as first lady to fit within those expectations. By giving up her career, consistently emphasizing her role as "mom-in-chief," and refraining from political or policy influence (Guerrero 2011;Hayden 2017;Kahl 2009;Vigil 2014Wright 2016, Michelle Obama was able to embody traditional expectations and reap the benefits in terms of public support. Thus, even though Michelle Obama challenged some aspects of the traditional image of presidential candidate spouses through her race and "modern, striving, edgy, ironic" personality (Cottle 2012), she attracted some level of bipartisan approval because of her decision to behave in a traditional manner. ...
... The challenge of fulfilling the motherhood expectations of the first lady was more complicated for Michelle Obama given her status as an African American woman operating in a society with long-ingrained negative stereotypes attached to black women and black mothers (Guerrero 2011;Harris-Perry 2011;Hayden 2017). Soon after becoming first lady, Michelle Obama began referring to herself as "mom-in-chief," making it clear through interviews and high-profile appearances that despite her Ivy League education, law degree, and accomplished career that her priorities in the White House would be to take care of her daughters and her family (Hayden 2017;Vigil 2014). ...
After eight years as the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama left the White House beloved in the eyes of many Americans. Being well liked by Americans is not in and of itself an unusual phenomenon for first ladies. What is remarkable about the love so many Americans expressed toward First Lady Michelle Obama is that she was able to maintain high favorable evaluations through a period of political, social, and electoral acrimony that made high approval ratings for national political figures increasingly unlikely. By drawing on a wealth of aggregate data drawn from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research archives and individual-level public opinion data drawn from the 2012 American National Election Studies survey as well as original survey data, this article identifies several important forces behind Michelle Obama's popularity.
... Marian Meyers and Carmen Gorman (2017) focus on the ways in which mainstream news and entertainment outlets have portrayed Michelle Obama with the goal of creating a more acceptable public persona, including communication strategies employed by the White House to undermine conservative efforts to label her an unpatriotic, stereotypical "Angry Black Woman" (Brown 2013;Mortenson 2015;Persuit and Brunson 2015). The varied reactions of conservative news pundits to Obama's public statements regarding patriotism, and the New Yorker and Vogue magazine covers, signal the extent to which white racial attitudes have shaped American public opinion toward Michelle Obama, as scholars have observed a pattern of coverage that contrasts with traditional expectations of first ladies (Brown 2013;Harris-Perry 2011;Hayden 2017;Knuckey and Kim 2016;McAlister 2009;Tate 2012;Williams 2009). ...
... Shirley Tate (2012) argues that the fetishizing of Michelle Obama's body parts (arms and bottom) in photographic images magnifies her physical difference and that those attributes correlate with the aesthetics valued during slavery -for example, her muscular, well-sculpted biceps connote strength versus fragility or genteel femininity, which is associated with white womanhood. Others, such as Sara Hayden (2017), contend that the white feminist criticism leveled against Michelle Obama for claiming the moniker "mom-in-chief" fails to consider how Obama's choice to prioritize motherhood over career is consistent with a black feminist perspective, which advocates a more complex understanding of reproductive rights that includes the right to intensive mothering on account of the ways in which black women's reproductive lives were regulated during slavery. ...
In recent decades, scholars have begun to analyze the role of the first lady in American society. Though the relationship between gender ideologies and this identity has been analyzed, little attention has been paid to how other aspects of the first ladies’ identities could shape the way the public and the first ladies themselves view their role. In this article, we offer an intersectional analysis that considers historical notions of hegemonic femininity in relation to race. We assert that the role of the first lady is a raced-gendered institution that produces a controlling image of white womanhood that simultaneously privileges white femininity and subordinates black womanhood. We conduct an analysis of the autobiographies of six first ladies: Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, “Lady Bird” Johnson, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama.
... In fact, the optics of the incoming First Family, holding hands and greeting the crowd at Grant Park, were so powerful because they gave America an ideal family to emulate (Jackson 2012;Patterson 2013). Purdie-Vaughns, Sumner, and Cohen (2011) consider Natasha ("Sasha") and Malia's potential standing as racial exemplars, and our paper joins the works of Cooper (2010), Hayden (2017), Nelson (2012), andSpillers (2009), who apply this logic to the study of Michelle. ...
Because of the national conversation about her status as a role model, the former First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) presents an opportunity to analyze an Obama effect—particularly, the idea that Michelle Obama's prominence as a political figure can influence, among other things, citizens’ impressions of black women in America. Using evidence from the 2011 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/ Washington Post survey, we demonstrate that Michelle Obama's status as a role model operates as a “moderated mediator”: it transmits the effect of the former FLOTUS’ media activities to respondents’ racial attitudes, and the degree to which role model status functions as a mediating variable differs by race (and, to a lesser degree, by gender). Thus, our research provides both a theoretical and an empirical contribution to the Obama-effect literature.
An Autoethnography of African-American Motherhood: Things I Tell My Daughter is a Black feminist autoethnography focusing on mothering and motherhood. As an anti-racist and anti-misogynist text, it situates the everyday life experiences of a Black mother as she contends with multiple forms of systemic racial and gendered oppression while navigating the challenging terrain of motherhood. Moreover, it is a multi-generational text that blends the author’s experience with that of her mother’s, grandmother’s, and her daughter’s in an effort to engage in a larger discussion of U.S. Black mother/womanhood. It is the first full-length explicitly identified autoethnographic text on African American motherhood.
The “wicked stepmother” is a popular cultural commonplace, but when women become stepmothers, many find themselves trapped by the cliche with few resources to navigate or resist it. In this article, we examine the rhetoric of self-help books, one of the few print genres aimed at stepmothers. We argue that these texts reify a particular identity by perpetuating cultural stereotypes, reinforcing negative connotations about stepmothers, and providing inadequate solutions to common issues that arise as a result. The books reinscribe the primacy of biological mothering and relegate stepmothers to a secondary status at the same time as they subject stepmothers to the contradictory expectations of intensive mothering. The privilege of motherhood is granted, deflected, and denied across these advice books. We seek to move beyond the negative expectations of this common parenting role and point to the inadequacies of the solutions offered in self-help books to expand and diversify the visibility of and possibilities for alternative familial configurations.
In 2008, for the first time in the history of this country, a black woman became First Lady of the United States. During Barack Obama's presidency, Michelle Obama was ever present in the public eye for her advocacy on issues related to health, military families, education, and for promoting the interests of women and girls. This article contributes to ongoing scholarly discourse, as well as extensive media coverage and analysis, regarding Obama's role as wife and first lady by critically examining how the particular model of motherhood she embraced and exhibited, a model firmly rooted in the black American community, was designed to challenge negative stereotypes of black women, maternity, and families. We address the following questions in this work: How did Obama's identity as a black woman influence the policies she championed as first lady? Does Obama's mothering relate to stereotypes of black mothers and help (re)define black motherhood, and if so, how? What does it mean to be a black mater gentis or mother of the nation? Drawing on her speeches and policy initiatives, we reveal how Michelle Obama defied dominant and oppressive stereotypes of black women and mothers while simultaneously (re)defining black womanhood and motherhood for the nation.
This article examines the nineteenth-century movement to professionalize motherhood by revising the rhetoric used to describe maternal expertise and training. On the surface, this revision appears to modernize maternal labor and articulate its value to a capitalist, democratic society. I argue that in practice, however, it demonstrates a double standard of professionalism that limits women’s social mobility while elevating the value of the maternal institution. To illustrate this argument, I analyze three articles that construct the rhetorical framework of professional mothering that emerged in the Progressive Era and demonstrate the continuity of their arguments with contemporary rhetoric regarding mothers and work. To this end, I offer suggestions for how we might better address the goals of professional mothering rhetoric in ways that disrupt traditional characterizations of motherhood, maternal labor, and professional identity.
This chapter explores public perceptions of the 2012 presidential candidate spouses, Michelle Obama and Ann Romney. Although these two women had different backgrounds and embodied different personal styles, they embraced similar roles during the 2012 presidential election. Both were visible and gifted campaign surrogates, drawing on their unique personal knowledge of their husbands to make the case that they would make the best possible president. Both emphasized traditionally gendered themes such as the importance of motherhood and family in their convention speeches. Both signaled that they were not interested in influencing administrative decision or shaping policy. And, as a result, the American public had quite favorable opinions of both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama. While the partisan political terrain of the 2012 election did constrain the popularity of Michelle Obama and Ann Romney, both women remained less polarizing and more popular than their husbands. Since these two spouses represent historic firsts, with Michelle Obama the first African American presidential candidate spouse and Ann Romney the first Mormon presidential candidate spouse, the analysis pays attention to the role of gender, race, and religion in public evaluations of these two women, finding evidence that both women provided representation to marginalized groups.
This article presents a critical reading of American Grown, a cookbook/how-to gardening book published by Michelle Obama in 2012. The article argues that while American Grown may at first glance seem like a coffee table-style book about the 2010 planting of the White House kitchen garden, it should in fact be read as a piece of public health communication and a gastrogovernmental text born out of social panic over the contemporary obesity epidemic. Using insights from cultural food studies and critical obesity studies, the article presents the concept of gastrogovernmentality as an analytical tool to argue that the kitchen garden in American Grown acts as a public-personal space of social regulation, where certain types of social identities and behaviors are promoted as the “solution” to the obesity epidemic.
Local participation in environmental decision making is a fundamental tenet of environmental justice. This essay examines the participation process for nuclear waste siting decisions and suggests that the lack of a viable means for discussion of competing values is a flaw in the currently used model of participation. Through analysis of the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste site in the USA, I show how the lack of discussion of values occludes participation by marginalized American Indians. In particular, I examine the incommensurability between American Indian nations that value Yucca Mountain as sacred land and the federal government that values Yucca Mountain as a national sacrifice zone. I argue that Yucca Mountain acts as a polysemous value term in the controversy. My findings suggest that an environmentally just model of participation in environmental decision making must include a way to account for incommensurable values and cultural differences. Further, I highlight the lessons we can learn from the Yucca Mountain project as we deliberate about what to do with nuclear waste.
The removal of a cross from the Los Angeles County seal created an intense local controversy in 2004. Hearings between the region's Board of Supervisors and different publics demonstrated how individuals can make similar judgments through hermeneutic range—or the various configurations of interpretive openness and closure that can be enacted in deliberation. Specifically, the interpretive leeway that audiences use in controversies constitutes one approach for understanding how discursive alliances may be formed. In this case, I constructed three different groups in the controversy, each corresponding to particular attributions of the monosemy or polysemy of history, religious symbols, and politics. Implications are charted for communication research and pedagogy.
Armed with their personal experiences and community ties, the women of Environmental Justice have called into question the distribution of waste in the United States. In this essay, we explore the communicative practices that have enabled the movement to achieve change in extraordinarily difficult contexts. The women use what appears to be a liability, their gender, especially their role as mothers, to challenge practices and policies that threaten their homes, families, and communities.
The causes for which maternity has been invoked are as divergent as they are ubiquitous, yet the popularity of maternal politics among activists is not matched by an equally enthusiastic or unified assessment from scholars. On the contrary, scholars vigorously debate maternal appeals' strategic efficacy as well as their implications for gender norms. In this essay I argue that George Lakoff's discussion of the nation-as-family metaphor illuminates the political potency and the potential effectiveness of maternal appeals as well as their implications for gender norms. I illustrate my argument through an analysis of the Million Mom March.
Between 1933 and 1936, Eleanor Roosevelt changed Associated Press Washington Bureau reporter Bess Furman's reporting life. She joined the AP in 1929 and was assigned to cover women, but Lou Hoover and other official wives were difficult to cover because of their rule that they were never to be quoted. When Mrs. Roosevelt came to the White House, she changed that by granting access through press conferences, travel, and friendship, and Furman's reporting changed because of Mrs. Roosevelt's interest in social problems and her desire to change the bad conditions in the country. Furman now wrote about her efforts as well as those of other women who worked in the Roosevelt administration. She learned about poverty, subsistence farms, and race relations among other social issues through her contact with the first lady, and this eventually led her to a job at the New York Times.
In this classic text, the first full-scale application of cognitive science to politics, George Lakoff analyzes the unconscious and rhetorical worldviews of liberals and conservatives, discovering radically different but remarkably consistent conceptions of morality on both the left and right. For this new edition, Lakoff adds a preface and an afterword extending his observations to major ideological conflicts since the book's original publication, from the impeachment of Bill Clinton to the 2000 presidential election and its aftermath.
By the mid-1990s feminist theorists and critics began to challenge conventional thinking about sex difference and its relationship to gender and sexuality. Scholars such as Anne Fausto-Sterling and Judith Butler troubled the sex-gender/nature-nurture divide. Some have asserted that these questions about sex are much too abstract to contribute to a valuable understanding of the material politics faced by feminist movements. In A Question of Sex, Kristan Poirot challenges this assumption and demonstrates that contemporary theories about sex, gender, identity, and difference compel a rethinking of the history of feminist movements and their rhetorical practices. Poirot focuses on five case studies-the circulation of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” in early and contemporary feminist contexts; the visual rhetorics of the feminist self-help health movement; the public discourse of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and early nineteenth-century ideas about suffrage, sex, and race; the conflicts over lesbian sexuality in the 1960s and 1970s; and the discourse that surrounds twenty-first-century SlutWalks. In the process, Poirot rethinks the terms through which we understand U.S. feminist movements to explore the ways feminism has questioned sexed distinctions and practices over time. She emphasizes the importance of reading feminist engagements with sex as rhetorical endeavors-practices that are shaped by the instrumental demands of movements, the exigent situations that call for feminists to respond, and the enduring philosophical traditions that circulate in U.S. political contexts., reviewing a previous edition or volume.
This essay analyzes Elizabeth Keckley's controversial exposé of Mary Lincoln, Behind the Scenes, as a rhetoric of intimate disclosure that disrupted nineteenth-century standards of decorum and propriety. Published as a tell-all book of her years as Lincoln's White House dressmaker, Keckley's memoir was greeted with skepticism and hostility by the mainstream press of the day, yet it remains the definitive account of Mary's time as first lady. This essay argues that Behind the Scenes functioned not only as a postbellum slave narrative and as an autobiographical success story—as most contemporary critics have maintained—but also as a rhetoric of intimate disclosure that violated Victorian-era conceptions gender, class, and race.
The role of interpretation in cultural and media studies is constantly debated. Through an interpretation of the culture of homelessness in the United States, this paper attempts to demonstrate the value of conjunctural interpretive analysis. Such an analysis is multilevel (ranging from macrostructures to micropractices), multimodal (encompassing texts, practices, empirical data, mediations, organizations, and policy), and explicitly theoretical and political. The paper also addresses some of the differences between a critical‐structural analysis and analyses produced by other, more positivist epistemologies.
This study critically exposes gendered diplomacy roles as representations that limit the performance options of first ladies. When traveling abroad, for example, presidents' wives rarely call attention to or address world affairs. Rather, they typically spotlight humanitarian issues, bolster a president's image or extend goodwill. This investigation, therefore, positions gendered diplomacy roles as objectified representations that suppress the agentic conduct and voice of first ladies. We conclude by proposing correctives in keeping with issues of equity, empowerment, and the ideals of feminism.
This essay evaluates the new post-pregnant quickly slender, even bikini-ready, body as a rhetorical phenomenon within the broader context of the new momism and the post–second wave crisis in femininity. The rhetorical analysis of the quickly slender celebrity mom profiles reveals that the new momism is far more complex rhetorically then just backlash and cooptation; rather, the new momism is a sophisticated and complex backlash, and it works rhetorically to simultaneously acknowledge and refute (erode) feminist gains. The quickly slender, even bikini-ready, body also works as a rhetorical device to strategically manage the post–second wave crisis in femininity in ways that continue to re-establish both mothering and beauty as the most important components of femininity, while reinforcing the domestic division of labor that continues to persist between women and men in the private sphere despite the fact that unencumbered (without children) men and women's lives are much more similar today.
This essay focuses on the strategic use of feminist discourse in Laura Bush's six speeches between November 17, 2001 and May 21, 2002 about the rights of women and children in Afghanistan. I propose that Bush's use of the ideographs 〈women and children〉 and 〈rights〉 draws upon two traditions of feminism, using liberal feminist ideals of women's rights to education, health, and independence in concert with a traditional understanding of womanhood associated with maternal feminism.
This paper conducts a reading of the popular film Spider‐Man by examining the use of shadow archetypes in the portrayal of the Green Goblin. The Gram Goblin character provides a complex representation of villainy in a modem popular narrative. Utilizing cultural definitions of shadow in mythology, this paper discerns that the Goblin incorporates two traditional portals of access to the shadow, the mirror and the mask. These two symbols allow the audience access to the shadow, but at the same time allow the shadow to remain elusive. Ultimately, I argue for the use of polysemic analysis, particularly hermeneutic depth, in mythological criticism. By positioning mythic criticism as a way of understanding polysemy in contemporary narrative, we are able to ascertain patterns of mythic context rather than mythological retellings in narratives.
This essay analyzes the use of the maternal archetype in ecofeminist rhetoric. The maternal archetype is a rhetorically powerful image that is invoked to motivate the protection and sustenance of the environment. However, the use of motherhood as a unifying principle confounds womanhood with motherhood, and fails to honor the complexity of motherhood as an ideologically and socially constructed institution. A gender‐neutral metaphor may more effectively serve both the environmental and feminist interests of the ecofeminist movement. This analysis leads to the conclusion that invoking archetypal images uncritically may serve to obscure alternative cultural, ideological, and political values.
Several rhetoricians have recently called for an increased interest in the “polysemy” of the text, but ironically, they are not all talking about the same thing. While they agree about how to delimit the term, there are conflicting assumptions about who initiates polysemy, the social action it supports, and the power dynamics it endorses. This paper argues that we should recognize resistive reading, strategic ambiguity, and hermeneutic depth as three types of polysemy that support different scholarly purposes. This paper also complicates assumptions about the critical judgment of polysemous texts and suggests that some types of polysemy are best identified through the adoption of a new critical approach.
This essay uses industrial labor's Mary Harris “Mother” Jones as a case study to explore the link between labor union agitation and the use of symbolic motherhood by female labor leaders. The essay argues that maternal aims of physical protection, facilitating emotional and cognitive development, and developing group identity were conducive to empowering oppressed coal mining audiences who suffered from fear, low self‐esteem and chronic dependency, and ethnic and geographic barriers. Jones's militant version of motherhood—realized through non‐discursive maternal practices and a “feminine” rhetorical style comprised of warm validation and aggressive confrontation—equipped developmentally immature audiences with skills essential for resistance.
Image-making represents a complex process that is often linked to actions of political candidates, their political enemies, and the media's reliance on stereotypical constructions. This essay expands the examination of image-making beyond the traditional foci and delineates the production practices of television news in the image-making process. Using First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as a case study, the essay evidences the significance of stereotypes, visual deconstruction and reconstruction, close-up shots and spectator positioning, as well as news recycling and repetition to image-making. In the end, such television newsmaking strategies in the postmodern political context help reify a mediated collective memory of Hillary Rodham Clinton, which is reductionistic, iconic, hyperreal, and emblematic of television news coverage concerning political women. In the process, the role of the journalist-turned-historian is simultaneously legitimized and naturalized.
This essay argues that the television audience is composed of a wide variety of groups or subcultures, and that in order to be popular a television program must be polysemic so that different subcultures can find in it different meanings that correspond to their differing social relations. The dominant ideology is structured into the text as into the social system, but the structure of both text and society allows space for resistance and negotiation. A close analysis of two scenes from Hart to Hart demonstrates the textual devices which bear the dominant ideology and those which offer opportunities for resistance to it. To understand the popularity of television with its diverse audiences, the critic must look for contradictions and openness in the television text, not unity and closure.
This essay examines media coverage and candidate rhetoric
of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Elizabeth Dole during their 2000 political
campaigns. Although gender was emphasized when Clinton was first lady,
it became the tacit subtext of her run for the U.S. Senate, and Clinton's
male opponents arguably were more disadvantaged by gender stereotypes
than she was in that particular campaign. In contrast, Dole's gender
was foregrounded in media portrayals of her bid for the Republican
presidential nomination, making it harder for voters to imagine her
as president. This study underscores the fact that although women are
making strides in other realms of public governance, the U.S. presidency
remains a bastion of masculinity.
Eleanor Roosevelt's address to the 1940 Democratic National Convention
transformed a contentious situation into a motive for unified action
on the part of the delegates, the president, and the first lady. The
speech provides insight into the powerful rhetorical resource of time
and insight into one of the central rhetorical strategies that enabled
ER's expansion of the first lady role.
This essay maps the rise of the rhetorical first lady from Martha
Washington through Laura Bush, contextualizing the public and private
documents of these political women within the gender ideology of their
time. In the process of evidencing the ways in which the first lady
role both empowers and restricts the performance of the first lady, we
illustrate the political contributions of first ladies from 1789 to 1920
in the areas of social politicking and benevolent volunteerism, which
served as political antecedents for the gradual rise of the rhetorical
first lady. When first ladies more routinely spoke from the first lady
pulpit (1920-2002), they mimicked the performances of their predecessors,
taking their volunteer efforts to the public stage. In the process, they
extended the nineteenth-century ideology of republican motherhood; the
twentieth-century republican mother, as performed by many contemporary
first ladies, became a more outspoken advocate on behalf of the nation's
children and other pressing social concerns. While the position often
limited the activities of first ladies to perceived nongovernmental
issues, many expanded the political nature of the position, taking their
social politicking to a public stage and helping to craft a role for
women's participation in the political sphere.
Rhetoric & Public Affairs 8.4 (2005) 684-688
A Washington Post article from the 2004 presidential campaign observed, "First ladies seem to be publicly defined in relation to one another. Is a first lady or a prospective first lady like Jackie Kennedy or Nancy Reagan? It's like descriptions of hail—is it the size of a marble or a golf ball?—as if first ladies exist as some kind of environmental phenomenon that come in a handful of predetermined sizes." According to the story, current first lady Laura Bush believes that "the American public actually has broad and nuanced perceptions of first ladies. But the media are inclined to use a shorthand. 'It's easier to put people in a box, let it be either/or.'" The collective memory of the first lady institution is part of this journalistic shorthand. Particularly in campaign coverage, reporters draw on the memories of certain former first ladies both to describe the candidates' wives and to prescribe "proper" first lady comportment. Such articles help shape public expectations of the first lady role by using collective memory to articulate the rhetorical boundaries of first lady performance.
In press coverage of the 2004 campaign, the collective memory of former first ladies functioned as key boundary markers in journalists' assessments of Laura Bush and Teresa Heinz Kerry. Barbie Zelizer explains, "Journalists become involved in an ongoing process by which they create a repertoire of past events that is used as a standard for judging contemporary action." In this case, journalists position a select group of presidential wives as representatives of so-called "traditional" or "activist" performances of the first lady role. These mediated memories, in turn, set both historical and contemporary standards for judging the candidates' wives.
Journalists frequently compare candidates' wives past and present. Bush told the Washington Post that she was routinely asked, "'Are you going to be like Hillary Clinton or Barbara Bush?'" Another story noted that a reporter queried "whether [Bush] viewed her role as Eleanor or Hillary, Bess or Mamie." Similarly, Kerry was asked "the frequent question of whether she would be more like Laura Bush or more like Hillary Rodham Clinton." After four years of such questions, it is not surprising that Bush asserted the media find it "easier" to use "either/or" dichotomies to describe presidents' wives. Because these stories rarely go beyond the name dropping of former first ladies, such comparisons rely on collective memory to convey the meaning of these juxtapositions to their readers. Journalists assume the mere mention of Hillary or Barbara, Eleanor or Mamie carries with it memories of either activist or traditional performances of the first lady position.
Journalists used this collective memory shorthand to contrast the more traditional Bush with the more activist Kerry. According to the New York Times, for example, "Laura Bush and Teresa Heinz Kerry are pitted against each other in a replay of the Barbara Bush/Hillary Clinton clash," with Bush cast as the "calm, self-effacing helpmate" and Kerry as "the high-strung, powerful consort." This comment defines all of these women in relation to one another while making inferences about their influence based on their personalities and marital relationships. Positioning these women as opposites also employs a competitive framework that highlights these women's differences rather than their similarities, limiting both the memories of the former first ladies and the potential influences of their successors.
Reporters often compared Kerry to Clinton circa 1992, thus characterizing Kerry as a controversial political wife. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post observed that Kerry had become "a magnet for media attention, good and bad, in much the way that Hillary Rodham Clinton was in 1992." In an article about Kerry's convention speech, the New York Times's Joyce Purnick speculated that, as Clinton was listening to Kerry "demand her independence, her right to speak her mind and to 'have a voice,' Senator Clinton's thoughts wandered back to the days of headbands, cookies and Tammy Wynette, to the time when she learned the etiquette of a political wife the hard way." By comparing Kerry's outspokenness to some of Clinton's most infamous comments, Purnick implied...
As the First Lady, Michelle Obama stated that she had a number of priorities but that the first year would be mainly about supporting her two girls in their transitions to their new life in the White House. Her choice to be mom-in-chief drew unusually intense and rather puzzling, scrutiny. The chapter briefly discusses the range of reactions along the political spectrum as well as African-American feminists’ analyses of the stereotypes of Black women underlying those reactions. This analysis engages the debates from a different perspective. First, the chapter addresses the under-theorizing of the racialized gender norms embedded in the symbolism of the White House and the role of First Lady. It challenges the presumption of traditional notions of true womanhood and the incorrect conclusion that mothering would preclude public engagement.
Second and most importantly, this chapter argues that there are fundamental misunderstandings of what mothering meant for Michelle Obama as African-American woman. Cultural traditions and socio-historical conditions have led Black women, both relatives and non-kin, to form mothering relationships with others’ children and to appreciate the interdependence of “nurturing” one's own children, other children, and entire communities. Those practitioners whose nurturing activities encompassed commitment and contributions to the collectivity were referred to as community othermothering. Using primary sources, this chapter examines in detail Michelle Obama's socialization for and her practice of community othermothering in her role as First Lady. Attention is focused on her transformation of White House events by extending hospitality to more within Washington, DC, and the nation, plus broadening young people's exposure to inspiration, opportunities, and support for setting and accomplishing their dreams. Similarly, the concept of community othermothering is also used to explain Michelle Obama’s reinterpretation of the traditional First Lady's special project into the ambitious “Let's Move” initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation. The othermothering values and endeavors have helped establish the White House as “the People's House.”
This essay uses the Latin American myth of marianismo (the good woman as mother) as a framework for the analysis of the rhetoric of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group formed in 1977 by mothers whose children “disappeared” under the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. The analysis treats the Mothers’ story as an example of the power of “private” voices transferred to the public realm of political action. The marianismo myth defines the Mothers as apolitical and non‐confrontational. The Mothers maintained this identity while acting publicly in a situation where all traditional modes of dissent are suppressed.
This essay explores the relationships between mass media and new social movements with hidden populations. The Neo-Pagan Movement and the film Practical Magic are examined to identify possible relationships between media and movements' identity constructions. Using the concept of polysemy I argue that social movement scholars need to consider the active interpretation and incorporation of media by social movement actors, not only the interpretation and incorporation of the movement by the media. Previous studies primarily examine what the culture industry does to social movements. This study explores what members of movements can do with texts provided by the culture industry.
Since April, 1977, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires have marched every Thursday at 3:30, demanding information about their disappeared children. In this essay, we analyze the protests of the Mothers by means of the metaphor of haunting and suggest that their symbols‐diapers as kerchiefs, slogans and sayings, circling the plaza, and marches‐enact a haunting by means of synecdoche. Synecdoche allows the Mothers to manage the trauma of the disappeared but is less effective at generating ways for Argentina to move out of the limbo of the disappearances.
Despite the presence of the first woman on the Republican national ticket, this article argues that the rhetoric of the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) followed traditional gender scripts to celebrate hegemonic masculinity and denigrate the feminine. First, the article argues that the key RNC speakers rhetorically constructed John McCain as the archetypal hegemonic man best-suited for the U.S. presidency while simultaneously emasculating the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Second, the article analyzes Sarah Palin's acceptance speech to argue that, although she crafted a persona of motherhood by employing domestic examples, maternal appeals, and a feminine discursive style, she effectively subverted that persona by joining the RNC's celebration of hegemonic masculinity. The analysis reveals the rhetorical texture and potential consequences of a faux maternal performance, particularly within a conservative rhetorical context.
During the Vietnam War, a maternal pacifist group named La WISP developed and sold cookbooks as fundraisers for its causes. The cookbooks provide an opportunity to explore the linkages between quotidian practices and the performativity of identity. This critique offers instructive evidence about the inventional possibilities of maternal pacifist politics, including the redefinition of issues of war and peace in international rather than national terms and replacing antagonistic rhetorics with rhetorics of identification and cooperation.
Batman Forever is a mass‐mediated public text crafted in response to a perceived need to “sanitize”; the Batman by resolving the psycho‐sexual ambiguities that define him. The textual resources mobilized toward this end consist primarily of simultaneously presenting potentially ameliorative archetypal forms and stripping these forms of their ameliorative potential. The resulting text is a paradigm of managed meaning, denying its own polysemy and thus making itself unavailable to its audiences as “equipment for living.”; Batman Forever may seem, to some, more palatable than its predecessors, and Batman may seem more sane, but this text offers a particularly insidious form of repression‐Batman is a cultural artifact rendered culturally useless through excessive demystification.
Through a case study of first lady Rosalynn Carter's 1977 Latin America trip, this essay heeds feminist critics' calls to account for the discursive conditions that enable women's rhetorical performances. Examining the public vocabularies of feminism and foreign policy in the 1970s, I argue that the popular emergence of the terms “equal partnership” and “individual sovereignty” facilitated Carter's performance of her public role.
The film Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) uses a type of polysemy, strategic ambiguity, to transform a lesbian relationship from the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe to a sexually ambiguous relationship. Through textual and audience analysis, I demonstrate that audience members are unlikely to interpret the relationship as a lesbian relationship unless they define lesbianism as identity as opposed to merely as sexual behavior. Although the film illustrates the power of woman-identified experience, it rejects an opportunity to illustrate fully Adrienne Rich's (1986) “lesbian continuum” by refusing to compare explicitly a heterosexual female friendship with a lesbian relationship.
This article explicates the discursive foundations that bubble up multiple meanings in racial humor, describing three prominent discursive clashes at the heart of Chappelle's Show’s polysemic comedy: Egregious stereotyping versus subtler mediated racism, inverted racial stereotypes versus traditional stereotypes, and serious versus nonserious discourse. Throughout the article, I make a case for “polysemic scaffolding,” a method that positions polysemy as a taken-for-granted interaction among text, author, and audience, and instead seeks to understand the discursive patterns that will eventually have their polysemic meanings activated. This article underscores the importance of not only undertaking polysemic criticism, but also of uncovering the discursive scaffolding upon which the polysemy is based.
This article, framed epistemologically and politically by women of color theory, examines Michelle Obama's response to her racist and sexist treatment in the mainstream U.S. media's coverage of the 2008 presidential election campaign. I argue that Obama uses the very tools of postidentity, a conservative ideology that promotes the fiction that the country has arrived at an “after” moment of racism and sexism, to argue against postidentity, a safe manner to engage in racism and misogyny in the 21st century. Understanding Michelle Obama's speaking back to postidentity ideology provides minoritized 21st century subjects with a means to understand how power, privilege, racialized and gendered discrimination, and resistance function in the new millennium United States.