This week on NPR's Brian Lehrer show, Pulitzer prize winning author Susan Faludi discussed new gender roles and notions of masculinity in this election. Author of the culturally significant book, BACKLASH, Faludi emphasizes the perpetual and inevitable backlash against American women. Her theory, for every stride forward American women take, there is a push backwards by society. She cites many examples of American history such as the several steps made by the Suffragette and 2nd Wave Feminist movements followed by an immediate conservative climate.
Faludi points to a new masculinity present within this Presidential election: the SOLDIER (John McCain aka back off I was a P.O.W.) VS FAMILY MAN (Barack Obama) as well as the difference between Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton's speeches. Michelle having to tone down her speech, emphasizing her mother/wife role (instead of the fact that she has an important powerful career of her own) due to racism and sexism, being careful not to be perceived as the "angry black female." While Hillary, opening her speech by acknowledging her pride as a mother, went straight to the political point. Here you have a First Lady vs. Presidential Candidate femininity. You can see the role of images within the media which help to solidify their public representation. Below: Michelle as "mother and dutiful wife". Hillary as " the ardent politician."
You may listen to Susan Faludi and the concept of gender roles on the Brian Lehrer show here.
Obama's acceptance speech (viewed by more people than the opening ceremony of the Olympics) was laden with female oriented issues and topics. He opens acknowledging the election's gender show down by stating "Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest — a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours — Hillary Rodham Clinton." And brings up sexism "when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman." Listen to Obama's exception speech here.
With the announcement of John McCain's female VP candidate, Sarah Palin (aka Miss Alaska Runner Up 1984 pictured below), who is a proud and inexperienced conservative Alaskan Governor. The pro-life Palin has "taken on the oil industry" - taken them where? To the wilderness to destroy wildlife preserves? Should we blind ourselves to Palin's extremely conservative agenda simply because she is a SHE? Along with trying desperately to make the Republican party look like a party of progress, McCain has thrown Americans a bone in an effort to leverage votes because after all, people voted for Hillary just because she was a woman, right? Surely this plays a large role in the perception of gender roles and the notion of gender equality within the election.
Taking into consideration Faludi's view of one step forward equals many steps back, it's curious to see how this election will effect the lives of American women. I've had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Susan Faludi and she has an incredibly dynamic mind. Read up on her if you get a chance. And please read this damn book!
On the subject of gender, this Saturday from 4-5 pm EST, LLNY's Janna Zinzi will be hosting a show called "Politics for Goddesses Rising: Our Relevance in Election '08," on WBAI 99.5 FM in NYC. Faludi's influence can be heard with topics such as women and gender issues in the election; media portrayal and images of Michelle and Hillary; the importance of local politics; McCain's VP choice and our relevance in this election. Guests include: Valeisha Butterfield from the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network and Hip-Hop Summit Action Network; Rosa Clemente, VP candidate from the Green Party; and Kevin Powell who is running for Congress in Brooklyn's 10th district. You can also listen online if you're outside of the NYC area; at wbai.org.