Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sarah Palin Opens a PAC

The former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin launched her first political action committee (PAC), SarahPAC, yesterday.

Here is an exerpt from the Politico article.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has launched a political action committee designed to raise funds for local and national candidates.

It is interesting to note that with a majority of the news articles I have read about Sarah Palin and John McCain, journalists refer to the lack of a strong and "negative" relationship between the two former partners. In this article, they point out that Sarah Palin only briefly mentioned her failed bid for the vice-presidency in 2008. Why do you think the media is specifically targeting Palin and McCain's relationship?

Monday, January 26, 2009

A comparative perspective on mothers in politics

Eleanor Beardsley's report on NPR about French Justice Minister Rachida Dati returning to work five days after giving birth makes a lot of good points about whether this is a good thing or bad thing for women.

Here's a quote from Florence Montreynaud, a writer and feminist:
I think it's terrible for all the women in France . . . . Because this example separates women into two categories: a few superwomen with a wonderful job, and millions [of] other women that are totally normal to feel a little tired after birth. These women are — what to say — sissy? Or weakling?
The editor of the French magazine Closer, however, praised Dati, 43, calling her a symbol of the modern woman. He said:
I think these images will stay on the memoire collective, on the memory of all the French women, because it's a very strong image . . . . I think this image gives hope to women in their 40s, women who want children. Because it shows that you can be pregnant and keep very important responsibilities in your job.

Dati happens to be unmarried, and she has not disclosed the identity of the child's father. She is also iconic in France because she is a rare immigrant success story, the daughter of Algerian-Moroccan parents.

One angle that Beardsley doesn't amplify but that speaks for itself in this report is how we judge women--especially mothers--for their choices. She reports poll results indicating that 56% of those surveyed disapprove of Dati's quick return to work.

French law provides a 16-week paid maternity leave and strong job protection for mothers.

How would we respond to her if she were the U.S. Attorney General? How do we feel about Kirsten Gillibrand working until the day before she gave birth eight months ago?

Obama's Plan to Revolutionize Politics

As we all know, Obama has proven to the world that fully utilizing the internet as a campaign tool can yield incredible, successful results. But how will he continue to engage the American public now that he has taken over as president? A New York Times article called "Melding Obama's Web to a YouTube Presidency" provided a description of how the White House plans to implement its goals using the numerous mechanisms the internet has to offer. 

Obama, a former community organizer, has made it clear from the beginning that turning his campaign's unprecedented usage of immensely popular new media into a functional government tool is one of his most important ambitions for the administration. By involving the public with its government through social networking websites and directly reaching Americans with YouTube videos, Obama hopes to break through the middle-man media and connect with citizens more directly and efficiently. 

However, legal barriers apply; the White House is unable to use the 13-million-person email list compiled during the Obama campaign due to the fact that it was created for political purposes, so instead the huge undertaking of updating American politics to a nation of YouTube and Facebook users has been delegated to the Democratic Party. The group in charge of assembling Obama's upcoming machine of video messages, blogs detailing administration policy, and other political resources is still fundraising and has not fully developed a website but has ambitious plans for implementation. 

While it's certainly important to keep up with the mainstream technology and news-gathering habits of America, it is also necessary to consider those who are being left out of Obama's project. The internet is expansive, but it's also not readily available to all American citizens, particularly those who don't own computers. Older generations who have computers but don't necessarily go online on a regular basis are also not being included in this internet-based political system.

Moreover, communicating information directly from the White House to the public eliminates the media as a moderator. If citizens rely unquestioningly on this discourse alone, they miss out on the press's criticisms and may interpret the administration's characterizations of events and policies as the absolute truth. 

So far, Obama's moves to convert the country to a pop media-based age of information have been incredibly effective (after all, he got elected). I was interested to see if this issue might be somewhat gendered, so I found another article printed by the New York Times almost a year ago regarding Hillary Clinton's contrasting political strategies. Entitled "The Audacity of Hopelessness," this article chastises her tendency to "[keep] to the Bush playbook," playing it old school throughout her campaign and failing to engage the public the way Obama did. The article reads:
Clinton fans don't see their standard-bearer's troubles this way. In their view, their highly substantive candidate was unfairly undone by a lightweight showboat who got a free ride from an often misogynist press and from naive young people who lap up messianic language as if it were Jim Jones's Kool Aid.
Once again, the media blames Hillary Clinton for playing the gender card. While Clinton certainly didn't employ innovative campaign tactics like her rival Obama, it seems unfair to blame her failure on whining about sexism. In this way, it seems that candidates' strategies for promoting themselves is at least somewhat tied up in gender. 

President Obama's plan to change popular politics and engage citizens to influence policy and increase their civic participation is certainly ambitious, but judging from the way he revolutionized the 2008 election, the administration's goals seems entirely possible. One just has to wonder if such formidable goals could have been accomplished by a woman with her own political strategy. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama's Desire for More Women in Science

I found an interesting article in the New York Times on how Obama plans to address issues of women in science.  It is not that women are not capable of researching such math-heavy and logic-oriented concepts.  Likewise, it is not that women do not not have the drive and stamina to keep up with the work of such time-consuming jobs. Rather, it is actually for a science-related reason that most women choose not to go into such demanding careers within the field of science.  Women are the child-bearers of our country.  Women are needed to have families and produce children that can continue our nation, our ways of living, etc.  This hugely time-dependent reason might be what is holding women back from pursuing careers in science.  Obama wants to try to fix this.  In the article, "In 'Geek Chic' and Obama, New Hope for Lifting Women in Science," Natalie Angier writes:
Dr. Mason and other legal experts suggest that President Obama might be able to change things significantly for young women in science-- and young men-- by signing an executive order that would provide added family leave and parental benefits to the recipients of federal grants, a huge pool of people that includes many research scientists.
This would probably cause there to be less of a gap between genders when it comes to math and science and research.  It is nice to know that Obama is looking out for women wanting to reach their full potentials, career-wise and all.

More than Just the First African-American President

New York Times writer Jodi Kantor's article, "Nation's Many Faces in Extended First Family," highlights all of the diversity and history that is being brought to the White House through our new president.  Not only does Obama bring the title of "first African-American president" to the capital, but he also brings a detailed and very diverse past with him.  Kantor writes:
The family that produced Barack and Michelle Obama is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish.  They speak English; Indonesian; French; Cantonese; German; Hebrew; African languages including Swahili, Luo and Igbo; and even a few phrases of Gullah, the Creole dialect of the South Carolina Lowcountry.  Very few are wealthy, and some- like Sarah Obama, the stepgrandmother who only recently got electricity and running water in her metal-roofed shack-- are quite poor.
I think this extreme diversity that Obama encompasses will be an asset to the White House and to his role as president.  Having grown up with a family born into slavery, limited resources, and no fame to his name (has no predecessor like the former president, George W. Bush, had), Obama had to make a name for himself.  In order to propel himself this far, he had to have some serious dedication to his education and to reaching his potential.  Obama's self-determination for success can probably only be a benefit to our nation.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The new U.S. Senator from N.Y. -- as mother

N.Y. Governor David Paterson hinted that the U.S. Senate seat for New York, held until recently by Hillary Rodham Clinton, has become a woman's seat when he announced yesterday that U.S. Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand will fill the position. Caroline Kennedy, considered by many the front runner, had withdrawn her candidacy a few days earlier.

There is a lot I could comment on regarding Ms. Gillibrand's politics, but I want to focus here on the media's portrayal of her as a mother because this is a topic that keeps cropping up in our discussions of gender and the 2008 Presidential election. It is deep in the NYT story by Michael Powell and Raymond Hernandez before we learn that Ms. Gillibrand is the mother of young children -- including an infant. Here's an excerpt:
Ms. Gillibrand is indisputably intense; a rising corporate lawyer before entering Congress, she worked until the day before she gave birth to her first son, Theodore, now 5 (and received a standing ovation on the floor of the House when she did the same before the birth of her second son, Henry, who is now 8 months old).
The accompanying slide show on the NYT site also includes two photos of Ms. Gillibrand as mother, but they are the final two in the group of ten images.

So, it seems, Ms. Gillibrand's status as a mother does not loom large, at least not in the NYT coverage.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Superstar Power

One of the interesting things about The Good, the Bad, and Joe Lieberman, a James Wolcott piece in February's issue of Vanity Fair, is the discussion about celebrity influence on the election.

Wolcott mentions, for example, Black-Eyed Peas frontman, whose song Yes We Can "was alchemized into an anthemic, iconic YouTube classic" and included "testimonial cameos from Scarlett Johansson, Herbie Hancock, John Legend, Amber Valletta, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar."

Did's song send voters to the polls? Did Matt Damon's condemnation of Sarah Palin persuade any voters? Did comedians Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman impact the election in any significant way?

Do celebrity endorsements even matter?

According to a pair of economists at the University of Maryland, celebrity endorsements can make a difference. In their study, The Role of Celebrity Endorsements in Politics: Oprah, Obama, and the 2008 Democratic Primary, the economists reveal that Oprah Winfrey had a "statistically and politically significant effects on Obama’s political outcomes." In fact, the study estimates that Oprah was responsible for 1,015,559 votes for Obama.

Since Oprah's audience is predominately female, I can't help but wonder--how many of those 1,015,559 votes were cast by women?

Related Reading:

Obama's Celebrity Army at Time

Celebrity Power? at Forbes

John McCain's Presidential Campaign Endorsements

Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign Endorsements

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Introducing The Esteemed Authoress, Sarah Palin

She may not have had the degrees, diplomas, or credentials to be a viable vice-president candidate; however, few can contest the fact that Sarah Palin could earn some substantial income by selling an autobiography. Working mothers relate to her struggle to balance five kids with a career. Parents of autistic children or young mothers feel a bond with Sarah Palin. Aspiring politicians are bound to learn something from her biography whether it is how to appeal to the public, or how to earn a little temporary infamy on SNL.

Liz Wolgemuth wrote an article for US News exploring four ways in which Palin relates to working women: Being a mother on the job, the implications for the children, newborns and working mothers, and lastly, attractiveness and determination defining a new type of working woman. One of the most important pieces of information was the following, which hints toward the large audience to whome Palin's autobiography might appeal:
Maria Bailey, founder of, says a recent survey on her website found 74 percent of women feel they can relate to Palin. 'They're telling me that they don't think what she's doing is any harder than what they have to do," Bailey says.
In an article in the LA Times by Andrew Malcolm, Robert Barnett, an attorney who has negotiated book contracts for Bill and Hillary Clinton among others, is reported as being Palin's new representation. The autobiography is seen as being not only a method of income, but a way to potentially reconstruct Palin in a political sense from her current "dimbo" status:
But she's got a fine line to walk now. She's got to keep Palin out there in the media now and then to keep her name in the GOP buzz for 2012, but she can't keep talking about last fall, even though that's what she'll surely be asked about. She's also got to be seen focusing full attention on running an open, efficient state government well.
CBS featured an article by Brian Montopoli which also claims that TV producers would love to get their hands on Sarah Palin, as she is a former sports reporter.

All in all, it seems like the future is very bright for Palin. Rumor has it that she may sign a deal for around 4 books in exchange for $14 million
That seems ridiculously high for a book deal," a publishing insider told OK magazine. "Even though she's a huge star, that doesn't mean anyone wants to read an autobiography by her. To make back that much of an advance, the publisher would have to sell 'Harry Potter'-size numbers." (Mercury News)
I just have to wonder... What next, a Sarah Palin reality TV show?

Ten Principles Paralleled

Being a daughter, Obama’s letter to his daughters Sasha and Malia struck a chord with me. In 'What I Want for You — and Every Child in America, ' Obama draws upon a variety of guiding principles of effective leadership to express his vision in the cause for “Change.” It might surprise some that the same ten principles used to build leaders in the West Point military academy are being used by Obama to communicate with his daughters and the public: duty, honor, faith, courage, perseverance, confidence, approachability, adaptability, compassion and vision. The letter as touching and genuine as it may be obviously has a deeper political purpose. I see an interesting parallel between military leadership techniques and Obama’s persuasive strategy.

One aspect of effective leadership is to have vision. Obama’s letter to his daughter represents dual purposes. It is in part an expression his appreciation and vision for the future for his daughters as well as a vision and goals for the children of all people. It serves as a road map and call for action and change. He highlights his vision for education, and touches on health care, and jobs, then moves to the environment and wars as factors that affect families.

He opens with a humorous reference to eating junk food, which reminds us of our duty to ourselves to eat right. It connects on an emotional and rational level. He creates a sense of community and sort of social moral contract. Duty is another key guiding principle for effective leadership. He tells both his daughters and the public of a duty to hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself and make this imperfect nation more perfect. He eloquently weaves a connection to faith, honor and duty saying, “The blessings these men and women fight for are not free.” He also refers to religion and the need for broader perspectives later mentioning the connection between religious differences and division in community which sometimes keeps us from seeing the best in each other. We are left with the tone of contrasting seriousness in connection to everyone’s duty on the national level.

His message applies principle of honor too. Honor involves creating a sense of community. He gives recognition and approval, especially in the closing, saying he is proud and grateful for his daughters “patience, poise, grace and humor.”

He further creates an intense sense of awareness of the importance of community, and particularly families, when he mentions that all his big plans for himself didn’t seem so important after his children were born. He wanted both his daughters and every child in the nation to have opportunities for happiness and fulfillment. He conveys a sense of the importance of the principle of perseverance by referring to his personal life quest which began as a young man, thinking “it’s all about me” and then referring to the larger lesson learned from his grandmother involving the need to persevere to attain the principle of equality for all men.

In many ways he includes the principle of compassion. He expresses empathy on a personal level recognizing how the campaign was not easy for his daughter’s Malia and Sasha and their mother and his compassion on a political level, for those who have not been granted the full rights of equality as spelled out in the declaration of independence.

The way he leverages important social issues from the campaign: education, the environment and war, saying he wants his daughters and other children to see the discovery of new technology and inventions that make the world cleaner and safer, was effective selling of his ideas. In doing so, it becomes a call for action from educators, scientists, environmentalists and the military to join in his vision. He even alludes to collegiality among women using terms like “committed women” near the end of his letter.

The Effects of Gender and Race in Politics: What Effects?

From observing politics for the past few years, I came to the conclusion that there are no dramatic effects of gender or race unless a politician provokes such effects. Now, I do know that voters do tend to choose candidates according to who they can relate more towards, but I don’t think that such impact is so profound that it’ll change votes single handily.

During the 2008 presidential election, I was surprised that gender had a much bigger impact on the election than I had initially thought. According to the New York Daily Times on May 2008, one of the six reasons Hillary wanted to be president was because of the “women in their 90s who had told her they were born before women could vote, and they wanted to live to see a woman in the White House”. When Hillary lost the Democratic nomination, McCain saw the opportunity to win over disgruntled Hillary supporters due to the emphasis that Hillary put on feminism in addition to Hillary’s slow and cautious backing of Obama. Surprising the world, McCain picked Palin to be his VP, an action which he would later regret. Palin made her central campaign theme focused on how she was just like any ordinary “hockey mom”. She fortified her campaign theme with subtle parts in her speeches such as calling herself a “Pitbull with lipstick” in addition to twisting her role as mom to be a qualification for being a VP. For example, during the VP debate, Palin continuously described her role as a mom when she stated:

But it wasn't just that experience tapped into, it was my connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?

The full VP debate transcript can be found here.

Unfortunately for Palin, her choice of using the theme of being a mom also had a disadvantage. Because Palin thought that being a mom was something worthy of being in the spotlight, the media naturally also focused on her theme of being a mom. So in today’s society, what does the normal “hockey moms” do? They take care of their kids, do daily household chores, and go to PTA events. All of which were topics that the media focused on. Many complained such treatment was sexist, but then again it was Palin’s own choice. She could have ran on her executive experience as governor, but instead she chose to run on being the first women to the white house.

I have also come to notice that just like gender, race doesn’t affect politics unless the politician makes race a key factor. For example, when Governor Blagojevich controversially appointed Burris to take Obama’s seat, many senators (including the democrats) initially objected to his appointment and wanted to block him from the senate. However, Senator Burris defended his appointment with a variety of reasons. One of the reasons, according to his good friend Representative Bobby Rush of Illinois, was because Burris is black! During the last few minutes of the press conference Gov. Blagojevich held regarding Burris’ appointment, Rep. Rush stated:

Let me just remind you that there presently is no African- American in the U.S. Senate. Let me remind you that the state of Illinois and the people in the state of Illinois and their collective wisdom, have sent two African-Americans to the U.S. Senate. That makes a difference. This is just not a state of Illinois matter, although it’s (INAUDIBLE) to appoint and (INAUDIBLE) — which is in the state of Illinois, but it (INAUDIBLE) — it has tremendous national importance — national importance. We need to have not just one African-American in the U.S. Senate. We need to have many African-Americans in the U.S. Senate.

So I applaud the governor for his decision. And I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointed. Ronald Burris is worthy. He is the only one, I believe, that could stand in the gap (INAUDIBLE) time, and gather the confidence — reestablish the confidence of the people of the state of Illinois.


This is a matter of national importance. There are no African- Americans in the Senate, and I don’t think that anyone — any U.S. senator, who’s sitting in the Senate, right now, wants to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate. I don’t think they want to go on record doing that. And so, I intend to take that argument to the Congressional Black Caucus.

The full transcript of the press conference is here.

Currently, there is heavy speculation that because Burris played the race card, many senators were afraid to block Burris’ appointment since the senators were afraid that they would be labeled as racist. Burris’ strategic usage of race heavily differed from Obama’s position with using race in his campaign. Surprisingly, Obama never mentioned race and gender in his campaign despite being the first African American presidential nominee. Even when issues about Obama’s race were brought up by his opponents, he brushed off the accusation and focused on the main issues campaign issues. Obama’s decision to never use race or gender in his campaign just shows how a politician is able to control whether or not race or gender will be an issue.

Hard times help women in politics?

Sexism is a double edged sword, and in every imaginable situation, women seem to be getting shortchanged due to this concept. In a recent news article, the author suggests that in the political world, we see that in some cases, voters will point to a woman running for office and consider her to be weak because she doesn't live up to the masculine expectations society holds of effective leaders. In turn, voters refuse to accept her as a viable candidate. In other cases, a female politician might be looked upon as a caring individual that would be more concerned about the people and their issues. The latter seems to be the case with Queensland's Anna Bligh, who is on her way to becoming Australia's first elected woman premier. The article insinuates that during hard times such as those being faced by Australia seem to be the perfect conditions for a woman to come and and "clean up the mess" left behind by her male predecessor.

PhD researcher Mary Crawford was quoted saying that "research suggests that while women politicians don't pursue a different style, voters perceive their interests are different - that they are more likely to be concerned with the daily concerns of people, like jobs, food prices, education and so on." Unfortunately, the situation isn't that simple, especially when we take the recent United States presidential election into consideration. Taking into account the weak state of the economy and the hard times we are facing as a society today, why is it that Crawford's theory didn't hold true? Americans had two opportunities to elect a female candidate, and chose to cote for males in both situations.

Preconceived notions about how a female candidate would lead as a politician continue to thwart any progress our nation can hope to one day achieve in terms of gender equality. Women have always been looked down upon by men as the "weaker" gender. As much as the people of this country go on talking about equality and acceptance, the truth is that even though we are living in the 21st century, our underlying ideals and stereotypes seem to resemble those which Americans held almost a century ago. If we truly want to see ourselves taking a step in the direction of equality, we have to set aside this discrimination.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Let Freedom Ring

Let it be told: there is a time when truth needs to be faced.
Lately, in these dismal years, faces of our very own Americans, once representative of extreme pride, have glowed a sentiment of uneasiness. We were once the great nation that stood by our democratic ideals, and even amidst the horrors constantly brought to developing countries around us, our country still stood strong and proud. This has changed. Our sense of pride as a nation has diminished. Whether it be because the nation transformed into something other than a "peoples' nation" or because we simply needed a different plan of action, it became evident that change was necessary.

To keep America shining from sea to sea and regain that glow of pride, we have realized that we need to take charge and address the problems we are facing. As a country, we are making this happen one step at a time. It is just the beginning of a new era; however, it is the beginning of a new era for hope, a new era for change, and a new era for freedom, peace, and enlightenment. Like Martin Luther King Jr.'s sister, Christine King Farris, said to the Chicago Tribune in reference to what Martin Luther King, Jr. might say of this turning point, "He would say that we have reached a great milestone but we still have other milestones to reach. But this is a great beginning."

As President Barack Obama took oath on this 20th day of January 2009, our nation came together to recognize the importance of this drastic change and need for action. President Barack Obama delivered his Inauguration speech with such solemnity. He clearly presented all the problems that we, as a country, need to address, and he did so with such an uplifting tone and manner. His reoccurring theme of hope throughout the speech truly inspired Americans and gave our country the trust that we need to instill in a leader who is willing to take on such a challenge.

Like Franklin D. Roosevelt, it is evident that Barack Obama cares about his country. Both he and Michelle, First Lady, want to show their deep connect with the people of the United States of America. Barack has said that he wants to make use of new technology, such as YouTube, and Rachel Swarns, a writer for the New York Times, published that Michelle dreams of picnics with local citizens and their children.

Also, the way Obama delivered his speech reminded me of how a religious official or clergyman might deliver a sermon. He was very direct in his words to the people, and he continually referred to "we" (as a nation) making the changes, as opposed to just him. He emphasized that this will be a "team effort," like a congregation in a church or temple, and we will all be working together to "be the change [we] wish to see in the world" (Gandhi).

Let us welcome this great face of change into the White House: the face of Barack and the face of the Obamas as a family. In fact, Michelle will also bring some change to the White House. Rachel Swarns wrote in the New York Times:
On Inauguration Day, Michelle Obama will become the first African-American to assume the role of first lady, a woman with the power to influence the nation's sense of identity, its fashion trends, its charitable causes and its perceptions of black women and their families.
So, even though we might not have a woman in the White House as our 44th president, we have an African American, and this is truly an incredible feat for the United States of America. My country, tis of thee, please do the favor of recognizing the gravity of all these feats, and let freedom ring.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

At the Crossroads: An Examination & Analysis of Women's Political Images on the National Stage

Mary Beth Leidman, Jaclyn M. Emershaw, and Sarah Tourtellotte recently compiled data on photographs of currently serving women Senators and Governors. They were seeking to discover the physical attributes shared by these elected women (hair color, body type, etc.). 

Can you guess which obvious physical patterns emerged from the study? (I'm not telling! The answer is at the bottom of page 3).

Here is the abstract of the study: 
However the 2008 Presidential election has turned out, it was an epic moment for women in national politics. Senator Hillary Clinton's competitiveness in the Presidential Primaries was at the epicenter of gender political studies during the Presidential Primaries season. There are lingering questions concerning why she did not triumph given her experience, savvy and general background. This study concerns itself with the projection of image for women in politics. It endeavors to develop a methodology which could be replicated and examines the idea of whether or not successful image can be codified and act as a predictor of electability for women in national or executive level state politics.
The study can be downloaded here.

Despite the study findings, I can spot several physical similarities among the women of the 110th Senate. Can you?

Michelle Obama and her "Fashion Fireworks"

In a recent article I came across on the internet in a British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph,, Michelle Obama's fashion was adressed and her style was stated as "promises as First Lady fashion fireworks." Her black and white dress worn during her husband Obama's victory speech was either "loved or hated" according to the Los Angeles Times. She has brought a new sense of style and is standing out with her fashion and "proved that unlike many other first ladies, she does not intend to fade into the background"

'She's taken the idea of what a first ladyshould be and turned it on its head,' says J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons. 'Before Michelle Obama, everyone had the idea that you had to be suited up and running with the crowd to be taken seriously. It's fabulous to see her on the cover of a magazine in a hot pink dress. She's not afraid to step out in something unusual.'

This "unusual" look is turning out for the better, because according to the Los Angeles times shes is percieved somewhat as a role model now. Michelle Obamas perceived as a "American-led democratization of fashion that has revolutionized the way the world dresses by making designer names available in Target and JCPenney." From the Los Angeles Times I found that there is even a fashion fan site for Michelle Obama.
She has made a statement to the US by how she dresses, that she is here to bring something new to the White House. Maybe something to go along with Obama's motto of change.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Letters From My Father

While watching CNN the other morning, I noticed an interesting piece on an internationally published letter from President Barack Obama to his two daughters Sasha and Malia. The entire letter, published on January 14th in Parade magazine, can be found here on the publication's website. In short, Obama expresses his belief in the advantages and responsibilities associated with being an American, outlining his reasons for "[taking] our family on this journey" and proclaiming his deep love and appreciation for both of his children. 

The message is sincere and heartwarming, but I have to question the necessity of publicizing these sentimental affects in one of America's most widely read newspapers. Clearly Obama's letter is addressed more directly to the American people as a whole than simply to 7-year-old Sasha and 10-year-old Malia. I suppose it makes sense to charm the public with such a touching demonstration of his fatherly capabilities, but at the same time I can't help but remember all of the criticism faced by Sarah Palin as she embarked on her own journey to the White House, family in tow. 

In September, ABC News reported on the many disapproving mothers who bitterly disputed Palin's ability to effectively raise a family while serving as vice president. It seems that in an age when so many women have proven the possibility of balancing work and home life, such disparagement would be less harsh.

In comparison, Obama has faced incredibly little interrogation in regards to his abilities as a father. His hyper-publicized letter is a prime example of the media's delight with the idea of the president as Father of the Year. While I don't at all doubt that Barack Obama is a genuinely good parent, it seems natural to doubt his ability to be at his daughters' side throughout the next four years, as Sarah Palin was seemingly expected to do. Moreover, Palin was only running for the office of vice president, while Obama has been elected to the office of commander-in-chief itself. With an even busier agenda than Palin, Obama's comparatively celebrated parenting makes it clear that there are still some serious double standards at play in presidential politics. 

It was just Martin Luther King Jr Day: Let's discuss race in the election.

Even though our seminar is technically about gender in the presidential election, I think the issue of race is just as important to bring to the table. I found a great article by Michael A. Fletcher online at regarding Obama being African American. It states that Obama did not call attention to the issue of race for most of his campaign, but that now that he is the President, he can talk more about how his racial identity can bring the country together. In speaking with The Washington Post about the fact that he, as an African American, is going to be President of the United States, Obama said, "I mean, that's a radical thing. It changes how black children look at themselves. It also chances how white children look at black children. And I wouldn't underestimate the force of that."

As a white person I could not be happier that we finally have a black President, and it is so difficult to imagine those who are resentful of this accomplishment. That sad fact goes to show that we have much more growing to do as a country before everyone will be able to look at others in the same way. Unfortunately we will not see that day for a long time, but I have hope that we'll get there eventually. This election will be one that we tell our future children and grandchildren about, and if this was just the spark of a wave of political diversity, then there will be many more elections like this to come. In Obama's inauguration speech he did bring up race, and I thought that to be very important. Though we don't want to think he was elected because of his color, it is still such an accomplishment to those who have endured discrimination in this country over the years and I think he truly reached out to those people with that part of his speech.

In the article I mentioned earlier, however, it stated that the fact that Obama is half-black raises questions as to whether he is "black enough." This is so racist in itself, and just because Obama's mother and grandparents (in the picture above) are white does mean this isn't still an accomplishment for the African American race, something in which they should have pride. After this point, the article began touching on the thought that since Obama is half-black, he is a "good compromise person;" he can feel and relate to the dilemmas of more than one race. I think this to be a strange assumption because anyone can be a "good compromise person," no matter his or her race.

This article is interesting to me because it is discussing the different racial issues that have come up regarding Obama and I would never have thought of them this way. I know that race is significant, but I do not think that it determines one's character or ability to run the country. The fact that people are seriously discussing that issue goes to show it will take some time for this country to reach complete satisfaction with equality. Michael Strautmanis, who has worked with Obama on his Senate staff and will be one of his White House aides, thinks and comments that Obama "just looks at people who would be divided by race and naturally sees what they have in common." He says that Obama "is so comfortable in his own skin that he makes you comfortable in your skin, so you stop thinking about the things that would divide you." This quote really stuck out to me, and I believe this is exactly what he need in a President. I am so thrilled for the era of Obama and I am hopeful for our country in the years to come.

Satire is not just for Sarah
In a recent interview, Sarah Palin credits the loss of the 2008 presidential election in part to Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live sketches and her interview with Katie Curric.  This idea is debatable in its own right, but begs the question, how much does satire and "electoral guerilla theatre" play into the public’s opinion?  Does satire really work to mold the public's opinion of a person?  Personally I find this to be a bit far fetched, but to Palin's credit, precedent does exist. One such example is the October 1989 election for Austrialian Parliament. 

In 1996 a lower working class woman from a small town in Queensland by the name of Pauline Hanson was elected to represent the Oxley seat. Despite being expelled from her party shortly before the election due to some anti-Aboriginal comments quoted in a local paper, she won the seat, and quickly gained support as a leader for the far right. Her anti-Asian and anti-Aboriginal views resulted in the creation of her own party known as the “One Nation Party,” which quickly gained followers.

As Hanson's support grew, her values were thoroughly questioned, including many allegations of racism and xenophobia. While she insists that she is not racist, her views take the form of “cultural racism”, and while these setiments gave her followers, they also created enemies

One such person was a man by the name of Simon Hunt.   When Hanson was up for reelection, Hunt legally changed his name to Pauline Pantsdown and got himself on the ballot.  Besides wearing Hanson’s clothing and taking on her accent, Pantdown used political satire to attack Hanson.  His first attack took the form of a song known as “I’m a Backdoor Man,” which, once released, soared to the top of charts.  It was being played all over the nation, and because Hanson was such a well-known figure, the nation quickly learned of Pantsdown’s cause.
“Instead of dealing directly with Hanson’s white supremacism, he [Hunt] used her argumentative methods and her actual (digitized and rearranged) voice to make Hanson’s unwilling mouth advocate gay supremacy.”
In retaliation, Hanson and her party filed a defamation suit, and despite public requests, no radio stations would pick up the song.

Unfortunately for Hanson, the Party hurt themselves when they sued Pantsdown, as they demonstrated to the country that they were only supporters of free speech in certain cases. Knowing that he was supported, Pantsdown launched another attack, using Hanson’s own words to create a new song, entitled “I Don’t Like It.”
“While its satirical method is simpler, “I Don’t Like It” is more technically complicated than “Backdoor Man.” It actually creates new words from different Hanson syllables; for example, “San Francisco” was pieced together from four different words.”
Because the song was not using analogy, and therefore was less obviously damaging to her campaign, the One Nation Party largely ignored the attack, and the song was able to play on the radio. In fact, it because so popular and because One Nation did not sue, Pantdown’s friends and supporters banned together, and created a music video, allowing for a new dimension to the song.

After a long campaign from both Hanson and Pantsdown, the election came, and Hanson was defeated. She had spent so long fighting against Pantsdown’s attacks, that she was not able to focus on her campaign, a mistake that eventually lead to her downfall. Of the other candidates, some felt that the parodies were a good campaign tool, while others were frustrated because Pantsdown made the election into something of a joke. Nevertheless, most agreed that it was because of Hunt that Hanson lost the election.

I do not know if the Palin and McCain campaign was adversely affected by Fey or Curric, but the introduction of satire into the public political domain will certainly grow, and only time will tell where it takes us.

You can download the full article written by UC Davis Professor Lawrence M. Bogad here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Barack Obama as unisex?

Download Frank Rudy Cooper's article, forthcoming in the Denver Law Review, here.

The abstract follows:
People often talk about the significance of Barack Obama's status as our first black President. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, however, a newspaper columnist declared, "If Bill Clinton was once considered America's first black president, Obama may one day be viewed as our first woman president." That statement epitomized a large media discourse on Obama's femininity. In this essay, I thus ask how Obama will influence people's understandings of the implications of both race and gender.

To do so, I explicate and apply insights from the fields of identity performance theory, critical race theory, and masculinities studies. With respect to race, the essay confirms my prior theory of "bipolar black masculinity." That is, the media tends to represent black men as either the completely threatening and race-affirming Bad Black Man or the completely comforting and assimilationist Good Black Man. For Obama, this meant he had to avoid the stereotype of the angry black man. Meanwhile, though, the association of the Presidency with the hegemonic form of masculinity presented difficulties for Obama. He was regularly called upon to be more aggressive in responding to attacks and more masculine in general. As a result, Obama could not be too masculine because that would have triggered the Bad Black Man stereotype but he could not be too feminine because that would have looked unpresidential.

Obama solved that dilemma by adopting a "unisex" style. He was a candidate who was designed to be suitable to either gender. I believe Obama's unisex performance on the world's biggest stage suggests that we are all more free to perform our race and our gender as we see fit than we had previously believed.

Doonesbury compares Bush to Palin

See yesterday's cartoon here.

Maybe we are as hard on male politicians (some of them, anyway) as we are on their female counterparts. But wait, who's getting the worst of it -- Palin or Bush--in this comparison?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gender Roles: The Mother

While stumbling across the internet, I found this website: At first it looked like another site in support of Sarah Palin, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be a typical satire site, ironically supporting Palin for all the wrong reasons. While quotes like "Because Women Have Suffraged Long Enough" were intended to make the audience laugh, they also brought up the role motherhood had to play in the election. Note: I know this issue has already been addressed in this blog, but I thought I might try to take a stab at it.

Hillary Clinton made history by being a woman running for president, but one of the many criticisms she received was that she was not feminine enough. Going along with this theme, it could be determined that with her lack of femininity she also didn't fulfill the gender role of mother, and if she didn't act like enough of a mom, then she wouldn't appeal as a mother figure to the country.

Picture from
Sarah Palin took the opposite approach during the campaign: she largely depended on her role as a mother to earn votes for her party, constantly referring to herself as a "hockey mom," as well as calling upon her experience raising a family as if it were something to put on her resumé. Palin's progeny were on display immediately after she was announced as the VP nominee, attracting many camera shots during the Republican National Convention. Even though Hillary Clinton does have a daughter, Chelsea did not receive nearly the same amount of press time as the Palin kids, as Hillary didn't use her experience as a mom to assure the people of this country that she could also mother them.

The idea of having a matriarchy was (and still is) novel, but also distracts from the importance of having the person elected to the presidency be the best one for the job, not simply male or female. But elections are long and people can only talk about the economy or Iraq for so long, and so "relatability" becomes a key factor in who people will vote for. When Hillary didn't use her motherhood to define herself, she may have lost votes, and because Sarah Palin did the opposite, she may have earned votes. Either way, this election brought up the issue of women having to be stuck in certain gender roles, and highlights the distance women still must cover in order to escape them.

Race versus Gender

I just found a news article on Politico, a great news site for those interested in politics. The title of the article is "In politics, does race trump gender?"

Here is an excerpt from the article:

How come Roland Burris has had such an easy time getting to the U.S. Senate while Caroline Kennedy has had such a hard time? Could it be that the race card trumps the gender card in U.S. politics? Well, yes. It could be.

The article makes an interesting argument about how easy Roland Burris, the Senator-designate from Illinois, made his case to win the fight against congressional Democrats who had refused to seat him in the Senate. Burris was appointed by scandaled-tainted Illinois Governor Blago. Because Blago ignored warnings against taking such an action the Senate Democratic leadership threatened not to seat any successor. If sworn in today, Burris will officially take over President-elect Obama's seat.

In contrast, the author claims how difficult a time Caroline Kennedy is having in obtaining Hillary's seat. Kennedy has publicly announced that she is interested in Hillary's seat and even did a tour in New York a few weeks ago. Unlike Burris, who would be the sole African American in the US Senate, Kennedy cannot use the claim of being the only woman in the Senate to her benefit, because there are plenty of women Senators.

It's a great article and the author does make some interesting arguments (i.e. The Senate is 17% women, while women compose of 51% of the United States)

A helpful resource about Hillary Rodham Clinton

See the New York Times interactive feature here, with links to video clips about different stages of her life.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A new academic article on our seminar topic!

I saw this posted on The article is by Quinetta Roberson and Gregory Scott Parks. Here's the abstract:
Scholars, and even the presidential candidates, have described the 2008 election as an extended interview process for a high-ranking job. Following that characterization of the Presidential race, questions about sexism and gender bias along the campaign trail implicate the law. Title VII protects individuals from sex bias in the workplace. And while modern conceptions of how such bias actually operates, largely drawn from social and cognitive psychology, aids legal decision-makers in determining whether such bias indeed took place in any particular case, greater insight into the intersection of psychology and the law is needed. Here, we explore the role of sexism and implicit (subconscious) gender bias in the Presidential race through the lens of Title VII. Further, we buttresses the proposition put forth by a growing body of legal scholars that the role of implicit attitudes in decision-making has significant implications for Title VII jurisprudence.
The full article is not posted for downloading, but I see on their author page that Roberson and Parks have also written about Michelle Obama.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Carefully Constructed: Michelle Obama as the Next Jacqueline Kennedy?

There's a piece in the Style Section of the New York Times today about Michelle Obama's wardrobe, entitled U.S. Fashion’s One-Woman Bailout?

The article quotes Hamish Bowles, Vogue Editor and Curator of Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, an art exhibition of Jackie's clothing. 

In 2002, I was an intern at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. During my internship, the blockbuster Jacqueline Kennedy exhibition was on display at the museum. Because my office was located on the first floor, at the rear of the building, I walked through the exhibition several times a day for several months. I probably saw the beloved inaugural gala dress 250 times.

Jacqueline Kennedy's clothing was extraordinary--one of a kind pieces created by some of the greatest designers in history, including Oleg Cassini, Gabrielle Chanel, and Christian Dior. Jackie's 1962 Christmas dress, a deep pink silk radzimir piece by Hubert de Givenchy, had such sophisticated twists in the back it required a lady's maid to tie Jackie into it. Many of her dresses had skillfully accomplished, hand sewn bead work or embroidery.

While I certainly admire Michelle Obama's style, I am not entirely convinced that Obama is the new Jacqueline Kennedy. Sure, I can agree that Michelle Obama exudes some of the same sophistication as Jackie, but somehow I don't see Obama's off-the-rack J. Crew sweater sets making it into a museum of fine art.  

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Some year-end rumination about gender and the election

I just saw these over at

One post is titled "Feminism and Gender in 2008: The Good, the Bad and the Election" and is by Suzanne Reisman.

The other is under the headline "Politics: We Always End up Talking about Hillary, Don't We?"

They both provide some food for thought.