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Women and the White House

Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics

edited by Justin S. Vaughn and Lilly J. Goren.

Publication Year: 2012

The president of the United States traditionally serves as a symbol of power, virtue, ability, dominance, popularity, and patriarchy. In recent years, however, the high-profile candidacies of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachmann have provoked new interest in gendered popular culture and how it influences Americans' perceptions of the country's highest political office.

In this timely volume, editors Justin S. Vaughn and Lilly J. Goren lead a team of scholars in examining how the president and the first lady exist as a function of public expectations and cultural gender roles. The authors investigate how the candidates' messages are conveyed, altered, and interpreted in "hard" and "soft" media forums, from the nightly news to daytime talk shows, and from tabloids to the blogosphere. They also address the portrayal of the presidency in film and television productions such as Kisses for My President (1964), Air Force One (1997), and Commander in Chief (2005).

With its strong, multidisciplinary approach, Women and the White House commences a wider discussion about the possibility of a female president in the United States, the ways in which popular perceptions of gender will impact her leadership, and the cultural challenges she will face.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. v-vi

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1. The Mechanized Gaze: Gender, Popular Culture, and the Presidency

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pp. 1-22

The 2008 election saw significant interaction between gender-driven popular culture and politics, from Hillary Clinton’s shot-and-beer visits to working-class bars and Hillary nutcrackers in airport gift shops to Sarah Palin’s self-identification as a “hockey mom” and T-shirts with pictures of pit bulls wearing lipstick. ...

Part I: Framing Candidates,Understanding Voters

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2. Puritan or Pit Bull: The Framing of Female Candidates at the National Level

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pp. 25-48

Sarah Palin’s vice presidential candidacy garnered tremendous levels of interest, polarizing the American public. From the day John McCain chose her as his running mate, much of what has been written about Palin has focused on discovering who she “really” is: establishing her credentials, exploring her issue positions, or predicting her political future. ...

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3. Colbert Nation: Gender, Late-Night Television, and Candidate Humanization

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pp. 49-74

“I can see Russia from my house.” This line has become one of the most remembered lines from the 2008 presidential election campaign. It has been repeated often and now defines the public’s perception of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, John McCain’s running mate on the failed Republican ticket. ...

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4. Soccer Moms, Hockey Moms, National Security Moms: Reality versus Fiction and the Female Voter

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pp. 75-94

A gap exists between men and women in political participation. This so-called gender gap, the difference in percentage of women and men who support a particular candidate or party, is largely a reflection of gender role differences. Men and women are different, and they vote accordingly. ...

Part II: Hollywood’s Influence on Presidential Politics

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5. Fact or Fiction: The Reality of Race and Gender in Reaching the White House

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pp. 97-120

In 2008, we watched as an African American man first won the presidential nomination of one of the two major parties and then, in November, was elected to the American presidency. Former president George W. Bush noted, the day after the 2008 election, that “it will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, ...

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6. Gendering the Presidency without Gender in the Presidency

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pp. 121-134

In recent years, a series of polls have found that majorities of voters at least claim to be willing to vote for a female presidential candidate. For example, a poll of registered voters conducted by the Siena College Research Institute found that 81 percent of voters would vote for a woman for president. ...

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7. It’s a Man’s World: Masculinity in Pop Culture Portrayals of the President

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pp. 135-160

Late in the evening of May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama called a press conference that would ultimately mark the end of a significant chapter in the history of the United States and, especially, the nation’s engagement in the global war on terror. The subject of the event was the president’s surprise announcement that, only several hours earlier, ...

Part III: “All the News That’s Fit to Print”? Alternative Avenues for Political Information

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8. Sitting with Oprah, Dancing with Ellen: Presidents, Daytime Television, and Soft News

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pp. 163-180

On July 29, 2010, President Barack Obama took to the air on The View to talk politics, policy, and family. Pundits billed the visit as the first time a sitting U.S. president appeared on a daytime television program, calling it a crowning moment for The View.1 The telecast drew about 6.7 million viewers, the highest rating ever for the show.2 ...

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9. The Checkout Line Perspective: Presidential Politics as Celebrity Popular Culture in People

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pp. 181-204

Just a few weeks after People magazine launched in 1974, readers were greeted by a cover image featuring Gerald Ford, vice president of the United States, in a most casual setting—his swimming pool. Celebrity news magazine People self-proclaims a focus on personalities, not issues, ...

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10. Viral Videos: Reinforcing Stereotypes of Female Candidates for President

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pp. 205-226

Following the midterm elections in 2006, the Pew Internet and American Life Project surveyed Americans about their preferred news sources.1 Television remained the favorite source of news, preferred by 69 percent of respondents; newspapers were a distant second at 34 percent; and Internet sources brought up the rear with a mere 15 percent.2 ...

Part IV: Women in the White House: First Ladies, First Couples, First Families

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11. High Culture, Popular Culture, and the Modern First Ladies

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pp. 229-248

To study the modern first ladies is to study variation and change, generalizing cautiously and with caveats. Even so, one can accurately assert that these presidents’ wives have routinely served as representatives, facilitating communication and building relationships between the president and numerous publics. ...

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12. The First Family: Transforming the American Ideal

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pp. 249-268

As President Barack Obama’s job approval numbers fell from the high sixties following his inauguration to the low forties just before the 2010 midterm elections, his ratings on personal attributes remained high.1 Even conservative political opponents find it difficult to criticize Obama’s personal life and commitment to family. ...

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13. The Presidential Partnership: A Gender Seesaw

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pp. 269-286

Throughout history presidents have relied on their spouses in the White House. In jobs as diverse as hostess, political advisor, campaigner, and fund-raiser, first ladies have worked hard to help their husbands. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell describes the presidency as a two-person career that “requires their cooperative efforts if it is to be successful.”1 ...

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pp. 287-290

The idea for this book came out of several discussions about the icons, symbols, and cultural dynamics of the 2008 election—an election that paid more attention to gender than had any previous presidential election. We were both intrigued by many of the perspectives offered throughout the long election season, ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 291-304

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pp. 305-310

Linda Beail is professor of political science and director of the Margaret Stevenson Center for Women’s Studies at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, where she teaches courses on gender and race politics, U.S. elections, and feminist theory. ...


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pp. 311-324

E-ISBN-13: 9780813141039
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813141015

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women presidential candidates -- United States.
  • Presidential candidates -- United States.
  • Women political candidates -- United States.
  • Women -- Political actvity -- United States.
  • Presidents -- Family relationships -- United States.
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