Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Some have noted that the Kerry campaign is having difficulty winning the female vote. Why might this be? Naomi Wolf thinks she has the answer:
By manipulating the images of the women around George W. Bush, including Laura herself, the Bush team has brilliantly eroded the traditional Democratic advantage among women.
How is this done?
Bush’s speeches are routinely cast before the eye, I am convinced, of Karen Hughes, who spins tax cuts as a boon to women entrepreneurs, like the one Laura Bush mentioned in her convention speech (Carmella Chaifos, “the only woman to own a tow-truck company in all of Iowa”). The fallen heroes of Iraq are “moms and dads.” Afghanistan was the first time U.S. troops were deployed for a feminist goal, “so Afghan girls could go to school.”
Abortion is an issue not of Ms. Magazine–style fanaticism or suicidal Republican religious reaction, but a complex issue on which “good people can disagree.” (W. mimicked his father’s trick of catering to his religious base while leaking the fact that his wife is pro-choice.)
There’s more:
While Bush Inc. is flooding women’s magazines with features in which Laura Bush gets out a family-friendly feminist message, Kerry et al. remain obsessed with sending white men out onto the Sunday talk shows—which women don’t watch. While Bush Inc. understands the power of the vivid visual image—dressing the entire GOP convention, for instance, in matching tangerine and turquoise, color-coordinating the Cheney grandchildren to give a visual sense of order and unity—the Democrats keep being bumped to the inside pages because they send out their candidate and his wife in neutrals. I am convinced that Michael Deaver is the invisible hand behind the calculated visuals of the Bush campaign—the signature use of deep, majestic backdrops behind the candidate, the use of jewel tones on Laura Bush and other women associated with the administration, the trick of forcing photographers to sit close to the stage so that they must shoot sharply upward, showing the candidate from a heroic angle.
Note that Ms. Wolf is “convinced” of the behind the scenes influence of Karen Hughes and Michael Deaver. Any proof? No need for such things.

I’m struck by the implicit assumption that this is all a show, a façade, a sham. Because everyone knows that Republicans don’t really like women. There is no possible way that the social changes that have transformed the United States in the last several decades might actually influence the way even Republicans think and believe. They couldn’t have become kinder and gentler because . . . well because they’re more kind and gentle.

But unlike the Neanderthal Republicans, Ms. Wolf knows and cares about women. This concern and regard just leaps out of her next statement:
By contrast, the Democrats ignore them, losing women, who are simply too busy racing to get school lunches ready and kids out the door to get their impressions about the candidates from Meet the Press.
In Ms. Wolf’s world, women are incapable of listening to NPR as they drive their kids to school or go to work (something my wife does every day); and it goes without saying that women would never read the newspaper, watch tv, or, heaven forbid, use the internet to get information (and since when did women make lunches and get their kids out the door on Sundays, the day when Meet the Press airs anyway?). No, women are too busy to be informed and are, therefore, susceptible to the powerful and seductive magic of “matching tangerine and turquoise” wrought by Karen Hughes and Michael Deaver. With friends like these . . .

Wolf then ventures off into a series of inventive, imaginative, and for the most part entirely irrelevant observations that would probably win her high marks in an English Literature Ph.D. program or at an MLA conference (healthy doses of Freud et al) but one wonders how they might play with her mythical moms who are too busy to watch Meet the Press, let alone contemplate the subliminal cuckolding of John Kerry evinced in his wife’s keeping of her previous husband’s name (note to Ms. Wolf: did it ever occur to you that Teresa may have done this because she has children who share the Heinz surname?).

In the midst of these observations, Wolf notes that
it has been well established that modern women maddeningly long for men who are tender in private but authoritative in public.
Maddening perhaps for self-declared guardians of a particular feminist tradition such as Ms. Wolf but again the condescension fairly drips: what kind of fool would a women have to be to seek a loving tender relationship with a man who makes her feel secure? Perhaps such women are subjected to false consciousness (Gramscian or otherwise) and don’t realize how their perceptions and desires fetter them. But does Ms. Wolf speak for such women, or merely to them?

Enough ranting for today.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse has some good equal-opportunity criticism of politicians going after the "women's vote" You should, of course, read the whole thing, but I couldn't resist posting her conclusion:
The campaigns talk about women the way people who thought women shouldn't have the right to vote talked about women.

UPDATE II: While you're at it, check out Susanna Cornett's take on a similar political strategy: the attempt to appear to the "rural voter.":
As the descendent of generations of rural-dwellers, raised in the foothills of Appalachia, someone who lived for eight years in the shadow of New York City yet found small town Alabama more to her liking, I think I can speak to this sense on the Kerry camp's part that John Edwards is going to appeal to the average rural person:


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