Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics

Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics

Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics

Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics


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.


The 2008 election saw significant interaction between gender-driven popular culture and politics, from Hillary Clinton’s shot-and-beer visits to workingclass bars and Hillary nutcrackers in airport gift shops to Sarah Palin’s selfidentification as a “hockey mom” and T-shirts with pictures of pit bulls wearing lipstick. Add to that Saturday Night Live sketches (including those declaring “Bitch is the new black”), fashion breakthroughs, and the cementing of femaledriven programming as an important political battleground, and the battle to become the forty-fourth president took on gender implications of significant proportions. Although popular culture has long influenced the dynamics of presidential elections, the 2008 election was unique in the overwhelming role that gender-driven popular culture and commodification played, providing a stunning reminder of how much gendered popular culture influences the ways American voters think about politics, especially presidential politics.

As scholars, we quickly realized the important lessons about gender and politics that popular culture was teaching us—and the rest of the citizens who were following the campaign’s dynamics in real time. Indeed, by examining the intersecting relationships between popular culture, gender, and presidential politics, especially as perceived through the multiple lenses of the media, we can learn a great deal about the evolution of American attitudes toward the institution of the presidency, those who have occupied the office, and those who have attempted to occupy it. Perhaps more important, we can examine how these portrayals create a popular filter or prism through which the American electorate views and understands the leadership efforts of actual presidents in real time.

Although the notion that politics and popular culture have a mutually rein-

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