The Disciplining of Female Masculinity
Janet Reno as
“the Lesbian Swamp Monster”
[Sojourner] Truth was alternatively and overdeterminedly constructed as either invisible or visible, constituting either lack or surplus… But as a woman lecturer, Truth was fully exposed to the public gaze and perceived as unruly and excessive. Carla Peterson, “Doers of the Word”
When Bill Clinton's first two choices for attorneygeneral were derailed after news reports exposed that each had legal issues regarding the nannies for their children, Clinton turned to Janet Reno, state attorney for Dade County, Florida, as his next choice. Not only did Reno have legal experience and public standing that made her fit for the job, but also, and significantly, she was childless and therefore had had no cause to hire nannies of any type. Reno, it was hoped, would come to the public stage with no hidden baggage to derail her confirmation. Ironically, however, while Reno's demographic status as childless and unmarried may have helped her during the confirmation process, when coupled with what many read as Reno's masculine style or aesthetic, it proved to present its own types of trouble—especially given her position of public power—by disrupting gender norms and expectations.
Although this was not the sort of trouble that would lead to a withdrawal of Reno's nomination, the gender anxiety that was provoked was widespread enough—and consistent enough—that Liza Mundy would ask in the Washington Post Magazine, as late as 1998, “What is it about Janet Reno that so fascinates and confounds and even terrifies America” (6; emphasis added)? 1 What is it, indeed, about Reno that proved to be