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May 7, 2012

Campaign ‘12 Stereotypes: “Forward”-Thinking Women as “Stepford Voters”

The Washington Post’s coverage of Obama’s campaign rally at Ohio State University included this photo of (seemingly) fawning female fans. We’ve had “Soccer Moms,” “Security Moms,” and “Sex and the City Voters” . . . is 2012 the year of the Stepford Voter?

Although the (mostly white, female, and young) audience members foregrounded in this shot are watching a video (presumably on a jumbotron that looms large), the image implies an unquestioning admiration for (and, perhaps, attraction to) President Obama. (That’s so 2008.) Depicting women as enamored with the candidates for whom they vote is nothing new—the “romance frame” is a staple of campaign journalism, one with potentially deleterious effects for women and democracy. The women in this picture seem more schoolgirl than citizen, spatially subordinated to Obama, sporting the adoring gazes and wide smiles typically reserved for political spouses.

The image seems to suggest that Obama is using the “war on women” to his advantage.  Although it’s true that the widening gender gap will likely play to Obama’s favor in November, this image suggests that women voters are swept away by the president’s persona rather than engaged by his policy proposals. That’s oddly out of synch with the prevailing 2012 campaign narrative—which has noted the comparably tepid response Obama is getting from young, female voters (at least in comparison to 2008). If anything, women are riled up by recent Republican attempts to restrict access to women’s health services, demonize women advocates, and block the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. These policy-oriented concerns prompt women to support the party that espouses positions that women care about. But women were “forward”-thinking long before Obama made that his campaign mantra.

–Karrin Anderson

(photo: Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP. caption: People watch a video of President Barack Obama during a campaign rally at The Ohio State University, Saturday, May 5, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio.)

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