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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.)

  • fullwood

    wow. Did it escape your notice that they’re watching President Obama on that screen? They are smiling approvingly, presumably at his remarks. The only thing that I find potentially ‘deleterious’ is your twisted, contradictory characterization of this image. Why should we assume that the image suggests anything other than these women are ‘engaged by his policy proposals’ that he’s outlining in his speech? The patronizing and belittling narrative is all your own.

    • KVA

      The WaPo article that published the photo had a narrative that was different from the photo: “Despite the campaign’s strategy of staging the high-tech rally on a college campus, with lots of electronic outreach on social networks, the arena was not teeming with an overrepresentation of college students.That fact underscored a central challenge Obama faces this year: to excite the younger generation of voters that helped push him to victory four years ago..” See http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/post/obama-re-election-campaign-kickoff-a-lot-of-excitement-among-supporters-and-some-nerves-too/2012/05/05/gIQAJCfN4T_blog.html. The article does quote one “swoony” Obama voter, but she’s 35–older than the demographic represented in the pic. So, the narrative frame of the photo is different from the facts in the article. Consequently, the image reflects a more familiar narrative about young women voters that is, in this case, outdated (in terms of women’s response to Obama) and at odds with the corresponding article.

    • jonst

       Yeah, sure. I think they are smiling because he was outlining federal policy changes on reducing heat on roof tops of federal buildings.

    • Stacy

       It didn’t escape the author’s notice, but don’t let facts get in the way of posting your opinions online.

      I might suggest, however, that you actually read an article before you comment on it:

      “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.”

  • bks

     Did they all have the same orthodontist?

        –bks

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