Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture. By Kristina Horn Sheeler and Karrin Vasby Anderson. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2013. 242 pp.
Why has America yet to elect a woman president?
By assembling the disparate discourses of women presidential candidates--campaign oratory, political journalism, punditry, and popular culture--Kristina Horn Sheeler and Karrin Vasby Anderson have written a solidly scholarly book that seeks answers to this question. In doing so, Woman President takes the reader from Victoria Woodhull's radical outspokenness to Hillary Clinton's carefully choreographed Internet announcement speech of 2008.
The book focuses on the backlash against female presidential candidates, or their "presidentiality," as the authors consistently write (p. 1). Sheeler and Anderson argue that there is an "undeclared war" (p. 3) against the American woman president, and in each chapter they present the many weapons used in that war.
In the first chapter, the authors explore the constraint of the pioneer as a frame for women presidential candidates. This frame, the authors assert, "has been applied to each woman candidate for the U.S. presidency since the nineteenth century" (p. 17), and erodes her credibility by accentuating the oddity of a woman as president. The authors do a fine job of arguing that what seems like an accolade--being the first in uncharted waters--instead becomes a liability, as it more often than not makes each woman seem more a novelty than a viable candidate. The authors also deconstruct four women presidential candidates' announcement speeches to determine how each woman managed the pioneer metaphor to position herself as a presidential candidate--choosing Victoria Woodhull, Shirley Chisholm, Elizabeth Dole, and Carol Moseley-Braun as the rhetors.
The longest chapter in the book, on fictional portrayals of the presidency, argues that viewing women presidents on screen is a propositional argument that women can serve as chief executives. The analysis asserts that television and film are good vehicles for negotiating the multiple perspectives of women and the presidency. This chapter is entertaining, but of course, one must first accept the argument that these screen portrayals matter. If the reader accepts that screen appearances do make an impact on the electability of women presidential candidates, then the authors' considerable attention to those portrayals will be convincing.