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

Author:Heldman, Caroline
Position::Book review
 
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Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics. Edited by Justin S. Vaughn and Lilly J. Goren. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. 2012. 324 pp.

Women and the White House: Gender; Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics is a first-rate collection of essays on the ways in which popular culture both reflects and shapes perceptions of female political leadership. While previous research has addressed this topic for specific candidates, this book is the first to comprehensively study it. 'Women and the White House fills a hefty gap in presidential scholarship, and the editors carefully situate the analysis in this literature along with an extensive discussion of the study of popular culture, the advent of mass media, and the rise of new media. The rich examples and accessible writing make this an ideal book for both graduate and undergraduate students studying the presidency, gender, and political communications.

The volume is structured around four themes. The first is candidate framing, "the ways in which messages about candidates are conveyed, controlled, altered, and framed, particularly the different ways that male and female candidates are presented to the public and try to present themselves to the public" (p. 16). Linda Beail and Rhonda Kinney Longworth find that Sarah Palin reframed expectations that female candidates must conform to traditional femininity through her complex gender performance during the 2008 election. Mary McHugh examines the framing of Palin and Hillary Clinton in sketches from Saturday Night Live and The Colbert Report, and concludes that these comedy shows humanized the candidates and led the press and voters to "consider issues of bias and sexism more directly but less confrontationally than in almost any other forum" (p. 54).

The second theme of the book is portrayals of the American presidency in traditional popular culture outlets (film and television) "with an aim to discern what these productions teach us about how the presidency is integrated into the public consciousness in deeply gendered ways" (p. 17). Goren meticulously compares representations of race and gender in film, and concludes that men of color have been portrayed as viable presidential candidates for over two decades, while women are virtually absent and shown only as "accidental" presidents. Goren concludes that this disparity was influential in the 2008 election. Joseph Uscinski identifies a fear of...

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