Way Better Than a Death Star

Have you heard about the We The People section on thewhitehouse.gov website? It’s a place where anyone can start a petition for anything and as long as it gets 100,000 signatures in a month the White House has to respond to it. Well a few months ago there was a petition for the United States to build a death star. At that time you only needed 25,000 signatures to elicit a response from the White House, and it got 34,435. You can check out the official response here.

The fact that goofy shit like this is taking up the time of the White House staff doesn’t really bother me at all. Sometimes it is nice to not always be focusing on how much our government sucks and take a minute to remember there are nerds everywhere, and 99% of the time they are pretty awesome. But then last week I stumbled upon a different kind of petition. Here is what it says:

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama said: “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace and free from the fear of domestic violence.”

This “our wives, mothers, and daughters” phrase is one he routinely employs, but it is counterproductive to the women’s equality the President is ostensibly supporting.

Defining women by their relationships to other people is reductive, misogynist, and alienating to women who do not define ourselves exclusively by our relationships to others. Further, by referring to “our” wives et al, the President appears to be talking to The Men of America about Their Women, rather than talking to men AND women.

Please embrace inclusive language, Mr. President.

It is titled: Stop using the “wives, mothers, & daughters” rhetorical frame that defines women by their relationships to other people. And this petition only has 2,937 signatures (from my count in the evening on Monday) … in order to get a response from the White House it needs more than 97,000 signatures by March 15, 2013. It kills me that there are not more people signing this petition. It kills me that the death star petition made national news, etc etc and yet no one is talking about how the rhetoric on women needs to change. I hate the way I am discussed at political rallies, stump speeches, inaugurations, and state of the unions. From both sides, from any side, women are pandered to as stereotypes – either the strong single mom or the valiant wife or … whatever.

If you have ever felt ignored or like there is nothing for you to do to change the way the government talks about you, or frustrated that somehow your vagina has put you into a neat little pink box complete with an easy bake oven and a stiff upper lip – sign this petition. Share it on all social networks. Post it on message boards. The more people read this, the more conversation there can be about the problem with the rhetoric about women in this country. And maybe, just maybe the White House will have to respond to it.

23 thoughts on “Way Better Than a Death Star”

  1. I’m assuming you have to be American to sign this?
    (But, great initiative. Another thing that gets me (now that we are talking feminism) is the divisions that you see among women, like they are taking camps in war if you decide to do A instead of B as applied to any of the things any woman can decide to do at any single moment of her life).

  2. Yes! (I’ve signed it, already.)

    It’s so irritating for so many reasons, and in part because it would be so easy for him to fix and just STOP doing. Just, find some other words! Like “women”. Or “people” or “women in our families and communities” if you still want to invoke some familial feelings. Or, if he wants to preserve the nice cadence of three beats (“our wives, mothers and daughters”) he could use “every woman, young and old” in that sentence and it would mean the exact same thing without being as reductive about women’s roles.

    That took me all of ten seconds to think of. It’s not hard!

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately. The petition asks for more inclusive language … but what does that language look like?

    I, honestly, do not find the wives/mothers/daughters line to be insulting or misogynistic … but realize that others do (and I definitely respect that). Can someone explain to me why this offends them so much? Try as I might, I cannot figure a way he could address the female population directly, without sounding false. And regarding the relationships he uses, it doesn’t seem to be so male-driven to me … mothers are mothers to men and women, daughters have mothers and fathers, and (especially considering support for same-sex marriage was discussed in the same speech) women can be married to men or women. So, what better way to speak about/to women, then invoke not just ourselves, but those women closest to us. (And for that matter, to have certain men (who would normally tune out) realize it’s an issue that touches them, too, not “just the women”.)

    Understand, I’m not picking a fight, but I really would like some discussion on this, because I’m just. not. getting. it.

    1. Women can’t be married to other women throughout the nation. In fact, in the majority of the country such marriages are not performed legally or recognized if performed legally elsewhere.

    2. For me, it’s because while you’re right that those relationships exist as a back and forth between men and women, that phrase is kind of slanted towards being received by men. As in- a really good way to get a cat-calling guy to back off is to remind him “what if I were your daughter, your mother, your wife, would you be okay with someone doing this to me?” So, you’re right, it is a good way to get the “certain men” to tune in. But it’s kind of offensive in the sense that saying that is ever-so-slightly geared towards a male-only audience. I know that’s not how Obama means it, but that undercurrent is there.
      Another thing is a lack of reciprocity. I’m pretty sure he never says “sons, fathers, husbands.”
      Another irritant is that while those are rather universal relationships, they are *relationships* when many women want to be seen for their accomplishments, careers, whatever, beyond. This is the most vague and hard to define, and also the one that addresses your question about how to address the female population without sounding false. Margosita is on to something with “women in our families and communities.” I would add “and workplaces” or something to that effect.
      It’s a tricky thing to define, but I think ultimately it’s continuing to chip away at the little phrases and habits that we are mostly unconscious of that reinforce and uphold a patriarchal view of society that needs rearranging.

    3. I think this goes back to that post I wrote about not being able to take off my pregnancy and about being lots and lots of things, as an individual, instead of only being discussed as a small handful of things. The overall rhetoric of men in political statements is not as “fathers, brothers, sons” … they are painted with a much wider brush, or not painted at all. When the conversation is about “Shop owners, the middle class, tax payers, etc” and then women are highlighted as “mothers, daughters, etc etc” it draws a separation without being specific. Men can fit into all categories, while women are discussed in very specific ones.

      Why not just “women”? Why is there a discussion of our relationships to other people at all? Some of us are not wives or mothers… why do they get a special shout out? Because of their relationship to men and to the often distorted view we have of what “motherhood” means.

      1. “When the conversation is about “Shop owners, the middle class, tax payers, etc” and then women are highlighted as “mothers, daughters, etc etc” it draws a separation without being specific.” BINGO!

        I’d add that “our wives, mothers, and daughters” is a rhetorical way of framing a discussion ABOUT women, not WITH women. Defining women by their relationships suggests that the most salient characteristic of a woman in this country is her relationships to other people. My government should protect me and work for me because I’m a citizen, not because I’m anyone’s wife or mother or daughter.

        Also, in this particular instance, Obama was talking about economic power, workplace discrimination and domestic violence and while all of those issues matter quite a bit to women on the whole, the truth is that making those things better is both better for everyone, and the responsibility of everyone. So why not talk to and include everyone?

        (And, just personally, I’m an adult woman who is not someone’s dependent daughter, and who is also not a wife or a mother. I am, however, a person who supports the President’s desire for economic equality and an end to domestic violence. It feels like it’s literally the least he can do to adjust a few words to include me in the conversation.)

    4. This is a really fascinating discussion.

      As a woman — I would much rather be known as a writer, a gardener, a financial student.

      As a marketer — I would absolutely use all the tools in my toolbox to get an emotional response. I think “wives, mothers, daughters” is directly targeted towards men. So, also interesting–is the State of the Union then directed towards men, rather than women? Subconsciously, perhaps.

      Geez I just want to have a conversation with that speech writer and pick his/her brain.

      1. I don’t think that the whole State of the Union is directed toward men, but I do think that that piece of it is. I agree with the petition in theory and on principle, but I’m not 100% sure I want him to stop using “mothers, wives, daughters.” Because I think when it is deployed, he is not talking to women or even to all men at that moment. I think the assumption is that women and many men are on board with the idea that if women are free from discrimination that’s good for everyone. I think the appeal in this context is being made specifically toward men who would not think that this matters to them and is trying to make it matter to them by referring to the women in the context of the possible relationships these men have with women, He is trying to get them on board and get them to support anti-discrimination laws with the emotional appeal and visceral “hey this matters to me” of “wives, mothers, daughters.” And I think I am okay with that. To me, the end of getting more people to care about “women’s” issues like domestic violence justifies the means of using some language that I would otherwise not prefer.

        1. What it really makes clear to me is just how far we are from actual equality. If the only way to make certain segments of society give a rat’s behind about women’s issues is to relate how it affects men what does that say about how little society values women? I can understand the reasoning but it’s really disheartening.

  4. Done. By which I mean, I will do this as soon as I can set up a whitehouse.gov account on my lunch break. This language has always irked me, but it never occurred to me until now that it totally is as if the president is only speaking to men. Ugh!

  5. That makes a lot of sense, thanks!

    As a random aside … I live in DC and have had the chance to hear him speak (in person) twice. And in both of those, he referred to men as “our fathers, brothers, sons”. So, he (or his speech writer) defintiely uses it both ways, but I wonder why that isn’t used more prominently, to even things up?

    Also, I wonder if that doesn’t color my reaction to the whole thing … I didn’t take offense, because I’d heard it used to describe men as well … while others did, because they hadn’t.

    Hmm. Food for thought.

  6. This is interesting — I can’t help but look at it from a marketing perspective.

    SO many “studies” show that changing just one word can GREATLY impact sales/how people react to a particular message. Rhetoric is powerful stuff.

    I wonder if this particular rhetoric is purposeful — if “our wives, mothers, and daughters” engages men at a higher level, makes the issue at hand (domestic violence) seem more personal. Emotion is a powerful thing, and if someone feels more personally connected to a cause, they’re more likely to support it.

    Not that it makes it right (I mean, for example: If this IS true, why do men need to feel emotionally connected to support initiatives against domestic violence?), but I do think it’s interesting. This is probably VERY deliberate and, well, calculated.

    (Side note: whenever I watch The West Wing, I always want to be the speech writers.)

    1. I DO TOO!! Kamel is always like “you should do that job, Lauren.” umm… 1) I would have to be a lawyer 2) AH THE STRESS and 3) that’s such a hard fought position. But I would freaking love to have dinner with a presidential speech writer. Because wow.

      1. You don’t have to be a lawyer! There’s been a fuss over Obama’s wunderkid speechwriter leaving, and he joined the team at 25 and is not a lawyer. So, there’s that! (But there is also the stress and the elite nature of the job, etc.)

        But, to reply upthread, also… I understand why the rhetorical decision to use the language was made. It does sound good. Though the speech is televised and picked apart by the general public, technically the audience is Congress, of which only 17.7% is female. Most of Congress are old white guys, who do tend vote more liberally on women’s issues if they have daughters. And who are, obviously, more accustomed to thinking of women in social rather than professional roles by virtue of their age and profession and amount of women colleagues.

        So, I get why that decision was made and I can sympathize. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. I still think including women in the conversation trumps wordplay aimed at making the men of Congress (or men in general) more comfortable. It’s an opinion I want the President to hear, and hence why I support the petition.

        1. Also, Kal Penn the actor who plays Kumar in the Harold and Kumar series (he left his role on House to work for Obama) was part of Obama’s public relations team and I’m pretty sure from interviews that I’ve read with him part of his duties were speechwriting. So totally don’t need to be a lawyer, just wonderfully wordy … like yourself!

    2. To your side note: ME TOOOOO. Favreau is kind of my hero, and I always wanted to have Sam’s job. “Oratory should raise your heart rate. Oratory should blow the doors off the place.” Ah, yes.

  7. Just want to say how interesting I find all the discussion here, from Lauren’s post down through all the comments. Y’all are awesome.

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