Citation: Parry-Giles, S. J. & Blair, D. M. “The Rise of the Rhetorical First Lady: Politics, Gender Ideology, and Women’s Voice, 1789-2002.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 5.4 (2002): 565-599. Project MUSE. Web. 27 September 2016.
While the article, by Shawn J. Parry-Giles and Diane M. Blair, does discuss Hillary Clinton’s role as First Lady at points, I was mostly drawn to the writing because of its cumulative look at the role of the first lady. The purpose of the piece is stated quite clearly: by contextualizing the role of these women we can understand the rhetorical limitations they faced and the barriers they broke, all within a gendered sphere.
I was interested to learn that 1920 served as a turning point for first ladies to begin speaking publicly. I am sure the Women’s Rights movement of the 20’s played a large role in that. The authors also make an interesting point in the strange place first ladies occupy. The female sphere is traditionally private and non political, but a first lady holds a distinctly public and political position. Realizing how gender influenced the role of first lady, through the traditional spheres, offers a specific lens to how we see Hillary Clinton today. Much like first ladies of the past had their unique roles shaped by gender, so will Hillary Clinton’s role as president be shaped by gender as well.
The article is pretty lengthy but perhaps my classmates may choose to focus their reading by looking at the excerpts from past first ladies. The section titled, The Republican Mother Pulpit, was particularly interesting as they quoted multiple first ladies expressing domesticity in their roles. How has Hillary continued this, and how has she worked to avoid this role?
One last question: If first ladies are deemed to have “illegitimate power” why is their primary work in the realm of charity and children? If we do not value our first ladies, what does it say about how we value the areas they work in?
It is my hope that as women we do not abandon traditional roles in an attempt to escape the female sphere. Rather we move within the work, and bring to the forefront areas that are not given the priority they deserve.