Stop calling us wives and moms

A petition calls on President Obama to drop his retro rhetoric about women

Topics: Gender, Gender Roles, State of the Union, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, ,

Stop calling us wives and momsFirst lady Michelle Obama, center, and daughters Sasha, left, and Malia, right.(Credit: AP/Frank Franklin Ii)

In the wake of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union, a petition is taking him to task for his habit of framing women’s equality as a struggle to protect the rights of “wives, mothers, and daughters.” The campaign was inspired by one line in particular from last night’s speech in which 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.”

A totally righteous argument, right? But the petition, which has 716 signatures at the time of this writing, says that this sort of language is “counterproductive to the women’s equality the President is ostensibly supporting.” It goes on to explain, “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.”

Of course, Obama’s larger message, as he went on to say, was that in addition to passing the Violence Against Women Act, Congress should “declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.” With his “wives, mothers, and daughters” rhetoric, he was largely addressing Congress, which is predominantly male — and Republican men are especially in need of convincing on this. So some might argue that it’s simply a smart strategic move in service of the greater good, even if it’s alienating to women.



But it’s also a refrain Obama has turned to time and again. In fact, at one point in last night’s SOTU he said, “We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat.” There was also the “Father Knows Best” paternalism of his argument for restrictions on emergency contraception in 2011. (Not to mention how first lady Michelle Obama presented herself, as Rebecca Traister wrote, “precisely as she needed to in order to be digested by the American people: as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother.”) As Melissa McEwan, who started the petition, writes on her blog Shakesville, this makes it sound like Obama is “not speaking to those wives, mothers, daughters, and any women who are none of those things and/or do not define themselves that way” — and that’s not to mention the women who are in Congress.

On the Daily Kos, McKenna Miller — a man, or rather sonmakes an excellent comparison to rhetoric about gay rights, “The reason to fight homophobia isn’t because ‘you’ve got a gay friend,’ it’s because it’s simply the right thing to do. The reason why a woman is valuable isn’t because she’s someone’s sister, or daughter, or wife, it’s because of the person she is unto herself.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    "Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)

    "Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)

    The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>