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Web culture's revolutionary celebration of powerful female leaders
July 13, 2014 6:14 AM   Subscribe

"The ability to present women like [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg, [Hillary] Clinton and [Wendy] Davis as bone-crushingly robust yet simultaneously appealing, revered—practically adorable!—in their rugged severity, is a crucial expansion of the American imagination with regard to powerful women." (via librarina)
We do not have a proud track record of flattering female ambition or strength. Short a handful of super-heroines... we have rarely been able to put a positive spin on the kinds of women who present an intellectual, economic, professional, or political threat to entrenched male power. Throughout history, we have acknowledged male strength, especially in its seniority, as serious and authoritative. Older women, on the other hand, have existed mostly as nanas, bubbes! Those sturdy, ambitious souls who also staked claims to public eminence were cast as problematic; tough ladies who no longer slide easily into Lycra are ball-busters, nut-crackers, and bitches.

Overriding these entrenched assumptions has been nearly impossible, even in the hundred years since women have had the vote, and in the sixty years since the feminist revolution of the '70s. Recall that just six years ago, there was simply no popular script available to positively convey then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s identity as a strong and ambitious politician...

Now, mercifully—finally—young people who are creating a new vocabulary, a library of visual and aural iconography that warmly appreciates female power in not just its nubile, but also its senior, its brainy, its furious, and its professionally brawny forms... The difference is between a consolidated media—television networks, newspapers and magazines controlled by older, usually male, usually white gate-keepers—and the democratized, raucous communicative organ that is the internet, in which a diverse rabble of young people make their own messages.

...Ironically—given assumptions about the unbridgeability of generation gaps—these expressions of admiration also lend their subjects a shimmer of juvenescence. Young people see in these women a youth to which the mainstream commentariat is often blind to.
Harvard Business Review: The Power of a Woman with a Meme - "The people who comprise women’s social networks are more than just strangers on the internet — women trust their online friends and followers. Seventy-seven percent of women active on social media now turn to blogs for information. Women are influencing each other’s decisions through non-stop conversations on social media. In the 2012 elections, these conversations helped organize women against Republican candidates like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and Mitt Romney."

*Trendhunter: Viral Feminism - Women's rights take over the Internet through memes and blogs
*The Independent: Why the feminist movement needs to use comedy if it wants to win people over

The American Prospect: Hillary Clinton's New Image: Cool Grandma. Can She Maintain It? - "Clinton was suddenly willing to poke fun at herself. That was a huge shift. She acknowledged in a way she didn’t in 2008 that her image had a life of its own, one she could play with. She was clearly aided, or at least schooled, in social media and textspeak by younger staffers..."
posted by flex (38 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
... it is so typical American notto see Women like the Iron Lady and Angela Merkel. Web Culture seems obviously only to happen in the US of A?
posted by homodigitalis at 6:40 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Hillary has always struck me as creepy... like Romney or Cheney. She jumped the shark when she didn't divorce Bill and/or just admit they have an arraignment.
posted by MikeWarot at 6:41 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


admit they have an arraignment

This might be the best typo of the week, if not month.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:45 AM on July 13 [28 favorites]


I typed it... hit submit.. and almost went back to fix it... but yeah... it is better that way. ;)
posted by MikeWarot at 6:47 AM on July 13


She jumped the shark when she didn't divorce Bill and/or just admit they have an arraignment.

(Ignoring the typo and assuming you meant "arrangement") I don't know; publicly admitting to a non-monogamous lifestyle (which I'm convinced is the case, even if it's just to accommodate Bill's philandering) would have been political suicide for the both of them. America just isn't ready for that.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:48 AM on July 13 [15 favorites]


Eh, non-monogamous relationships between powerful couples like that are so common as to be unremarkable, also anyone whose on the road a lot. I'm more of an Iraq War Vote hard liner.
posted by The Whelk at 7:06 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


No matter what you think of either Clinton, she would hardly be the first person to hang around when nobody gets why she hangs around, even without any sort of "arrangement."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:06 AM on July 13 [23 favorites]


I truly don't understand why anyone thinks they are entitled to know the details of the Clintons' marital arrangements. Seriously: how is it any of your business?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:12 AM on July 13 [47 favorites]


[Perhaps folks could consider not jumping straight into how much you dislike [POWERFUL FEMALE LEADER] or making this all about the Clintons' sex life? Maybe read and comment on the links in the post?]
posted by taz at 7:16 AM on July 13 [20 favorites]


... it is so typical American notto see Women like the Iron Lady and Angela Merkel. Web Culture seems obviously only to happen in the US of A?

No, they're ignored because both Thatcher and Merkel have explicitly rejected feminism.

With Thatcher, in particular, you have the problem of her vehement rejection of contemporary feminism. In a 1982 speech, she declared, ““I owe nothing to women's lib. [...] The battle for women’s rights has been largely won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone forever. And I hope they are." That same year, she remarked to her adviser Paul Johnson that "The feminists hate me, don't they? And I don't blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison."

Merkel, too, responded negatively when asked if she was a feminist back in 2013: "A feminist, not. Perhaps an interesting case of a woman in power, but no feminist. Real feminists would be offended if I described myself as one." However, her positions on women's issues are more like those of equality feminism. It probably doesn't help that her party is explicitly Christian, when Christianity in much of the world tends towards fundamentalisms that oppose women's rights...even rights which Merkel and her party support.
posted by kewb at 7:19 AM on July 13 [16 favorites]


It also doesn't help Merkel's case that Germany has one of the worst gender pay gaps in Western Europe and Merkel herself has explicitly argued that pay disparities are a matter for individual women to take up with individual employers rather than what she terms "forced measures" the close the gap: "Go to your boss with self confidence and say: 'This has to change!' Merkel also gets some blame within Germany for effectively rolling back some of the more gender-egalitarian labor laws of the DDR.
posted by kewb at 7:26 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


You know who else led Germany and wasn't a feminist?
posted by spitbull at 8:01 AM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Karl Dönitz?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:06 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Wilhelm II?
posted by valkane at 8:08 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


Bruno Ganz? It's Bruno Ganz, right?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:11 AM on July 13 [8 favorites]


... it is so typical American notto see Women like the Iron Lady and Angela Merkel. Web Culture seems obviously only to happen in the US of A?

Well, this is also largely about the tumblr/twitter affect, so I'm not sure why Thatcher would have much of a presence there. I guess the 80's analogue would be the punk zine scene, and it's my understanding that those people had plenty to say about Thatcher and her image.
posted by Think_Long at 8:15 AM on July 13 [5 favorites]


Back to the links in the FPP, as a resident of Georgia, I really appreciated being able to follow Wendy Davis's filibuster in Austin in realtime through the internet and continuing to follow her on social media. Nothing like what she did last summer has ever happened in the Georgia state legislature (or really in the US legislature, either), and I find her actions and those of her supporters incredibly inspiring. I am totally okay with the memification of her actions if that means more people will hear about them. (and yes, I am friends with her on Facebook)
posted by hydropsyche at 8:19 AM on July 13 [6 favorites]


Women in Europe are not experiencing the same all-out assault on their rights that we are here, to my knowledge. A lot of the fuel for this fire comes from that. These memes are all about power. Which women here are repeatedly being denied or having threatened.
posted by emjaybee at 8:21 AM on July 13 [3 favorites]


I'm totally good with the memes. I feel like they are subtly empowering. Like, "this politician/judge/leader" is worthy of being acknowledged as a badass, oh, and also, lady.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:50 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


I just wanted to say that the lead article on this post is so, so good, and I really hope folks read it top to bottom.

Great post.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:03 AM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Great post. I enjoyed the texts from Hilary all over again, and yes, for exactly the strong woman reasons mentioned in the TFA. I remember Binders of Women that grew from Romney's debate blunder.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 9:38 AM on July 13


Yes, I had a great time revisiting the Texts from Hillary all in one place and time. They're even funnier that way than they were as they came out one at a time. And it's SO FUCKING REFRESHING to see anything that celebrates a women's intelligence,competence,and attitude first without sex appeal being the price of entry before those things can even be considered.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:15 PM on July 13 [8 favorites]


... it is so typical American notto see Women like the Iron Lady and Angela Merkel. Web Culture seems obviously only to happen in the US of A?

Or Indira Gandhi? Or Dilma Rousseff? Whoops, those are colonies, not the colonizers, guess they don't count.
posted by indubitable at 1:37 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]


Seriously: how is it any of your business?
Because her entire Political CVR in 2000 was in the unelected, unappointed, extremely sexist title of "First Lady". (And I personally suffered from her failure in the role of shepherding Health Care Reform in 1993-4) It took until the end of her run as Secretary of State for me to consider her as potentially more qualified for the Top Job than those male Senators she ran against in 2008. (Still, I'm more WARREN2016)

And I tend to oppose "Political Dynasty" families of any party affiliation. Yeah, I thought John Quincy Adams was America's first Big Mistake.

Now Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Yeah, I've long felt the Supreme Court needed a "Jewish Mother" figure, and I hope she somehow (as small as the odds may be) gets a few years as Chief Justice, just to keep those Catholics in line. (yeah, now I'm getting into Religion).
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:55 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]


I'm mostly just thrilled to see RBG getting the respect/appreciation she so rightly deserves. More of this please.

Also does Warren have a meme yet? She definitely has the popularity and chops for one.
posted by likeatoaster at 2:10 PM on July 13 [2 favorites]


Julia Gillard and Penny Wong, both Australian, have gone viral online for publicly fighting against misogyny.
posted by divabat at 3:41 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Seriously: how is it any of your business?

Because the way people treat their spouses can be expected to be mirrored in how they will treat us. If they lie to their spouses, they are likely to lie to us as well.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:53 PM on July 13


The inverse of this trend is pretty ugly though; when people want to attack high-profile women with memes, they very quickly turn to ugly misogyny.

It is not just the right that does this (see 'Citizens United' for too many examples of this), but look at memey photos attacking Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin and there is a bunch of ugliness.

That being said, the positive memes from the OP are pretty awesome, so yay!
posted by el io at 9:34 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


Because the way people treat their spouses can be expected to be mirrored in how they will treat us. If they lie to their spouses, they are likely to lie to us as well.

By this standard, in the 20th and 21st centuries the "cheating liars who mistreat the public" column would include Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, FDR, Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, George Herbert Walker Bush, and Bill Clinton.

The "committed to monogamy within marriage, therefore likely honest" column would include Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Harry S Truman, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Neither list seems to have much predictive power; both have their share of liars and (relatively) honest people, good presidents and bad. Arguably, of course, no President is wholly honest with the nation; not only is it a job involving state security and diplomacy, it's also a job sought by career politicians.

(Bear in mind that pretty much *every* president has some unsubstantiated rumors floating around about affairs.)
posted by kewb at 4:28 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


The inverse of this trend is pretty ugly though; when people want to attack high-profile women with memes, they very quickly turn to ugly misogyny.

And this misogyny is deeply unfair, in that a high-achieving/high-profile woman who cannot be attacked by stereotyping her in terms of "weak" or "wild" femininity is instead attacked for her supposed "unwomanliness."
posted by kewb at 4:31 AM on July 14


kewb : Merkel, too, responded negatively when asked if she was a feminist back in 2013: "A feminist, not. Perhaps an interesting case of a woman in power, but no feminist. Real feminists would be offended if I described myself as one."

A fascinating political answer. "I'm not a feminist!" is almost required, if one chooses to answer at all, simply because of the (probably largely) negative political weight of that word - while simultaneously almost all female politicians are clearly feminists, and arguably all of them are 100% behind (at least) the empowerment feminism has given them (which is what makes all those right-wing female politicians so especially galling).

But she didn't exactly say that. She said, "A real feminist would be offended if I described myself as one," which draws parallels with "I'm no hero; the guys who ___ are the real heroes" that is the stereotypical response of medal-winning warriors.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:53 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Feminism really needs a rebranding or something. The word has been ascribed a bunch of unfortunate connotations that people confuse with its primary meaning.
posted by bleep at 12:45 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


MeTa.
posted by homunculus at 1:10 PM on July 14


I think I've been struck most by how much of womens' harnessing of memes, support of each other, etc... comes as a result of widespread insults and abuse toward prominent women figures - or women in general, rather than the other way around.

I have to admit, for a long time I had assumed that a woman became Noticed, she faced censure and abuse from all sides, and she either cracked or didn't crack. A lot of different aspects of social media showed me a new alternative - a woman becomes prominent, becomes abused, and an entire community begins to rally around her.

This seems to be taking root even for involuntarily-prominent women. The recent experience of Jada and how she has become a twitter/tumblr rallying point around which people are mobilizing and making a stand is a real shift in public sentiment around rape and blaming rape victims. I don't think it would exist without all of these casual communities, where information flows out exponentially over time, and the collective rage of another rape exacerbated by local celebration of the rape and the rapists.

In addition, I know I'm not the only feminist who was deeply disturbed by sexism among the left in regards to prominent women like Sarah Palin, Angela Merkel, and Ann Coulter. I like how much we're beginning to support feminist women because it means we can defend non-feminist ones, too, without seeming like we're ignoring "our own side". I may dislike various things about the politics of all three women, but not of them deserve sexist insults and abuse.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:09 PM on July 14 [3 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: "I truly don't understand why anyone thinks they are entitled to know the details of the Clintons' marital arrangements. Seriously: how is it any of your business?"

oneswellfoop: "Because her entire Political CVR in 2000 was in the unelected, unappointed, extremely sexist title of "First Lady". (And I personally suffered from her failure in the role of shepherding Health Care Reform in 1993-4) It took until the end of her run as Secretary of State for me to consider her as potentially more qualified for the Top Job than those male Senators she ran against in 2008.

That doesn't justify holding her husband's philandering against her. Having a protracted history of disliking Hillary Clinton in no way justifies your interest in the Clintons' sexual arrangements. Is your thinking that she would have vanished from politics, to the benefit of the nation, if only she'd divorced the President? Because that's pretty circuitous logic, and a really weird thing to hold a grudge about.

Now Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Yeah, I've long felt the Supreme Court needed a "Jewish Mother" figure, and I hope she somehow (as small as the odds may be) gets a few years as Chief Justice, just to keep those Catholics in line. (yeah, now I'm getting into Religion)."

Reducing Justice Ginsburg to "a Jewish Mother figure" is repellent and demeaning.
posted by gingerest at 11:18 PM on July 14 [12 favorites]


You know, it always surprises me how many people, especially Conservatives, and especially Christians, both of which groups give a lot of lip service to lifetime commitment to marriage, and the latter of which preaches forgiveness as one of the most important strengths and virtues humans can possess, still condemn Senator Clinton so thoroughly and so virulently for choosing to forgive her husband and work on their marriage instead of give up and DTMFA.

Before the Clintons had their marriage troubles, barring cases of physical abuse, I had quite literally never heard anything but unqualified praise and support for a wife who tried to save her marriage. My mind still boggles every time I hear it STILL held against her after all these years, because it’s something I’ve never, ever heard directed at any other woman.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:57 AM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Wow, oneswellfoop, you didn't just "get into religion"; you managed to reduce a Supreme Court Justice to a sexist, antisemitic stereotype.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:54 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. The Notorious R.B.G. tumblr was a lot of fun. (And, yeah, this does seem to reflect some kind of cultural shift.)
posted by nangar at 8:57 AM on July 16


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