An article in Salon yesterday presented the case for a new petition to the White House, pleading President Obama to “stop using the ‘wives, mothers, & daughters’ rhetorical frame that defines women by their relationships to other people.” According to the Salon piece:
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?
I would say yeah, totally righteous, man — but we’re trying to be inclusive. The petition explains:
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.
For one, while “our wives” indeed seems to be either a use of the royal we or actually an acknowledgement that, when speaking to Congress in the State of the Union, the president was indeed addressing a mostly male audience, a feminist objection to “‘our’ wives et al.” makes little sense. Talking about “daughters” and “sisters” is hardly a manifestation of the patriarchy; he’s no more directly addressing men than women.
And yet far-leftistss like those at Salon still take issue with the idea that the president might dare to view women, or humans, period, as being defined in large part by their relationships with other people — an obstacle to a leftist or progressive conception of the world. A conservative, Aristotelian understanding sees a richly articulated society composed of individuals bound up in multifarious relationships, which combine to help them live with virtue — it matters, for instance, that the president is talking about mothers and daughters, not just women. The problem, of course, is that, despite the president’s diction, this doesn’t seem to be how he sees the world — if he did, his campaign would surely have talked about the “Lives of the Johnsons,” not the “Life of Julia,” and he would not conceive of America’s sole categories of actors being individuals and the state. Over the past year, Yuval Levin has nicely teased out this thread in the president’s words and deeds, describing what a “hollow republic” this would create. American politics, however, apparently remain such that Obama still has to choose rhetoric that belies his actual philosophy and irks leftists in the process — that might be called a hollow victory.
And seriousness aside, this is the least successful petition I have heard of since the White House began the program — at the time Salon published an article about it, it had 716 signatures. It now has 2,016, or about 7 percent of the amount of e-endorsements garnered for building the Death Star.