All in the family : modern U.S. Presidential campaigns, gender performance, and compensatory heterosexuality

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2013-05
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Smith, Aidan Elizabeth
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2013]
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Abstract
In the United States, an investment in patriarchal leadership has changed little over the course of the past five decades, in spite of the strides made by the second and third wave feminist movements. In an effort to make their personal narratives intelligible to the electorate, a presidential candidate's easily identified position in the nuclear family is essential, and variations are considered a liability. Importantly, these candidates have vigorously worked to demonstrate "compensatory heterosexuality," an unquestionable normative identity that seeks to overcome other challenges to their masculinity. This study focuses on the following elections because of the singularity of the candidate (representing the "first" individual to represent his race or religion) or because of their occurrence during a perceived "crisis of masculinity": the races of the 1950s between Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower; the 1960 contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon; the elections of the 1980s, between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, and Reagan vs. Walter Mondale; and finally Barack Obama and John McCain's 2008 content, and the 2012 election between Obama and Mitt Romney. The study also considers the effects that an investment in patriarchal authority and appropriate masculine gender performance has on women candidates for the presidency; their campaigns have navigated around possible pitfalls of motherhood and domesticity by claiming expertise on domestic and international issues as a direct result of their experiences as mothers and wives. The phenomenon of compensatory heterosexuality is not restricted to conservative candidates, as progressive politics have frequently been furthered by leveraging the tropes of motherhood and fatherhood. This analysis places gender at the center of consideration of presidential campaign communications, revealing that efforts to establish appropriate gender performance have real and lasting impacts on public policy.
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Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2013.
Includes bibliographical references.
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election
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Theses for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (University of Hawaii at Manoa). American Studies.
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