Lauren Harris

Lauren Harris is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland. She focuses particularly in the field of rhetoric and political culture and her research interests include gender nationalism and rhetorical appeals to the family in political discourse. In 2012, Lauren received her Bachelor's degree from Wittenberg University in Communication, with minors in Political Science and Journalism.

Challenging Power Structures in Politics
Few would likely consider Sarah Palin to be oppressed. Certainly, these high-ranking political women were probably not who Chela Sandoval had in mind when writing Methodology of the Oppressed. However, political women such as Palin do in fact represent a minority group which is often condemned and disparaged.  In 2014, women occupied a mere 18.5 % of seats in the U.S. Congress (Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, 2014). This number may be shocking considering women still outnumber men in the American population; yet this small percentage sets the record for the highest number of females elected to federal office to date.

Women face an uphill battle when contending for a position in the male-dominated field of politics. However, one way, I argue, that political women are attempting (and succeeding) to earn a spot in the “boys club” that is politics is by emphasizing their femaleness at certain moments when doing so may be advantageous. I specifically examine how political women who are also mothers use this maternal role that would ordinarily be viewed as a political disadvantage as a way of demonstrating their superiority in certain circumstances. These women utilize the structures and gender norms already in place to make their arguments for superiority and challenge the political power structure.
Not all circumstances allow for women to effectively challenge these power structures through superiority claims. However, I believe that women are actively choosing specific moments and situations in which these types of superiority claims may be best suited. There are two specific examples which I believe best demonstrate this: women making superior female morality arguments during times of public distrust or disappointment with the current political situation, and women making superior credibility arguments based on maternal experiences in response to particular political issues that are deemed more “feminine.” Though these arguments are steeped in the idea of superiority, I would argue that women must strategically choose specific situations in which these arguments would be most effective. Because of the choices women make as to when they employ these superiority arguments, I argue that Sandoval’s differential mode of oppositional consciousness is a helpful tool in better understanding why these women make these specific choices. The links below offer examples of these types of appeals made by contemporary political women, particularly, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.
Helpful links: (transcript of Sarah Palin’s RNC speech) (Sarah Palin’s Democracy in Action speech) (Transcript of Michele Bachmann at the Republican Primary Debate)

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