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She's my country, I think I'll keep her

Travis Daub over at the Foreign Policy Passport notes that John McCain loves Lady Liberty. He makes a terrific point about the candidate’s rhetorical reference to our nation in the feminine:

First, using "her" shows McCain as a traditionalist. He talks about great causes the way a founding father might have spoken. And second, McCain establishes himself as a paternal figure: a man who has the power to protect, honor and provide for a woman—when that woman just happens to be the USA. It's a subtle way to imply that a woman would not be able to do the same job as president as a man. Certainly, it would sound strange for Hillary Clinton to refer to America as "her." In this way, McCain can covertly raise the gender issue without ever sounding overtly sexist.

I often claim that we should teach rhetoric at the high school level. This is one example of a case where it’s fairly difficult to explain what’s going on to people who don’t know anything at all about rhetoric. After all, why shouldn’t Senator McCain refer to America as she. It really is the traditional way. And it is. And if it comes off as sexist in some indirect way, surely that’s just the inevitable baggage of the tradition, and besides, isn’t a big deal anyway.

There’s nothing necessarily nefarious about his choice. After all, he is the Conservative candidate (at least he is the more Conservative candidate), and if his language indicates Conservatism, he will be indicating Conservatism in a variety of other ways as well, including the name of his Party. It’s not dishonest. It’s not a dog whistle.

But it does have connotations that aren’t necessarily obvious to the hearer, and that contribute to the vague impressions that are, after all, what most of us take away from political speeches. The more people who know something about rhetoric and how it works, the more people who understand that there are deliberate choices to connote those things, the less vague those impressions will be.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Thinking of the nation as gendered provides a different perspective on the reasons she's not been willing to break up with an abusive regime despite the unhappiness and random violence.

I had a point to make, and then I came and read Michael's comment, and now I'm all sad and I can't remember what I had to say.


apparently nobody knows why ships and such are feminine in the first place. my guess would be that it always turns out useful for boys to think of material they're working with their hands as female, to bring out tenderness and sensitivity they can't harness dealing with boys. it's hard for me to think of modern conservatives working from that principle.

Oh, actually, that was my point. That nobody expects conservatives to be anything other than crypto-racist/crypto-sexist asswipes, and that works in their favor, 'cause they can get away with asswipery and the nation shrugs it off. Liberals are held to a much higher standard, where liberalism is concerned.

Perhaps unsurprisingly.


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