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Sarah S.
Undergraduate at Vanderbilt University
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US Government and Politics
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Question:

Does history repeat itself? With regards to presidential campaigns and elections of the U.S., refute or dispute this idea.

Sarah S.
Answer:

History May Not Repeat Itself, but it Often Rhymes: The 2016 and 1960 Presidential Elections "Now they must choose. And they must choose in a primitive and barbaric trial. Although the contest is bloodless, the choice that ends the contest is nonetheless as irrational" (White, 211). Undeniably, the results of the 2016 presidential election shook the very core of what seemed to be the predictability of American politics based on advanced polling data and other fundamental indicators, pulling off a staggering upset, and many claiming it to be "the most unprecedented of political campaigns" (Reston and Collinson 2016). Instead of being disqualified by the perpetuation of hate and bigotry conveyed through vulgar rhetoric, business tycoon and now president-elect Donald Trump marshaled a movement representing the average American's fear of the future, anxiety about the present, and distaste of the relative past. Although the recently elected most powerful man in the free world appeared to have rewritten the rules on how to play the game of presidential campaigns, looking to the past may actually break down the basis of the exceptionality of 2016. Candidates of this election in fact reflect common roles played within American political campaign cycles, resembling an outsider challenging an established insider, such as seen manifest within the 1960 election. Although the particulars of the elections of 1960 and 2016 were both admittedly abnormal, they find commonality in the fact that both were characterized by hard fought campaigns in which the relative outsider, Senator Kennedy in 1960 and Donald Trump in 2016, employed new, revolutionary information technologies in order to reach out to voters, mobilized new voting blocs that ran counter to the perceived status quo of partisanship at the time, and engaged many similar campaign themes including the proposal of the restoration of fallen American glory in order to defeat an "establishment" candidate, Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960 and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. In this sense, the 2016 election cannot be distinguished as highly unique, yet what made it unusual was the unparalleled dramatic change of the role of media enveloping the two candidates, and the intensely divisive, nationalistic, fear-mongering, and authoritarian rhetoric of Donald Trump, which illuminates that although presidential elections may reflect each other in a plethora of ways, this does not in fact exhibit or increase any type of predictability. Although the important issues of each election differed deeply considering the era, the candidates employed eerily similar slogans and messages for their respective campaigns: Trump and Kennedy both engaged the citizenry successfully with their idealistic views of a greater America, while Clinton and Nixon constructed their authority through experience and consistency. In both elections, and especially within the Trump campaign, it can almost be extrapolated that the way they sold themself and presented their message was more important than the real specifics of their stances on public policy issues, and was the key to their success or failure. In 1960, Kennedy was relatively young and inexperienced in comparison to the current vice president, yet he used this to his advantage in shaping the American people's view of him. He prided himself in being religiously tolerant, progressive in civil rights, and consumed with a new way for the future strength and prestige of the country involved with increased interest in the development of science and technology, inciting the American people to vote on emotion and instinct. In his all-purpose speeches, his central claim was that "America cannot stand still; her prestige falls in the world; this is a time of burdens and sacrifice; we must move" (256 White). In this campaign tactic, he compared the past and present, making Americans weigh the consequences of the slipping American way due to the current administration. Similarly, Trump's slogan was "Make America Great Again," encouraging the public to dismiss the current system as inadequate, judge the current sitting president and their political party as incompetent in bettering the country, and establishing that there is in fact a basis from which to yearn and be nostalgic for a time before the sitting political party had control of the country. Trump also presented himself as not just a fresh perspective, but a true outsider who could reflect and represent the sentiment of the average working class American that did not trust politicians, as he was not only independent from the realm of the political structure as an economic industrialist, but denounced the establishment and promised to upset it. On the other hand, in an attempt to separate himself from Eisenhower while still maintaining the support of the large majority of the Republican party and success of the current administration by staying moderate during the primaries, Nixon essentially ran his campaign on the central themes of "Legitimacy" and "Experience," citing his long history as a statesman to prove his worthiness (White 64). He argued against Kennedy's supposed creation of an inferiority complex among the American people, arguing that the U.S. was already second to none, yet the times were too grave to put trust in an inexperienced leader. Clinton struggled to pin down a concise, iconic slogan, which may have been a setback in terms of campaign marketing and branding in order to drive a larger voter or accessible consumer base. However, when she settled on "Stronger Together," she essentially downplayed the gender divide and emphasized her strength in comparison to Trump's masculinity, while stressing the need to heal the rifts in cultural dialogue and assert herself as a progressive candidate continuing the legacy of the Obama administration. Clinton also, like Nixon, highlighted her experience in diplomacy and government, accentuating her public political record as a positive aspect of her potential presidency. Unfortunately, this campaign tactic was inefficient in grasping the hearts and votes of the public, as being extremely qualified with detailed policy plans was neither appreciated nor correctly paid attention to in this moment in time, as swarms of scrutiny and negative press surrounded and picked apart her establishment within the American political system. Both the winning candidates constructed themselves as intensely different from the norm and agents of change, which was proven to be highly successful as they incited passion within a majority of Americans to be upset with the present and almost fearful of a future that did not resemble a fictitious and romanticized past. In both the 1960 and 2016 campaigns, the new innovative technologies of each respective time period were exploited for the success of the winning candidate, shaping the American mind and establishing authority and presence within the political sphere. With the emergence of television as the new source of information and standard in a growing number of American homes, its use in the 1960 election was vital in reaching large amounts of people. The first televised debates occurred in the 1960 election, revolutionary for its time, and the Kennedy campaign was arguably able to use them to its advantage, effectively using the medium of television to reach and extend his voter base. He gained a star-like quality through his television personality, personally likeable and inciting a new kind of enthusiasm for his candidacy through riveting speeches and unrivaled charm. By placing him next to Nixon in the flesh, it instilled a certain type of credibility in JFK's campaign lacking before, leveling the playing field by debunking the myth that Nixon was much more qualified due to his age, as comparably Kennedy carried himself extremely well on television, while Nixon looked tense and disheveled countering in traditional debate style. Spreading exposure of candidates that would originally only reach those who were confirmed in their party preference, the televised debates were only made possible through the temporary suspension of the Equal-Time Rule. This equal opportunity golden rule of broadcasting required equal amounts of time allocated to opposing political candidates who requested it to ensure that the media could not manipulate the outcomes of elections, and the suspension of this conservative way of reporting sparked the way mainstream media began to discuss politics instantaneously. Whereas in 1960, the American media was more conservative in its presentation of both candidates with the information being shared deliberately, we now see today an increase in media outlets, political pundits, a complete overload of information, both correct and incorrect, and harnessing the media is essential to propel a modern campaign into the limelight. This modernization of media aided the candidates in reaching new and changing voter blocs, upsetting historical partisanship through their branding as the means to which the current state of politics would be changed. Increasingly, "where renown cannot be purchased, it can be won only by the high patronage of a favoring national press… or else by the high patronage of a Washington administration that exhibits a man before the nation," instituting that the way into the White House, if not through simply exorbitant amounts of money or party resources and backing, was by courting the press (White 33). The 2016 and 1960 elections both confirmed this, as although media has become extremely less biased and bipartisan and progressively more hostile and dominating, Trump was able to revel in an unprecedented amount of free airtime, exploiting the ability to go viral to spread his campaign messages. Through social media such as Twitter and Facebook, misinformation and large swathes of information travelled insanely fast, including an enormous imbalance of negative press thrown at Secretary Clinton, building momentum and outstanding fervor, creating large scale national debate within the confines of a computer screen. Trump was able to give a voice to a silent voter bloc, albeit through hateful bigotry and an "it doesn't matter what they think of me" mindset, shifting the conventional views of partisanship to ignite a controversial fire across the nation. He rallied support through impractical promises and conspiratorial attitudes, denouncing the establishment in favor of the common man. Using his reality show antics and personality, he captured the attention of many disenfranchised voters. Similarly, Kennedy was able to apply himself to a large voter base, although through very different rhetoric. Targeting a hidden giant within suburbia, as well as asserting himself as a progressive, religiously tolerant, civil rights activist, Kennedy was able to bridge the growing chasms within voter demographics, somehow reaching both White and Black voters, as well as Catholics and Protestants, divisions which had historically been separated among the political parties. He, like Trump, was able to put his romanticized view of the government bettering citizen's lives at the forefront of his campaign, making voters decide between personal faith and kinship, and an idealistic national image upsetting the status quo. Within the American political system of elections, one must acknowledge the multitude of externalities that complicates the predictability of campaigns. Economic factors, relative success of the current government, and polling data led the nation to believe that a continuation of power would remain in the major party's administration. In a close race, Americans proved their discontent with the status quo, yearning for some sort of dramatic shift, and in 2016 this discourse was seeped with unprecedented negativity targeted at marginalized groups, immigrants, and the fundamentals of progressive culture. In this election, president-elect Donald Trump's rhetoric has validated this bigotry and hatred, illustrating that although it is not unusual to seek some sort of change agent with promises of a greater nation, the pervasiveness of the changing American press allowed an abuse of the media, creating an unwarranted barrage of opinions and personal biases. The mainstream media will increasingly influence the ever-changing political sentiment of the American people, as negativity continues to suffocate the process. Although the controversy and connotation surrounding each candidate was completely different, Trump and Kennedy were both able to employ an anti-establishment campaign message infused with passion and emotion that dwarfed the qualifications of the insider candidate through new information technologies to empower voter blocs to shift in their favor, proving that while this election may have been extraordinarily personal, negative, emotionally driven and unpredictable, its structure was not in fact unique. Works Cited Reston, M. & Collinson, S. (2016, November 9). How Donald Trump won. CNN. Retrieved November 14, 2016 from http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/09/politics/donald-trump-wins-election-2016/index.html White, T. H. (1961). The Making of a President 1960. New York: Harper Collins.

Gender Studies
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Question:

Respond to Robert McRuer's article, "Compulsory Able-bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence". How can disability studies be used to discuss gender and sexuality discrimination?

Sarah S.
Answer:

A ridiculous cyclical existence of impossibility has been produced in our society, in which an illustrious normalcy is never achievable yet always strived for, and not reaching the impractical standard reinforces the behavior to keep struggling to fit a square peg in a round hole. This hegemonic construction has implications on our everyday lives, reaching into things as personal as a bathroom choice forcing a gender binary divide, or coming to accept that there is a certain kind of body that is somehow better or more important than another, and should have easier access to or be favored in these public spaces. McRuer's piece offers a valid argument that the oppressive institution of compulsory able-bodiedness is a result of an overarching and longstanding problem of cultural consensual coercion. However, certain communities have banded together in their rejection of the norm in order to fight head on the aspects of society that "mark" identities that don't fall into the hegemonic dominant group, as seen in the case of the creation of PISSAR, challenging the impulse to ignore the uncomfortable. In the chapter "Compulsory Able-bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence" by Robert McRuer, the author compares compulsory able-bodiedness to compulsory heterosexuality, as they are interwoven results of a deeply rooted patriarchal system. To start, the hierarchical partiality to heterosexuality cannot exist without is opposite (and inherent lesser) - homosexuality. Although sexuality is discussed in modern Western culture as a "choice" or "preference," if it is engrained into the young American child that the dream to strive for is the picture painted so long ago of a heterosexual marriage with two kids and a white picket fence in suburban utopia, and everything else that is equated with normalcy, then is there ever really a choice? This is the basis behind a compulsion towards a certain dominant identity, dividing sexuality preference into something that is considered a natural phenomenon or order of things, and "everything else," so that there really is no not stigmatized alternative. Society as a whole accepts the ideals and common held beliefs of the dominant, and in this case privileged, "normal" defining group. As the late theorist Antonio Gramsci would argue, we are equally at fault for our part in this system, as we are consensually coerced into our own subordination to this dominant group, changing aspects of the self and identity in order to conform. Returning to those who comprise the dominant group, those who define the identities that encompass our beautifully diverse society hold an enormous amount of power, for labeling in of itself is bound with a multitude of problems involved in creating meaning and the inextricable links to the surrounding issues. For example, in defining "masculinity," detangling an ideal (which could be different according to race, gender, or sexuality) from its definition is almost impossible, and brings about the question of who gets to decide how masculine one could be, or who gets to express masculinity. A hierarchy is formed in this sense, where those that can meet the ideal are held in higher regard than those who choose to or by chance deviate from the norm. In regards to disabled persons, an identity that is definitely anything other than fully chosen, it is nearly impossible to define disability without comparison to what a perfectly abled body looks like. And in recognizing "the human body is a machine" (McRuer 2013, 490) which can easily be broken so that we are all really temporarily able bodied, creating public spaces that favor only this elite of perfection seems illogical. In reclaiming the identity of disability and separating from the institution of normalcy, such as labeling oneself "severely disabled" as McRuer suggests, compulsory ablebodiedness is called out, and this community establishes that it will no longer be dismissed. Creating movements that continuously invoke the issue, furthering this crisis, and widen and make it more evident that there are inadequate resolutions to the problem of normalcy will help to, as McRuer states, remap, reshape and reimagine the limited "normal" forms of embodiment of sexuality and ability within the crushing system (494). One example of a highly successful movement yet slow to revolutionize nationally is the fight for safe and accessible restrooms. In "Calling All Restroom Revolutionaries!" the authors make a point to emphasize that this may be something no one wants to talk about, but the intersectionality of the endeavor is important to break compulsive normalcy and to lift communities out of polarization to focus on this basic human necessity. The restroom itself is a metaphor for these other systems of oppression: no one wants to talk about what goes on in there, not only because it makes people uncomfortable with its bluntness and foulness (literally and figuratively), but because we have been taught fundamentally not to bring it to conversation. And although the latter causes a whole other plethora of other issues, including violence against genderqueer, things don't get fixed because they aren't talked about openly in the mainstream media. In the process, those who are inadvertently persecuted by binary-enforcing, able body-enabling bathrooms tend to hold on to the ounces of what they consider to fit the "normal" in their identity in order to lessen the feeling of ostracization. Not only is this wrong intrinsically, putting pressure on the individual to find ways to conform in other ways to the ideal of normalcy, but it is divisive to the creation of organizations and communities trying to fix a societal issue from the ground up, no mater how small or localized their efforts are. And how are these issues supposed to be fixed if the victims of the oppressive institution are at a disadvantage to start with? Ironically, the terms "queer" and "disability" could almost be used in each other's metaphors to describe the extent to which identifying under these labels is considered a disadvantage. While there may be open lines of communication about these seemingly taboo problems within these communities already, cohesive and effective organization is needed to become public, no matter how uncomfortable the topic may be. Although this does bring about the concern of establishing a "correct" way to advocate and conquer a diverse and intricate web of issues, acknowledging that there is an invisible structure in place that demands a common ideal of normalcy is the first step in backing away from it. So what is the trouble with normal? First of all, those who set the norm have the privilege to do so, whether they realize this privilege or not. Also, setting a "normal" establishes that "everything else" is somehow inherently different or abnormal, creating a negative juxtaposition in which society attaches a bias against those perceived to fall on the "wrong" side of the line. When we are forced to look at the world and the public sphere through the eyes of what is considered to be normal, whether we ourselves individually can actually claim normalcy or not, we automatically ostracize and make living life harder for anyone who falls outside the highly unattainable box. And if you're not normal, then you're nothing, in which case everything falls away, from health care to legal benefits to the freedom to walk into a bathroom without being questioned or judged or threatened. We strip someone of their humanity and basic rights by falling prey to a hegemonic cultural regime, by being ignorant and naïve, or maybe just plain close-minded. Whether it is access to safe and inclusive restrooms, or having the freedom to decide your own sexuality or gender preference, and to not be discriminated against or considered different because of it, removing a compulsory normalcy from our societal structure is the only way to repair the damage done by the pathologization of identity. Works Cited Chess, Simone, Alison Kafer, Jessi Quizar, and Mattie Udora Richardson. 2017. "Calling All Restroom Revolutionaries!" In Everyday Women and Gender Studies: Introductory Concepts, edited by Braithwaite, Ann, and Catherine M. Orr, 485-492. New York: Routledge. McRuer, Robert. 2013. "Compulsory Able-bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence." In The Routledge Queer Studies Reader, edited by Hall, Donald & Annamarie Jagose, 488-497. New York: Routledge.

English
TutorMe
Question:

In a close reading of Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, analyze the ways in which the author uses gender to create her utopia society.

Sarah S.
Answer:

Charlotte Perkins Gilman creates a humane social order within Herland, in which its careful existence is dependent upon the continuation and idolization of Motherhood and a divine sisterhood. She seems to create a complete utopia, shattering all preconceived notions of the 19th century view of women as incapable of leading a successful society. The novel unravels the traditional assumptions of traits intrinsically tied to the biologically feminine and a woman's role in the home. These traits are repositioned from only being valued in the domestic sphere to completely defining and establishing a highly effective communal social and political-economic system. Although motherhood and sisterhood are seen to be cooperative parts working together within the same domestic realm, they actual work in opposition in the creation of a utopic population that has become obsessed with the maternal drive for increasing generational progress and perfection. Gilman's creation of a society that sanctifies universal motherhood and shapes its societal ways and norms around its preservation inherently prevents the achievement of the ideal of cooperative sisterhood and complete social equality. Within the novel, Gilman has created a population completely devoid of men that values the perpetuation of the collective good and health, while entirely forgoing actual individual motherhood and sacrificing the right to choose. The women of Herland have an almost religious view toward motherhood, sanctifying the decisions they make and basing their choices off of quality of life they desire for, as one Herlander put it, "our children" (72). In this way, the universalization of childrearing within their society has created a culture in which each woman is expected to sacrifice her individual right to choose and prioritize the species, where advancing and caring for the children communally is a "dominant note of their whole culture" (60) that all women are actively concerned with. As each woman is only allowed to have one child, they give up a certain amount of autonomy within their seemingly individualistic lives, selflessly going "without a certain range of personal joy" (72). After learning about these population-curbing techniques while having the discussion about the history of Herland, Van realizes that this extremely thoughtful and well-considered plan of action is not just confined to the present community structure. He states "they were Mothers, not in our sense of helpless involuntary fecundity, forced to […] overfill the land […] and then see their children suffer, […] but in the sense of Conscious Makers of People […] it was National, Racial, and Human" (69). In this way, Van comes to understand that their logic is based in providing a comfortable life for all those who live within their land presently, yet are also aware of a religious timelessness regarding their choices now for the future of the race. This illuminates that the women of Herland are supremely conscious of how their decisions to fulfill the role of motherhood are not just making a single "pink bundle of fascinating babyhood" but multiple bundles, all working together as a cohesive unit, "Making People" (70). They were not mothers whose contributions were bound to their single child, and were responsibly aware that "their time sense was not limited to the hopes and ambitions of an individual life" (80). Within Herland, each woman's universal role as a mother was to contribute to the communal well being of her society while perpetuating the deeply rooted survivalist tradition of an eternal cycle of self-sacrifice. The Herlanders have consciously derived socialist ideals from maternal care, creating a public welfare system based on cooperative sisterhood. As they descend from one common mother whose memory they venerate, they have not just the historically rooted survival need to emphasize a cooperative public and private sphere, but they are quite literally all sisters: "One family, all descended from one mother!" (58). In this way, instead of regarding cooperation to reflect the individual interests of each society member and how they may find balance within the culture, Gilman creates a socioeconomic order in which the women think in terms of what is best for the "holy sisterhood" (59), eliminating a class system and solidifying social equality. Within the novel, the social Darwinism of the American economic system is contrasted with the way in which the women of Herland accentuate a "sister-love" (59), yet the three outsiders are not convinced by the value of this system. Compared with the highly competition oriented capitalist society that the outsiders came from, the maternalistically driven structure of progress and cultivation contradicts every value of the industrial boom of the 19th century. Just as mothers work for their children without an outside stimulus, there was no need for economic rivalry, especially when it came to their common future: "They were sisters, and as they grew, they grew together - not by competition, but by united action." (61). This manifests itself in the daily enjoyment of work as it contributes to the shared rather than personal wellbeing, and thus no one questioned the system. The cooperative sisterhood structure derived from the sanctity of childrearing above all else has led to the creation of an ideal of social equality and therefore a communal economic system. Within the novel, as the Herlanders strive to push forward into their worshipped and common "great Future" (61), the desire for constant societal self-improvement through forthcoming generations has become an obsession wrought with eugenics tactics resulting in an unacknowledged social hierarchy, contradicting the utopic ideals derived from universal motherhood. Once the women established the one child policy as a population curbing technique, the women set out "to make better ones" (111), letting this drive every aspect of society, and sometimes inherently contrasting the ideal of equality. While priding themselves in having "no kings, no priests, and no aristocracies" (61) within their structure, they did in fact have cultural class organization. Those women that were worthy of the "very highest reward and honor in the power of the State," whether they be the educators or intellectuals, were "encouraged to bear more than one child" (70). Gilman goes on to use the term "aristocracy" again when referring to these women, denoting them as "Over Mothers" (70), and essentially creating a hierarchy of motherhood derived from wanting the very best next generation, implementing a restricted positive eugenics tradition. Although fundamentally omitting the subject of who has the power to make these decisions, the women also enlighten the outsiders on their method of "breed[ing] out […] the lowest types" in order to eliminate the bad qualities and strive for their "standard of perfection" (83) in their children even before improving them through the highly intellectualized education process. This inherently leaves some of the race, those considered unfavorable, at the bottom, generating a need for negative eugenic processes to quietly and peacefully eradicate their existence. Although Herland cherishes motherhood to its very core, the way in which the community chooses to promote the future of its society chips away at complete social equality. Although Gilman seems to have broken the contemporary definition of what it means to be a progressive civilization, removing men and competition to create a utopic society, the universalization of motherhood as it seeps into every aspect of society directly prevents reaching the ideal of complete social equality. She inadvertently creates a class system based in the hierarchy of motherhood, imposed by the deeply rooted trait of self-sacrifice. By having this traditionally domestic trait of motherhood govern the direction of the entire society, favoring the future over the present, she fails to demonstrate a completely equal social structure without faults.

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