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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

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Melania as Feminist Rorschach Test

Rethinking assumptions about feminism.

 

February 15, 2017
 
 

I’ve been reading with great interest several articles that are discussing shifts in feminism. Just this weekend, the New York Times Magazine featured a cover story examining Feminism and the Left.

Equally interesting to me is watching how people have been discussing the role of Melania Trump. Since many people know very little about the newest First Lady, they are able to project what they want to believe onto her. The views are filled with contradictions. With some, Melania is a woman trapped in a terrible marriage. Protesters have held signs in front of Trump Tower that encourage her to flash a light if she needs help. Others have looked to her expressions in public in search of signs of any “negative body language,” which may indicate she is distraught or depressed. Melania Memes abound across the Internet, with people offering to save her from her golden prison. The hashtag #FreeMelania  began trending, with people offering, “Blink twice if you need help.”

Others object, from a feminist perspective, to this view of Melania. Just because a woman chooses to be with a man many of us loathe, should we assume she has lost her own power? Some argue it is anti-feminist to position Melania as powerless person solely because we may not agree with her choices or lifestyle. Some disagree with any attempt to “save her,” saying she has made her choices and deserves the criticism that come with them. Others are angry at her choice to not assume the traditional First Lady role, worrying that even the annual Easter egg hunt may not be ready in time. One article points out the irony that it is Melania, who many critique as powerless and lacking a feminist perspective, who may be the one to reject the domestic responsibilities of the position of the First Lady. 

This raises the question about how the Trump election has forced us all to rethink our assumptions about feminism. For some, it means rejecting the Pop Feminism or Marketplace Feminism that is all about showing off our beliefs without acting on them in significant ways. For others, it’s a chance to participate in a march, maybe even with parents or grandparents who were a part of earlier feminist movements. Melania has become someone onto whom we can project our own feminist fantasies, alternatively being a woman who can be saved by feminists or unexpectedly supports feminism by rejecting the traditional First Lady role. Does her reason for her rejection even matter if it changes our expectations of future First Ladies (or First Gentlemen)?

Yet another perspective may be Sara Ruddick’s concept of “maternal thinking.” Perhaps Melania is in the position to potentially influence her husband’s policies regarding women and children. Of course, no one knows whether she is or can perform this role, but this possibility suggests a reason for her to stick around.

I don’t have answers to what, if anything, Melania will do in her new role, and I’m not sure if she will ever have enough influence to matter. However, if her (non-) presence allows us to bring feminist discussions outside of academia and activists and to the dinner table, I’m interested.

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