The Female Slave and The Female Politician: An observation on the power struggle

“If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse. That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave… [B]ut many slaves feel it most acutely, and I shrink from the memory of it”(Jacobs 437).

I believe this quote is essential when introducing this specific blog post. I believe I am about to make a few ambiguous claims, but still claims that recognize a modern day “female slave rhetoric”. First, I will clarify what precisely I mean by “female slave rhetoric”. In Jacobs’ quote stated above, I claim that the “female slave rhetoric” is directly rooted from a framework that desires to demean an invalidate a (specifically) female slave. This specific discourse as Jacobs states forces the female slave to “shrink”. This specific discourse uses the very bodily attributes that make up a woman against her very existence.  Which Jacobs infers when discussing the plight a female slave incurs when beautiful.

On beauty: Jacobs explicitly states that beauty incurs recognition from the master which he in turn uses the female slave’s very beauty a curse due to his imposed agency. Jacobs depicts an inverse relationship between the power struggle and physical attributes. Female slaves endure exceptional adversity specifically because of gender, but an added adversity because of image.

With these comments on the relationship between the power struggle and beauty that Jacob poses, this relationship can be clearly identified in present day American politics. First, it can be observed how beauty can be used to invalidate an individual. The prime example for this year’s 2016 Presidential election is the Trump-Fiorina fiasco. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stated:

‘ “Look at that face,” said Trump, the GOP front-runner. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” ‘ (Trump, 2015).

Immediately it can be recognized that in a power struggle Trump uses physical attributes of a female candidate to evaluate and invalidate her legitimacy. At the time multiple male candidates were still running for the Republican  Presidential nomination. With this in mind, the question must be begged as to why Trump did not demean his fellow male Republican counterparts with the same physical degradation as he did to Fiorina. We may never know why Trump specifically chose to invalidate Fiorina based on her physical appearance (though previous circumstances has incriminated him in relationship to women, inferring a sexist stance), it can be observed that Fiorina was indeed targeted for her beauty (or lack there of) that might not have been the case had she been a man.

‘ According to Fox News, Fiorina continued her comebacks after her speech, telling the news outlet, “I know when someone’s flirting with me.”

Fiorina didn’t simply focus her speech on Trump, though.

She discussed the double standards women face in the workplace, and recounted a time she was called a “token bimbo” at work.

Women should not be marginalized, she argued.

“I personally am so tired of hearing about women’s issues,” Fiorina told the crowd. “All issues are women’s issues.”

It’s a message that has increasingly resonated with in recent weeks. ‘( The Hill, 2015).

Two things can doubly be observed about Fiorina’s remarks. First, she addresses her own adversities as a woman and second, how the female power struggle involves a physical hurdle as well as a sensual one. Hegemonic masculinity was perpetrated through discourse and action towards the female slaves (Jacobs herself) and continues to perpetrate American politics (female candidates).

Work Cited:

Bennett, Corey. Fiorina Fires Back ‘I am Proud of Every wrinkle. The Hill: 12 September    2015.


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6 Responses to The Female Slave and The Female Politician: An observation on the power struggle

  1. amcorell says:

    It’s unfortunate that women face larger struggles in our society. I’d say that in a heteropatriarchial society, part of keeping men above is keeping women below. It’s also unfortunate that a woman like Fiorina would brush aside women’s issues by saying “All issues are women’s issues” because it downplays specific problems in society that women are largely subject to. It’s kind of like the gendered equivalent to “all lives matter.” Also, it’s possible that her being a “token bimbo” shows how much a woman should adopt herself being away from her gender, making “token” the best way to get ahead in her career. Of course I don’t know her, but it’s pretty disgusting that after all that she achieved, she would still find herself having her gender and looks used against her while running for president.

  2. I want to start by saying that this election is a precious case-study for anybody interested in gender politics, with the first female candidate of a major party in the United States, and what that brings with it in term of gender discrimination. I myself am paying close attention to the language used in the political discourse during this election cycle. I think that men ought to recognize the privileges they enjoy in a society set up for their favor, because I believe that allies must utilize their privilege to uplift disenfranchised groups.
    Your example -Fiorina- is spot on because she has faced gendered aggression in both the political and private realms where womxn are kept under through a solid glass-sealing, which must be broken in order to achieve an inclusive citizenship.

  3. Rebecca Smith says:

    This topic, I find, is incredibly prevalent in society as it operates today. It is clear to me, as a woman, that in almost every way, a woman is to be everything, but not too much of any of those things. She better be pretty, or else people will say she is masculine and ugly, but she can’t be too pretty or else she is self-centered and dumb. She should be interested in “feminine” things, like makeup and dresses otherwise she is a butch and is lazy, but if she is too interested in those things, she is vain and materialistic. If she doesn’t know much about a “masculine” subject, like cars, she is “just another stupid woman”, but should she know too much about it, she does it purely for the attention. Women in American society have never been able to be anything, or nothing, without facing harsh judgement over it. This election is no exception. Hillary has, as well as other professional women involved in any aspect of the election, faced scrutiny based on physical appearances. Furthermore, Clinton is consistently questioned over the sexual-history of her husband. She is put down because she is married to a man who is claimed to have sexually harassed various women in the past. Her opponent, Trump, has those same claims being made against him for the sexual harassment and assault of women, but somehow Hillary seems to face more backlash for her husband’s actions than Trump does for his own. These societal tendencies are nothing new, and I fear it will be quite some time before anything is done to change them.

  4. mschonbe says:

    You bring up an interesting point in this post. I would agree that women are judged far more than men on physical attributes. There is a psychological principle called the attractiveness bias in which studies prove that people are more likely to like attractive people and attribute positive traits to them subconsciously because they are attractive. In this sense, it is an advantage to be attractive. Other studies have shown that attractive people are more confident, more outgoing and generally have a higher level of self esteem. You speak to the negative, discriminatory side of being an attractive, or unattractive woman in politics. Though there can be some advantages to being attractive, women do face a certain amount of discrimination or are degraded for their level of attractiveness. This is hardly ever something the public hears being said about men. Trump has commented on the physical appearance of many different women, including Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly and has tried to sum up their abilities to their level of attractiveness which is downright wrong. No person’s outward appearance should be the reason for discrediting their professional skills or personal capabilities. I believe it will take a very long time for this type of analysis of female candidates to be completely rid of unfortunately.

  5. tibblebits says:

    Interesting post. You bring in the example of Fiorina, but what about Hillary Clinton? In terms of the rhetoric you speak of she has definitely been a victim of it historically, but in this cycle I must admit that direct appeals to her gender as a reason NOT to vote for her has been scarce (at least to my knowledge). Of course, there was more focus on what she would wear to the debates relative to the attention male candidates get to their dress, but Trump hasn’t talked about Clinton the way he did about Fiorina despite his violent rhetoric against women generally. Why is this? Is this because Clinotn has gone where no women has gone before, and that even Trump respects that? Is it because Trump is afraid of making such an argument out of fear of losing even more women voters? As the first commenter mentioned, I agree that gender scientists (and political scientists) will dissect this election for ages, and one point I hope they investigate is why Trump has not spent much time attacking Clinton directly for her gender, something that he clearly has done in the past to other contenders, observers, and journalists.

  6. mnjacks1 says:

    This was a great topic to discuss! As a woman, it is extremely apparent to me that this is still relevant nowadays. As Jacobs discussed, to be a slave and posses beauty brings about unwanted affection and adversity. Today, possessing beauty makes others doubt your qualifications. Hillary Clinton has been judged based on her appearance throughout this election. She’s always seen as too masculine and is judged for Bill Clinton’s affair. Trump, on the other hand, has not been scrutinized for his actions, both on his appearance and past relationships, the way Clinton has. As a woman, your critics are always tougher. Your actions are always under the microscope and you are expected to act the way society wants you to. Trump is praised for speaking his mind, where as Clinton is seen negatively for this.

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