• Camille

Shilling the Angel in the House

August 29, 2012 by camille hayes leave a comment

Because I am a glutton for a very particular kind of punishment, I just read the transcript of Ann Romney’s speech to the Republican Convention last night. I knew going in that Mrs. Romney and I don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the GOP’s lady-friendliness, but I was interested to see what use the Party would make of her. Given the absolutely banner year of crap the GOP has had with women’s issues, I assumed that her speech would try to repair some of the damage done by the Legitimate Rape Brigade  by distracting us with a few examples of times her husband’s party was not being overtly hostile to women. Couldn’t hurt, right?

But her speech did so much more, and so very much less, than that. Instead of trying to blunt the edges of Republicans’ more egregious statements re: women and their ladyparts, Ann flipped the script. She didn’t argue that women should endorse the GOP because they aren’t sexist, but rather implied that women should endorse sexism itself. Because it’s good for us. Hurray?

What her speech seemed to be saying is that enduring the barriers created by sexism is somehow ennobling. It’s just plain harder to be a woman, she cried, what with the children and the household budgets (and the presumably absent husband) but that’s OK, because it makes us strong and virtuous and that’s why she loooooves us! And that’s why Republicans love us too, or at least they would, if any actual 21st-century women would shape up and conform to their laughably antiquated standard of feminine perfection. Instead of running around complaining about the wage gap and having slutty non-procreative sex, what we really need to do is get married and birth multiple offspring, and then proceed to erase ourselves the better to serve their needs.

There has been grumbling in feminists circles that the depressingly retrograde arguments we’re having lately–over birth control, or the definition of rape–are dragging us back to the pre-feminist 1960s. But I think the GOP is far more ambitious than that–what’s they’d really like to do is drag us back to the 1860s, to the Victorian era, when the selfless, angelic mother figure was the glue that held that famously repressive society in place. Reading Ann Romney’s speech I kept thinking of the Virginia Woolf essay “Professions for Women,” in which she says that the only way for women to find personal and professional fulfillment is by killing “the Angel in the house,” or doing away with the Victorian ideal of a woman who lives only for others. The Victorian household Angel was an impediment to social progress and a general pain in the ass, and Woolf was right to do her in. Why, so many years later, are Republican’s trying to resurrect her? Maybe it’s because their party has become so inhospitable to most real women that Ann Romney’s glowy, well-accessorized mirage of maternal martyrdom is the best version of womanhood they have to offer–so they’re selling her for all she’s worth. The question is, ladies, are you buying it?

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