Michele Bachmann leading new type of evangelical feminism and why we should be taking her very seriously
On June 21, 2011 At 9:24 am
Responses : 6 Comments
The Washington Post today has given Michele Bachmann more credence than even the GOP was willing to do during the State of the Union Address. The news agency is postulating that Michele Bachmann may have more power with voters in one respect–her evangelical beliefs may allow her to reach a broader range of voters. If anything, it is clear that playing the evangelical card is still "the thing to do" if you want to be elected President of the United States:
No Republican has captured the White House in modern history without strong support from evangelical voters. After all, evangelicals are the most organized constituency of the Republican Party, and an authentic, compelling story of one’s faith journey (or “Christian testimony” in the evangelical vernacular) is vital to winning their trust. This is where Bachmann shines. Like other evangelicals, she talks about her conversion to Christianity as a teenager and about the education she received from an evangelical university. Her husband of 33 years directs a Christian counseling center in the Twin Cities, and Dr. James Dobson (formerly of Focus on the Family) endorsed her first bid for elected office when she ran for Minnesota’s state senate.
How can this be? How can evangelical women, with their notions of traditional roles in the home (often involving homeschooling children as well as fulfilling traditional female roles), support Bachmann's run for office? Feminist scholar Marie Griffiths has a theory–adherents to what she terms "practical Christian womanhood" hold seemingly contradictory notions regarding authority and gender ideals. If Michele Bachmann, who touts herself as "first and foremost a mother" can humanize herself in the face of evangelical women voters, she will be seen to represent the ideals of femininity that evangelical women hold dear: a woman's place is in the home, educating children, supporting the male head of the household according to the authoritarian structure of the Bible. The Washington Post continues:
Even in her bid for the Oval Office, Bachmann—who has five children of her own and has cared for twenty-three foster children—describes herself as “first and foremost a mother.” This, actually, is political genius. It humanizes her and differentiates her from the rest of the Republican field. Bachmann invokes the mothering motif all the time; she mentioned it three different times in last week’s debate alone. In fact, motherhood is what Bachmann says brought her into politics. She first sought elected office out of a desire to shape Minnesota’s education policy to be more in line with her concerns as a mother. And she often speaks of her political career as a “calling,” which provides additional justification to evangelical voters that her political ambitions merit their support.
Bachmann also uses religious language on a variety of topics that is so subtle it almost goes ignored–except by evangelicals familiar with the language of religious rhetoric, like a very skilled female Billy Sunday. How is Bachmann different from Sarah Palin? Simple. Bachmann has Tea Party credentials, which makes her extremely appealing to moderate voters.
This is why her Tea Party credentials will be especially important; and it is also why her unique identity as a female evangelical may turn to her advantage. The simple fact that she, as a woman, is seeking to be Commander in Chief represents female empowerment—which appeals, at least symbolically, to moderate voters. So far Bachmann is the only woman in the 2012 race; and if nothing else, her candidacy this year secures the progressive achievement of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 primary bid. Sarah Palin may have galvanized attention when she was tapped by John McCain to be his running mate, but, unlike Bachmann, she has never launched her own national campaign.
This candidacy establishes women as fixtures in the American political landscape, and Bachmann’s blend of populism, Christian motherhood and political ambition is crafting a new form of evangelical feminism, one that may actually succeed with Republican voters.
Evangelical feminism of Bachmann's type has been around for a very long time–it is not new. What is new, however, is Bachmann's politicizing of evangelical feminism as an ideal for the American woman. Because her campaign is viewed as a "calling" by Bachmann, and because she has been very careful to frame each time she has run for office as a calling from God, endorsed by her husband who she "prays with" every time a "calling" to run for a particular political office comes to hand, Bachmann is making herself appear to evangelicals as a woman with a Special Line to God—with every political success seeming to be an answer to prayer, Bachmann becomes automatically endorsed, as it were, by serious evangelicals. In other words, evangelical women don't have a problem with her because God is paving the way for her political success. In this way, Bachmann has very deftly and intelligently used her religious proclivities to her advantage.
When you have a calling from God to be President, who are His followers to object? What is clear is that the Washington Post, having taken Bachmann so seriously, has now made her the candidate to watch.