W Stands for Women: How the George W. Bush Presidency Shaped a New Politics of Gender

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Taking seriously the “W Stands for Women” rhetoric of the 2004 Bush–Cheney campaign, the contributors to this collection investigate how “W” stands for women. They argue that George W. Bush has hijacked feminist language toward decidedly antifeminist ends; his use of feminist rhetoric is deeply and problematically connected to a conservative gender ideology. While it is not surprising that conservative views about gender motivate Bush’s stance on so-called “women’s issues” such as abortion, what is surprising—and what this collection demonstrates—is that a conservative gender ideology also underlies a range of policies that do not appear explicitly related to gender, most notably foreign and domestic policies associated with the post-9/11 security state. Any assessment of the lasting consequences of the Bush presidency requires an understanding of the gender conservatism at its core.

In W Stands for Women ten feminist scholars analyze various aspects of Bush’s persona, language, and policy to show how his administration has shaped a new politics of gender. One contributor points out the shortcomings of “compassionate conservatism,” a political philosophy that requires a weaker class to be the subject of compassion. Another examines Lynndie England’s participation in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in relation to the interrogation practices elaborated in the Army Field Manual, practices that often entail “feminizing” detainees by stripping them of their masculine gender identities. Whether investigating the ways that Bush himself performs masculinity or the problems with discourse that positions non-Western women as supplicants in need of saving, these essays highlight the far-reaching consequences of the Bush administration’s conflation of feminist rhetoric, conservative gender ideology, and neoconservative national security policy.

Contributors. Andrew Feffer, Michaele L. Ferguson, David S. Gutterman, Mary Hawkesworth, Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, Lori Jo Marso, Danielle Regan, R. Claire Snyder, Iris Marion Young, Karen Zivi

Michaela Ferguson and Karen Zivi appeared on KPFA’s Against the Grain on September 11, 2007. Listen to the audio.
Michaela Ferguson and Lori Jo Marso appeared on WUNC’s The State of Things on August 30, 2007. Listen to the audio.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Full of strikingly original and meticulously theorized readings of contemporary public life, W Stands for Women is one of the most intellectually and politically exciting books that I’ve read in years.”—Catherine A. Holland, author of The Body Politic: Foundings, Citizenship, and Difference in the American Political Imagination

“Making lasting feminist sense of the George W. Bush presidency—long after it’s over—will be a crucial intellectual task. W Stands for Women is going to be essential reading as we all tackle this challenge.”—Cynthia Enloe, author of Globalization and Militarism: Feminists Make the Link

Sylvia Bashevkin

W Stands for Women offers a compelling, well-integrated account of ‘the post-September 11 security state’ in the United States.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822340423
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Michaele L. Ferguson is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Lori Jo Marso is Professor of Political Science and Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Union College. She is the author of Feminist Thinkers and the Demands of Femininity: The Lives and Work of Intellectual Women.

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Read an Excerpt


How the George W. Bush Presidency Shaped a New Politics of Gender

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2007 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4064-5

Chapter One


The Allure of Authoritarianism: Bush Administration Ideology and the Reconsolidation of Patriarchy

Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society. -PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH (2004B)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be placed in submission to another human being on a twenty-four-hour basis, 365 days a year-for life? That is exactly what God demands of your wife. -REVEREND DR. TIM LAHAYE (1996)

A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority ... asks for and gets chaos. -DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN (1965)

Over the past decade, rhetoric about the benefits of heterosexual marriage and the importance of fatherhood has become increasingly prominent as the battle against gay marriage has accelerated. The heterosexual aspect of traditional marriage is important to conservatives, partly because it means the presence of a father in the household, which they see as a remedy to a wide range of dysfunctions. Not surprisingly, President Bush has made heterosexual marriage and fatherhood priorities of his Department of Health and Human Services with his "Healthy Marriage Initiative" and has come out in support of the "Federal Marriage Amendment," which would prohibit states from legalizing same-sex marriage. Bush's socially conservative agenda finds support in two different yet overlapping constituencies within the American right-the Christian right and neoconservatives.

This essay examines arguments for the gendered hetero-normative family proffered by these two groups, arguments they have made for over thirty years, that have influenced Bush administration domestic policy and that will no doubt continue to have influence long after Bush leaves the White House. While the Christian right's vehement opposition to same-sex marriage has been widely covered in the media, less attention has been given to its positive vision of heterosexual marriage, which explicitly includes male dominance and female submission and plays a central role in its larger agenda of reconsolidating patriarchy. Similarly, while a lot of attention has been paid to the current neoconservative foreign-policy agenda, neoconservatives' advocacy of the traditional family has received less coverage. Yet the traditional family is central for neoconservatives because they view it as the "seedbed of virtue" that undergirds democratic self-government. But how can patriarchal marriage, which reinforces male dominance, provide the foundation for democracy, since democracy requires equality for all citizens, including women?

This essay makes an argument that should be obvious yet is increasingly obscured: the patriarchal family undermines rather than undergirds democracy by directly contributing to the inequality of women, which by definition erodes democracy as we know it today, which is premised on the principle of equality for all citizens. It also argues that while consenting adults have the freedom to engage in consensual practices of dominance and submission in their personal relationships, such freedom needs to be accompanied by a set of public policies designed to protect women from unwanted subordination and ensure that all children learn the values that undergird democratic society, including the principle of gender equality, despite whatever other lessons their parents teach.


The Christian right is a political and social movement that seeks to impose its interpretation of Christian morality on society at large. For example, the Family Research Council "promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society" because it believes "that God is the author of life, liberty, and the family." Concerned Women for America (CWA) seeks to "bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy." Although "Focus on the Family's primary reason for existence is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through a practical outreach to homes," the organization takes an active role in politics because it views government as one of the three basic institutions ordained by God. The organization's Government and Public Policy outreach ministry focuses specifically on political change.

The Christian right seeks to reverse the progress of feminism-to re-establish traditional gender roles and restore the patriarchal family as the hegemonic family form in America. For example, CWA describes itself as "the nation's largest public policy women's organization"; it "was founded to provide an alternative to radical feminists-who claim to speak for all women-and who seek to impose policies that do not respect unborn babies, family or God" (CWA 2005). The organization condemns even liberal feminists like Betty Friedan:

She was the impetus behind the devaluing of women as wives and mothers.... By devaluing home and hearth, far too many women have found their window of opportunity for marriage and family closed.... By eschewing marriage, single mothers have ended up both rocking the baby and paying the rent. The children of single mothers are paying an even higher price-one-third of U.S. children are born out-of-wedlock, the majority of whom will grow up in poverty and at-risk in every outcome category.... Divorce-on-demand has left 35 million kids bereft. And, finally, tragically, more than 43 million babies have been aborted, leaving untold pain for the women who would have been their mothers.

While "utopian" feminist principles-"women's rights, sexual equality and the fulfillment of women's potential-are high-sounding and noble," the reality is actually quite dystopic (Crouse 2006).

Christian right politics has a strong strand of authoritarianism within it, and this authoritarianism apparently appeals to a lot of people, women as well as men. As Chip Berlet and Margaret Quigley have argued, the Christian right leadership "envisions a religiously-based authoritarian society" in which "Christian men interpret God's will as law. Women are helpmates, and children are the property of their parents. Earth must submit to the dominion of those to whom God has granted power. People are basically sinful, and must be restrained by harsh punitive laws" (Berlet and Quigley 1995, 17). Berlet and Quigley call the movement "theocratic" because it supports "a form of government where the actions of leaders are seen as sanctioned by God-where the leaders claim they are carrying out God's will" (Berlet and Quigley 1995, 16). For example, James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family (FOF), conveys the message that as long as a political leader is a conservative Christian, he can be trusted to do God's will, and all citizens should do is obey and pray for him (Apostolidis 2000, 156).


The Christian right valorizes the traditional patriarchal view of marriage, which it sees as natural and God-given. Beverly LaHaye, president of the CWA, explicitly links masculinity and femininity with dominance and submission, respectively. LaHaye sees male dominance and female submission as a loving form of natural complementarity that should not be confused with tyranny and slavishness. Rather, according to her vision, when husbands and wives embrace their true natures and enact their God-given roles with love and respect, both flourish. She quotes from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (1991): "At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man's differing relationships" (LaHaye 1993, 66). In contrast, "At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationships" (LaHaye 1993, 66-67). According to LaHaye, "A man's role as leader is threatened when the woman refuses to give him the support he needs in the challenging task of undertaking godly leadership. We continue to see women usurp men's roles in the home and in the church, which squelches men's ability to lead, protect, care for, and provide for their families, churches, and communities" (LaHaye 1993, 117). Luckily, "women have an inborn desire to affirm and nurture others" (LaHaye 1993, 67). When they accept male leadership, everybody wins.

This theory of gender-based dominance and submission also underlies the Christian men's group Promise Keepers (PK), founded by Bill McCartney in 1990. The organization played a key role during the "culture wars" of the 1990s that helped discredit progressives and empower conservatives. While the organization has "declined in size, resources, and influence since the peak of its stature in 1997-98, it remains an active and vibrant organization" (Gutterman 2005: 96); its ideology illustrates the vision of patriarchal authoritarianism that has long animated and continues to animate the Christian right.

Promise Keepers utilizes a hierarchical, authoritarian model to organize participants. Men are expected "to submit to a cell group that in turn is closely controlled by a national hierarchy" (Bellant 1995, 81). McCartney's idea for Promise Keepers grew out of his involvement with the Word of God community, "which required total submission to a person called the 'head.' Members were required to submit their schedules in advance and account for every hour of every day. Marriage partner, movie choices, jobs, and other decisions also had to be approved by this leader" (Bellant 1995, 82). PK cells operated similarly (Bellant 1995, 84). And since September 11, 2001, Promise Keepers has increased its usage of militaristic language as a way of appealing to and organizing its members (Gutterman 2005, 109).

Defining itself in opposition to feminism (Gutterman 2005, 99), Promise Keepers wants to restore fathers to their rightful place at the head of the family, and it wants women "to submit absolutely to their husbands or fathers" (Bellant 1995, 81). The PK member Tony Evans advises husbands: "Sit down with your wife and say something like this: 'Honey, I've made a terrible mistake. I've given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim that role.'" Brown continues: "'Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. I'm not suggesting that you ask for your role back, I'm urging you to take it back.'" The man stresses that there can be "'no compromise' on his authority." Women should "submit for the 'survival of our culture'" (Bellant 1995, 82).

Promise Keepers presents male dominance as in the interests of women, who are called "Promise Reapers." As far as woman's role goes, the PK website advises the following: "Be grateful for the spiritual hunger your man is showing. Acknowledge the little steps he is making to lead you and your family well. Be affirming in public. Practice patience. Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter five that respect is one of the important things we can give our husbands." (PK website). Being a submissive wife is the biblically correct thing to do.

According to Christian right ideology, family leadership cannot be shared between husband and wife. LaHaye disagrees with "most feminists" who "say that marriage should have two heads" (LaHaye 1993, 128). She also denies the contention that while there must be one head, it could be the wife rather than the husband. On this point she quotes Elisabeth Elliot: "The role of the husband is the gift of initiation. This is a gift, not earned, not achieved, not dependent on superior intelligence, virtue nor physical prowess, but assigned by God" (LaHaye 1993, 134). Moreover, she says,

The wife's role is a complementary one. To adapt herself to his needs, to respond to his initiation, to submit, to receive. To submit doesn't mean to become a zero. The idea is to acknowledge your head.... [W]hen the wife acknowledges that her husband is her head, she acknowledges that he is her source, her leader, her authority, and she voluntarily accepts the authority. She does it gladly, not in rebellion nor resignation, but in obedience to God. Her respect for her husband will not necessarily require that she keeps her mouth shut, ... but the buck stops with the husband.... [T]he scriptural idea of submission is not servility. It's glad and voluntary obedience, each respecting the other, each sacrificing himself for the other. (LaHaye 1993, 134)

Despite their natural submission, however, many women today refuse to follow their God-given path. This is also part of women's nature, according to LaHaye. Like Eve in the Garden, women today "are more emotionally responsive to misdirection" and more "easily deceived" than men. In fact, that is why God put women under the leadership of their husbands (LaHaye 1993, 113). "As Christ loved the church, husbands are to love their wives and actively pursue their wives' spiritual maturity and purity of character in the sight of the Lord" (LaHaye 1993, 123). Because "women desire security, protection, and peace," when they do not get it from their husbands, they turn to the government. "Women favor bigger government because they see that they can no longer count on men to provide their needs with regard to money, home, and child care" (LaHaye 1993, 121).

Beverly LaHaye's husband, Tim, the co-author of the apocalyptic Left Behind book series, totally concurs. He argues that "man is the key to a happy family life because a woman by nature is a responding creature.... That is one of the secondary meanings of the word submission in the Bible. God would not have commanded a woman to submit unless he had instilled in her a psychic mechanism that would find it comfortable to do so. The key to feminine response has two main parts-love and leadership" (LaHaye 1996, 226). He asks, "Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be placed in submission to another human being on a twenty-four-hour basis, 365 days a year-for life? That is exactly what God demands of your wife" (LaHaye 1996, 229). While a good Christian man should try to think about things from his wife's position, recognize that she has valid views, and consider her voice in decision making, he remains the God-given head.

The view of patriarchal marriage espoused by the LaHayes parallels the official Southern Baptist view of marriage. In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, voted unanimously to change its essential statement of beliefs for the first time in thirty-five years by adding a section on the family that includes the following vision of patriarchal marriage:

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.... A husband ... has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.... She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation. (Southern Baptist Convention 2000; emphasis added).

The decision to emphasize the submission of wives as opposed to mutual submission of husband and wife to each other "represents a triumph for the denomination's conservative leadership" over Christianity's more moderate voices (Niebuhr 1998).


Excerpted from W STANDS FOR WOMEN Copyright © 2007 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Feminism, Gender, and Security in the Bush Presidency / Michaele L. Ferguson and Lori J. Marso 1

Part I. Compassionate Patriarchy

The Allure of Authoritarianism: Bush Administration Ideology and the Reconsolidation of Patriarchy / R. Claire Snyder 17

The Politics of Compassion in the Age of AIDS / Karen Zivi 41

Part II. Bush's Masculinities

Straight Eye for the Straight Guy / David S. Gutterman and Danielle Regan 63

W's Masculine Pseudo-Democracy: Brothers-in-Arms, Suicide Bombers, and the Culture of Life / Andrew Feffer 87

Part III. Gendered War Logics at Home and Abroad

The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State / Iris Marion Young 115

Gender Trouble at Abu Ghraib? / Timothy Kaurman-Osborn 141

Feminists versus Feminization: Confronting the War Logics of the George W. Bush Administration / Mary Hawkesworth 163

Part IV. Feminist Responses

Feminism and Security Rhetoric in the Post September-11 Bush Administration / Michaele L. Ferguson 191

Feminism and the Complications of Freeing the Women of Afghanistan and Iraq / Lori J. Marso 221

References 245

Contributors 269

Index 271

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