American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

If She Were President: Fictional Representations of Female U.S. Presidents in Film, Television, and Literature in the Twentieth Century

Date of Award

2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Kimberly Coates (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Emily Pence Brown (Other)

Third Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Andrew Schocket (Committee Member)

Abstract

This study looks at twentieth-century representations of fictional female U.S. presidents in film, television, and literature. Examining how these portrayals either reinforce or subvert existing ideas about gender may give some insight into why the U.S. has not had a female president yet, as well as how each wave of feminism may have its own corresponding backlash. This project employs a textual analysis method and uses a feminist methodology. After analyzing the primary texts under consideration, it becomes clear that the majority of twentieth-century fictional representations of female U.S. presidents reify hegemonic gender roles and do not portray the presidents as being fully capable and worthy of respect. It is only toward the middle of the 1990s and later that any real change is seen in these characters. The media framing of real-life women running for president is somewhat in line with how female presidents are portrayed in fictional texts. These women are not depicted as being fully capable to serve the office of the U.S. presidency, and it takes quite a few decades before content creators are willing to deviate from this norm. This study has broader implications, too, insofar as the U.S. presidency is symbolic of systems of power more generally, and thus the texts herein can offer insight into how women are received in many positions of political and economic leadership.

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