The open pedagogy for the course created a digital venue that enabled us not only to analyze but also to participate in political discourse while being mindful of our own rhetoric. The projects described and analyzed in this section show how the tags and synthesis posts allowed us to find common threads within the discussion of Clinton's ethos as well as how the digital components of the course led us to conclusions about the rhetoric and ethos of women in politics.
In addition to readings on the syllabus derived from social media, we were also required to add peer-reviewed articles, which could be specifically on Clinton or about the context of women in politics. (Since these readings are not open source but available through our library databases, we provided citations for the articles in the posts.)
It is through the scholarship on women's rhetoric that we became aware of the concept of the "double bind" women face in politics. From grandmother to commander-in-chief and from closed-off to relatable, Clinton often had to negotiate binaries, creating what Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1995) has called the double-bind, a "rhetorical construct that posits two and only two alternatives, one or both penalizing the person being offered them" (p. 14). Thus, our work began to ask, could a woman successfully navigate that double-bind? Ethos became the main focal point for our rhetorical analysis of the campaign, as the media made trust in Clinton a defining feature of their coverage.
Synthesizing the tags also allowed us to see some of the connections being made in popular news and analysis venues with scholarship on women's rhetoric. For example, Ezra Klein (2016) on Vox proposed a theory about the gap between the image of Clinton in the media and the picture of Clinton gained from speaking with those who know and have worked with her. He posited that her more feminine leadership style emphasized listening over talking, as illustrated by what Clinton called her listening tour. We contrasted his views with the insights of Karlyn Kohrs Campbell (1998), who attributed some of the Hillary hate to Clinton's adoption of a traditionally masculine style of rhetoric instead of the feminine style of rhetoric Campbell has identified. In fact, one reading added to the syllabus showed how some scholars have contrasted Clinton's masculine style with her husband's (through Campbell's definition) feminine style (Edwards, 2011, p. 158).
Synthesizing the discussions on the posts on our website, we saw how the narrative of Clinton as inauthentic was clearly tied to her gender. Our posts on our website led to discussions on how Clinton may have created an image of masculinity to convince audiences of her ability to be an effective politician, but the fact that she is not the male leader that has previously occupied the Oval Office affected her gendered ethos. Through the many posts tagged with "feminine style," we can see how even when she used feminine markers in her campaign rhetoric, in line with public expectations of gender stereotypes, some audiences found it difficult to connect with her on an emotional level, and she was aware of this rhetorical gap. For all of her efforts to work with the gender binary to give her a political advantage or resist it to prove her efficacy as a commander-in-chief, even Clinton acknowledged that she isn't a natural speaker. Thus, some of us chose to explore how women could break this gender binary and rhetorical gap. The use of images and other digital tools in our projects led us to the conclusion that it is through these images and digital tools that women in politics can negotiate this double-bind.
Melissa Harden's work in the class focused on visual rhetoric. She added readings to the syllabus on visual rhetoric, such as the Frontline PBS (2016) video on Clinton's makeover and an article on Clinton's jewelry (McElvoy, 2016). Harden's synthesis project sought to explore how Clinton has evolved her look over the years, and if that evolution correlates to how the public accepts her as a credible politician with a good ethos. She analyzed visual delivery, particularly how color, fashion, and appearance impacted Clinton's ethos, from the jewelry she wore to her ubiquitous pantsuits.
Ode to Pants Suits
by Dana Krugle
One suit, two suit,
red suit, blue suit,
Won't you wear
a dress, Madame?
Three suit, four suit,
green suit, whore suit,
Shush your voice!
And pleeze, sit down.
Black suit, white suit,
Old suit, new suit,
Won't you beam
more when you vent?
Yellow suit, orange suit,
pink suit, slut suit,
How dare you
strive to be
The format of the class also allowed us to make connections with specific genres of readings. The Frontline video Harden added to the syllabus helped us to examine how Clinton conveyed femininity or unfemininity depending on her visual appearance. After Bill Clinton lost his reelection campaign for Arkansas governor in 1979, Hillary went from having darker blonde hair, pronounced glasses, and light makeup to having light blonde hair, contacts, and eyeshadow. Thus, Clinton sacrificed her identity visually to deliver a message to voters about her conformity to traditional gender roles, in order to create a more positive ethos for herself and her husband.
The other reading Harden added to the syllabus focused on Clinton's jewelry and the message it sends. During her own campaign, to draw attention away from her public identity as a wealthy former First Lady, Clinton changed her jewelry, going from wearing large to small hoop earrings and adding a bracelet that contains pictures of her granddaughter Charlotte (McElvoy, 2016). Her jewelry could specifically communicate that she encompasses the identity of the relatable grandmother, which automatically gave her a trustworthy ethos.
The posts tagged with "visual rhetoric" allowed us to bring together many of the different issues of image during the election
James Wheaton's project theorized the PFC: Perfect Female Candidate. In order to try and piece together this candidate, he looked back at all the women who have played relevant roles in presidential races in the last few decades, including Shirley Chisholm, Elizabeth Dole, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Carly Fiorina, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Jill Stein, and Melania Trump. Each of these women played the role of traditional woman in their rhetoric to some extent, despite the fact that a woman candidate—or, even, a political woman—seemingly opposes that role. He created an amalgam that brought together what he thought the PFC may be.
For these women, then, their femininity—both in visual and verbal rhetoric—was their ethos. As Christina Yim's project pointed out, ideal feminine traits like silence and listening do not conform to the masculine ideal of the good leader.
Another theme we examined through the tags on our site included leadership style. Yim's synthesis post theorized that a defining characteristic of female leadership styles and the rhetoric women politicians employ may be an emphasis on self-effacing unity rather than aggressive self-promotion. Sarah Parente's class project of digital annotations connected with Yim's synthesis. Parente's project included annotations of included annotations of Clinton's (1995) Beijing speech and June 7, 2016 speech (given after she won the New Jersey and California primaries to secure the Democratic nomination) and showed how Clinton varied between a masculine style of delivery and a feminine style of argument. Using the hypothes.is tool, Parente was able to connect the synthesis of the readings we had added to the syllabus to specific passages in Clinton's speeches. Hypothes.is allowed her to link to specific comments on our site to add to her analysis of Clinton's rhetoric.
Using this method, Parente's project connected with Yim's work on Clinton's ethos. Parente and Yim both analyzed how in the June 7th speech, for example, Clinton had portrayed herself as part of a team, a contrast to her opponent's narcissism. Clinton employed a feminine style in not claiming sole responsibility for the significant accomplishment of her nomination but placing it within a long tradition of women fighting for equal rights. This set up Clinton's (2016) argument that "We believe that cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls."
This method led to Yim's focus on ethos, listening, and silence. Analyzing the text and comments on that speech, Yim theorized that Clinton transferred ethos to her audience by ascribing to them the good values and virtues on which ethos can depend. Yim analyzed this rhetorical tactic in her synthesis post on the "gap." Analyzing the texts on the website and our responses to them, she concluded that Clinton's strongest appeal in the June 7th speech was the one that assumes the best of us Americans: that we are smart enough to make the right choice of preventing an unqualified bigot from becoming president. Perhaps this act of transferring ethos to her audience explained why some voters felt that she was not as trustworthy as other candidates—because she did not claim that ethos for herself. Her campaign message alone of "Stronger Together" implied the values of inclusion, collectivity, and teamwork. She did not shine the spotlight on herself, rarely using the word "I." Analyzing the rhetoric as depicted on the posts on our syllabus, Yim observed that the most frequent use of "I" was found in the slogan "I'm With Her," which emphasized the supporter rather than the rhetor.
The discussions and synthesis assignment on our digital platform thus allowed us to create our own rhetorical theories, such as Yim's on transferring ethos. In contrast, Rasha Reda's project on ethos theorized an anti-ethos rhetoric—a rhetoric which defies most of the traditional norms of ethos. Clinton's opponent's most popular rhetorical tactic (or verbal tic) consisted of "I do X/know X/am X better/more than anyone." He could not base his ethical appeals on a public service record, nor did his oratory skills add to his authority and respectability.
Going back to Wheaton's project on the PFC, our discussion focused on how for women in politics, portraying themselves as unintimidating and playing into gender stereotypes can come with negative repercussions. This expectation caused a catch-22 for Clinton: if she showed emotion, she risked the "hysterical woman" label; if she did not show emotion, she was accused of being "cold" and "robotic." Clinton could not rely on the anti-ethos rhetoric of her opponent because of her gender.
Wheaton used these discussions and synthesis posts to apply his theory to other women in politics. If we turn to history, Shirley Chisholm, in her 1972 announcement to run for President, chose to distance herself from her race and gender to convince voters of her credibility. He observed how this strategy set a precedent for how women have to run for public office, suggesting that they must avoid identity markers in their speech to be taken seriously. Furthermore, Sarah Palin's rhetorical power was also in being unintimidating, which eventually backfired on her, but worked for her 2008 Republican National Convention speech. By making an emotional appeal to the Republican demographic with her folksy delivery, extended references to family (her own and those of soldiers and special needs people), and compliments for John McCain the "American war hero," she built up her ethos. In fact, we may even interpret her moves as bolstering her ethos by transferring it to McCain, the strategy Yim observed in Clinton's speeches. In the 2016 election that was dominated by social media, transferring ethos to the audience was a popular tactic, which then transforms the audience into rhetors, much in the same way social media allows everyone a voice.
As the class came to a close and we worked through issues after the election, we all became involved in theorizing the PFC, a woman who could successfully create an image and ethos that would make her successful in a digital world. Clinton's challenge—appearing feminine while also projecting the confidence and competence needed for the male presidency—led to, in Wheaton's observation, a constant switching back and forth that keept Clinton tied to both feminine and masculine ideals while she remained distanced from them. In this regard, she appeared exploitative of both genders and ended up as some agender enigma.
As Yim's project on silence and listening concluded, on the one hand, Clinton's rhetorical style may have contributed to her image of untrustworthiness and electoral loss by seeming impersonal and lacking a comprehensive flavor; on the other, her "conscientious and conscious speaking silence," as Cheryl Glenn (2004, p. 106) has called it, attested to her keen understanding of how silence can maintain her position of power, resist the domination of others, and even garner respect. As a result, Clinton's efforts to appear more "relatable" often led to accusations of inauthenticity. It seemed, at times, that the more relatable Clinton tried to appear, the more she was charged with being inauthentic. And authenticity became a key feature of ethos in the campaign. If she was not authentic, then she was lying in the image she was attempting to convey. If she was lying, then she was untrustworthy.
Before writing our literature review/synthesis posts, we took stock of all of the tags that had been created for our posts, noting overlap. We also used those tags to develop several themes for our analysis. Thus we concluded, in digital mediums using digital tools, that the PFC (Perfect Female Candidate) needs to be able to use those same digital tools to connect with voters on an emotional level while still conveying what has been deemed a masculine authority. And she needs to do that through the digital medium that gives the most ethos, the most authority, to the voters.
Next: STRONGER TOGETHER