Feminist Friday: Two student research fellowship recipients to present their work

The next Feminist Friday will feature presentations by two Student Research recipients (undergraduate and graduate).  Each talk will be followed by a question-and-answer period.  The event will be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. Friday, May 2, in the Luann Dummer Center for Women, Room 103, O’Shaughnessy Educational Center.  Everyone is welcome.  Bring your lunch; beverages and dessert will be provided.

Undergraduate research presentation

The first presentation will be given by Alyssa Samek, the undergraduate research fellowship recipient.  Her faculty adviser was Dr. Debra Petersen of the Communication Department.  The title of Samek’s research project is “Competent, Caring and a Carpetbagger!?: A Rhetorical Analysis of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Successful 2000 U.S. Senate Campaign.

This study focused on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s rhetorical strategies during her campaign for the United States Senate in New York during the year 2000.  By analyzing the historical context of her tenure as first lady, several challenges emerged for Rodham Clinton as a political candidate. Two methods determined the challenges and the subsequent strategies that yielded her political success.

A rhetorical analysis of her candidacy announcement speech given on Feb. 6, 2000, in Purchase, N.Y., provided a basis for the themes and tone for the campaign as a whole. Then, content analysis of 38 of Rodham Clinton’s television advertisements from the 2000 campaign determined the strategies that created a further balanced image of the candidate.  Each ad was analyzed for visual and audio elements, for positive or negative tone, and then on the overall message.

Rhetorical analysis of her speech shows her practicing what Karlyn Kohrs Campbell calls “rhetorical femininity” or enacting the feminine.  She softened her image to be a palatable candidate with wide voter appeal.  She employed several strategies throughout her speech to meet this challenge including: enacting femininity by assuming a personal tone, taking on the persona of mother while also enacting the role of advocate and leader, and focusing on her personal experience with the issues of focus for the campaign.  Her announcement speech set the tone and the issue agenda for the remainder of the campaign.

While there were several limitations regarding the ad portion of the project, content analysis determined that Rodham Clinton employed many of the same rhetorical strategies in her ads as she had in her speech.  She feminized her appearance and used a personal tone in several of the positive ads, while at the same time stressing her competence, experience and vision of the future.  In negative ads, she maintained an overall positive image by distancing herself from the negative messages in the ads using male voice-overs and surrogate speakers.

Outside of the issue of gender, Rodham Clinton addressed her opponents’ charges of her “carpetbagger” status by stressing the universal nature of the issues facing New York State and her experience with them on a larger scale.  She also used prominent New York leaders as surrogates to argue for her legitimacy as a candidate in New York.  Rodham Clinton carried the themes and strategies set forth in her announcement speech through to the televised ads.  Whether one loves or hates Rodham Clinton, studying her rhetorical strategies has the potential to help young women who aspire to political careers, regardless of ideological affiliation.

Graduate research presentation

Susan Harstad, the graduate research fellowship recipient will give the second presentation.  Her faculty adviser was Dr. Susan Webster of the Art History Department.  The title of Harstad’s research project is “The Rise of Finnish Women Artists.”

Harstad asks: “Helene Schjerfbeck, Ellen Thesleff, Elin Danielson-Gambogi – who are these people?”  The answer: These women are just three among many talented Finnish women artists whose painting careers began in the late 1800s.  As early as 1846, aspiring Finnish women artists studied in unsegregated classes with their male colleagues, a situation unique in all of Europe.  Artists displaying exceptional skills received government funds to study abroad and several women painters were honored with international awards at the Paris World Expositions of 1889 and 1900.

Harstad traveled to Finland in January 2003 with a research plan to attend museums and galleries and familiarize herself with the women artists represented in their collections.  She visited 11 museums, saw several special exhibits that featured Finnish women artists, took slides and bought many Finnish art books that are not available in the United States.  Harstad was struck by the number of women artists represented in all the collections, particularly in Finland’s national gallery.  Finnish women artists are not yet well known outside the Nordic countries, but through persistent scholarship she hopes to see them come to international attention.

For more information this Feminist Friday presentation, call the women’s center at (651) 962-6119.