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October 28, 2004

Terry Francona, liberal avatar/nutruing parent

A few weeks ago, Digby had an interesting post about George Lakoff's favorite framing device strict parent vs. nuturing parent:

If I have a beef with Lakoff it’s that the one frame he’s most known for --- the Republican “strict father” and the Democrat “nurturing parent” --- is one of the most unfortunate metaphors for the progressive cause that I can imagine. [...] I don’t think it’s a very good frame to begin with because it isn’t honest. Let’s not pretend that the real frame isn’t “strict father” vs “nurturing mother.” The frame doesn't really make sense otherwise. And, rightly or wrongly, this frame makes the tension gender based, and in doing so it defines progressive leadership as female leadership, something that is an indistinct and still evolving archetypal image. This puts progressives at a disadvantage because people don't immediately associate women with public leadership just yet. That will, of course, come to pass in the not too distant future (I hope.) But framing isn't a matter for wish fulfillment. To work, it must be immediately recognizable. The fact that Lakoff didn’t use the obvious "father-mother" construction indicates to me that knew that this was a problem.

I disagree that "nuturing parent" is a predominantly female leadership style. Edit: More importantly, I don't think it is recognized as a female leadership style. Lakoff is contrasting frames for conservative vs. liberal governments. The frame isn't that conservatives and liberals are one family with a father and a mother.

Unfortunately, all useful state/government/leadership frames will appeal to some kind of masculinity. The frame is really between "rigid dad" and "nuturing dad." The implicit question is 'Which kind of dad would you rather have?' Someone like Bill Clinton or someone like Richard Nixon? (Digby suggests "rigid" as an alternative to "strict." I think he's onto something.) I think Lakoff faced a problem because he wanted to oppose the strong-male "strict father" to the male-to-neutral "nuturing parent."

Terry Francona is a shining example of the "nutruring parent" leadership style: tough, fair, team-focused, supportive, non-vindictive, and, now, dazzlingly successful.

Go Sox! Go nuturing parents! Go Kerry!


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You want a frame, Democrats? I'll give you a frame. Let go of this nurturant parent idea, because while it worked, barely, for Clinton, almost no one else can pull it off [Read More]


Re .."progressive leadership as female leadership, something that is an indistinct and still-evolving image.."- to someone whose early classroom experiences were generally in the hands (& minds) of women (ie the Teachers), I'd have to take exception to the delineation of this archetype as "indistinct". While the generally shadowy male energy was "strict", perhaps, and ultimately defined as "might makes right" (& so fear-engendering to this young male), the progress that one made in most realms (generally excepting athletic endeavors) was Teacher-inspired. In my own life, that was usually a female. ^..^

I disagree that "nuturing parent" is a predominantly female leadership style.

Terry Francona is a shining example of the "nutruring parent" leadership style

Well, the point isn't that strict vs. nurturing is necessarily an actual conflict of woman vs. man. Digby's just pointing out that using "strict father" to characterize Republicans, rightly or wrongly, invites characterization of Democrats as women which is, quite wrongly, disadvantageous in this political climate. He's just saying that the framing is a poor political choice right now.

Well, the point isn't that strict vs. nurturing is necessarily an actual conflict of woman vs. man.

I agree. On the other hand, I think that Digby underestimates the extent to which people already recognize the nurturing parent leadership style in men. Many of our most popular and effective male leaders fit this profile. Bill Clinton being a prime example.

Ot's certainly true that we have male nurturing leaders; I'd even argue that we require it, to some extent, which is why Bush has to pretend to be a "uniter" in order to get elected. However, I think explicitly tying it to the idea of parenting is a poor idea.

I agree with Nick; it's clear that Lakoff's original framing as gender-neutral has been reframed as gender-specific, so that it can fit into a previously-established right wing frame re: "feminine" liberals/Democrats, with all the negative cross-coding that entails: weak/soft/ emotional/nonrational/ jesuschristyouknowtherestofthem. Lakoff should have been a good enough rhetor/framer to have anticipated this susceptibility of his argument and compensated accordingly.

The frame is the contrast between types of dads. That's a previously existing frame. I think Lakoff should have come right out and said "strict dad" vs. "nuturing dad"--that's what he really wanted to emphasize. I think he pulled his punches a little on "parent." That's unfortunate, if well intentioned.

Re: Clinton's status as nurturing: Somewhere I've read that what explains the incredible ferocity of the right wing toward the center-right Clinton Admin was that Bill and Hillary screwed with the wingers' gender paradigms. If somebody's read this same (sort of) thing and has a reference, I'd be grateful to hear it.

My problem with Lakoff's device is that it buys into precisely what I think is the problem with the positions he links to 'strict father' - it's too authoritarian; all he's actually doing is substituting a benevolent authoritarianism for a despotic one. I think both conservatives and progressives need to rework the way they think about government far more radically, and begin thinking of it in terms of service and representation in a more straightforward sense. We do that to some extent, but in a very patchy way; and it often gets dwarfed by these quasi-parental metaphors. Lakoff moves closer to this with the 'nurturant' aspect of the device - but still not close enough, I think.

On Bill/Hillary gender bender, the book is Ducat's "The Wimp Factor" - for links to reviews (as well as for my lengthy take on father/mother) visit me on my blog....

I've got to agree with Nick that Lakoff could avoid a lot of confusion of the sort that Digby either suffers from or laments, if he only called the two prototypes the "Strict Parent" and "Nurturing Parent" moralities. I understand that the "Father" in "Strict Father" is meant to capture something about the paternalism of conservative ideology, but I'm afraid that putting "Father" into the contrast almost automatically makes our dialectical brains think "Mother" when we think of the other end of the spectrum.

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