Will Obama’s “Julia” Appeal to Women?

What Women Really Think
May 4 2012 4:29 PM

Campaign Love Notes: Obama <3’s “Julia”

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Meet Julia.

(http://www.barackobama.com/life-of-julia)

Have you met “Julia,” yet?

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

The paper-doll infographic is the Obama campaign’s latest attempt to connect with women voters, and, while its effectiveness on that front remains unclear, what’s certain is that Republicans are decidedly not pleased to meet her.

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If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of her acquaintance, Julia is a cartoon woman whom we follow through the many stages of her Obama-enhanced life from ages 3 to 67. Because of Obama’s beneficence toward women (and his apparently never-ending presidency), little Julia gets to go to Head Start, 20-something web-designer Julia gets access to birth control, and old-lady Julia gets to work in a community garden because the social security checks are still coming. Seems like a lovely, Anthropologie-hued life, no? Especially considering that the alternative Romney narrative (presented in the graphic alongside Obama’s) finds a bedraggled Julia scrounging on her hands and knees in the community garden for unripe tomatoes while cursing at the neighborhood children.

Cue the conservative backlash. As the New York Times reported yesterday, many right-leaning politicians and activists have already attacked poor Julia. Pundit Michelle Malkin, for example, had this to tweet: “Hi @BarackObama. I will read Life of #Julia to my kids to show them how NOT to live their lives -- tethered to Nanny State.”

Of course, many of us would find the programs Julia enjoys to be pretty basic—what’s the nation-state for if not to facilitate things like gender pay equality and decent public education—but I digress. What do we think of Julia as a mouth-less mouthpiece for the Obama campaign?

Intent: Obama clearly wants to communicate to women through the medium du jour—the spunky infographic—that he cares for them in all stages of their lives, while Mitt Romney would crumple them up and toss them in a wastebasket. As White House spokeswoman Kara Carscaden told the Times: “This week, Mitt Romney said that when people ask him what he’ll do for the economy, he would ‘look at what the President’s done, and do the opposite.’ Now, voters can see exactly what Romney means and the impact that would have on women.”

Execution: Julia seems nice enough, but there’s something the tiniest bit unnerving about the idea of Obama as some sort of paternal figure—or in the iconography of the graphic, maybe a omniscient sunshine beaming down on our heroine throughout her life. I’m down with the policies, but I’m not sure if reducing women to a two-dimensional puppet figure is the best means of communicating the message. After all, no one likes to be glued to a craft-stick, even if Barack is holding it.  

Relatability:  Am I the only person who was more interested in Julia’s clothes than her life experiences? Unless Obama’s going to give us all gift cards to J. Crew (can you imagine the conservative conniption?!), girl needs to be a little less put together once in a while if she wants to relate to me.

Swoon Factor: 6