The End Of A Patriarchy?


Over at her women's website DoubleX, Hanna Rosin (who happens to be guest blogging at The Daily Dish this week) hopes that Ted Kennedy's passing signals the demise of the traditional Kennedy woman, a role that forced Rose and her daughters to "preen and pose" and, "if they were lucky, like Eunice Kennedy Shriver...[manage] to install themselves at the head of virtuous non-profits." I'd add that this role has already been undergoing some awkward adjustments at the hands of Ted Kennedy's niece, Caroline.

As Hanna writes:

When Joseph Jr. was killed in World War II, it fell to the next oldest son, John, to run. As John said at one point in 1959 while serving in the Senate: "Just as I went into politics because Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, our young brother, Ted, would take over for him."

When the gravity of Ted's illness became clear, Kennedy-watchers searched for the bright young descendant who would "take over for him." The generation after Joe, Jack, Bobby, and Ted, however, has provided fewer obvious choices for succession; the Kennedy child most present in public life was Eunice's daughter Maria, and she was already engaged as first lady of California. And so it was with both bafflement and hope that we watched Caroline Kennedy attempt to continue her family's tradition of public service. Though the cringe-worthy announcement of her campaign withdrawal was inevitable, no one could deny that her instinct to carry on the family tradition and honor her ailing uncle was poignant.

But therein lies the problem for the Kennedy women--Caroline's political aspirations seemed more family obligation than service vocation. Because she is so steeped in the Kennedy female paradigm, her attempts to fill her father's and uncles' shoes felt artificial and inappropriate. Like her grandmother, who gritted her teeth and forced a smile while welcoming her husband's mistress into her home, or her mother, who maintained her iconic cool throughout her husband's White House womanizing, Caroline seemed to contemplate public office because she felt it was her duty to her family. But whereas this duty has historically been enacted within the Kennedy family's many beautiful homes, Caroline was awkwardly stranded in the public sphere.

Hanna argues that both Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver are challenging the role of the Kennedy woman. And while Caroline's political failure was grandiose, it is perhaps just as attributable to the public's growing discomfort with political dynasties as to our squirms at seeing her attempt to play the (Kennedy) man.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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