The XX Factor

Why I Wanted to Be Jackie O, Submissive Or Not


A guest post from Slate intern Kim Gittleson:

Hanna, I was taken aback by your celebration of the end of the Kennedy women . Not because I thought their model (or the model that was forced on them) was particularly great, but because I remembered the Kennedy women, Jackie in particular, quite differently. For one generation, Jackie and her ilk may have represented the ultimate example of postwar feminine submission, while for another generation (mine), she seemed to represent something a little more positive.

An example: When I was in third grade in 1995, the overachievers in my class were all asked to deliver a book report on their favorite female role model-in costume as her-for a conference at the local Army base. I watched my classmates frantically fight over the biographies on Helen Keller and Anne Frank, but ultimately decided that I wanted to be someone different-someone less depressing, more chic, someone who didn’t wear so much brown . I chose Jackie Kennedy, who represented to my third grade mind the “alternative” choice. I took out an (admittedly whitewashed) biography of her and fell completely in love. Jackie Kennedy spoke French fluently, worked as a photographer for a cool magazine, restored the White House, and impressed heads of state. In the idealized narrative of her life that I was given, Jackie O wasn’t as courageous as Anne Frank or as determined as Helen Keller, but she was someone I could actually aspire to be. So I begged my mom for, and eventually received, a bright pink suit and a pair of large sunglasses, and I strutted into that conference, book report in hand, confident that I was the winner of the unspoken contest to choose the best woman.

Now, 14 years later and in possession of a college degree in American history, I realize that the image of Jackie I was given was completely fabricated. Or, if not fabricated, it left out a few essential details. But maybe that isn’t so terrible. Thanks in part to Jackie’s example, I learned French, attended the Governor’s School of International Studies, and aspired to live in the White House (as president, mind you, but she somehow made it seem possible). So while I see how the demise of the model championed by the Kennedy men is something to celebrate, I can’t help wondering if maybe we should make a distinction between the lives they lived and the lives they changed.

Photograph courtesy of Kennedy Library Archives/Newsmakers.