The “In This House” road signs and their curious power
Political traffic signs are no longer just election season events. Tory counties are full of signs expressing their support for Trump, despite not holding any office and currently running for nothing. And the sign “In This House” spawned many flattering imitations and absurd parodies. There are versions for neoliberals, YIMBY, preservatives, conspiracy, fans of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and people annoyed by banality of the original sign. In 2017, Garvey’s poster was acquired for the records of the National Woman’s Party – an organization that had, a century earlier, led the most militant fringe of the American suffrage movement. This is a remarkable result for an artefact born from such a humble tradition: a decor linked to the mother.
If you’ve visited a beach town flea market, browsed a farmhouse-style Pinterest board, or stayed in a generic Airbnb rental, the “In This House” sign format may be familiar to you. “In this house,” the sign begins, followed by a list of aphoristic family rules, such as “We cuddle,” “We make mistakes,” “We do really well”, or “We make family. “. Often the messages are overtly moralizing (“We pray”). Sometimes they end with a sassy touch (“We Cheer for Clemson”). Like other incantations from the Momcore Canon, the sign is often printed on a deliberately distressed board in a mix of fonts – perhaps a gloopy typewriter style punctuated with shards of tinny cursive. The entire set category (see also: “You won’t try me” and “Mama needs her wine”) features a mother character who serves as a fun but besieged guardian of her family’s moral compass. Although “In This House We” is worded as a disciplinary guide for children, the signs appear to be directed at the adults in the room, reminding them of their own mission amid the chaos of parenthood.
When this kind of sign translated into a symbol of #resistance, it left the living room and entered the public sphere. The target audience has spread from the family unit to passing neighbors and complete strangers. Now the sign suggested a culture-wide lesson plan, even though its framing (in this house) remained individualistic. It was suited to meet a particular cultural moment for liberal white women, who were going through not only a political crisis but a reputation crisis.
The typical Pantsuit Nation member may have felt personally attacked by Trump’s victory, but she also felt responsible for it. One of the most memorable signs from the 2017 Women’s March was, “Remember: White Women Voted Trump,” punctuated with a menacing scribble in red marker. Initial exit polls suggested that Trump had won over 50% of white female voters, and that figure formed a powerful narrative that involved the entire population. While it was the overwhelming support of white men that propelled Trump to power, it is the ambivalent stance of white women that has become an object of public fascination. The allegation was that liberal white women had failed, metaphorically speaking, to clean their own homes. In 2018, the Pew Research Center published a study more solid analysis of the 2016 electorate, which determined that 47% of white women voted for Trump, ahead of Clinton’s 45%. Whichever way you sliced it, the white women were split roughly in the middle, suggesting a tense battle for the souls of the people.