Sunday, June 8, 2008

Michelle Obama

I ended my last post bracing myself for the treatment of Michelle Obama in the media, and soon after saw this piece in Racialicious discussing how both conservative and liberal media and bloggers have begun to dissect Michelle's appearance, strength, career, and etc. Where Hillary's supposed dowdiness was used against her when Bill was President, now it appears that Michelle's attractiveness will be used against her. (See the photo from a "progressive" blog depicting her in a revealing evening gown, hanging from her wrists and about to be branded by the KKK supposedly illustrating the racist and sexist attacks of right wingers. As if composing that image were not itself a threatening act against her.)

Laura Bush is the ideal "first lady" as that concept is constructed. She is white, Christian, demure, and attractive, but in a conservative way. She is deferential towards her husband even when she disagrees with him, is patient and kind, forgiving him for his youthful excesses. A librarian and a mother, capable of keeping the household harmonious and preventing any distractions from impinging upon her husband's important work.

That the Obamas, like the Clintons and Roosevelts before them, have a marriage based at least in theory on equality and respect is deeply disruptive to the conventions of politics and running for office. (I say in equal in theory because obviously, Bill has shown deep disrespect through his behavior--although he worked like a dog to help get Hillary elected, and supported her attempt to transform the role of "first lady" during his presidency into a job description his wife would want.) I guess it should be no wonder that politics is still such a male dominated profession, when there are such rigid roles prescribed for our nation's highest office and its "first lady."

Here's an idea: I would like to retire whole "first lady" concept. The fact that there were questions about what you would call the husband of the president begs the question of why one's spouse should have anything to do with the office of President in the first place. Spouses/partners show up at the office holiday party--they are not part of the job interview.

More importantly, our country needs to be cured of its first lady fetish--the demand that the wife of the President reflect some idealized notion of feminine domestic perfection: Donna Reed without the sass.

Barbara Bush couldn't live up because she had gray hair and was overweight, even though her personality perfectly fit the bill. Nancy Reagan was too strong and shrill, even though she looked exactly the part.

These are real women, not rarified "ladies." And in the case of Michelle Obama, the "first lady" narrative is going to be an oppressive prison for a woman with her own career aspirations and political convictions--for a woman of color who is bold enough to have spoken out against racism.

Based on a mythological creation of the Christian, white, wealthy, and powerful, it is no wonder that the attacks on Michelle Obama as unfit for the role of "first lady" have so quickly begun.
The fact that she doesn't fit the mold may be all the more reason to elect her husband President.

1 comment:

nectaryne said...

Miss E shared your blog with me thinking I would be interested. She was so right! I am embarrassed to admit it had never occurred to me that either Ms. Obama or Ms. McCain actually HAD jobs. Thanks for helping me move to a more educated existence!