Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mommification of Michelle Obama: More Parenting in Public

This Salon article on Michelle Obama's decision to be Mom-in-Chief in the new Obama administration and the writer's dismay that this is a retrograde decision on the part of the Obamas has been making the rounds the my corner of the blogosphere. I've been thinking about it for a few days, trying to figure out why, though I fully recognize the concerted effort that has gone into softening Michelle's public image, I am in no way bothered by her desire to focus on the children's transition to White House.

Maybe it's because I believe her when she says this is her choice, that the most important thing to her right now is that her children maintain has much normalcy as is possible when your father is leader of the free world. Brian spent the last two years being the primary caregiver of our children, being the one who is always here, the one who maintained their routine. Now that he is back in school and working full-time and no one is filling that stay-at-home parent role, the change is noticeable. We have created more chaos and unpredictability in our children's lives. While I think we're handling it fine and that our children are perfectly okay, I can only manage the chaos that's about to descend upon the Obama girls. What parent wouldn't want to dedicate as much time as they can to help their kids navigate that?

Maybe I also like the way Michelle's decision foregrounds just how hard and time-consuming caring for children is. And if you are committed to doing it well, to really making sure you end up with healthy, well-adjusted children, you're going to want to devote as much time to it as possible. Again, Michelle didn't quit her job to twiddle her thumbs while her kids are at school. She's decided to be responsible for creating the cocoon around her children that will help them come out the other side of this okay. That's a full time job.

Maybe I'm not convinced that Hilary Clinton was good model for First Lady. This article, and others like it, make the comparison to Clinton and imply that we're taking a step backward with Michelle Obama. Clinton's insistence on being involved in her husband's administration, her clear desire to be involved in politics are held up as the model for how to be First Lady. But, truthfully, I think that's bullshit. Because First Lady is not really a job. It's just a bullshit bourgeous title we give to wives of powerful men in a jacked up attempt to acknowledge the "importance" of these women. Why do we assume that Michelle Obama can replace her $273,618 a year job, a career she clearly loved and worked really hard for, and a support system she'd built over 20 years with some bullshit First Lady project? Would we really feel better if she dedicated the next four years to literacy or land mines or underprivileged youth? Do we really think the First Lady's agenda matters in any way at all? You know what matters? Making sure growing up in the White House doesn't fuck up your kids. I think Michelle Obama gets that as well.

And maybe I believe that Michelle Obama isn't really an extension of her husband, despite what it may look like in public. I always got the sense from both Bush wives that they were women of certain class who understood that marrying well meant becoming a reflection of your husband's ambitions and accomplishments. In that respect, First Lady was not a role change, just the role they've accepted writ large. The Bush marriages seem clearly not marriages of equals. And my impression of Hilary Clinton was, and remains, that she also isn't in a marriage of equals. She seems constantly fighting to prove to us, and perhaps herself, that she isn't an extension of Bill. The Obamas seems to deeply love and respect each other. Michelle has certainly sacrificed a lot in these last two years so that Barack can pursue this dream of being president, but there is every indication that he recognizes and understands and acknowledges that sacrifice. And I suspect there are things he's doing to make up for that sacrifice that are just none of our business.

And, finally, maybe Michelle doesn't feel it necessary or appropriate to bitch to the general public about how annoyed she may be feeling about this major change in her life. As I said a couple of posts back, private decisions made in public take on a whole different tenor. It may seems to all of us that she's putting a nail in feminism's coffin, but she might also be choosing to keep some of her life to herself. Would I like it if she sat down with Katie Couric for a heartfelt interview about how hard it is to be Mrs. Obama all the time, instead of just Michelle, or about how she manages to still be Michelle despite having to be Mrs. Obama in public? Sure. But I'm also fine if she's decided that, right now, she owes more to her children than she does to me.


jody said...

Why isn't what you said being said in Salon? You need to write this up for a newspaper, magazine, journal, etc. etc. etc.

And how much more true can this be: "You know what matters? Making sure growing up in the White House doesn't fuck up your kids."

jody said...