Who Cares About the Sweaters?

April 6, 2009

I just finished the biography of Michelle Obama by Liza Mundy and the thing that struck me the most is how despite all of the silencing, demonizing, and minimizing that happened over the course of the election and, if you think about it, even now in the White House, she still comes across as a force to be reckoned with.  

The book describes how at first her speeches were much stronger and more pronounced in her beliefs and in her hopes for the country. She would also playfully criticize her husband in terms of chores around the house, etc.  Overtime, though, as she was picked out by opposition leaders as the one to demonize and identify as a threat, her message got increasingly muted and manipulated.  “While it hasn’t yet put her in a church-lady hat, the campaign has begun to seriously limit Michelle’s accessibility, steering her into interviews with friendly media vehicles such as Us Weekly, who titled its cover story ‘Why Barack Loves Her.’  Interviews were given to People and Access Hollywood, emphasizing her parenting and domestic life” (p. 195).  In essence she began to be expected to play the “good wife and mother” role, rather than the “equal partner” role or the “more than competent professional” role.

And yet, when I think of Michelle I think of the amazingly impressive professional woman who made both her career and her family life a priority despite having a husband who was out of town the vast majority of the time.  What is more, she didn’t throw in the towel on her marriage nor did she acquiesce, she just found a way to make it work.  Granted, she had an income that made that easier than it might be for others and family right nearby, but she still made it work.  She didn’t take an easier route.

So the next time I get frustrated as I hear blow-hards on CNN or MSNBC or wherever spending their time talking about her choice of sweaters rather than the immense policy changes that are taking place as we speak, I will try to remember that, in the end, what they say doesn’t matter- what matters is what she has been able to accomplish already and all that she promises to bring in the years ahead.

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