Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Strategically Taking The Beaten Path

In the latest episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, the mother of the pregnant teenager, Anne, is dressed in business attire preparing breakfast for the family when her husband, George, saunters in. George gives her the one-over and scoffs something along the lines of: "What, just because you're the mother of a pregnant teenager you think you can be mayor now?" Whether this was an innocent remark or a sly dig at Sarah Palin, I drew a connection and later decided to check in with the "First Mother" of the United States.

In an article titled "Michelle Obama takes well-trod path in first lady role", the Chicago Tribune discusses how Michelle seems to have taken the position of "First Mom" over that of "First Lady" in the beginning days of the new presidency. Apparently Michelle Obama has been reading books, scheduling games, meeting with chefs, and getting to know the neighborhood.

There is doubt expressed over the fact that "First Mom" is the largest role such a high-powered woman will take. Hillary Clinton is discussed and the journalist writes that Michelle is probably trying to avoid Hillary's mistakes as First Lady:
First Lady Hillary Clinton suffered a backlash for barreling straight to the role once termed "co-president" after joking that she had chosen professional fulfillment instead of cookie-baking and tea-hosting.

Michelle Obama is clearly taking the opposite approach, starting with hearth and home and venturing outward. It's a more familiar route for the experienced six-figure professional with a reputation for sizing up the waters before diving in.
In that quote the journalist claims the "First Mom" strategy is just a way for Michelle to ease into the role of First Lady, but I have to wonder: Is Michelle truly going about this in a "professional" manner, or is she just doing her best to conform to the "undefined role of the first lady?" Michelle is an advocate of the "work-life balance." Is it a true lifestyle or just a way to sooth the Social Conservatives?
"She is looking and learning and isn't going to make the same mistakes because she's aware of what the mistakes were," said Letitia Baldridge, the author who served as social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy when she was first lady.
Isn't it possible that Michelle is just making sure her husband's transfer into office is as smoothe as possible by giving the public what they expect and desire?

While I don't necessarily fault her for it, I have to question whether I, as a feminist, would rather have had a First Lady who barrels straight for co-president, or a First Lady who will "help women realize that a woman can juggle the two, that she can find that division between family and job, and experience joy in both places."

What do you think?


Ali Wunderman said...

You bring up a really interesting question, but I don't know if I can answer it. Part of me wonders if she is trying to fill a gender role by portraying herself as the neighborhood mom, making cookies and planning parties while still being a powerful lawyer in order to appeal to the citizens. The other part of me suggests that, as a woman, she should be able to do what she wants regardless of gender stereotypes, and if she happens to match one it's not because she's trying to, so if she wants to be a homemaker and a lawyer, good for her.

As for which one I'd rather have, that's also tough to answer. I didn't vote for my president based on his wife, so if she does something beyond keeping him sane, then I'm happy, but if she maintains her former job and doesn't do much in terms of being first lady, then also good for her for maintaining independence in a marriage. This is a really interesting post! It has a lot of food for thought.

Phia! said...

I agree with having a first lady that can juggle the two. Michelle Obama, as First Lady has to set a good impression and basically be a role model, and I think so far she is doing a good job. However the term "First Mom" gives me a bad connotation. I believe she is trying to set good image about herself, but she is most of all trying to fit into the role of the first lady. In becoming First Lady she asked Laura Bush advice on being the first lady. This showed me that she was a little nervous in what her duties as First Lady should be. Overall I believe she is trying to find a balance between everything, and is doing an excellent job.

stephkasten said...

As I read this post, I started to wonder what exactly it means to be a good first lady. Does it mean having high approval ratings, influencing one's husband to make good decisions in office, or making accomplishments for various charities and organizations? Does it mean being a good mother or pushing a political agenda? Why were many of Hillary Clinton's actions as first lady considered "mistakes"? I'm not sure what the answers to these questions are, but it seems that we can't necessarily judge all first ladies by the same standards.

sdmalhi said...

Personally, I just think it's a huge step up for our society to even look at the First Lady as holding a position herself. After the countless instances of sexist discrimination we saw through our research on the 2008 presidential election, it's nice to see that Michelle Obama isn't just being pushed aside as Obama's wife, but rather, she's being given the spotlight. I think I agree with the role that Michelle is undertaking; the First Lady shouldn't try to live up to the role of "co-president" because that's not what she is. The title of First Lady has a more elegant, more feminine, and most importantly, more motherly connotation, and rather than trying to compete with the President, the First Lady should assume authority over other aspect's of the White House, aside from politics.

akclark said...

I respect Michele Obama for adeptly fulfilling the role as first lady by making occasional public appearances supporting her husband’s policies while still stressing that her current mission is to be first mom. This is a sensitive period in Obama’s presidency. The economy is still slipping, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell to below 7,000 points, and the republicans are not supporting his proposed stimulus package. It must take a lot of restraint for Michele Obama, a successful attorney, much like Hilary Clinton, to hold back and maintain her role as “First Mom,” as a priority putting her previous occupation on the back burner. I am completely comfortable with a first lady that does not impose herself into the position of co-president. I prefer a first lady who uses her intellectual and speaking ability to make occasional speeches supporting her husband and while focusing on her role as first mom. If Michele Obama discovered some unique solution to our problems, I would not want her to hold her ideas back but rather share her views as a citizen of this country. I truly believe that it comes from within when Michele says she is an advocate of work-life balance. She is being genuine and this concern for family is not just a strategy to appease social conservatives.