Let me be crystal clear: I thought Michelle Obama gave one hell of a speech at the Democratic convention. It was strong, passionate, and thoughtful—no small feat in a political season where meanness and smugness seem to rule the day.
That said, I must tell you that the First Lady made me cringe when she said at one key juncture during her speech:
At the end of the day, my most important title is still mom-in-chief.
She got a lot of applause (from both the audience and pundits) for deploying that "mom-in-chief" line. But I didn't like it. Actually, I think I uttered an audible "Ugh."
Now, don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with wearing the mommy badge proudly. But isn't there something awfully regressive, limiting, and perhaps dishonest about that self-described role—especially because Obama is a woman of professional achievement? I mean, she is a Harvard Law grad, a one-time Sidley & Austin associate, and a former senior adminstrator for the University of Chicago Hospitals. Did she really have to bury her laurels to make herself palatable to the American public?
The answer is probably yes. That means Obama basically has to follow the script and downplay (or is it erase?) her accomplishments to make herself "likable." (Did Obama even mention that she worked as a lawyer during her speech?) I mean, we are so not ready for a working First Lady. (Remember how Hillary Clinton got roughed up for stepping out of the traditional First Lady role?)
The net effect, unfortunately, is that we are sending our daughters a very mixed signal about women and power. As Emily Bazelon writes in Slate about Obama's speech:
I do wish she could put a bit of her political capital into making her own glittering professional resume part of the story she tells about herself and her family. Doesn’t she want Malia and Sasha to know that she stands behind her own professional achievement as well as their father’s?
I don't know if Michelle Obama genuinely feels being a mom is her ultimate calling and that her professional past is now irrelevant. Maybe she's just bowing to political pressures. Any way you look at it, though, there's the tacit message that no matter your achievements, what really counts for a woman is being a mom.
I find the message deflating and irritating. I mean, can you imagine a man with Michelle Obama's resume reducing himself to being just "dad"?
Related post: I Am Not Ann Romney.
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