On Motherhood & Sanity

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yes she can (or on why we can’t help but love Michelle Obama)

First off, let me just clarify I’m not American and I’m not voting.

Second, this is not a political blog and, normally, the US election would have no place here.  But that was before  the first lady - Princeton University cum laude 1985; Harvard Law School degree 1988; Chicago law firm; assistant commissioner of planning and development; and community outreach worker- closed one of the key speeches for the Democratic Convention with:

-You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still "mom-in-chief."

That night a feminist icon was established.

It’s not hard to guess why we can’t help falling in love with her. She is beautiful, yes, but she is also sharp, witty and smart, like scary smart. She is irrefutably successful and (to add insult to injury) toned, fit and funny.

She is also happily married to a (handsome, smart, smooth as silk and somewhat successful) man, who clearly and very publicly adores her.

Really we should hate her, because she does it all so gracefully she makes the rest of us seem like fat lazy slobs by comparison. But we don’t.

I grew up in a time where it was not acceptable to quote “family” as a reason not to be able to do something work related. Even if that something fell outside the official duty requirements of the job, or outside office hours. A mentor taught me to say “I had other commitments” instead of  “I have a school play” or “my kid is sick,” a trick I have used for years. It was a kind  of  “don’t ask don’t tell” situation. You don’t ask me what my engagement is, I won’t spell it out and my reputation wont suffer.  So to have her stand up and say that she was not sure this whole being-a-president thing was good for her daughters, well, it sets standards. But mostly, it sends a message: you can be fabulous, professional AND a present mother. That family IS a legitimate priority  and it  does not mean that you are not serious about your job and your career.

I also have to credit her for having the balls (I guess ovaries would be more appropriate in this context), to stand up and against the traditional role expected and almost required of a first lady. When Obama was first campaigning she was viewed as a  risk and something that had to be managed. Her strength negatively perceived and portrayed, with main stream media sometimes going to the most negative extremes of convention, referring to her  as an "angry black woman." Unacceptable by any standards (well, apparently some people just don't have standards). She was undeterred. Although she was in the spotlight she opted to write her own speeches, and although she reduced her professional responsibilities by 80 percent to support his candidacy, she limited her involvement and only traveled to political events  two days a week,  and  overnight stays only if their daughters could come along. She proved that the American people are smarter than they are often given credit for.  That they could both understand, relate to and appreciate the value of a strong, independent and smart woman. Her popularity has consistently remained above that of her husband, and now, above that of her husband's opponent. 

Mainly, we love her because she  took the rule book and used it to prop herself up to reach for the sugar, bake some wholesome  (whole-wheat and organic) brownies, in a Jason Wu outfit. And women all over the world, American or not, white, black blue or green, are indebted to her because she showed us with her example that we can be successful and feminine. We can be professional and maternal. We can be serious and fashionable.

Yes we can.