In case you thought it was just “US Weekly” and “The View” hyping up Michelle Obama’s clothes and motherhood in attempt to de-emphasize her successful career and intelligence, think again.
In “Michelle Obama Highlights Her Warmer Side” in The New York Times Thursday, TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote that “Mrs. Obama distanced herself from that model [of the assertive career woman] on The View, describing herself as a mother and not mentioning her law career or her views on policy.” (The Candidates’ Wives Face Media Sexism by Lisa Witter)
Witter points out how quickly we have shifted focus from seriously considering our first female President to wondering what kind of “seen but not heard” First Ladies the candidates’ wives will be.
Media coverage everywhere is “Michelle vs. Cindy.” Where do they buy their dresses? Do they make bacon for breakfast? And, of course, which one can we compare to Jackie O?
Is anyone else as appalled as I am at how quickly we have gone back to thinking of women in the oldest of stereotypes — as only wives and mothers?
I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I love my family. But I’m other things, too. We all know that the presidents’ wives play an important role in policy and diplomacy in one way or another. Just look at the publicly recognized legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt, which proves how a strong first spouse (it just happens to be that they’ve all been first “ladies” so far) makes a country stronger.
So why do we hide it by focusing on hair, clothes and what’s on the breakfast table? Isn’t this part of the mostly unspoken sexism that Sen. Hillary Clinton and even the media have highlighted all along? (The Candidates’ Wives Face Media Sexism)
Eliza in Hollywood notes the contrast between Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama.
Cindy McCain doesn’t threaten the status quo. Michelle Obama does. Barbara Bush didn’t threaten the status quo. Hillary Clinton did. Laura Bush didn’t. Therese Heinz (Kerry) did. When it comes to political wives, outspoken is out. Soft-spoken is in. Making policy is out. Baking cookies is in. Ambition is definitely out. (The Castration of Michelle Obama)
Canadian Gal also points out the emphasis on Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama as “Soft, Cuddly, Wives and Mothers.”
What has been disgusting is that we have reverted into the oldest stereotypes – namely that women should ONLY depicted as wives or mothers.
The responsibility doesn’t just rest on the media, which I’ll get to in a minute. The campaigns themselves deserve some of the blame as well. Do the Obama’s and the McCain’s want to play into the stereotypes of first ladies that are only sweet and cuddly? Is Michelle going to quit giving her husband the fist-bump because it comes across as too strong? Does Cindy have to submit any more of ‘her’ cookie recipes so people can relate to her?
Media stories breathlessly ask:
‘Where do they buy their clothes?’
‘What types of food do they cook?’
‘Which one can be compared to Jackie O?’
WE GET IT. They are wives and mothers. But guess what? Both are highly accomplished and intelligent women and are other things too.
Honestly. What year is this? We are moving backward faster than we are progressing. Michelle Obama can be an accomplished, intelligent woman and still have the “softer side” that the media seeks; she shouldn’t have to apologize for the former in order to highlight the latter. We must value both equally.