Loads of media types are already wondering aloud, what kind of parents the Obamas will be. For me, that question is sort of silly — won’t they continue to be the same kind of parents they’ve always been?
My question, hopefully not as silly, is whether Michelle Obama’s presence in the White House as a highly-educated, accomplished professional woman who is now, in essence, a stay-at-home mom, will re-ignite the whole Mommy Wars/Get to Work/Feminine Mistake debate?
There’s no doubt that she’ll help bring more attention to the issues of work/life balance so many of us struggle with every day:
She is a get-it-done-efficiently Rachael Ray type, they say, not given to elaborate Martha Stewart-like efforts.
As first lady, Mrs. Obama has said, she plans to make herself an advocate for working parents, particularly military families, urging better access to child care for all. Trying to juggle public duties with two young children, she will be a living illustration of the very issue she describes.
“She’s going to be engaging in the balancing act herself,” said Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential historian.
Which leads some to ask, is this the “momification” of Michelle?
When I lamented to a friend about how it seemed that both the media and Michelle have been downplaying her accomplishments — wouldn’t it be great for our daughters AND sons to hear more about that? — my friend wondered whether our country, for all its advances, was ready to accept her as a professional woman or whether we still need to see our first lady, especially the first African American First Lady, as less threatening. After all, it didn’t go so well for Hillary Clinton when she made it clear she wasn’t exactly going to hide her professional self.
So, Rebecca Traister at Salon wonders, how does it feel to put your ambition on the back burner? How many of us have gone through that same calculation:
In all the worrying about how Sasha and Malia will adjust to having their lives turned upside down, in all the fretting about how [Barack] Obama will move his Chicago-style shop to Washington, why is there so little curiosity about how Michelle will adjust to the loss of her own private, very successful, very high-profile and very independent identity? How will Michelle Obama feel as she becomes what she has long resisted — an extension of her husband?
Traister also points to the recent More magazine profile of Michelle, that ponders the same question:
In one of the smartest pieces that has been written about the next first lady, Geraldine Brooks’ profile of [Michelle Obama] in the October issue of More magazine, Brooks writes that while you can see Michelle’s life as the quintessential modern woman’s success story, the trajectory can also be read as a “depressingly retrograde narrative of stifling gender roles and frustrating trade-offs.” In serious ways, Brooks writes, “it is her husband’s career, his choices — choices she has not always applauded — that have shaped her life in the last decade.”
I’ve got a solution. How ’bout you make your own, personal and career decisions. I’ll make mine. [Sarah] Palin and [Michelle] Obama will make theirs. And we’ll just agree that we don’t all see eye-to-eye on work and parenthood, that we all stand alone in our own shoes. If the mothers who are so quick to attack one another’s choices instead channeled their energies into something other than insulting one another, think of all the time that’d be left to do something more constructive.
Ah, if only it was that simple. I think one reason this whole tableau gets so much play is because it’s a quick and easy one to write about that editors know people will be drawn to. It’s not really about the debate, but about the ratings and the ad revenue.
There was bound to be some discussion of all this as the educated, accomplished mother of two young children enters the White House. But I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that it isn’t fodder for four years of renewed border skirmishes in the Mommy Wars.