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Michelle Obama and the New Face of Feminism

What's so wrong about choosing to be "mom-in-chief" for the next four years?

by
Katherine Berry

Bio

December 5, 2008 - 12:00 am
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Ever since Michelle Obama said that her job now is to continue serving as “mom-in-chief,” the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus has been wincing. Oh, Marcus is quick to explain, what Michelle Obama said is fine and all. But, she wonders, doesn’t it set women back to have someone as high profile as the future first lady so proudly acknowledge her primary responsibility is motherhood?

I was okay, actually, with what Obama said. But I worried: Did she have to say it out loud, quite so explicitly? Is it really good for the team — the team here being working women — to have the “mommy” stamp so firmly imprinted on her identity?

For Marcus, it seems “strangely retro” for an Ivy League-educated lawyer like Michelle Obama to forgo her career in favor of raising her children. Yet even Marcus admits that’s a choice many women make, including most of her own friends. When it comes to them, Marcus seems to find it makes sense for a woman to focus on raising her children, at least while they are young. Marcus herself is a working mother who acknowledges that she, too, finds herself “recalibrating” her life to balance the needs of family and career. Of Sarah Palin’s bid for the vice presidency while her son Trig was still a newborn, Marcus doesn’t wonder whether Palin could juggle motherhood and career but, rather, “why she’d choose to.”

So why the “wincing” over Michelle Obama’s choice?

Maybe some of it is due to suspicion that this nurturing, earth-mother version of Michelle Obama isn’t really her at all but, rather, a public role to which she’s sacrificed her true self. After all, the Michelle Obama of the early campaign was confrontational, rankling many with her remarks about finally being proud of America once her husband was nominated for the presidency. Her apparent belief that Americans would continue voting based on skin color struck many, including myself, as racist. Her belligerent style drew so much flak, in fact, that Barack told the press to lay off of her.

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