Written for The Vagenda, who kindly gave me permission to reproduce the article here
You’d think the wife of one of the most influential, powerful and sexily-voiced men in the world would feel like identifying herself as something more than simply ‘mother-in-chief’. But when Michelle Obama made her speech at the Democratic Convention, listing how, like, totally besotted she was with her husband after his 4 years in office and how her most important role in life is being a mother, shit got a bit uncomfortable in the feminist world (the actual world).
Mummy Obama obviously didn’t realise that when she got up on that podium and declared those beliefs to the thousands, she was basically saying ‘I don’t do the politics-y thing, that’s my husband’s job’. Choosing to spend your life looking after your children is not an unworthy pursuit, but Mrs Obama resorting to dated stereotypes in order to coax backwards Americans to vote is just plain lazy and insulting. Michelle doesn’t need to come wielding The Female Eunuch, screaming ‘DEATH TO THOSE WHO OBEY CONSTRUCTS OF SOCIETY’ whilst burning a doll (or real) Todd Akin, but she depicts an insultingly simplistic portrayal of a lifestyle, a portrayal that, unfortunately, doesn’t say ‘as a woman living in 21st century where the role of a mother is only one of the many things I can choose to spend my life doing, I’ve decided that looking after my children as a job is fulfilling, and I do it not because I feel I have to fulfil a mould that’s set out for me, but because I want to’.
It’s soooooo last century for the Democrats to try and push Michelle as the good ol’ ‘wife and mum’. The main reason they get female voters is because the Democrats aren’t disgusting sexist, woman-say-goodbye-to-your-vagina, you-don’t-know-what’s-best-for-your-uterus kind of politicians, but ones who often acknowledge that things have changed in the last hundred years re: women. Partially, the whole shtick was probably meant to humanise Obama. I mean, I get that it’s important for someone like Ann Romney to be up there doing that, reminding the world that Mitt isn’t just some unbelievably wealthy, misogynistic, cold, compassionless reptile, but actually, a genuine, real-life human being, with a real human heart, and apparently also, a brain (who knew?).
ut Obama?! We LOVE Obama! He reeks cool, down to earth man of the people (I mean, look at THIS
), and he definitely does not need to pander to Americans by presenting his policies and then going ‘but if you’re not into all that Medicare, welfare thing, well…I’m actually a bit old fashioned, and just LOVE a classic role fulfilment’.
amma O also at one point in her speech presents this long anecdote about how her father worked past medical issues to make the monies so he could support his family. Fine, good work, I don’t like working when it’s dark outside, or if I don’t have the right pen (Pilot VB7 Liquid Ink pen
) so that’s pretty impressive. BUT THEN, she states that this is ‘what being a man’ is about (did someone say ‘heteronormative’??). Oh Michelle, you’re confused, it’s the twenty FIRST century, yes, there you go, no don’t worry about it, easy mistake. Men can make the monies. Women can make the monies. That doesn’t make a man a man and it doesn’t make a woman a man. And it certainly doesn’t make a ‘man’ any less of a ‘man’ if he wants to look after his kids or go travelling for a bit, or sit googling ‘funny cat videos’ for over 6 hours a day. It’s just foolish to try and enforce dated gender roles, especially as a cheap means of campaigning.
So Michelle, do as the t-shirts say: look forward! Or, just, like look around and notice how women are creating all kinds of roles for themselves, and that it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a man looking after kids, or single, or a woman earning money for a family (plus, most mums don’t give up their careers because their husband is the President, natch). The cult of motherhood, much like that other cult, Scientology, is increasingly obsolete in public discourse. And THANK GOD. There’s a difference between enjoying being a mother, and being a ‘mom-in-chief’, which is presumably some kind of uber mom who leads other, less organised, high-profile moms to…what exactly? Not liberation, that’s for sure. Still, at least they let the little lady make a speech. Progress.
By Ruby Lott-Lavigna
Written August 2012