In an excellent article published on Salon.com on November 12, 2008, Rebecca Traister looks at Michelle Obama, a Harvard educated lawyer whose career and ambitions have largely taken a backburner to her husband’s as his political career has blossomed. She discusses the way that the media has been all too happy to embrace the uncontroversial, soccer mom, J. Crew shopping, White House decorating incarnation of Michelle Obama that has emerged over the course of the campaign and continues to be forwarded, not only by the media, but by the Obama campaign and Michelle Obama herself. Traister deals with many of the same tensions I explored in an article I wrote last year for the National Organization for Women in which I explored the coverage of women politicians like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi by the mainstream media (it can be found here). Although Michelle Obama is not a politician, she is a political wife, and, as the future First Lady, a political figure who has the potential to be a very influencial female figure in American society.
Traister writes that:
It’s as though the American media — exhausted after the progressive exertions of having to be respectful and not misogynist about two women running for political office — has loosened its belt and is relaxing back into a world in which all you have to do is write about what they wear and how they mother
I think this analysis is spot-on. I’ve had this same thought at many, many moments over the past months and, even in the midst of the incredible euphoria and sense of hope that I have felt in the days since Obama’s election, these impressions lingered, nagging in the periphery of my mind. Just as some small part of me still mourns the fact that Hillary Clinton, perhaps the only woman in the country at this point so well situated to take her run for President all the way, was unable to achieve the highest office in the land, the trajectory of the media portrayals of Michelle Obama, as well as the unquestioned expectation that she play second fiddle to her husband and conform to an image of femininity at its most unthreatening, have somewhat tempered the victory for me. Don’t get me wrong–I am absolutely thrilled that Barack Obama will be our next President. I volunteered and donated money to his campaign and felt greater joy on the night of November 4th than I can remember experiencing in a very long time. I simply hope that in all the hullabaloo over the historic nature of Obama’s election, we don’t take a pass on women–their portrayals by the media and the incredible double standards still imposed on them, as exemplified by Michelle Obama.
Anyway, enough from me–check out Traister’s article here.