Michelle Obama – Not your average politican’s wife

BlogHer Original Post

In one of the several interviews the Clinton’s gave in 1992 on the eve of him winning the presidential election, Hillary Clinton quipped, “You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.” That caused a furor in the media from those who felt that it was not only a criticism of women that chose to be homemakers, but also of the perceived invisibility that a First Lady should assume while her husband was in the White House.

Maureen O’Dowd recently put Barak Obama’s wife Michelle, to task for allegedly emasculating her husband during two public appearances, by not pandering to what the millions of Obama fans want to hear and describing him as a man who, like anybody else, has faults. She, his wife, speaks of Obama not as the “Halfrican” wonderboy who is going to change America for the good, but as someone who is as fallible as anyone else:

Many people I talked to afterward found Michelle wondrous. But others worried that her chiding was emasculating, casting her husband - under fire for lacking experience - as an undisciplined child.

At a March fundraiser in New York, she tweaked her husband for not "putting his socks actually in the dirty clothes."

And at a lunch last week with Chicago women, she gave the candidate a fed-up look about that melting butter and said, "I'm like: `You're just asking for it. You know I'm giving a speech about you today.'"

She throws in nice stuff, too, how he's "the real deal" and a trustworthy "brother." But this princess of South Chicago, a formidable Princeton and Harvard Law School grad, wants us to know that she's not polishing the pedestal.

The Chicago Tribune profile of "Barack's Rock" last Sunday noted that her career had caused her husband discomfort: "Critics have pointed out that her income has risen along with her husband's political ascent. She sits on the board of a food company that supplies Wal-Mart, which Obama has denounced for its labor practices."

The Obamas are both skeptical of hype. Michelle dryly told a reporter at her husband's Senate swearing-in that perhaps someday, he would do something to earn all the attention he was getting.

Perhaps Michelle Obama is fearful that his electoral chances might be marred by the rabid worship that has surrounded his presidential campaign. On the other hand, perhaps she is just displaying to the public what she really is: A strong, opinionated woman who refuses to stand in the shadow of her husband. Whatever the case is, the HNIC Report, a website dedicated to covering the 2008 presidential campaign with a keen interest in Obama, takes an interesting look at O’Dowd’s article, arguing that O’Dowd’s chastising of Michelle Obama’s perceived “attitude” towards her husband is rooted in a legacy of white liberals who feel that they can patronize blacks who are getting a bit too ‘uppity.’

Interestingly enough, Dowd sees herself as coming to Senator Obama’s defense, when in reality she is only stoking the flames of the always tense black woman-black man-white woman triangle. She is, in effect, contributing to a pervasive stereotype within the black community (and perhaps outside of it as well)— namely that black women pull black men down and are to blame for pushing them into the arms of white women. Writes Dowd," I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as a mere mortal - a comic routine that rests on the presumption that we see him as a god."

It is also true that there are prevalent stereotypes that exist both within the black community and in the larger society in general of the ball-breaking black woman who is too cold and unfeeling to be able to emotionally support her mate. Is O’Dowd playing into that myth? Perhaps. Also, it has been noted (not just by O’Dowd but from media critics) that Michelle’s salary has increased in tandem to her husband’s meteoric rise in politics. Umm, so what? To be fair, these criticisms of presidential candidates finances is par for the course – even though I can’t remember the income of the First Ladies - Laura Bush, Barbara Bush,Nancy Regan or Hillary Clinton being scruitinzed to the same extent as Michelle Obama. Are some people simply in a tizzy because this woman might be the First Lady? So despite Barak Obama’s popularity, it is not enough to make the reality of American racial stereotypes go away.


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