Leave Michelle Obama Alone!


Intellectually, I can totally grasp both sides of the current feminist infighting over Michelle Obama’s “job performance.” There’s a solid round-up of both camps over at the Washington Post right now, and a nuanced but concise explanation of how each argument resonates in a racial context. It’s a valuable read.

Basically, some women (mainly white feminists) are upset that Michelle Obama hasn’t kept up her fancy lawyerin’ in the years since her husband became Intergalactic Hegemon—as a professional woman even more accomplished than her husband in certain ways, she could really have set an example for budding feminists everywhere. It’s a frustration perfectly crystallized in Obama’s insistence on repeating the term “mom-in-chief” when describing her “most important job.” Everyone else, though (feminists of color and also feminists with other stuff to think about) are like, “Yeah, but…it’s fine, though. Get it, Michelle.”

In 2008, when Obama announced her intention to be “mom-in-chief,” many feminists decried her decision to give up her career and said she had been victimized by her husband’s choices. She was regarded as one of the women feminist Linda Hirshman described as “letting down the team.”
But most black feminists and writers had a different view. Let the sister get settled, they said. Give her a minute to do a head count. And if she wanted to focus on motherhood, for black women that was more than fine. It was arguably revolutionary, because black women were long denied the right – or lacked the means – to simply care for their own.

So, yes. Even though intellectually I can understand this debate, realistically I don’t give one shit what Michelle Obama does in her free time—nor do I care how much free time she has. First of all, getting mad over the First Lady’s “job performance” implies that being somebody’s wife is a job. It’s not. She’s not defined by her husband’s career, and to suggest otherwise is pretty anti-feminist in itself.

Second of all, personally, if MY husband were to be elected president, I would HELLA TAKE SOME TIME OFF. Are you kidding? Hang out at the White House and take unlimited naps and goof off with my adorable children and eat yogurt parfaits prepared by my personal chef while I watch Dave and The American President on an infinite loop? Um, DUH. (Also I will be renaming the Lincoln Bedroom the “Jed Bartlet Butterball Suite.”) And as far as I’m concerned, keeping her family sane under the weight and scrutiny of the entire free world is a pretty monumental “job” in itself. On that note:

“I just have a problem with the idea that Michelle Obama doesn’t work,” says author Joan Morgan, a visiting scholar at Stanford University. “It’s a basic anti-feminist argument to say the work she does in making sure her family is okay – that the girls are healthy and not caught up in the craziness of celebrity and acting out – is not valuable work.”


Third of all, if you think either of the Obamas is living their whole truth and manifesting their vision board and dancing like no one is watching right now, you’re crazy. Those two are capitulating and compromising and pandering all over the place, so that all hell doesn’t break loose in our batshit Tea Party nation. There’s no way Michelle Obama doesn’t understand every single nuance of her “mom-in-chief” comment, but she has “family values” conservatives threatening to assassinate her every single day. I can cut that mom a break. And, really, she’s doing the bare minimum. “I love my kids” (which, by the way, you also hear from Barack all the damn time) is hardly a controversial stance.

Fourth of all, has she really not done enough? Is it really not enough that Michelle Obama is impeccably confident, self-possessed, and on-top-of-her-shit literally every single time we catch a glimpse of her? Is it not enough that she’s a Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer who also appears to be totally fun to hang out with? Is it not enough that she’s the first black First Lady ever of all time? Is that not enough steps at once for you? I suppose there’s nothing wrong with holding our heroes up to high standards and hoping they’ll fulfill all the potential we see in them and feeling disappointed when they don’t. I get it. But Michelle? Really? Pretty sure we have bigger fish to fry than our super-smart bicep-crunching history-making lawyer black First Lady.

And fifth of all, so what if she does like being a mom better than being a lawyer? Last time I checked, we were campaigning for equality and opportunity—not for all women to fit the exact Mrs. Butterworth’s mold we’ve imagined for them.

I think what I like most about Michelle Obama is that she bridges both sides of this divide. She’s an ass-kicking career woman and a mom, and she’s unapologetic about both roles. That’s a balance I’d love to find in my own life. (I love my job, but I also love nail polish—see? Easy!). And, by the way, it’s not a balance I feel like foisting on any other woman who doesn’t choose it. Do your thing, Mobama.

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