Michelle Obama: Ain’t She a Woman?

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published on What Tami Said


Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is an American lawyer and the wife of Illinois senator Barack Obama, who is a candidate for the 2008 Democratic Party nomination for U.S. President. She was born and grew up on the South Side of Chicago and then educated at Princeton University and Harvard Law School. After completing her formal education, she returned to Chicago and went to work for the law firm Sidley Austin, on the staff of the Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago Hospitals. She is the sister of Craig Robinson, men’s basketball coach at Oregon State University. Read more

I admire Michelle Obama. By all reliable accounts, she is smart, accomplished and an equal partner in her marriage to a high-profile, powerful man. Obama is not overshadowed by her husband. He complements her, and she him. In many ways, she reminds me of another First-Spouse-to-be that I once admired: Hillary Clinton. And just like Clinton back in 1992, Michelle Obama is being demonized for not being a cipher that stands quietly by her man, enraptured by his power and prowess.

Kathy G. at The G Spot blog nailed it when she wrote about a recent Michelle Obama hit piece written by Christopher Hitchens for Slate:

The Hitchens piece, contemptible piece o’ shite though it is, a surefire sign that, now that it’s clear Hillary’s presidential campaign is all but over, the right is proceeding apace with its attempt to Hillary-ize Michelle Obama. We have, of course, all heard about how “unpatriotic” she is. Maureen Dowd has already cattily attacked her for not being sufficiently deferential to her husband. And now we’re being treated to Hitchens’ exegesis of how her college term papers prove she’s really Stokely Carmichael in drag. Delightful! But hey . . . radical, unfeminine, unpatriotic — remind you of any other right-wing caricatures of a certain prominent Democratic woman with a famous husband? Read more…

I was barely out of college at the dawn of the Clinton years, but I still knew what the deal was when conservatives, and even some Democrats, poked at Clinton for using her maiden name or for “not staying home and baking cookies.” For all our talk of progress, America likes our First Ladies (Can we find a less antiquated term?) decidedly NOT like Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton or Theresa Heinz Kerry or Dr. Judy Dean or their foremother Eleanor Roosevelt. These women are too multi-dimensional, too fully formed, too autonomous.

Every feminist, womanist or unlabeled supporter of equal rights knew why, when Hillary Clinton entered the Democratic presidential primary as a frontrunner, there were still those with an irrational dislike for her…why some men and women unabashedly called her a bitch and cable TV talking heads like Chris Matthews gleefully attacked her for her “shrillness” and pantsuits. We all knew what that was about. And throughout the primary season, feminist Web sites, columnists and female supporters have derided the sexism aimed at Hillary Clinton. While I am no fan of Hillary Clinton, while I think that some of her supporters’ cries of sexism have been completely spurious, and while I vehemently disagree with the notion that Hillary Clinton lost the nomination because of sexism, I CANNOT deny the ingrained sexism that has been a part of this campaign cycle. Women are right to be vocal about the ways our gender has been denigrated. But I wonder, where is the feminist support for Michelle Obama? I mean, ain’t she a woman?
The mainstream feminist blogosphere has been largely silent on an issue that is spreading through the black blogosphere like wildfire. This image…

…which was initially posted last week on the progressive site Daily Kos and has now spread through the rightosphere, has struck many black women as blatantly offensive. To be fair, the image initially accompanied a post about the modern Southern Strategy and how it is being used against Barack Obama. The social criticism of racism by the author, a poster called One Citizen, was good, but the inflammatory image injected into the discussion a disturbing aspect of woman in peril sexuality. Here you have Michelle Obama, bound, submissive and strangely sexualized in a backless, clinging red dress intersected with themes of racial violence. Black female bloggers raised a ruckus, but many of our allies have been noticeably silent, and if possible, the groups that have been most vocal about sexism against Hillary Clinton have been worse than silent on this and other incidents of sexism aimed at the presumptive Democratic nominee’s wife.

Michelle Obama seems not to inspire the fealty among mainstream women that Hillary Clinton does. Over at the blog Hillary is 44, which has very vocal about suspected sexism directed at the first viable female candidate for president, a screed was recently posted entitled “God damn Michelle Obama.”

When we read that Barack Obama demands that Josephine Michelle Obama – daughter and soldier of the Chicago thug machine is “off limits” to attacks – we knew we would have to respond.

We knew we needed to respond. We knew we needed to respond in language that Barack and Michelle would understand. Therefore we chose the language of their church and of their pastor. We chose the language Barack and Michelle exposed their daughters to for years. God Damn Michelle Obama.

Jake Tapper noted that Obama and the Democratic? National Committee have been consistently attacking Cindy McCain.

    Michelle Obama is being attacked, recall, for comments she made from a stage while campaigning for her husband. Should the Democrats “lay off” Mrs. McCain as well, to use Obama’s words? Is it “low class” to go after Cindy McCain on the tax issue?

Obama wants his lantern jawed wife to be “off-limits”. Michelle apparently is the only spouse to get such special treatment. It was Michelle of course that debased herself by trying to dredge past right-wing attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton. It was the Obama campaign that circulated anonymous memos attacking spouse Bill Clinton.

Lantern-jawed? It is sooo feminist to attack a woman based on her appearance. It’s a safe bet that the proud women at Hillary is 44 won’t be speaking out about how press, pundits and even some progressive bloggers have painted Michelle Obama as the stereotypical domineering black woman–a two-fer sexist and racist label.

Maureen Dowd accused Obama of being “emasculating” for daring to gently tease the possible future president of the United States on the stump. Dowd says she loves cocky guys and cheeky gals in old 40s films. Michelle and Barack–not so much. She relates the experience of attending an Obama fund-raiser where Michelle Obama mentioned her husband’s helplessness at domestic duties like putting the butter away.

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. Read more…

And MSNBC smarmily reports this incident:

At a May ice cream social in New Hampshire, Michelle Obama stood on what seemed to be a figurative and literal pedestal to introduce her husband. “I’m the better looking one. I’m smarter, too,” she said.

As the crowd laughed, her husband nodded, offered a half-smile, and looked down, rocking his body as if waiting for his wife’s latest ego-knockdown to end. When she finished, there was an awkward half-hug and kiss embrace, with neither spouse seeming to know how to interact with the other. Read more…

What a domineering she-wolf! Michelle Obama should stay in her place and show proper deference to her husband, shouldn’t she?

And of course there is the militant, loud-mouthed Michelle meme that some have embraced–The woman who dared give voice to the feelings many black people have about America, and wrote a thesis in graduate school about the alienation black students at majority white universities often feel. For these things, she is vilified, while her charming, affable husband is embraced. Hmmmm…where have we seen this scenario play out before?

The most recent issue of TIME magazine reports on Barack Obama’s warning to opponents to lay off his wife:

Such pushback may have been an act of chivalry in the face of talk-radio furies and bloggers attacking, as one commenter did, “the bitter, anti-American, ungrateful, rude, crude, ghetto, angry Michelle Obama.” But it also may signal that as attention turns to the general campaign, Michelle could be a liability as well as an asset. Her speeches can sound stark and stern compared with her husband’s roof raisers. He’s all about the promise; she’s more about the problem. It’s not just that she says times are hard and “we’re not where we need to be”; with that, the vast majority of the country agrees. She goes further, worrying out loud about the country’s lack of fairness, the corrosive cynicism of its citizens and how Americans “spend more time talking about what we can’t do, what won’t work, what can’t change” than about what is possible. “The challenges that we are really facing have very little to do with health care and all the practical things that people like to think about,” she told TIME. “At our core, it is how we see one another. That’s how it all starts for me.” So the test may be, in the weeks ahead, How will voters see her? And is her understanding of the state of our union one that they share? Read more…

So Barack Obama’s Ivy League-educated, accomplished, outspoken wife–a woman who as First Lady could be a wonderful role model for the country, and certainly young women–may prove to be a liability to his campaign. Sixteen years ago, a similar woman became a liability. According to PBS’s Frontline:

JACKIE JUDD, ABC NEWS (VO): When Jerry Brown accused Bill Clinton, his facts may or may not have been right, but he sure hit a nerve. Overnight, Hillary Clinton became a campaign issue. And she hit another nerve the next day when she tried to answer the charge.

HILLARY CLINTON: 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.

JUDD (VO): Never mind that Clinton went on to say feminism means the right to choose work, or home, or both; the damage had been done. She’d been tagged an elitist and an ultra – feminist.

PATRICIA O’BRIEN, AUTHOR: There’s an entire new generation of candidates, so there is therefore an entire new generation of candidates’ wives. And they are not the traditional women people have been used to seeing on the campaign trail and in the White House, and they have – they come with different lives, their own lives. They are not necessarily formed by their husbands’ careers, and this is causing all sorts of problems.

JUDD (VO): Hadassah Lieberman, a career woman and wife of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, says Hillary Clinton, like most political wives, faces a no – win situation.

HADASSAH LIEBERMAN: When they say nothing, there’s a problem. When they say something, there’s an even greater problem. And it sort of – what it does is, it reinforces the notion that a political wife should just step into the background and don’t say anything that’s controversial.

Read more…

Rigid political double standards are bad for ALL women of ALL races, nationalities and classes. This is a problem that we can all get behind, no? No. It seems not. All I hear is crickets.

But then, it is clear that the feminist ideology of some women only extends as far as their favorite candidate. Witness Clinton supporter Sylvia Welsh on Huffington Post explaining why Barack Obama’s faithfulness to his wife makes him less of a man:

Barack Obama may be the only male politician of any significance in the past, say, one thousand years who is faithful to his wife. Does anyone doubt Obama’s fidelity? Now that it’s near certain he will be the Democratic nominee, I’ve been trying to sort out why I don’t think this is a good thing. It’s not that I’m pro-infidelity, mind you. As a psychologist who has seen many couples torn to pieces over it, I know how corrosive betrayal is to a relationship. Yet, Obama’s certain fidelity is somehow troubling me.

Now, to many of you on this site who have seen my postings before (and I want to thank you for the bodyguard I felt the need to hire), you know that I am a Hillary Clinton supporter. Perhaps I was more drawn to her to begin with because of her fierceness. It made me feel safe knowing there’d be this big, strong bear of a Mother in the House protecting her children at all times, ever vigilant and ever ready to do whatever it took to keep us out of harm’s way. On the other hand, Obama’s monotonic calm admittedly kind of scares me. Maybe because he looks kind of scared himself, especially in Hillary’s presence.

Read more…

Welsh goes on to explain that Obama’s calm demeanor and commitment to his wife makes him a bit of a girly man–an unsexy girly man:

Obama seems to lack is what makes these powerful guys sexy: comfort with his aggression. He’s just not comfortable with all that macho, aggressive, puffed-up-chest-capable-of-surviving-torture-ready-to-do-battle-if-necessary kind of thing. In fact, Dowd’s characterization of him as a gazelle (to Clinton’s lioness) and her affectionately nicknaming him Obambi implies that even she doesn’t find him all that manly. Comparing her guy to a motherless baby deer must bring out Dowd’s frustrated maternal longing, else why on earth would she want Bambi for President?

Now there is some bold sexism for you. I suppose if Michelle Obama isn’t woman enough, maybe it is good that her husband is.

Mainstream feminists have been extremely vocal about the gender bias that has dogged Hillary Clinton since she appeared on the national stage. They rightly realized that sexism against the former First Lady and current Senator is just an example of the way society views ALL women. So, why are so many women standing silent, and worse, abetting the demonization of another woman of substance?