12 November 2008

The familiar familial

Rebecca Traister touches a nerve as she writes about Michelle Obama in today's Salon:

[S]he is in the unenviable yet deeply happy position of being a history-maker whose own balancing act allowed her husband the space to make his political career zip forward, his books sing, his daughters healthy and beautiful, and his campaign succeed. In having done all this, Michelle Obama wrought for herself a life (temporarily, at least) of playing second fiddle.

I think Michelle Obama may be more of role model than people are willing to admit. Traister touches on this when she mentions Linda Hirshman's book "Get to Work," (arguing that that the weighting of domestic responsibilities toward the woman in a family handicaps her chances for professional and economic success). Traister writes, "Obama has already said that one of the issues she plans to put front and center while in the White House is the impossible bind faced by working mothers." This was news to me, but I am all for it. Traister quotes at length from "The Audacity of Hope," where Barack Obama describes the sadly familiar phenomenon :

"No matter how liberated I liked to see myself as -- no matter how much I told myself that Michelle and I were equal partners, and that her dreams and ambitions were as important as my own -- the fact was that when children showed up, it was Michelle and not I who was expected to make the necessary adjustments. Sure, I helped, but it was always on my terms, on my schedule. Meanwhile, she was the one who had to put her career on hold."

"In her own mind, two visions of herself were at war with each other. The desire to be the woman her mother had been, solid, dependable, making a home and always there for her kids, and the desire to excel in her profession, to make her mark on the world ...."

I understand that Barack needed votes and that it was dangerous politically for Michelle to come acress as anything more than a mother, wife, etc. I understand that and yet it is shameful that it should be that way. I can think of no greater single frustration in my own life, than the wretching inability to succeed in both the mothering world and the professional world. I made my decision a long time ago and thought, at the time, it was easy. I assure you now that it is not. Personally, I'd like to see Michelle Obama continue, a la Cherie Blair, to pick up her professional life once again, now the election's over, assuming that's what she'd like to do. Certainly if the Brits can handle it, we can. Can't we?

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