The Michelle Obama Files
Yesterday afternoon, in tandem with my original essay on Michelle Obama below, I joined a group of exceptional women including Anna Perez, the former Press Secretary for Barbara Bush, Leslie Morgan Steiner, the editor of the best-selling anthology Mommy Wars, … Read More
Yesterday afternoon, in tandem with my original essay on Michelle Obama below, I joined a group of exceptional women including Anna Perez, the former Press Secretary for Barbara Bush, Leslie Morgan Steiner, the editor of the best-selling anthology Mommy Wars, and Jolene Ivey, co-founder of Mocha Moms, on Michel Martin’s NPR show Tell Me More to talk about:
It was a fascinating conversation, but five intense women talking about Michelle Obama for thirty-five minutes? We could have been there for hours. I left the studio thinking about all the things I wished there had been more time to say.
I wish the show had been called "What Michelle Obama is Gaining."
There was certainly more to say about the question of "power" vs "influence." It’s my view that Michelle has the opportunity to have a tremendous amount of power–political, personal, ideological, symbolic, financial, social, maternal, emotional, psychological– but Anna Perez opined Michelle will have influence, but because she can’t write legislation and doesn’t have a vote on key issues, she won’t have power.
But there are different kinds of power. Laws change administration to administration, but transforming the consciousness of a generation is forever. Did Martin Luther King, Jr. have power or influence? Did Jackie Kennedy want more power and less influence? How about Eleanor Roosevelt? And what about our former First Lady, Hillary Clinton? She almost because POTUS in large part as a result of her "influence." What about the Nobel committee? Do they have power or influence? Freud and Jung? Moses?
I was taken aback by Anna Perez’s view, her privileging one realm, the political, over what could be called the personal or communal, a view that has disempowered women for centuries. And I was struck by how difficult it seemed for many of the women in the conversation to see Michelle as anything but a victim. Incredibly, they seemed to think she was more powerful as a hospital administrator than First Lady.
We denigrate Michelle by denigrating her choices. Projecting an idea of her as a deer in the headlights rather than a lioness on the plain reflects a crisis of the imagination, and speaks volumes about what we think is possible for a woman, or any human being, to negotiate.
People working to create a better world dismiss their accomplishment at their own peril. They resign themselves to a lifetime of disappointment.