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Posted in: Feminism, Gender, Psychology & Law

Published on Aug 25, 2008 by Phyllis Chesler

Published by Pajamas Media

Michelle Obama Channels June Cleaver, not Eleanor Roosevelt

In her speech before the DNC, Michelle Obama came across as a low-key and consummately likeable family woman: a warm, (but oh-so-cool) sister, daughter, wife, and mother. Her role was to normalize her exotic or at least unusual husband. How American can he be with an absent Kenyan Muslim father, an absent Indonesian Muslim stepfather, a name like Barack Hussein Obama, a childhood which consisted of growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, and of being brought up by his white grandparents?

Michelle Obama also had to dispel the fears about her college thesis as a black separatist–and she certainly tried to do so. Thus, instead of noting that America has been “criminal” in its treatment of African-Americans, (and suggesting that the most admirable African-Americans are “separationists,” not “integrationists”), she uncritically stated that she loves America and credits it with her humble and church-going family’s breathtaking rise.

Barack Obama was presented as a loving, hands-on father. The Obamas are no different than the Cleavers or the Huxtables. Obama himself appeared on video from Kansas City and related as a family man to his wife and young daughters. This relaxed, informal “cuteness” seemed to work for the delegates who cheered, wiped away tears, “woo-hooed,” looked dreamy, and applauded Mrs. Obama over and over again.

But now for some reality. We are at war and under seige. With our every purchase of oil, we are funding the war against ourselves. Jihadists, both terrorists and legal and civil rights advocates, mean to establish Islamist beachheads in all our Judao-Christian countries and, step by step, to take them over and force us all to live under Sharia law. Mrs. Obama is a smart woman. I would have liked to hear her say something about this. Showing us and telling us that she cherishes her private family life, however wonderful that may be, does not rise to the level of a Churchillian speech in which her maternal concerns are for us all, not only for her own children.

Yes, I know, that kind of speech may be reserved for her husband who is the presumptive candidate. But for a lawyer with an Ivy League education, I expected much more–no, I actually expected a lot more. She did not say a word about what America must do to protect herself from those who intend to destroy us.

Contrary to all her many empty, “feel good” remarks, I know that not every American can pull him or herself up by their bootstraps. “Hope” is not enough. Today, even hard work at two to three jobs is not enough. Try as we all might, we currently do not and cannot all have health coverage or quality health care; decent jobs; our own good-enough homes; quality child care; the best educations for our children. It is good to have ideals but we have to level with our countrymen and women. The dream cannot be realized by wishful thinking and grand, heart-soaring words. It can only be realized by Affirmative Action.

We would all be taxed at a 60% rate in order to improve matters just a little for others while wrecking the working middle class. Even taxing us will not be enough to ensure that all Americans can realize the American dream. It may not be possible. We need someone with the guts to say so.

Presenting one’s credentials as a family-style team player is not enough. So, either she dissembled–and is really someone else, not primarily or only the loving wife and mother. If so, I would have liked to meet that other woman in action. Or, if this is indeed who she is–mainly a wife and mother–then God help us all because we now need an Eleanor Roosevelt, a Barbara Jordan, a Shirley Chisholm–dare I say it, a Hillary Clinton, a Condoleeza Rice, a Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a Sandra Day O’Connor, someone who is wise and strong (as well as loving, gracious and compassionate,) and who will act for the public as well as for her own private good.

Remember how displeased feminists were when Hillary baked some cookies? Let’s see if my esteemed feminist colleagues say anything negative about Michelle’s self-presentation as a wife and mother, and not as a tough-minded Ivy League graduate.

NEWSFLASH! In two seconds flat, a reader posted a comment. He said that I probably “don’t hold Laura Bush to the same standards.” He is right. I have been a life-long Democrat. Their language has been my language in terms of women’s rights. I do not expect Democrats–especially the first African-American political family to behave like Republicans in terms of gender role expectations. Do you?

And yes, like Senator Joe Lieberman who stood with Republicans on certain issues, I crossed the aisle and voted Republican for the first time. The punishment for doing so continues to this day. This next election may be the most important one of our lifetimes. Who are you all voting for?


I in no way oppose any woman’s choice to present herself as–and to be–a good mother and a devoted family person. I am one of those feminists who have fought hard (often against the prevailing feminist opinion) for a woman’s right to choose motherhood. I am not attacking Michelle Obama’s choice to be a mother and a wife. On the contrary.

But Michelle Obama is now a public person and  the Democrats have been promising “change.” I do not see how Michelle Obama’s speech presented her in a light that is different from (a “change”) from how Jackie Kennedy, Patricia Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Laura Bush presented themselves. For what it’s worth: I happen to like how each of these wives conducted themselves with grace and style. But that is beside the point.

Only Hillary Clinton, like her or not, embodied a “change” in terms of her role as wife, mother, and her husband’s political co-partner. Eighteen million Americans thought so too and voted for her.

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