Posted by Brad @ 5:49 pm on November 26th 2008

Michelle Obama and the Politics of Feminism

Lisa Schiffren has a post up at The Corner that reminds me a lot of the whole “second gen feminism v. third gen feminism” thing that Liz speaks of now and then. At issue is Michelle Obama’s role as first lady. Michelle, of course, is whip-smart, has a Harvard Law degree, is accomplished and has strong opinions. But she’s indicated that she intends her role to be more “mom in chief” than Hillary Clinton. This is rubbing some old school feminists the wrong way. Lisa’s roundup:

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, who is smarter than your average feminist, (and has a Harvard law degree to prove it) has a column today which amounts to whining about the fact that Michelle Obama, who has a Harvard Law degree, has announced that she will be the nation’s “mom in chief” above all other roles. Marcus frets that she is choosing to be “Jackie Kennedy” when her education and ambitions fit her to be Hillary Clinton.

Jen Rubin at Contentions finds this exaperating. Marcus’s complaint, she notes, reminds us that feminism was never about choices. It was only ever about choosing power.

Lisa also notes that not only, in her estimation, is Michelle doing the right thing, she may also be doing the smart thing. Hillary Clinton, it must be remembered, was a lightning rod for the first few years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Indeed, “lightning rod” is putting it mildly—she was a whole new level of lightning rod. And many on the right are already if not poised, then crouched against Michelle Obama. The “first time I’ve been proud of America” really stuck in their craws, and they’re kind of looking for a reason to turn against her. They could solidify against her and turn her into a caricature at the drop of a hat, but as of yet they’re more or less on the fence. It may be wise for Michelle, whatever her intentions, to hang back for awhile and let other things take precedence and, if she chooses to take a more active role, to do so later.

Of course, that presupposes that Michelle has any interest in taking said active role, which most of the evidence suggests against. She really does just seem to be primarily interested in making sure her daughter’s retain some parental normalcy in the upcoming years, and its damn hard to blame her, whatever you think of Michelle’s personal potential.

In related news, if it’s possible to make Lisa Schiffren swoon, this exchange from the Barbara Walters interview does:

Obama: “It sounds kinda like a girly dog.”

Michelle: “We’re girls. We have a house full of girls.”

Obama: “We’re going to have a big rambunctious dog, of some sort.”


  1. That’s a perfect example of the feminist wars, Brad.

    Ruth Marcus subscribes to the 2nd wave’s definition of what makes a Liberated Woman, and Jen Rubin counters with one of the arguments that spurred the 3rd wave split in the first place – a woman or man’s role is not to be defined by societal dictates, but rather by their own choices, and it is the purpose of the feminist to open up choices for both sexes, not to shuffle women from a traditional female role into some equally defined box of corporate go-getter with baby in tow.

    Of course, I have no objectivity at all, and find 2nd Wavers to be incredibly frustrating and rigid, even as I acknowledge the work they did for equality.

    As for the Walters snippet; my dad thought he could override the 4 girls in his house and get a rambunctious dog when we were kids. We let him name the little grey kitten as consolation.

    Comment by Liz — 11/26/2008 @ 6:26 pm

  2. I hate being a party pooper (OK, I don’t really hate it), but Michelle Obama seems to have entered the practice of law a year later than her husband, making one suspect she failed the bar the first time.

    So, sharp as a whip I am not so sure.

    I mean, if you are going to say it try to have some basis.

    Comment by daveg — 11/27/2008 @ 3:02 pm

  3. Your logic is unassailable.

    Comment by Mark — 11/28/2008 @ 9:10 am

  4. She seems pretty intelligent to me. Although to be fair, it’s not like there aren’t millions of pretty intelligent people around (although the significant majority of them, for various reasons, don’t go through Princeton and Harvard). She may be significantly intelligent even amongst that group, but there’s not going to be any way of knowing.

    I am not sure what ‘whip-smart’ is supposed to be in terms of the distribution, but I’d guess, in a handwaving way based on limited information and on my experience teaching and assessing people, she’s in the top few percent (thus the ‘millions’ of similar people). But that’s somewhat close to a random guess…

    Comment by Adam — 11/28/2008 @ 12:52 pm

  5. I don’t know why I take the bait so often, but OK daveg, just in case Mark’s sarcasm is not obvious:
    I am faced with two options:
    Harvard law is evidence of “whip smartness”


    Harvard law is not evidence of whip smartness, based upon evidence-free hypothesis that Michelle Obama’s failed bar exam.

    I mean, if you are going to say it try to have some basis.

    Comment by Jack — 12/1/2008 @ 10:26 pm

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