Does the Public Just Want a First Lady Who Keeps Her Mouth Shut?

What Women Really Think
Aug. 18 2010 8:14 AM

Does the Public Just Want a First Lady Who Keeps Her Mouth Shut?

/blogs/xx_factor/2010/08/18/ann_althouse_argues_that_michelle_obama_is_more_popular_when_she_is_traditional/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Hanna, I agree with you: I am excited to see Michelle Obama get out there on the campaign trail and show America her considerable intelligence and moxie. However, in a new Bloggingheads dialogue with Byron York, Ann Althouse makes a compelling-and depressing-argument about how Americans' attitudes towards Michelle are only very positive when she does traditional first lady things:

Advertisement
When she really put herself out there and spoke during the 2008 campaign, people reacted very negatively towards her. So she was pushed back into this very feminine box where she was about fashion and motherhood and eating your vegetables ... and I think that was very sort of traditional feminine role that matched what people expect or want to see from a first lady. A good little first lady like Laura Bush.

Even the model of traditional first ladyhood, Laura Bush, was criticized deeply for sharing her opinion on abortion and gay marriage after her husband was no longer president. However, I disagree with Althouse when she says that Michelle is showing her frustration with her new role by lashing out in a traditionally female way: shopping up a storm. Michelle has been interested in clothes and fashion since before she was a first lady-her fashion relationship with Chicago clothier Ikram Goldman is well-documented . One could argue that the ire toward Obama's purchases has increased, but I don't think her shopping habits have actually changed.

It will be interesting to watch the commentary on Michelle this fall as she is pursuing a one-two punch of "safe" first lady media interviews (talking to Ladies' Home Journal about her hatred of beets and sharing her turkey burger recipe with Family Circle ) while also stumping for democrats running for office. Will the reaction to Michelle be as ambivalent as it was during the 2008 campaign?

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Television

See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 11:25 AM Naomi Klein Is Wrong Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 AM Thomas Jefferson's 1769 Newspaper Ad Seeking a Fugitive Slave 
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 11:38 AM Tim & Eric Brought Their Twisted Minds—and Jeff Goldblum—to This Bizarre Light Bulb Ad
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.