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

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

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

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

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

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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:

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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?