Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Hit Back...


I viewed this piece with a couple different hats:

1) My journalist hat: My biggest criticism of this piece is that it's mostly a didactic "thumbsucker." It's an unengaging "explainer" lacking a "nut graf" -- one central paragraph (usually no later than 5 paragraphs in...) that ties it together. That's a Journalism 101 thing but, as MHL is fond of saying -- she ain't a journalist.

If there is a "nut graf" at all, it's buried at the end when she admits that she admires Michelle Obama's "traditionalism" i.e. the perceived privilege to be at home kickin' it and not working like a dog in academia or elsewhere as a wage earner.

It is honest but it is, indeed, sorely lacking in genuine, thoughtful feminist critique. Which leads me to the other hat with which I viewed this piece:

2) My feminist/womanist hat.

The beauty of Michelle Obama's position is that she is the manifestation of what we and our feminist forebears claim we have been fighting for: The economic, educational, social and political freedom to choose.

The reality is she's literally only a year or so removed from being the kind of middle-class Black mom Melissa references in the piece. Even when she was a highly paid executive at University of Chicago Hospital, Mrs. Obama was very clear that her priority and primary role was that of mother. Who do you think was carting Sasha and Malia around to soccer games and play dates and other engagements, and cooking, cleaning and putting those girls to bed when their dad was in Springfield for legislative sessions as a state senator or lecturing at night at University of Chicago Law School?

In essence, Mrs. Obama's dialogue that her family is her priority has been consistent and unwavering -- it's just being viewed now on the largest stage in the free world. That's not at odds with any of the important work she did when she was on someone else's payroll and it's not inconsistent now.

Let's also not forget that Michelle Robinson Obama is the daughter of a stay-at-home mom. Marian Robinson never worked outside of the home -- and by now we all know that this family was not "privileged" but was, indeed, a prototype of many working-class families living in Chicago's South Side "Bungalow Belt" in that era. Looking at how well her children turned out, who could assail or undervalue the effectiveness of Mrs. Robinson's work?

So I agree with you LaVida. Mothering -- effective mothering -- is, indeed, feminist work. It's not an either/or kind of thing -- it's part of the continuum of who we are and how we've evolved as women. Who she is, how she moves through the world and how she positions herself as a mother co-parenting her children with her spouse is reflective of all that Mrs. Obama has experienced and had access to, and the women who've opened doors for her (from her stay-at-home mom to her fellow Ivy League-educated execs).

And isn't that the point?

I think the Melissa's suggestion that Mrs. Obama's position as "Mom-in-Chief" could be used as fodder for conservatives and potentially, as she writes, "undercut support for public policies focused on creation of a just and equal political and economic structure..." is disengenuous.

We are, as those womanists before us asserted, "the ones that we've been waiting for." Michelle Obama -- without exception, without qualifiers, without being contextualized and constrained by white gender norms or societal ideals -- is the absolute embodiment of that.


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