Friday, December 19, 2008

Completely Smitten With Michelle Obama

I'm not yet sure if this will become the enduring love affair I have with T.S. Eliot, Madeleine L'Engle and (most recently) Barbara Kingsolver. However, I most definitely have a major crush on the future first lady.

The infatuation began when I first read The Audacity of Hope- In the words of her husband:

"Most people who meet my wife quickly conclude that she is remarkable. They are right about this--she is smart, funny and thoroughly charming. She is also very beautiful, although not in a way that men find intimidating, or women find off-putting; it is the lived-in beauty of the mother and busy professional rather than the touched up image we see on the cover of glossy magazines. Often, after hearing her speak at some function or working with her on a project, people will approach me and say something to the effect of "You know I think the world of you, Barack, but your wife...wow!" I nod, knowing that if I ever had to run against her for public office, she would beat me without much difficulty."

I have swooned time and time again as I've listened to her speak or watched the dignified, graceful way she interacts with others. (According to a recent Newsweek article, I'm not the only one).

A small part of the appeal is her unconventional beauty. She's neither the classic porcelain doll nor the dangerously thin runway model, but a polished, healthy, radiant woman.

Far more gripping is the fact that Michelle Obama is the sort of woman Betty Friedan hoped for when she wrote The Feminine Mystique- Brilliant, competent, qualified in her own right, a devoted, wonderful wife and mother who is a person of influence outside her home (vs completely dependent on husband and children for identity).

The opinion dominant in the circles I've grown up in is that women work outside the home reluctantly, begrudgingly using their time to earn money to feed their family, when they ought to (and perhaps, if they had more faith, would) spend that time with their children and husband. It's a worldview that considers professional women (married or single, but especially married) an anomaly. People who loved me and wanted the best for me have told me "God doesn't have a calling or a plan for your life. Your calling is to help your husband with his calling." There's a small provision for women with "the gift of singleness"-- who are allowed to be missionaries and teachers and are viewed as being deficient in the ability to have relationships.

The extreme I'm most familiar with is the extreme that allows women no identity outside of their families....there is also the militant feminist extreme that claims that families are a burden to women. I personally haven't experienced this viewpoint, beyond literary criticism and reading about Gloria Steinem, etc.

Michelle Obama defies both the extremes. She's a woman who's wrestled with deep questions of identity outside of her family, who's pursued her own career and has made countless speeches on behalf of her husband's presidential campaign, who is now planning a spiel as a stay-home mom to help the girls transition to life in DC.

Maybe it's arguable that Hillary Clinton is made of the same stuff as Mrs. Obama. I wasn't watching the Clintons during the '90s. But I am fascinated by the unique blend of a passion for politics, activism, family...competence in the workplace and the home, a beauty with a brain and a heart.

So here's to you Michelle, and I can't waite to see what you accomplish during and after your stint as First Lady.

1 comment:

Anneli M. said...

Canada's MacClean's magazine just ran an article about Mrs. O, and her potential to impact the fashion world too. Apparently the choice to wear lots of purple (fusing red and blue states together) was a conscious choice, and I found that interesting. I agree! This is a First Lady who hopefully inspire!