In looking at Michelle Obama’s possible roles as First Lady, the Associated Press takes some liberties in characterizing public opinion and expectations. Take the following, for example:
Hillary Clinton was the first real career woman to become first lady; she was a practicing lawyer, children’s rights advocate and first lady of Arkansas when her husband, Bill, was elected. She offended the public during the campaign by saying she wasn’t about to give up her career to “bake cookies and serve tea.”
Were you offended when Hillary Clinton made that statement? I know I wasn’t. And does this properly define your expectations for Michelle Obama?
Americans expect a certain kind of first lady, one who supports the president, doesn’t steal too much of his spotlight, stays out of trouble, advocates for favored causes and does all the other things that come with running a home, such as raising children, being a hostess, planning parties and decorating.
I think we can all agree that we would like to see Michelle Obama stay out of trouble and avoid stealing the spotlight, but do we expect her to spend all her time being a hostess, planning parties, and decorating? Seriously?
“People expect the first ladies to be more traditional than they expect the women in their own lives to be,” said Kristie Miller, an independent historian who has written books about the Coolidge and Wilson first ladies.
Maybe this is true, but there is no polling data provided to back it up. It’s kind of obvious that the First Lady is a bit constricted in what she can do career-wise. Michelle Obama can’t exactly take a job at a DC law firm and resume her activities as a corporate lawyer. So, it’s true that we don’t expect the First Lady to work like we expect the ‘women in our lives’ to do, and that suggests a certain degree of traditionalism. But it doesn’t follow from that that we expect Michelle Obama to be decorator-in-chief. I think what little expectations there are for a First Lady are pretty much restricted to seeing them act in various ceremonial roles and as advocates for certain pet projects.
It can’t be easy for an ambitious and talented woman like Michelle Obama to put aside her career, but she made that decision quite some time ago when she put all her efforts towards raising the kids and advancing her husband’s political ambitions. Her role now will be behind the scenes as one of Barack’s key touchstones and sounding boards. All I expect of her is that she give him sound advice.