This morning's New York Times has a commentary from Maureen Dowd entitled, " Feliz Cumpleanos, and Adios". The article is in reference to Michelle Obama going to Spain for a holiday with her friends and their daughters.
The criticism of Mrs. Obama has been steady for the last week regarding her vacation. Some news organizations have seen her as a vacation grubbing first lady, going on as many as 7 vacations since she's lived in the White House. Others (like Ms. Dowd) have seen her as anti-marriage this week because she wasn't with her husband for his 49th birthday. Others have suggested that she is a bad mother because her oldest daughter Malia was a camp while Sasha was home. While supporters of Mrs. Obama have been many, not many of them have been White women.
It's an interesting conundrum. I remember President Obama's presidential campaign. Geraldine Ferraro, and Gloria Steinem were livid that Mr. Obama was tangling with Hillary Clinton in a way that suggested patriarchal superiority. That it was politically expedient to love Barack Obama, but not Hillary Clinton. I believe the part of their argument was right. What wasn't right and what so many feminists refuse to acknowledge is the idea of privilege that White women share in this country. My favorite essay on this is White Privilege by Peggy McIntosh. She writes, "White Privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks."
This is a knapsack that Laura Bush was able to carry in her 8 years in White House. A 8 year tenure in which her agenda as the "literacy first lady" was carried out in bits and drabs while she was in the "second" white house in Texas. As First Lady she offered a half apology for ordering ornate and ostentatious china while her husband started two wars, but could not send it back since it had already been set. No one went to her alma mater and found her senior dissertation, dissected it and determined that she hated Black People. In fact, it wasn't until well into her second term as First Lady that anyone really brought up the fact that she had killed someone. Yet, Michelle Obama goes on a trip to Spain and all hell breaks loose.
During the Presidential campaign there was such intense scrutiny on Mrs. Obama, that if the camera got any closer to her face you would have seen her skin cells. Her clothes were picked apart. Why didn't she wear American designers? Is she too good for Michael Kors or Ralph Lauren? (She wore a Michael Kors dress for her official photograph). The infamous statement on how she was finally proud of her country, led McCain's wife to profess how she was always proud of "her" country. Trying to negate Michelle's Americaness while showing the "folks"see, told you they don't love their country. And of course who could forget the fist bump, and the senior dissertation that landed her on the cover of the New Yorker as an Angela Davis afro wearing, black panther who hated all white people.
The scrutiny continues. When she came to the White House she told the press she wanted to be "Mom-in -Chief" a reference to wanting to get her children acclimated to life in the spotlight and the White House. An article in the Times blasted her for not carrying the feminist flag far enough for women in this country. Last year she was scrutinized for wearing shorts, and vacationing in Paris. She was harangued for planting a vegetable garden and not wearing a dress and heels while she planted. She was hurled to the wolves for buying an expensive pair of sneakers, (with the headline, "First Lady buys sneakers while Americans don't have jobs") This year it's Espanol-gate.
It astounds me that declared feminists like Ms. Dowd would find this a topic worthy of mention. That they would actually declare that Mrs. Obama doesn't respect the President and as a result doesn't respect America, because of a jaunt to Spain. Where is the support for the FLOTUS? Doesn't she garner that respect just because she is the First Lady.
As I read the column, I could have sworn I heard Tammy Wynette singing, "Stand by your Man"
Give him two arms to cling to
And something warm to come to
when nights are cold and lonely
Stand by your man
And show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can
Stand by your man
Do I want my First Lady to be submissive to her husband and her country? Do I want her to abandon herself for 4-8 years and sacrifice her family to the fire that is America? Not me (and if polls on Mrs. Obama are correct most women don't want her to do that either). But the bruhaha over Mrs. Obama going to Spain makes me think that this is about a woman of color making decisions that are not predicated on the opinion of her husband or anyone else for that matter? Is this just fear of a smart black woman who exerts her own brand of power?
Maybe the real problem is that White feminists and those that hold white privilege as sacrosanct have a hard time with a woman of color who just doesn't care what anyone thinks.
Too bad....Mrs. Obama can definitely teach America a thing or two about what it is to be a Woman.