It is not uncommon to hear feminists boil their ideology down to the desire to facilitate choice for women, and allow them to select one or more of many paths in their professional and personal lives without fear of constriction by traditional sex roles.
These words are one thing, but do feminist actions believe them? It would appear so. Take, for example, the case of Michelle Obama. At the 2012 Democratic Convention, she gave a powerful speech introducing her husband. Though her words were generally viewed in a positive light when taken as a whole, this particular bit near the end of the address drew some controversy:
And I say all of this tonight not just as First Lady…and not just as a wife.
You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still “mom-in-chief.”
My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.
Michelle Obama’s address had taken many interesting turns that seemed to please feminist masses on their surface, from descriptions of her own mother’s perseverance against a racist patriarchy to the respect given to the role Barack’s grandmother played in his development. Her desire to own the title “mom-in-chief”, however, disappointed many:
It was, I think, the only off-key moment in the whole transcendent address…
…Here we have a Princeton- and Harvard-educated woman, one who out-earned her husband for much of their marriage, and could bring down the house at the Democratic Convention with one of the best political speeches in memory, telling her life story without a mention of her own legal career. A woman whose political instincts — ones that have been shown to be formidable — clearly tell her that her bona fides, her palatability, is still tied to being seen as mom and wife.
ok “mom in chief” is not where i thought that sentence was headed. it was so soaring just before that.
— Hanna Rosin (@HannaRosin) September 5, 2012
Michelle Obama is an Ivy League educated lawyer with a resume that includes work at some of the nation’s most prestigious firms. As the First Lady of the United States, she is without a doubt one of the most influential females on the planet. Many feminists took all of this in and began to plan her tenure as First Lady out for her: she was going to “lean in”, take on tough issues, be outspoken and transcend the traditional role of the first lady by not being a passive bystanding mom and wife committed primarily to supporting her children and her husband:
I am still trying to make my peace with Michelle’s culminating “mom-in-chief” line. The underlying sentiment is unassailable: “My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.” But why does mom-in-chief have to be the most important thing this strong, vibrant woman tells us about herself as she flexes the strange but considerable power of the office of first lady?
Instead, Michelle Obama decided she’d rather be “mom-in-chief”, and the feminist knee-jerk reaction was one of intense discomfort.
Should that be the case? As I noted before, Michelle Obama has plenty going for her. With her education, work experience and highly visible, influential platform, there’s plenty she could do. No man, not even her husband, would be able to stop her from taking a path more firmly divorced from notions of “traditional” femininity. On the contrary, Barack would put his own political future at stake if he were seen to be doing so. Nobody has forced Michelle Obama to embrace the role of “mom-in-chief” ahead of others and circumstances have not done so either. She has just taken the role that she wanted to take. It was her choice, and she made it freely.
Isn’t this what feminists have said they wanted all along and continue to say that they desire? The ability for women everywhere to be able to choose, absent any coercion, the role they have in life? Shouldn’t Michelle Obama’s exercise of this choice be seen as a triumph for feminism? Michelle Cottle doesn’t think so. Quite the contrary: she believes that Michelle Obama is a feminist nightmare.
Recently, the first lady has been receiving a bit of bad press about her apparent lack of gritty and politically charged actions. Jennifer Steinhauer of The New York Times wrote that after nearly five years of evangelizing exercise and good eating habits, Michelle is finally moving more deeply into policy with her move to help with the higher education program. Cottle furthers this message by writing ‘enough already with the pining for a Michelle Obama who simply doesn’t exist.’
Cottle believes that Michelle has never been, nor will she ever be, a feminist or political icon because she copped out of taking charge in The White House and left her husband to dabble in politics while she took on the role of “Supermum”. Cottle states that the first lady is just ‘who she is’ and so will not surprise any of us in her last few years in her post.
Cottle is not alone in this thinking. Leslie Morgan Steiner, the author of Mommy Wars, wrote: ‘Are fashion and body-toning tips all we can expect from one of the most highly educated First Ladies in history?’ Keli Goff, a writer for African-American online magazine Root, told Cottle that she considers it ‘a national shame that she’s not putting the weight of her office behind some of these issues.’ Furthermore, Mrs. Obama is not helping us to think differently – she told us outright in her speech to the Democratic National convention last year that her most important role is ‘still mom-in-chief’, and she has appeared on multiple TV programs and news shows dancing, talking about children and giving us gardening tips. So, there is a backlog of evidence for anger against her.
Despite their insistence on the sanctity of female choice and portrayal of their cause as one that simply seeks to allow women to be able to live their lives as they see fit, feminists remain uncomfortable with women who decide of their own accord to abide by more traditional visions of femininity. Feminists want to portray both kinds of paths (the less traditional, more career-oriented tracks and the more traditional family oriented tracks) as equally worthwhile, but are inherently suspicious of the latter while remaining overly anxious to promote the former. So strong is this suspicion and anxiety that even Michelle Obama, a highly accomplished woman whose family has got to be considered one of the greatest allies feminists have, can’t escape scathing criticism and shaming for picking the “wrong” path.
All “choices” are equal… but one is more equal. Given that reality, is there really a genuine “choice” available here at all as far as feminists are concerned? Or is this just another example of feminist hypocrisy, one in which they claim to advocate for one thing while actually demanding another?
Feminists work hard to try and promote the notion that they aren’t ballbusters out to “get men” and that they’re not advocating for discrimination against those whose political opinions aren’t clearly in line with the feminist vision of “the new woman” who seeks to “have it all”. This is one of the first things a feminist will respond with when her ideology is challenged by someone:
“Feminism is just equality! Feminism is just choice! That’s all it is – equal treatment and respect for ALL choices! How can you possibly disagree with that?”
And she’d have point. If feminism were solely about equality and the sanctity of female choice, it would be much harder to disagree with. I have no real issue with legal equality or respecting the sanctity of female choice and look at me – I’m a big, bad sexist “misogynist” writing for ROK! If I can get on board with such basic notions of gender progressivism, surely just about any American man can.
The problem is that this isn’t what feminism is all about. The words sound nice, but actions speak much louder and feminist acts paint a much less inclusive and substantially more hypocritical picture than they prefer to articulate. I don’t have a problem with women choosing to occupy non-traditional roles and being allowed to do so, but I can only maintain such an opinion on one condition: that those women who, for whatever reason, choose NOT to take a more progressive, non-traditional path and prefer adherence to more traditionally feminine goals, lifestyles, and points of view have their choices acknowledged and respected as much as those of their counterparts. I find modern western, mainstream feminism sorely inadequate in its satisfaction of this condition.
Despite feminist claims to the contrary, feminism remains, as a whole, highly hostile to those with more traditional and less progressive views on gender and life, even when said individuals show no real desire to force their view on others and have come to said views absent coercion. Most feminists pay lip service to the notion of “equality of choice”, but in their hearts they are deeply suspicious and largely disapproving of those who are not in line with what they believe a modern woman “should” be.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Before feminism, there was generally only one acceptable model for how a woman “ought to be”. Women had little choice but to follow it or face heavy criticism. Feminists sought to challenge that model and did so successfully, but replaced it with their own vision of what a woman “ought to be”. Women now have little choice but to follow it or be guilted, shamed, and heavily criticized. We’re right back where we started.
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