Monday, May 21, 2007

Annie vs. Sexism; Again

Ok, so last time I made a statement about feminism, a number of people disagreed with me. So now I'm going to take a stand that will probably seem surprising.

In today's Salon, Debra Dickerson wrote an article about how Michelle Obama will be cutting back her hours at her high-powered day job to " sacrifice herself on the altar of her husband's ambition" and become"a professional wife and hostess."

Before I address this particular article, I'd like to elaborate a theory that I have on marriage, or any other permanent partnership between two people. You see, in any partnership, one person's career gets to "drive," for whatever reason. It could be because it is more demanding, location specific, or makes more money. For instance, I have a friend who is seriously dating a young man who is in school to become a member of the clergy. Where they live will be dependant upon where he can get a job. At this point, she doesn't have a set career, so it makes sense that hers take a back seat. On the other side of the gender spectrum, I have a family friend who is a bond trader. She specializes in international bonds, and so is sent (on short-term appointments) to different places in the world. Her husband is a journalist, and makes less money, so they prioritized, and put her career first. See? Only one driver at a time. This doesn't mean that one persons' career gets to drive forever, just at a time. I think that in fair, and equitable relationships there should be an ongoing discussion about priorities.

Ok, so in this case, Barak Obama is running for President. While his wife does some terrific work, both professionally and charitably, I don't think that anyone would say that her work is more important than that of the President. When he was merely a senator, I think that one could make the case that their work be equal, or differently weighted, but President? A quick look at the other side; Hillary might be the only female candidate in this election, but she stands as a pretty good example. When Bill was President, she took a back seat, but now that she is the one in politics, Bill has either moved out of the limelight (focusing on charity work, or fundraising), or has worked to support her. Case in point, the recent support video that he made (which I thought was fabulous).

Also, most political spouses aren't run of the mill people. Often they have major careers of their own, before and during their husband's political careers: Hillary, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Cindy Hensley McCain, Elizabeth Edwards, are good examples, and the list goes on. These women are impressive in their own right, but decided to let their husbands' careers drive, at least for a while. The fact that this list is predominantly female speaks less (I think) to the willingness of women to put aside their careers, and more to the fact that until recently, a female president was unthinkable.

As to Ms. Dickerson's claim that the First Lady is only a "professional wife and hostess" I say, have you SEEN the West Wing? The First Lady (or possibly Gentleman) has a whole host of duties, similar to those of the Vice President. She has her own staff, which is more than just a group of people to organize her social schedule. Even Laura Bush, who doesn't impress me much, has spearheaded education initiatives. If the power of the President is primarily the "power to persuade," then the First Lady/Gentleman is in a great position to persuade the persuader.


Anonymous said...

Well said, there can only be one primary career in a marriage. While societal norms/pressure probably makes that the husband's career the majority of the time, that can be worked on within a marriage. But it's unrealistic to expect both careers to be given equal importance.

montana urban legend said...

I think that some of the criticism of the decisions of any aspiring "first family", as it were, is it takes focus off of the candidate and places it onto his or her spouse, i.e. family. Some people think this is an important way to determine the way a candidate makes decisions, by looking at the dynamic of their closest relationships, who (or what sort of a person) they chose for a wife, etc., but I always got the sense that people read into that sort of thing what they want to anyway. It's hard enough to get into the mind of a candidate, let alone that of his/her strongest and closest supporter, which probably just obfuscates the former analysis anyway. If so-and-so has a strong/weak/fill-in-the-blank marriage, I'm not so sure how to interpret that politically other than to say that they have one good/bad/fill-in-the-blank important relationship going for them.

Hey, thanks for the comments in the previous post. I won't divulge specifically how this avatar's pseudonym came about, but I suppose some life experiences can be summed up concisely and poetically merged with more well-known phrases. Now if we could only think of a phrase with a ring to it for avoiding a vacation in the midst of hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico. ;-)