Michelle Obama 'Leans in', Just Not in the Direction Some Privileged Feminists Want Her to
I am not even sure where to start to respond to Michelle Cottle's recent Politico article in which she calls first lady Michelle Obama a "feminist's nightmare". Cottle suggests that Obama is underplaying her position of power and letting "feminists" down. Do I begin with the implicit narrow definition of feminism, touted by the writer and those she quotes? Or do I begin with the equally simplistic understanding of activism and political action inherent in the criticisms.
What these so called feminists fail to see is that Michelle Obama is a social and political activist working passionately in arenas commonly ignored by white politicians and white feminists: the needs of the children and youth raised in low-income communities, including equal access and availability to health and nutritional education.
Focusing on obesity and exercise for young people is not only a needed form of social activism to help predominately minority youth break cyclic issues of health, education and low self-esteem, but it also shows foresight and wisdom towards creating and sustaining healthier communities overall. These same young people who "feminists" criticize the first lady for spending so much time and energy on will grow up to be the next generation of adults making an impact in the ongoing development of this country. Michelle Obama is using her role as a woman of power in the highest office in the country to educate, inform, raise and expand the imagination of children and youth. How is that not social activism and political strategy of the most essential order?
Beyond disagreeing with Cottle about the significance of the first lady's work, I also do not adhere to Linda Hirshman's and the article's other quoted feminists' needlepoint perspectives of what feminism is or what feminists can or cannot do. Why does Michelle Obama's choosing (especially as an African American woman) to invest in the future of children – hers and others' – have to equate to a blow to feminist projects?
It is both shameful and contradictory to the very nature of feminism itself that Cottle's article reads like the scene from a schoolyard bullying attempt, trying to get the alarmingly confident and focused new kid to conform to the arbitrary rules that determine who is "in" and who is "out". A true feminist, like any individual who asserts justice and equality for all without discrimination, not only recognizes her innate rights to equal access and treatment, but also seeks to use those rights to ensure a more just future for all who are marginalized
Michelle Obama, is using her power and place to reach some of the nations most vulnerable. In her Democratic National Convention speech(to which Cottle refers negatively), Michelle Obama says of her husband:
And he reminds me that we are playing a long game here … and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once.
The first lady's passion for childhood and youth health and education seems to be representative of that wise counsel.
Do these "feminist" critics have any idea how important the first lady's work is for underprivileged communities, most of whom are African American? Since becoming first lady, Michelle Obama has pursued a diverse range of activities and initiatives to bring about the vital work of getting children and youth to believe in and work towards a better future for themselves, and effectively, for their communities. Everything from her anti-childhood obesity initiative to her recent focus on ensuring more low income youth go to college is proof that Michelle Obama is leaning in and leveraging her power.
But apparently the first lady's just not leaning enough towards the agenda of upper middle class, predominately white, so-called "feminists". Despite being a strong, independent, accomplished and ambitious woman in power, Michelle Obama is leaning in for the benefit of those who her critics would likely just ignore.