Political spouses typically fall under two categories… Jackie* or Abigail**. The housewife or the career wife. Throughout history, there have been quite a few extraordinary first ladies… but the ones that seem to come under most scrutiny are the ones that defy traditional gender roles.
Our country is most comfortable with the “Jackie” image of a first lady. Someone who views their role in a marriage as a homemaker, entertainer, and a decorator. Someone who can put aside her ambitions and wholeheartedly support those of her husband’s. Someone who doesn’t threaten the status quo. We are less comfortable with the Abigail prototype. The ambitious wife who wants to be involved outside the kitchen. The one that wants to shape policy. The one who has brains and wants to put them to good use.
Cindy McCain doesn’t threaten the status quo. Michelle Obama does. Barbara Bush didn’t threaten the status quo. Hillary Clinton did. Laura Bush didn’t. Teresa Heinz (Kerry) did. When it comes to political wives, outspoken is out. Soft-spoken is in. Making policy is out. Baking cookies is in. Ambition is definitely out.
So now, Michelle Obama is in the spotlight. She’s a woman with brains and ambitions. Now she’s getting the same treatment in the media that Hillary Clinton received when Bill was running for office. Within a few months on the campaign trail, this woman who’s very impressive on her own right, has had to undergo an image makeover to win over the American public. She has to watch every word that comes out of her mouth to make sure that she doesn’t say anything that can come back to haunt her. (Kind of like Hillary Clinton’s “baking cookies” comment from the 1992 election cycle.) Now, she’s is wearing floral dresses, and donating them to eBay for charitable fundraising. She’s appearing on The View, trying to connect with the housewives. And she’s probably putting together a first lady platform focusing on children and education. Acceptable topics of interest for potential first ladies.
By January 2009, she’ll be the perfect Stepford wife fit for the White House. And in another 4-8 years, we’ll be left with a woman that seems devoid of emotion and humor who seems cold and calculated.
Good luck to you Michelle.
*Jackie refers to Jackie Kennedy.
**Abigail refers to Abigail Adams.