A New York Times columnist recently threw some super-shade towards First Lady Michelle Obama for letting the nation know during her unforgettably powerful address at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night that even as the wife of the Commander-in-Chief, her daughters are the center of her world.
The article (which is titled: “Michelle Obama’s Children Come First. Should They?”) suggests that career women with children who constantly assert that their children are the center of their world have the potential to stifle aspirations of other women who either have children or are of child-bearing age and choose or would choose to prioritize their careers as high as they do their children.
“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.”
Those words are from Michelle Obama’s speech Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention. I’ve criticized the first lady before, and I now think somewhat unjustly, for her willingness to declare that her daughters are the center of her world. She’s the first lady, not an elected official, and there’s nothing wrong with her putting her daughters before her duties.
But the trope, and trope it is, of professional women who declare that “my children come first” has always troubled me. As Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams (who tweeted “OF COURSE we mothers love our children & put them 1st. How many more times do we have to say it before it’s ok to have other achievements?” with respect to the first lady’s speech) once asked, “Is reproduction automatically the greatest thing Natalie Portman will do with her life? ”
But in the nearly two years since I worried that Mrs. Obama’s insistence that her children came first would perpetuate the spoken and unspoken doubts that dog all women with children or of reproductive age as they apply for jobs or run for office, things have changed. It’s become more acceptable, and even laudable, for both men and women to acknowledge that creating a work and home life that allows for successfully raising children and maintaining a career is a challenge.
As that has changed, so have my feelings on hearing Mrs. Obama utter the phrase. Priorities are complicated. Does putting your children at the center of your world mean walking out of the situation room at the White House to comfort a daughter whose boyfriend just dumped her? Or does it mean leaving the photocopying of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents in a patent litigation for a son who knocked out a tooth at a gymnastics meet? We’ve become more comfortable believing that both men and women are equally capable of making those calls.
I still get a bit of a knee-jerk feminist reaction when I hear Mrs. Obama use those words, and I still wonder how she would feel if, as I’ve written before, Malia and Sasha turned to her and said, “Mom, when I grow up, I’m going to have children and I’m going to put them at the center of my life.”
Do you agree with any of what was said? Or do you think this is as bogus as it sounds?