“Michelle Has the Woman Thing Just Right.”

At least, that’s what Katha Pollitt sees some men saying.

[C]all it the Goldilocks and the Three Bears syndrome. Hillary Clinton was too ambitious; Laura Bush (who?) was too retro; but Michelle has the woman thing just right. As David Samuels writes in New York magazine: [Ed. note: The Nation is so lame, like the NYT, that I had to go find that link myself.  It took fifteen seconds.]

There are clear limits to Michelle’s ambition. She went to excellent schools, got decent grades, stayed away from too much intellectual heavy lifting, and held a series of practical, modestly salaried jobs while accommodating her husband’s wilder dreams and raising two lovely daughters. In this, she is a more practical role model for young women than Hillary Clinton, blending her calculations about family and career with an expectation of normal personal happiness. [Ed. note:  in fairness, I saw Rebecca Walker at The Root saying the same thing.]

Would you like some manly condescension with that factual misinformation, ladies? By all means, avoid “too much intellectual heavy lifting”! If Samuels regards $273,618–Michelle Obama’s salary in her last year as head of community affairs for the University of Chicago Hospitals–as modest, he must be the richest magazine journalist in the world. Michelle Obama, who made almost twice as much as her husband the senator, earned more than 99 percent of the population, and 98 percent of men. Moreover, she did so while raising two small children, often without her husband, who was off legislating in Springfield and Washington. That Samuels, like a 1950s home ec teacher, advises “young women” to keep their ambitions “practical” if they want to be happy shows just how disturbing Hillary Clinton–or rather the nightmare fantasy of Hillary Clinton–has been to certain male psyches. Because what if women wanted to be the ones with the wild dreams? What if they wanted men to be the enablers and nurturers? That would be awful.

Just after the election Rebecca Traister wrote a terrific piece in Salon lamenting the “momification” of Michelle Obama. Probably it was inevitable: “In part because of the legacy left her by Hillary and her detractors,” Traister observed, “powerful couples must now tread as far as possible from the ‘two for one’ talk.”

There are many things to be said about this, and I hope you’ll jump in and say some of them (I’m too tired).  The one that occurs to me first, though, is that there are two sets of one-size-fits-all expectations at war here.  Most people don’t have wild dreams.  No one ever expected all men to.  For the last three or four decades there has been pressure on girls and women to be ambitious in worldly terms, partly to make up for the untold generations of talents and ambitions smothered or projected (sometimes with great connivance and manipulation) into husbands and sons.  I certainly felt that pressure to be a standardbearer for the legions of silent girls amassed behind me in the past, as well as a groundbreaker for legions in the future.  I could feel the longing and expectation in all those eyes.  There’s no question that I also felt what many women did, the awakening of the ego and the competitive drive, human qualities that had been suppressed in women and that can distort one’s self as well as express it.

The result of those outer and inner pressures has been that women have proved, in two generations, that there’s little or nothing we can’t or won’t do.

The point of proving that point should be that each individual can find a path that suits him or her — not too big, not too small, just right.

And as wild as you want it to be.

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Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 10:31 am  Leave a Comment