Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project, explains that the role of the first lady is problematic because the cultural ideal of women in the United States has not kept pace with the reality of women’s lives; it’s still about being a wife and mother. Cultural ideals die hard, and the role we preserve for first ladies serves as the most powerful and visible enforcer of that ideal.
But as women assume ever more visible and powerful leadership roles as Supreme Court justices and members of the president’s cabinet, as well as CEOs of large U.S. companies, the cultural ideal of wife and mother has been further threatened. Even when first ladies are good wives and mothers, they are still reined in when they try to go beyond.
When we have our first woman president and, thus, our first gentleman (it even sounds bad), believe me, we will figure out how to change this role pronto. Until then, there are other real ways we can get off the dime.