NEXT GENERATION FORUM--Safe to be Idealistic Again

December 5, 2008 posted by admin

Kyla Bender-Baird: What are you wildest dreams for Michelle Obama’s four years in the White House?  

Jaime Holmes: 2008 was a pivotal election year for many reasons. As a young woman activist, who has always had a deep interested in politics, it was incredible to see idealism and hope ignited in my peers who have been slighted these last eight years.  Few of us remember the Clinton years.  Our only true interaction (or lack thereof) with politics has been with President Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. No wonder young people have generally avoided the political scene--viewing it skeptically and believing it to be corrupt—and have instead dedicated themselves to community organizing and volunteering.  Thankfully, it’s once again acceptable to be idealistic about what we as citizens are capable of and what we expect from our elected officials. With the dawn of newfound hope and optimism due to the incoming Obama Administration, there is a true chance for tremendous progress for young people.  Each young woman activist came into her own through perhaps a book or role model; however, there has not been one transcending figure that women, particularly women of color, can look to.  Michelle Obama will be that transcending figure as a mother, woman of color, and as a career woman.  It is hard to say what I want to see (there is so much I want!), but I think what I want most of all is recognition. When the Obamas met with the Bushs at the White House, several sources, including the New York Times and CNN, covered the duties of the First Lady:  decorating the White House.  But not without mentioning how the future First Lady has already become a fashionista and predicting how that may influence her decorating style in the family’s new home on Pennsylvania Avenue.  My boyfriend, who always likes to get me fired up, turned to me and said, “What do you think about Michelle’s dresses?  Maybe that will be the center of women’s politics: clothes.  Maybe that will finally get you universal childcare.”  After I gave him an evil stare, I did some research into Mrs. Obama’s image; what I found is that she is slowly morphing into something positive.  The future First Lady has stated several things:  she does not plan to work in the White House alongside her husband, and she plans to be a “First Mom” (at least in the first year).  Two emotions ran through me each time I heard these plans:  rage and then understanding, maybe even happiness.  Rage because being the First Lady is an opportunity to do something grand and worthwhile but wasn’t she already doing that within her chosen career?  Michelle had no desire initially to be in the White House and reiterates she did not run for office--her husband did.  Okay… stellar! I could begin to understand and was even happy about the fact she was not going to drop her career just because her husband was President.  The “First Mom” thing also riled me up but because I felt as though she was pigeonholing herself.  However, once again, I began to realize that Americans have an image of what a First Lady should be and how she should look and act.  Michelle will be only the second working First Lady to have had an active career until shortly before entering the White house and is the first black woman in the position.  Obviously, the Obamas are important to both their daughters, and Michelle said it will be her focus the first year to make sure Sasha and Malia make it through the transition. It seems as though the next four years (eight?), Michelle will be walking a tight rope between being First Mom, being a fashionista, and focusing on military families.  In spite (or because) of all this, I want Michelle and the President-elect to recognize feminism and support it.  Recognition is what I want.  To say, “As a feminist, it is important to make sure our military families receive the resources they need to receive childcare, education, and financial support.”  It is a feminist value to insure that all people enjoy human rights, are not tortured and have access to quality food, healthcare, shelter, and education.  It is a feminist value to insure that all people have access to knowledge to make responsible and personal decisions for themselves.  It is a feminist value to make sure all people receive a living wage and equal pay for equal work whether gay, lesbian, transgendered, intersexed, black, Asian, Hispanic, disabled, pregnant, with kids, no kids, married, single, divorced.  To have Michelle Obama, the future First Lady, stand up and say, with her husband by her side, “we are feminists who are pro-family, pro-woman, pro-health, pro-choice, pro-knowledge” would rock the boat more than any initiative or designer dress.  We need someone to stand up and say it.

--Jaime Holmes, Graduate Assistant, The Institute for Teaching and Research on Women This post is part of a forum

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