Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Job Of The First Lady

Is to be a "lady", as well as to act as a symbol for the American Womanhood. I'm writing about the wife of the American president, for those who might not know. That she is traditionally called the First Lady is informative in itself.

Being the president's wife is a job. It's not something the country pays for, directly, but she does get bed and board at the White House. Her job has both concrete aspects, not dissimilar to those of figure-head kings and queens. In the United States she is expected to pick a cause to promote but the cause must be as bland and obvious as possible. The "don't-kill-kittens" type. Thus, First Ladies in the past have advocated increasing literacy or staying off drugs.

First Ladies are also supposed to dress in clothes designed by American designers and to use American labor in any beautification project of the White House and so on. What's so interesting about the fuzzy but ultimately required job of the First Lady is how very conservative it is, even in the case of presidents who themselves might not hold socially conservative values.

The job of a First Lady is not something I'd ever want to perform or could perform. First Ladies must be sweet like sugar, maternal like madonnas and totally beyond reproach. Because they model Wifehood for the rest of us, everything they do will be interpreted within that framework. Hillary Clinton learned her lesson after some years.

And of course the job is an impossible one, because nobody is ever beyond reproach. Still, the criticisms First Ladies get tell us often more about the gender views of the criticizers than of the woman criticized.

This background is to clarify what is expected of Michelle Obama. She has the additional burden of modeling all this within the context of the First Lady of color and the burden of being a lightning-rod for conservative criticisms of Obama in general.

Hence the treatment of this traditional chore of First Ladies: To promote American designers' work:
That was no ordinary bling on the wrist of First Lady Michelle Obama at the DNC fundraiser in New York Tuesday night. Those fancy diamond cuffs were the creation of 23-year-old Katie Decker, whose namesake jewelry line has been making a serious splash since her graduation from Texas A&M two years ago.
The native Houstonian is over the moon with the fab pub that photos of the first lady in Katie Decker are already providing. Michelle Obama's stylist picked up the bracelets at Katie's showroom in Fragments in Soho. The bracelets were on loan for the evening; a common practice in the fashion industry.
Emphasis added.

Right-wing sites then ran with this after removing the bit about the bracelets being on loan. It was naturally intended to be all about the Obamas not following the belt-tightening Barack Obama advocates.

But if you dig one level deeper into the feminism, you realize that the jewelry a married woman wears is supposed to reflect her husband's views, her husband's expenditures and so on. She is studied in terms of being an appendage to him.

Michelle Obama may well have enough money of her own to buy whatever jewelry she wishes to wear. The media, however, do not give her the right of being regarded as an individual. She, like all First Ladies, is an appendage.