Michelle Obama

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Maybe it just takes one Michelle to figure out another. Throughout the campaign, I was enormously impressed with what Michelle Cottle at The New Republic wrote about the often-misunderstood Michelle Obama. This piece from last March, for instance, was the first one I read that really felt like it got the unique figure–both modern and traditional–that she is. Today, Cottle is perceptive once again:

By focusing on her kids but delegating some of the more hostess-y aspects of the job, Michelle is peeling away some of the mustier ideas about what it means to be a good spouse, even as she embraces the fundamentals. The image of a doting wife spending her time organizing the pantry and serving as a sparkling social secretary for her husband is more appropriate to an episode of Mad Men than to 21-century marriage. As Caitlin Flanagan shrewdly noted in To Hell With All That, these days, most women who look after their kids full time are focused on high-intensity mothering rather than on creating an oasis of Donna-Reed-type domestic perfection. (Thus the term “stay-at-home mom” has replaced the term “housewife.”) More and more, obsessing over tablecloths and menus seems the stuff of socialites and professional party planners, not garden-variety (or even presidential) wives.

But lest anyone accuse Michelle of thinking she’s too modern or important for such domestic duties, she and her people continue to stress–loudly, repeatedly, damn near every chance they get–that her number one focus will be on caring for her daughters. She intends to give Malia and Sasha as normal a life as possible and help them navigate the fundamental unnaturalness of growing up in the White House bubble/fish bowl. She intends the East Wing to be kid-friendly and kid-filled. (Note: Focusing on domestic details such as interior decorating is OK so long as it is in service to the goal of creating a homey refuge for the children.) She is the mother bear standing guard over her cubs. What could be more traditional and family-friendly than that? And yet, what hard-charging career mom could possibly fault Michelle for the impulse–especially when so many of them already feel overwhelmed and strung out by their own efforts to keep close watch over their offspring even as they struggle to juggle career and family?