Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Back Off the First Lady!

I met my husband when we were freshmen in college. He was studying journalism and political science, and--as our relationship grew more serious--we had a few conversations about our future. On several occasions, I remember saying to him that if his plans were to be a politician, he needed to let me know immediately. If he had high aspirations of being a U.S. Senator or even the President, then that was terrific--but he'd have to do it without me at his side.

There is absolutely no way that I could be a politician's wife.

This is not because I think there is something inherently wrong with being a politician. I just simply would not stand up to the unfair, cruel, and often misogynistic attacks of being put under the public microscope. The grace with which these people (usually women, for it does not seem that husbands of female politicians undergo the same kind of scrutiny) handle the vileness of the world is amazing.

Recently, I have seen more attacks on Michelle Obama than I can count. Whether it's off-hand remarks about her "unattractiveness" (one Facebook post remarked that Romney and Obama were indistinguishable in their policies and if you "painted" Obama white and made his wife "even less attractive," then Republicans would vote for him), public debate over her arms, a hypocritical Congressman commenting on her "large posterior," cruel and racist depictions of her with a bone through her nose or comparing her to a baboon, or Spanish magazines depicting her as a slave with exposed nipples, Michelle Obama has been the victim of cruel and absolutely senseless attacks over her looks.

Personally, I think Michelle Obama is a beautiful woman, but it doesn't matter what I think. Her beauty is neither up for debate or pertinent to the political conversation.

While there are most definitely racist overtones to many of these comments, and while I think having the first black family in the White House is a source of uncomfortable Othering, these remarks aren't reserved for Ms. Obama alone. Ann Romney is getting plenty of cruel jabs over her appearance, too. Hilary Clinton was mercilessly lampooned for her "unfeminine" appearance during her stint as First Lady. 

This type of cruel, misogynistic scrutinizing of women's looks extends to female politicians as well (Sarah Palin was victim to many inappropriate attacks). While it in no way excuses the attacks, at the very least those women had agency in choosing to be thrust into the national spotlight. The wives of politicians have no such luxury. They are cast into the public spotlight simply for being married to someone who chose to step into the arena. 

I cannot count the number of times that attacks on these women have been brought up in comments (online and in-person) during political debates. We seem to think that in politics all things are fair. We can say what we want because we need to get our points across. Attacking a woman over her looks is not furthering the political discourse. It doesn't make your argument stronger or more poignant. It doesn't give you points for creativity or knock the other side for a loop. All it does is demonstrate that--regardless of which party's in office--we have a long, long way to go to get to equality, and you're standing in the way. 


  1. i was just out to dinner with friends last night, talking about this harsh scrutiny of women and politicians in general. another friend of ours ran for city council last year. she has pretty thick skin but still she was unprepared for the negative treatment that came even at this introductory level. it discouraged her from running again.

  2. This speaks to something I've been saying for years, which is that women's bodies are considered public domain. From strangers touching pregnant women's bellies, to attacks on female politicians' and political wives' looks, to the government getting all up in our uteruses and birth control, the body of a woman is almost never considered a private, personal matter. And it's appalling how much we as a society just accept that.