The sexual tension between men and women can be misunderstood, betrayed, and set on stage for public examination.
Michelle Obama, Barack’s wife, has been coming under fire for “emasculating” her husband — in Nebraska we call it “castrating” — in order to promote her own interests as “a strong black woman” who will bow down to no man… including her husband.

Here is the case being made against her:

I wince a bit when Michelle Obama chides her husband as
a mere mortal — a comic routine that rests on the presumption that we
see him as a god.

The tweaking takes place at fundraisers, where Michelle
wants to lift the veil on their home life a bit and give the folks
their money’s worth.

At the big Hollywood fund-raiser for Senator Obama in February, Michelle came on strong.

”I am always a little amazed at the response that
people get when they hear from Barack,” she told the crowd at the
Beverly Hilton, as her husband stood by looking like a puppy being
scolded, reported Hud Morgan of Men’s Vogue. ”A great man, a wonderful
man. But still a man.

”I have some difficulty reconciling the two images I
have of Barack Obama. There’s Barack Obama the phenomenon. He’s an
amazing orator, Harvard Law Review, or whatever it was, law professor,
best-selling author, Grammy winner. Pretty amazing, right?

”And then there’s the Barack Obama that lives with me
in my house, and that guy’s a little less impressive. For some reason
this guy still can’t manage to put the butter up when he makes toast,
secure the bread so that it doesn’t get stale, and his 5-year-old is
still better at making the bed than he is.”

She said that the TV version of Barack Obama sounded really interesting and that she’d like to meet him sometime.

Is Michelle Obama making Barack human?

Or is she providing a public castration?

Is she needlessly trying to elevate her position in the home over his?

Many people I talked to afterward found Michelle wondrous.
But others worried that her chiding was emasculating, casting her
husband — under fire for lacking experience — as an undisciplined
child.

At a March fund-raiser in New York, she tweaked her husband for not
”putting his socks actually in the dirty clothes.”
And at a lunch last week with Chicago women, she gave the candidate a
fed-up look about that melting butter and said, ”I’m like: ‘You’re
just asking for it. You know I’m giving a speech about you today.’ ”

Should Michelle Obama play the devoted wife or the hectoring mother?

Does her public criticism of her husband infantilize him?

If their roles were reversed — and he said these things about her — would he immediately be labeled sexist and repressive?

The Chicago Tribune profile of ”Barack’s Rock” on Sunday
noted that her career had caused her husband discomfort: ”Critics have
pointed out that her income has risen along with her husband’s
political ascent.

She sits on the board of a food company that supplies
Wal-Mart, which Sen. Obama has denounced for its labor practices.”
The Obamas are both skeptical of hype. Michelle dryly told a reporter
at her husband’s Senate swearing-in that perhaps someday, he would do
something to earn all the attention he was getting.
But it may not be smart politics to mock him in a way that turns him
from the glam J.F.K. into the mundane Gerald Ford, toasting his own
English muffins. If all Senator Obama is peddling is the Camelot
mystique, why debunk the mystique?

What is the appropriate role for a spouse in a power couple?
Must one acquiesce their position of power to propel the other upward?

Must Michelle Obama play the adoring wife — even if
she is not — because that is what the people expect from the wife of a
president?

36 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    Barak and Michelle Obama might be wise to be doing what they are doing.
    Barak Obama is getting a lot of hype in the media — but he doesn’t have a huge amount of experience in politics compared to people who have made Washington politics their career.
    He is bound to make mistakes, just as every other candidate is liable to make because they are all human and all have competing interests whispering in their ears. By having Michelle show he is a regular guy, he will get a pass for some of the mistakes he will end up making because he is a relative newcomer to the Washington scene.
    It also protects him from people developing a negative attitude that he is “too perfect” because nobody likes someone who is too perfect, especially the media who loves to build those types up so that they can destroy them when they stumble.

  2. Hey Chris!
    Can’t a man be humble without his wife making fun of him in public for laughs?
    Why do we need to see he’s human via humiliation?
    I keep hearing “another Hillary” rumblings about her and the old “two for the price of one” chestnut that Bill used… those are not the sort of positive vibrations you want to solidify a new and daring campaign because it recalls all the old negatives that didn’t involve you but now serve to define you.

  3. Hi David,
    That is the very danger that we have when the wife of a politician becomes part of the bargain. A two for one deal never seems to be a bargain because voters never elect the husband or the wife of the pol.
    Family member who insert themselves into the limelight of politics often end up being a liability, rather than an asset. Some recent examples include Hillary Clinton, Billy Carter, and Roger Clinton.

  4. Chris —
    Yes, that’s my concern. People vote for one person, not two. The spouse — male or female — need to fade into the background and not grab the spotlight.
    Your examples are right on point: Isn’t Michelle Obama another to add to the list?

  5. Katha!
    That’s my wondering as well — I think if he said those things about Michelle people would be more put off than they already are — I was cringing when I listened to her make fun of him.
    The audience was laughing and playing along, but her intention was to knock him down a bit as being unimportant in his core in her home.
    The tone of her voice was also not refreshing or funny. It was condescending.

  6. Hi David,
    I completely agree. The spouse (male or female) isn’t the elected official, so he or she should stay away from the spotlight.
    There is something in the American spirit that chafes at the idea of family members of government officials feeling that they are entitled to political power. As much as everyone might like England’s Queen and royal family, we don’t necessarily want the same thing over here.
    A “two for one” deal seems to be too much like the creation of a royal family.

  7. Chris!
    Exactly. We want “one for one” not two for one. That’s one great thing Laura Bush has done. She’s stayed out of he politics. She is supportive but doesn’t seem to crave the spotlight, press or passing attention.
    The new books are Hillary are flaying her during her life with Bill in the White House. She wanted to be Attorney General. Then she wanted to be Secretary of State. She spoke to Dick Morris and he thankfully told her what we’re discussing now: “Do your own thing and stay out of Bill’s administration!”
    I guess Universal Healthcare was her salve — and the end of her destiny.

  8. Hi David,
    Wasn’t Hillary recently asked what Bill would do if she were elected, how he would fit into the administration, and her response was “I suppose he’d be a roving ambassador,” or something like that.
    I am wondering if her choice of words– “roving” was entendre.
    Donna

  9. Heya Donna!
    Yes! She was asked what his role would be — there were rumors he’d be Secretary of State — and she said he’d continue to do what he’s doing now, “Be an Ambassador to the world.” Ick! And I love the guy! 😀
    I think it will be rather soon that we start hearing about Bill’s indiscretions again if Hillary takes the White House. The media will eat it up, her opposition will use the rumors to stifle her and we’re back in our mobius strip existence all over again!

  10. My gut feeling says if Michelle was running for the candidacy and if Barack Obama made a comment like that people would instantly label him as a “stereotypical sexist who expects his wife to be perfect toast maker/bed maker or whatever…along with running for presidency”.
    Now when Michelle is saying this publicly – people are taking it lightly and giving her a benefit of doubt. That’s a privilege of being a woman in today’s date.
    This conversation is good for one’s bedroom or living room – not for public.
    All Michelle Obamas (regardless of gender) in the world need to understand that being a senator or running for presidency is a slightly serious task that requires a little more support and common sense…
    Once someone chooses to be a spouse of a high profile public persona it is obvious that the spotlight will be on the other half, they should be ready to be in the background.
    In India, Indian National Congress is one of the major political parties and curiously adheres to a family tradition – Founded in 1885, led by Mahatma Gandhi, then by Jawaharlal Nehru, later preceded by his daughter, Indira Gandhi.
    After her assassination in 1984, her son was chosen to be the leader – out of the blue – literally, because he was a pilot. He was assassinated in 1991, and then his wife came into limelight.
    http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0825112.html
    Except Indira Gandhi, her son and his wife were forced to join the political party to exploit the blind public trust on family legacy at that moment, but their spouses were always in the background to avoid spotlight.

  11. Thanks for that amazing Indian insight, Katha! My what a troubled brew the family roils and boils!
    It is amazing how so many liberals are excusing M. Obama’s bad behavior while refusing to realize she is undermining the legitimacy of his candidacy.

  12. Yes, that family in India is unreal. So is the expectation on them.
    The Nehru-Gandhi family tradition runs in the history from nearly 100 years –
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/analysis/46883.stm
    Indira Gandhi had a natural penchant for politics, she was an icon in Indian political system but had a disastrous marriage as the rising of her husband, Feroz Gandhi as a distinct political figure was often conflicted with her own father, Jawaharlal Nehru who was the prime minister then.
    Later, she lost both her husband and her father within a gap of three years and became the leader of the party then became the prime minister.
    http://www.asiasource.org/society/indiragandhi.cfm
    The tradition is still running…

  13. David,
    I think Michelle’s comments were inappropriate.
    Humanizing a political candidate is fine, but I found her comments belittling rather than humbling.
    I agree with you that, should the situation be reversed, Barack would be labeled a sexist pig. The fact that Michelle is a woman does not excuse her statements, as if it is mean for a man to ridicule his wife but cute for a woman to ridicule her husband. It’s not cute.
    My feminist friends would likely slap me if they read this, but Michelle’s function at this time should be to support and complement her husband dutifully, politely and with reserve.

  14. Hi Emily!
    Excellent comment and I appreciate your blunt insight.
    You make an interesting point about being “cute” — and taking that word to the next level — you can’t pull off cute unless you are attractive and smart.
    I wonder if Michelle Obama were — and my feminist friends will slay me as well — ugly, dumb and frumpy… if she would have been so roundly received and applauded? My guess is she would’ve been booed.

  15. Hi David,
    It sounds like Michelle was trying to be clever and gain some attention for herself.
    I think it is a tightrope walk for women that are assertive in politics.
    For example, Hillary. She is an intelligent woman that obviously did not feel comfortable playing the “Laura Bush” role of passivity– reading books to little children in the “motherly” acceptable role.
    Hillary had good ideas about health care but, to capture Chris’ intention, we do not elect “two” to the White House.
    Putting myself in their place, women who are intelligent and forward-thinking want to be heard. Unfortunately, they cannot be anything but “shadows” to their husbands in the political arena.
    It places them in an awkward position. Should they be passive and be perceived as “women in the kitchen types,” or should they stick their necks out and be ostracized by those that are focused on their husbands?
    I would not do well as the wife of a presidential candidate. Way too radical for that! Wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut, and would likely be relegated to the back burner like Hillary during Bill’s reign.
    Still, I might rise from the ashes! 😀
    Donna

  16. Donna —
    The problem with pushy people of any gender “who want to be heard” is they lack the eye and the sensitivity to discern if anyone cares about what they have to say.
    Now everyone wants to hear Michelle Obama bad mouth her husband because it makes great news and blog entries — but sometimes people need to step back and realize they’re stepping into a game in which they cannot win for losing.
    I remember Hillary’s incantations against women who “stay home and bake cookies” and who choose to “stand by their men.” She came off poorly in those exchanges but she ultimately learned that to defer and demur are graceful and appreciated in the right circumstance.

  17. David,
    Oh, I think you are exactly right!
    An attractive woman belittling her husband with a smile on her face and a tongue in her cheek is seen as cute and funny. An unattractive woman doing the same would not be received well at all. I don’t think it should be received well in either case. Michelle is practically stuffing “Look how idiotic–I mean, normal –my husband is!” down our throats with her little ribbings and it does nothing but leave a bad taste in my mouth. Ick.

  18. Hi David,
    it’s interesting you mentioned that she isn’t the candidate. because i’m thinking that maybe, in all this, the obama couple is implying that what they (the democrats/american voters) lose in candidate clinton they gain with michelle.
    and this is a big maybe because i’m just talking from the perspective of someone miles away from the ground realities of american politics. is it too ridiculous a notion?

  19. If that is the plan for the Obamas — to somehow compete with the Clintons – it is a sorry plan doomed for failure. Americans don’t tolerate strong women well in positions of power. They seek to punish them and cougarize them as plotting shrews.
    The latest word on the street is the reason Obama won’t attack Hillary in the press or during the debates is because he’s been told he’ll have the VP slot on the ticket if he “behaves” — he doesn’t have to protect her, but he can’t attack her — and I think he’s smart enough to know he’s fresh and fun but will never win at the top of the ticket.
    I’ve believed all along the unbeatable ticket for the Dems is Hillary and Obama together — the old and the new and the past and the future all wound up as one as a breath of a reassuring breath of fresh air — and that plan is a perfect priming for him to run on his own line in 8 years.