On Michelle Obama, and the Nature of Role Models.

So, I know that yesterday I promised a full review of one of my new favorite movies, Moana, for today’s post. Of course, that was before I saw Michelle Obama deliver her final speech as America’s First Lady. Watch the following video, and you’ll see why it changed the game:

Here’s the thing: ask any little girl in America what they want to be when they grow up, and it’s doubtful that First Lady is on the list.

“I want to be an astronaut!”

“An engineer!”

“The President!”

The President’s wife? Not so much. As a little girl, I certainly had no aspirations towards the title of First Lady, and no wonder. For most of my early childhood, Hilary Rodham Clinton served as First Lady. This woman – this intelligent, well-educated, well-spoken lawyer was reduced to cookie recipes and Christmas decorations. When she tried to take on bigger issues — healthcare, women’s rights, gun control — she was scoffed at and ridiculed. Real jobs, according to the men of America, weren’t jobs for her. The indignities only continued. ‘Stand by your man, but not too much.’ ‘Does she have any self-respect?’ ‘Clearly she doesn’t get it done in the bedroom.’ I was only 6-years-old during Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, but I heard the ugly words. I watched a woman with a backbone of steel stand up for herself again and again and again, and it was never enough. I definitely didn’t want her job.

Later, I watched her rise to Senator, Secretary of State, and Democratic Presidential nominee. Those were jobs I aspired to. First Lady? Not so much.

Then came Laura Bush. A genteel, well-coiffed Southern Belle with nary a hair out of place, pre-teen me was horrified by her. The quintessential housewife, she never seemed to have her own views. She never offered up her own opinions. She didn’t seem to do anything. She was not who I wanted to be when I grew up.

Of course, as an adult, I’ve grown to respect Laura Bush. She did the best with the hand she was dealt, and she did good work as First Lady. An experienced librarian with a Master’s in Library Science, she championed early childhood education, worked on awareness of women’s heart health, and advocated for increasing America’s pledged foreign aid. Still, she never stirred a fire in my heart. I never felt she operated in the Bush White House as an equal. In fact, I rarely thought of her at all.

Then came our current First Lady: Michelle Obama.

Michelle Obama on the campaign trail
Michelle Obama doesn’t mess around. © 2016 Associated Press.

This was a woman as intelligent, well-educated, and well-spoken as Hilary Rodham Clinton and simultaneously as genteel and well-coiffed as Laura Bush. She had two Ivy League degrees and a killer fashion sense. She rolled her eyes at State Dinners and unashamedly held her husband’s hand on the tarmac. She gave detailed policy speeches one day and worked in the White House garden the next. This was a woman who was real. She worked within the confines of her role without being confined by it. She didn’t make me want to be First Lady, but she did make me want to be Michelle Obama.

When this woman speaks, I listen. She tells myriad truths. She speaks without pride or conceit. She embraces the narrative of Black America without chastising White America. She reminds us that, at our best, we’re one country, anyway. She does not back down. She does not give up. She advocates for children of every race, color, and creed. She does not alter her dress, her hair, or her manner of speaking to appease those who oppose her. She is strong (so strong, in fact, that she posts videos of her workouts on the White House website). She is both whimsical (see: dancing in the Oval Office with a 106-year-old) and pragmatic (see: her healthy eating agenda). She is herself first, and First Lady second. I applaud her endlessly for that.

I don’t know what our future is going to look like in America. Looking ahead has me filled with doubt. Listening to Michelle Obama speak, though? It reminds me that what we need most moving forward is hope.

Michelle and Barack Obama.
Farewell to two admirable leaders. © 2013 Mandel Nagan/AFP/Getty Images.

It is simple.I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong. So don’t be afraid — you hear me, young people? Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope, never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life. – Michelle Obama

With a cheerleader like First Lady Michelle Obama behind us, I know we can succeed. And while I still have no desire to be First Lady, I’d be thrilled to grow up to be anything like Michelle Obama. She is a woman worthy of respect.

–S

Day 6: January 6, 2017

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