Indeed she is lovely, that’s just not why I care

August 26, 2008

This year, I really feel like I have added a new skill to my emotional repertoire: just not thinking about it. Just not thinking about it is a surprisingly effective method, I have found, of dealing with realities you can’t change in order to get things done, stay calm, and enjoy the many awesome things life still has to offer.

Last Saturday and last night, however, that method failed me.

Last night, as Michelle Obama’s speech got closer and closer, and I became more and more certain that I did not want to hear it. I know who I’m voting for. The Democratic ticket has my enthusiastic support. So, I went to go read my Norton anthology in bed. Our house is small, though, and our hallways echo, so I heard most of the speech and the preceding introductory video from my room. I should preface my reaction by saying, I admire the Obama’s immensely and I’m really, really happy for them & all their achievements and for us, as a country, to possibly have them as a first family. Really, I am. I am also disappointed, though not surprised, that the theme of the evening MO: what a lady. She’s a dedicated mother who quit her lucrative job to empower communities, because she knows money isn’t everything, and did I mention, she’s a dedicated mother? I’m not saying that I don’t believe there’s more to work than money–I’m a librarian. I know a big paycheck isn’t the meaning of life. I also know that no man would be questioned for behaving as if it was. No man would be expected to explain away his choices to make more money rather than less. I know being a dedicated parent is important, so why is it the first credential a woman is expected to offer and a nice quality in a man? I get why MO has to be presented as fitting comfortable narratives of American womanhood; they’ve got my vote, the votes they need are people who might find that reassuring. It just felt like a big let down when I was so close to seeing a woman running for president, not quitting her job to help her husband run.

This whole-hearted packaging of MO as an impeccable future first lady in all the ladiest sense of the word gives a little context to the fact that Biden’s little comment about his wife’s PhD pretty much landing under the radar, as far as the television news coverage goes. Seriously, can you believe there was a part of his brain that thought this would go over well:

“Ladies and gentlemen, my wife, Jill, who you’ll meet soon, is drop-dead gorgeous. My wife, Jill, who you’ll meet soon, she also has her doctorate degree, which is a problem. But all kidding aside. . . . “

(There’s probably a tizzy on in the pol blogosphere, but I haven’t checked.) And when it is covered, it’s covered alongside Pelosi’s brush-off of the significance of what was meant to be a joke:

“Lighten up,” [Pelosi] said. “We’ve got a planet to save.”

That’s right, SJ, lighten up. We’ve got a planet to save, and we had slaves to free. We can only be just so progressive all at once. Your turn will come. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and we’ll get there. And queue up that Stevie Wonder.

The larger part of me agrees with Pelosi. Just a few minutes before Biden made that remark on Saturday, I was wiping away unexpected, involuntary tears at the sight of him and Obama on the stage together. All those things I haven’t been thinking about, those 2004 things, those 2000 things, decided to remind me that I make the biggest show about being a cynic because I am probably the least cynical person you’ll ever meet. So when people do bad things, even bad things they could have been predicted to do based, it hurts. When I see the child of a single mother and a former single father on stage together, talking about their leadership for the country, it moves me. In the grand scheme of things, it is much more important that Obama & Biden get elected than that I feel good about how the US treats its women. I don’t want to be divisive. I don’t want to create trouble, or savage the people who are brave enough to do the dirty work of winning at politics. It could have been worse, it could have been Webb. It was such a slap in the face. For the first couple of minutes after Biden made that awful joke, I refused to believe he had said it. But he did, and my job now is to act like it’s not that bad.

Still, in my book, the distance between the world as it is and the world as it should be includes the need for women to tell stories about themselves that highlight selflessness and downplay ambition, for them to be beautiful in addition to being good at what they do, for them to say they want a better world for their daughters while they leave the one they live in undisturbed.

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3 Responses to “Indeed she is lovely, that’s just not why I care”

  1. ah Says:

    A few not-very-well though out responses:

    I totally want to agree with you and I totally want to disagree with you. On Biden’s comment, I’m there with you, all the way. That’s horrendous, and how someone even thinks that’s a joke that makes sense is a bit beyond me. I think that, had I heard it, I might not have understood what he meant; I might have asked, “a problem in what way? What am I missing here?” I disagree, though, that you need to act like it’s not that bad. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to express dismay and disagreement with a comment like that, but I suppose that indicates that I’m not properly afraid of losing this election to McCain. I think it’s a perfectly appropriate response to say, okay, well, that was wrong, and he ought to be forced to think about why he might consider that funny, but he & Obama offer a lot more than that, and a heck of a lot more then McCain. Okay, that was preachy, sorry.

    As for Michelle…yes, it is disappointing to see such a smoothed out picture of a complicated woman, one that fits so neatly into our comfortable ideas of womanhood and motherhood. It is too bad that society still demands that, the Obama/Biden ticket allows for, such an interesting, complex example of how women can go so much farther and do so much more than that to be packaged in such cliches. At the same time, she’s still out there, in very public view, for young women to see, and be inspired by. The packaging is only packaging. I genuinely believe (want to believe) that her move from work at a firm to public interest work was motivated by her principles and convictions, not dictated by her work-life circumstances. Basically…I don’t know, in the end, what she has managed to do, and the worlds she has navigated inspire me. Even if she would be a First Lady rather than a President. That’s all I can say, I guess.

  2. SJ Says:

    Agreed–she remains inspiring, and the prospect of an Obama presidency is too. My reaction is the emotional one, not the hard-headed one that we have to have to get through this. Everybody makes gaffes, and I’m not going to discredit the intelligence, service, genuinely good intentions of someone who does, outright. I do feel weird when no one talks about what is kind of obviously problematic, but then again, I’d rather they not talk about it at this point, I guess. Compromises are, I guess, what progress is made of.

  3. JG Says:

    I’m not sure why you don’t consider yourself cynical. I think of you as pretty cynical—I mean, not up to my general level, but still fairly so.

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