Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle- sister girl, we need to talk! Part duex

Watch the video of Michelle Obama's speech here. My expanded critique follows.

After checking out feministing.com this morning to check out the online responses
to Michelle Obama's speech, I didn't feel so frustrated. I'm glad I wasn't the only person watching the speech who was annoyed by the contrived nature of the speech and the resulting family tableau, and the over-emphasis of Michelle's existence and achievments as a mother, daughter and wife.

Very little mention was made of her accomplishments or her work. There was so much vocabulary used that is anti-feminist; all these terms from the "family values" lexicon, calling her dad her family's provider, her brother her protector, mentioning that Barack worked in the South side of Chicago as a community organizer in depressed neighborhoods full of frustrated black men who couldn't get jobs to provide for their families with. No mention of the millions of single mother led families throughout America, especially in the African American community, especially in Chicago's South side.

The time she should have mentioned it was when she referred to the parents who work the day shift, come home, kiss their children goodnight and then head out to the night shift. She said "parents" when she could have easily have said "mothers." She mentioned men as providers multiple times during the speech, but didn't mention women as providers once. She touched on Barack's single mother, but that was the only mention of the overwhelming reality for so many mothers, so many families.

There is nothing wrong with women being mothers or very dedicated mothers; in fact the overwhelming amount of work that women do in order to be nurturing mothers is immense, and is work that society consistently devalues except during photo-op settings like the speech. Because of this, the emphasis on Michelle's motherhood being key to her being a good woman and wife (and potential first lady) as evidenced by her statement "the first thing I think of in the morning is my daughters, the last thing I think before I go to sleep are my daughters" (and many supporting statements by Michelle's brother and mother) is negative. Depicting our potential future first lady as a super mom with no professional life just reinforces all the archetypes and lifepaths that we as feminists reject as social expectations for women! Pandering to the "center" full of these white middle and working class voters by towing this narrow line of what family is in American life is really ridiculous.

I didn't like Michelle's referral, more than once, to Barack's funny name. Barack's funny name is not his albatross, it is his strength. Trying to run from his Muslim step father or his experience within the Muslim community and reinforcing Islamophobia by working so hard to prove his Christian-ness and emphasizing how bad it would be if he were Muslim is also reinforcing the bigotry and racism of society. How is that the politics of change?

I also didn't appreciate Michelle's mention of Hilary Clinton's 18 million attempts to break the glass ceiling and her work to do so enabling our sons and daughters to dream a little bit bigger. To me, it made it sound like a woman in the White House would be achieved by the next generation instead of in the near future. Maybe I'm being too critical, and it's true we have to pick our feminist battles, but since Michelle is so eloquent and such an inspiring speaker, I was expecting more than what was offered and am annoyed that no one in the mainstream media (so far) seems to have noticed the obsequeous, family values tone to the whole speech in any of its negative connotations.

Michelle's mention of the enduring American Dream was disingenuous outside of her own experience. A generation ago, when she was born into a nuclear family on the South Side of Chicago, her parents were able to provide her a home with a stay at home mother and a working class father who worked for Chicago's water plant. Through this family set up and scrimping and saving, both Michelle and her brother were able to attend an Ivy league school, Princeton. That is so far from the realities working families, poor families and middle class families face today that simply mentioning her and Barack's journies as improbable wasn't enough. If the American Dream was so accesible and enduring, her journey and Barack's journey wouldn't be so improbable, and we'd see a lot more of it amongst my generation.

Oh, and the "Isn't She Lovely" theme song for her speech? WTF? Glad to see others were confused/appalled/annoyed by that choice as well. She is lovely, but that isn't the point. Being a good first lady has nothing to do with your looks or whether or not you are "cute." Again- WTF? at Barack's dimunitive compliment of his wife after the speech? I thought maybe I misunderstood and he was really talking to his younger daughter who was saying "Hi daddy!" and "I love you daddy!" I really hope that is what was going on, but it didn't seem like it. While Barack was beaming after the speech, his response to it was utterly lame. "now you see why I asked her out so many times?" Okay Barack. Come on. Your wife gives what you call the "best speech of the campaign" and that's your response? Bleh.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't vote for McCain for anything in the world. But as an American Muslim Third World feminist and early Obama supporter, I am increasingly disappointed with the path that Obama's campaign has taken and the movement to the center of his positions on many issues.


Passionista said...

Great, organized post. I can't view the video, however from what you're saying it really seems like Michelle and Barack are pandering to the mainstream ideals and ignoring groups they really shouldn't. Does the American public need something that dumbed down? I definitely agree that the change we can believe in, is not what this speech is portraying at all.

Jan said...

Well, this got down to basics right quick! There's the old chasm: what is the 'first and last thing' for a woman? Is it some kind of achievement recognized by the world as great, or is it the achievement taken for granted by the world, the fact that a woman's body can knit a child, and a woman's love transform the naked flesh and brain into the amazing complexity and heart-breaking beauty of the well-loved human being. If Michelle is faking it or caving in the some kind of pressure to maintain society's traditional honor toward motherhood, good. It shows we still can think past the casual disrespect of citizens like passionista.

The Funky Ghetto Hijabi said...

I'm so glad that as a Canadian I don't have to feel obligated to vote for Barack Obama as the lesser evil on the ballot in November.
Michelle has to play down being depicted as Angela Davis on the cover of The New Yorker remember? Angela Davis, a Black Radical Feminist as the future First Lady. Oh My!
If you have been following B Obama's career, speeches and memoirs closely nothing that is happening right now should surprise you.
His issues with Muslims, which have more to do with his biological father and his family in Kenya than his stepfather, have been playing out in his opinions on foreign policy for a long time. (Also remember his own brother converted to Islam and I'm not so sure how close they are)
With Joe Bidden as his vice-president I don't see U.S. Troops pulling out of Iraq any time soon. Also don't be surprised if, after some so-called diplomacy, Obama ends up being the U.S. President who bombs Iran.
Yes, he can.