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Moms On Issues

with Sara and Veronica

We're two moms with different backgrounds, jobs and points of view, writing about our opinions on the political and social issues affecting working moms. We'll also keep our eye on the media and the celebrity mom world to highlight issues that are relevant to your life.

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Becoming Michelle Obama

Categories: feminism, moms in the news, politics


Michelle ObamaI am not shy when it comes to stating that I am an ambitious woman. My goal is to be the executive director of a non-profit organization that works on behalf of girls and/or women. I also would love to have my own op-ed column syndicated in newspapers…or whatever people are reading in the future. In order to do those two kinda related things, I work my butt off on learning how to run an organization and on my writing. This also means that I put in an eight-hour work day and then put in another 2-3 hours at home on my other activities (mostly writing and reading). I also know that I married an equally ambitious man. Luckily his current job is far more 9-5 than mine and his extracurricular activities are not as numerous as mine (he is much better at saying no than I am).

When we graduated from college we decided that whomever found a job first, that’s what we would do. My husband won and we stayed in Chicago. Since then we’ve both made enough friends and contacts that Chicago, where we were born & raised, has become OUR home. Yet I know that as we progress in our careers a job in another state might land in my lap or a more high powered position will come knocking on his door. If I were to take a job that moved us to Seattle, I think many people would applaud my husband for being the “trailing” partner aka the partner who moves for the benefit of the other partner. But would they do the same for me if he was offered an amazing job that required me to pull back from work, community work, or heck, even quit my job? Given the reaction that Michelle Obama received when she resigned from her high powered job to campaign for her husband, I highly doubt it.

Damn it all, Michelle Obama has quit her $215,000 dream job and demoted herself to queen…She’s traded in her solid gold résumé, high-octane talent and role as vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals to be a professional wife and hostess. [link]

The decision to almost quit her day job has led to criticism from some feminists wondering whether her husband’s political advisers played a role in this. They also fear Obama’s decision could have a negative effect on women’s advancement in the workplace. [link]

As much as I understand the feminist stance that women can never rely on a man (I have a bumper sticker in my office for students to see that says “A man is not a retirement plan.”) practice is different than theory. How am I to deny my husband an opportunity because I don’t feel like compromising or scaling back? Isn’t that what marriage is about? Sharing? Compromising? While Michelle won’t be earning her Social Security credits as much as she normally would, I doubt she’ll be hurting come retirement time.

Of course there are those who think that no matter what someone must have “the power” in a relationship and that Michelle is just finally recognizing that she is second fiddle:

One member of this power-couple really has the power; the other one sees that for what it is, and is doing what needs to be done for the couple’s self-interest. [link]

I laugh at that and I cry. Yes each of us have different strengths and in a couple one may have a more public job. Yes, Senator Obama can poke his Senate friends into sending money here or there. And yes, as President he can help change the world. But to think that Michelle will be playing Memory all day with the kids is utterly disrespectful to her and other wives who has decided to be more wife and mom than working woman. I am saddened that Michelle’s decision and the public outcry over it shows that many feminists tsk at it and anti-feminists say, “D’uh…men are less nurturing!”

I know, I’m not Michelle Obama nor would my husband be pulling in Barack money anytime soon, but if he did get an offer we couldn’t refuse and it required me to scale back, I would do it. First because he’s my partner and I know that he’s picked up my slack when I get involved in a project that takes up extra time. If I did get that call of a perfect job in Seattle that paid enough that I couldn’t say no *coughcough* I’m pretty sure we’d go, even if it would be heart breaking to leave Chicago and our family of friends. There is still a myth that women can have it all and I heard the best retort to that a few years ago. We can have it all…just not all at once. Some points in my marriage I’ll be the rock star and others I’ll be the doting wife. Heaven knows that I’m due many a “Oh, so you’re Tony’s wife!” responses when I introduce myself.

Readers: Have you ever taken a step back for your partner? Has your partner ever taken a step back for you?

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10 comments so far...

  • very interesting - i completely agree with you! funny that folks are upset that she would compromise her career for her husbands and yet no one says anything about Bill supporting Hillary? I think having both be the ‘rock stars’ in different directions kind of defeats the point of marriage if you never see one another! My hubby supports me and well probably always will. but if he got some crazy offer somewhere and we would have to move to realize his dream and make the money the money to support the family then i would be all for it!

    Kate  |  April 14th, 2008 at 10:28 am

  • Wow — I think you are right on here! It’s a sad commentary on our society, but so true. Marriage is about give and take, compromise and love… It’s a shame that some try to distort this.

    BlapherMJ  |  April 14th, 2008 at 10:53 am

  • Great post, Veronica.

    I really believe in the whole “you can have it all - just not all at once” concept, and you’re right on target with your points about compromise in relationships. (That’s not - or shouldn’t be - the same thing as compromising who we are WITHIN a relationship, which is something it took me a long time to learn.) At the same time, I like that “a man is not a retirement plan” thing - never heard it phrased that way before, but wanting to be capable of supporting myself is one reason that I’ve always been a working mom.

    And yes, I was the one who stepped back for my partner during most of my first marriage. I’m not overwhelmingly ambitious, so it never felt like a huge sacrifice to have the second-tier career, and in the interest of balance I would do it again. My second husband would do it for me, too, if it came to it.

    I think it’s unfortunate that there seems to be so much all-or-nothing thinking these days…not much tolerance for ambiguity.

    Florinda  |  April 14th, 2008 at 1:21 pm

  • Not that anyone would consider history or religion to play a part in this debate. But, this should be another pointer for any doubters about who Barack and Michelle really are. The media and the public keep hounding and haranging this couple to find out who and what they are really made of and what they really stand for.

    Well, if you aks me, this just about sums it up. If you really look deep down as to why a woman of her status would step down to support her husband and family. You need look no further than herfaith and the outstanding role model her own mother has been to her. Her faith as a woman of God tells her to support her husband and the role model of her mother who was also a SAHM who sacrificed for her family affirms that it’s the right thing to do. That is the right thing for all women to do, regardless of what society or our egos say!

    Feminists and anti-feminists can say what they like, but Michelle has got her priorities together a whole lot better than most. She is the role model every woman should try to emulate.

    She understands that with her degree and experience, she can sign her ticket anywhere. Jobs come and jobs go for a woman from Princeton and Harvard Law. She’s paid the price to be able to make decisions like this for her familiy - and I applaud her.

    If no one has read the Newsweek article from Febuary 25, 2008, I highly suggest it. It is about Michelle Obama’s climb to the top. It was one of the best article’s I’ve ever read. She is one of the most strong, but humble women I’ve read about since Coretta Scott King. Another intelligent woman who sacrificed for the betterment of her husband, family, and the community.

    And, for those who are surprised, this is not the first time she’s sacrificed her law career for a greater cause. Something we can all take a lesson in. She is a woman who came from a middle-class working family. She never claimed to be an ambitious scholar, but chose Princeton to follow in her brother’s footsteps.

    One of the first decisions she ever made to step down from a law position for her husband was when she stepped down from a law firm to begin working in public service and community activism with Barack. She was always humble and took many pay cuts to continue to “serve” not only her family, but the community and the poor. She says, and I quote, “This is what I say I care about.”

    How many women today can say they’ve done the same for their husbands, family, community and the poor? And there is still questions as to who’s getting into the White House in November? Please…..

    As women we are biblically called to support our families and we have gotten so far away from that. Genesis 2:18 says, “…the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an HELP MEET for him.” That help meet is a woman, a wife. Someone God put here to help the man. That’s the secret Michelle knows and as First Lady, I hope many more women follow. It’s alright to follow your dreams before you have children, but after you get married and have a family, your life is no longer your own and their is a higher order to your steps up or down the corporate ladder.

    Kelli  |  April 15th, 2008 at 1:11 pm

  • Also, just wondering if there are more recent articles on the subject of Michelle “resigning” from her job as I note there is a discrepancy. The articles (hyperlinks) you quoted from are from May 2007 and the Newsweek article from Feb. 2008 that I quoted from state on pg. 32 that she “took a leave of absence” in the fall of 2007 to participate in the campaign full time.

    Also, Newsweek quotes her salary at $275K. You quote $215. Just wanting to get the facts right.

    Kelli  |  April 15th, 2008 at 2:00 pm

  • As a mom who recently took a major step back career-wise so that I could be more helpful around the house and to my husband and family, I can totally relate to this article. I wasn’t exactly at Michelle Obama stature at work, but I certainly got passed over for promotions, etc. because I took a more family-friendly approach to my job. Now that I’m not working in an “office” job I sometimes feel that I am sacrificing everything in my career for my family, but then I remember, my husband, who’s working 70 hour work weeks so that we can live our enjoyable life is making some serious sacrifices as well.

    selfmademom  |  April 15th, 2008 at 9:06 pm

  • Kelli - I used Michelle Obama as a model for what many working women have to deal with when they pull back from work or quit work. As for the quit vs leave of absence…for some of us it’s almost the same thing. Folks like Michelle have the luxury of being able to take a leave instead of having to quit. But the point is well taken.

    Veronica  |  April 15th, 2008 at 9:12 pm

  • Very interesting article. I do think many feminists go too far. I can only imagine how busy the First Lady becomes if he were to win. It’s not like she took a leave of absence to go pick strawberries on a farm (not that there’s anything wrong with that). He’s running for president for goodness sakes! I’m sure he needs a lot of her support and campaigning. I am quite sure if she had that high-powered job before, she can have one again if he doesn’t win. No doubt in my marriage that we would both “take a step back” for the good of our family and to support one another if something like that came up! That is what marriage is about. If he wouldn’t do it for me because I am a woman, I would not have married him in the first place. We both respect each others’ careers and are very practical when it comes to these types of decisions.

    I look forward to more articles of yours.

    Nicole  |  April 16th, 2008 at 9:05 am

  • I think there will always be one person who ‘leads’ as the breadwinner for the family and the other partner ends up sacrificing some to support the other. I do NOT think that it needs to be the woman to sacrifice the career. Goodnes, if i gave up my career when i got pregnant to stay at home and live off my hubby’s career we would be out on the street lol! some decisions have to use common sense… if Michelle were runnign for president, i would fully expect Barack to be the one to give up his career to support his wife - i dont see what gender has to do with any of it…

    Kate  |  April 16th, 2008 at 1:48 pm

  • I loved your article. I have very similiar ambitions and struggles. It is even more challenging when you want to do non-profit work that doesn’t pay big bucks.

    I have always believed in following my passion. I have supported my husband following his and he has supported mine.

    Being a perfectionist (which I write about in one of my blog posts) makes juggling it all hard work– but the struggle is worth it.

    I think it is very important to support each other in following our dreams (especially our “save the world dreams”.

    I salute you.

    Dana Sherman
    The Feelings Doctor

    Dana Sherman  |  April 18th, 2008 at 2:14 pm

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