musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Ode to First Ladies & the New Normal

As often happens, dinner with friends last week got me thinking...

Being as it was the week of Barry O's second inauguration and I was sitting at a table of unabashed liberals, spirits were high. And since a very vocal half of the table was women, it was natural that a Michelle Obama love fest ensued.

Yes, she is a style icon. Yes, "Michelle Obama arms" is a thing. Yes, we all love J Crew too! And the bangs are... well... you can't win 'em all I guess.

But it was the rest of the conversation that really got me thinking.

Since moving to the US in 2000, I've only had the chance to 'get to know' two ladies in the White House: Laura and Michelle. I always liked Laura and will continue to do so. Even at the lowest points of her husband's popularity, America agreed - we liked Laura. A sweet, genuine mother of two daughters my age, a librarian dedicated to improving educational opportunities for all, and a devoted wife. She's safe. She's caring. She's a UT grad. Honestly, in a lot of ways she reminds me of my own mother and I'll always look to her with motherly affection.

But I can't help but think, for young women in 2013, that Laura represents the end of a largely bygone era and Michelle the beginning of tomorrow. To our parents and their parents, the societal (and sometimes institutional) limits to what a woman could and could not do were ever-present. A woman was expected to do X, Y, and Z in support of her family and in line with societal expectations. Some did buck this trend and blazed the trail for women's equality. They were labeled pioneers, hippies, revolutionaries, feminists, etc. Anything but 'normal'.

Maybe it's a result of my recent time as a 'house fiancee' (cooking, cleaning and doing laundry while Lauren studies), but I feel like times, they are a changin'.

Sure, women still don't get equal pay for equal work in a lot of cases. Young women undoubtedly face more obstacles than do young men when entering certain professions. Whether women should be allowed to fight in combat is still an issue. A glass ceiling of sorts may indeed still exist. However, for my friends at least (which, admittedly, my friends in DC and Cambridge probably aren't representative of the broader US), it's less a matter of empowerment/women's liberation and more a new societal norm.

Enter Michelle Obama. She was Barry's boss back when he was still going by Barry. She's a dominating figure, and I'm not just talking about her physique. She could very easily be the breadwinner in the family but has chosen to let her husband do what's best for the country, thus putting her own career on hold. Doing so was obviously her decision in equal partnership with... well... her partner (i.e. husband). She's well-educated, incredibly smart and the only thing (probably) holding her back from entering elected life herself is her brutal honesty and inability to disguise her true feelings for the sake of political gain. She's a tough but loving parent and perhaps the only person able to bring the leader of the free world back down to earth at dinner time.

Michelle is an inspiration to a generation of women (one of whom I'm proud to call my fiancee) who expect and deserve an equal role in a relationship. She has set a new standard not only for future first ladies but for what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. She's an inspiration not only to women, but to men... including me.

On a side note... here's hoping that the next 'First' in the White House will be a gentleman?!