All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

(cross posted at kickin it with cg and motley moose)

Back in June, I observed that political machinations reverted into the oldest stereotypes - namely that women should ONLY be depicted as wives or mothers. Unfortunately now that the transition is in place it would appear that we are headed back in that direction with Michelle Obama's recent visit to the White House with Laura Bush.

In an interview with CNN's WH Correspondent Elaine Quijano, Bush describes the meeting:

QUIJANO: The role of the First Lady is certainly something that I'm sure you discussed with Mrs. Obama earlier this week. How did that visit go? And could you tell us any anecdotes?

BUSH: Well it went great. It was very private, really. It was really much more, I think, two mothers talking about home more in this visit, because of course I showed her the rooms that are our girls' rooms now that I think are the perfect rooms for her girls when they move there.

We talked more about really making the White House a home for a family. And what I know from having lived here and from visiting my mother-in-law when she made this family a home and from reading about all the other families that have lived here is this house really can be a home. And I know that they'll make it that way for their little girls.

QUIJANO: Certainly, there must be some increased pressure, a lot of scrutiny, of course, living in the White House. I was wondering, did you share any advice with her as a mother who has been through it, having had two daughters spending some formative years?

BUSH: Not really. I think I showed her the closets, I showed her all the things that women are interested in. But I didn't try to give her a lot of advice. I know she knows that she can make it home.

And that's what she wants to do.

QUIJANO: Last question then. Your husband, the day after the election, talked about it being a stirring sight to see the Obamas because of the historic nature of having the nation's first African-American president. I wonder if you could share your thoughts on that, as well?

BUSH: Well I also think it's very, very important. I think it's important for American history. I think it's a message to everybody in the United States of what's possible. But it's also a message around the world because I know, because I heard from them, that there were leaders in the -- around the world who didn't think the United States would elect an African-American man. And so, I think it's a really important message about our own democracy to people around the world.

QUIJANO: Mrs. Bush, thank you so much.

BUSH: Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot.

Watch:

And because its Friday and I cannot think of something positive to say about the meeting, or how pathetic this sounds in the year 2008, I'd like to think that the end of the meeting went something like this:

Maybe her and Michelle burned one in the Rose Garden and then Laura showed her where she grows her own.

Laura: The Secret Service NEVER comes in here. I tell George it's where the government keeps Noriega and only Cheney is allowed in there. He just nods and pretends he knows it. HEY! Why don't I just leave the equipment and sh*t for you?

Michelle: Girl, SOLID!

(fist bump between the two)

Tags: its the year 2008, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, sexism (all tags)

Comments

51 Comments

ah those wacky gals and their closets.

by canadian gal 2008-11-14 07:46PM | 0 recs
I hope they also talked about shoes

and handbags!

When Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, the word "handbag" acquired a new meaning:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.ht ml?res=9F00EEDA143AF937A25753C1A96E95826 0

Margaret Thatcher's handbag, an often-noted symbol of her swaggering power when she was Prime Minister, may be enshrined in history.

She was accustomed to dip into the handbag dramatically and pull forth statements to put down revolts or to dismiss ministers.
[...]

The species has already been memorialized in the Oxford English Dictionary as ''To handbag: transitive verb (of a woman politician), treat (a person, idea etc.) ruthlessly or insensitively.''

Because prime ministers before Thatcher never treated people insensitively!

by desmoinesdem 2008-11-16 11:09AM | 0 recs
Re: I hope they also talked about shoes

Margaret Thatcher was perhaps the most ruthless and cold of leader of a developed nation. Other Prime Ministers may have exhibited similar behavior but none, post WWII, with the caustic glee of Maggie Thatcher.

That being said, "to handbag" is a pretty amusing bit of slang.

by JDF 2008-11-17 11:03AM | 0 recs
Here's something positive...

The end of error is upon us.

by psychodrew 2008-11-14 08:01PM | 0 recs
lol.

true, true.  i meant positive about this meeting of course - but you're right.

by canadian gal 2008-11-14 08:02PM | 0 recs
Re: lol.

How can I put this delicately?  Did you really expect Michelle Obama to have anything substantive to discuss with Laura Bush?  I have a good feeling about Michelle Obama.  I really do.  She's a working mother, an accomplished professional.  She's going to make America proud.  I really believe that.

But I get your point.  Laura Bush never really tried to break new ground as First Lady.  I grew up in the 80's and I can remember Nancy Reagan and "Just Say No," so I know that First Ladies are capable of really having an impact.  Mrs. Bush was never comfortable in a role like that.  So be it.

by psychodrew 2008-11-14 08:16PM | 0 recs
Re: lol.

i have no problem with women who choose a life different than i...  what i do have a problem with is the propagating of this shit that women should be debating the merits of closet space in the national press.  

michelle obama is a highly successful woman...  i really hope she comes out on this one and says something tongue in cheek about it rather than letting the story lay like this.

by canadian gal 2008-11-14 08:30PM | 0 recs
Re: lol.

True.  When i first heard of this, it put me off. Now i like closet space just as much as the next person but if i am coming into a job (don't be fooled, first lady is a job, it is up to the occupant of the position to truly live up to it)i want to get as much knowledge from the previous as possible.  It just seems ... weird.  maybe they were just playing nice.

by selfevident 2008-11-14 10:49PM | 0 recs
Re: lol.

Why should she bother?

She doesn't have to say anything. She is just going to show us once they are in the White House.

Laura Bush chose to be virtually irrelevant in any political capacity and that was her choice. (She did do many other things while First Lady, but I see no reason to debate her relative merits here.)

My point is that Michelle Obama has no need to put down the current First Lady in any way; she should just keep quiet about this non-story and then proudly show us the differences between her; which I believe will be legion.

by JDF 2008-11-17 11:05AM | 0 recs
Re: lol.

I grew up in the 80's and I can remember Nancy Reagan and "Just Say No," so I know that First Ladies are capable of really having an impact.

Nancy Reagan and her "Just Say No" bullshit 'program' has caused far more harm than good in the long run (just as it was causing great harm in the short run). Not only did it not 'work', she publicly supported groups and programs that were nothing more than sanctioned child abuse. It may have had an 'impact'..but it was a negative one. If that is the kind of 'impact' being used as something to aspire to....I'd rather Michelle look at closets. Now, I respect Michelle already far more than I ever have, or ever will, respect Nancy Reagan...so, I am sure that she will actually have a positive impact on our nation during her years (8!) in the White House.

by Kysen 2008-11-14 08:31PM | 0 recs
Re: lol.

I know right? Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" program was a joke. My friends and I used to find it ridiculously amusing. It was a complete failure but definitely fit the mold of the "right" kind of women's community work (versus you know having the audacity to apply your experience to actual gov't policy work ala Clinton). Given what has happened to Clinton & how Americans revere people like Laura Bush & Nancy Reagan (the quintessential Stepford wives) I don't get how people don't see the level of sexism that exists in this country.

by jrsygrl 2008-11-15 05:44AM | 0 recs
Michelle Obama is Laura Bush.

Back in June, I observed that political machinations reverted into the oldest stereotypes - namely that  women should ONLY be depicted as wives or mothers. Unfortunately now that the transition is in place it would appear that we are headed back in that direction with Michelle Obama's recent visit to the White House with Laura Bush.
============== ==

I think you're right.  Michelle is rejecting the HRC first lady model and embracing Laura Bush's "speak softly and stand by my man" first lady model.  How disappointing.  If she continues to play the traditional supportive wife role as first lady, she could end up being a disappointing role model to young girls who need a younger generation high profile female political leader for them to look up to and emulate.  

by ProfessorReo 2008-11-14 09:40PM | 0 recs
Please.

Just because Michelle doesn't demand a seat at cabinet meetings she's a wilting flower?  Michelle isn't going to be Hillary, Laura, Eleanor or Ladybird.  Michelle will be Michelle, and I'm excited to have this amazing woman as 'First Lady'.

by mikeinsf 2008-11-14 11:38PM | 0 recs
Re: Please.

I'm not going to judge what Michelle Obama plans to do yet; she should be allowed to act however she wants. However, it is wise to get on the person's level you are meeting with (as in speaking the same language as Laura Bush is probably the way to go).  Hopefully she will be more like an HRC or a Roosevelt (who was horribly treated as well back in her day for daring to be so involved).

by jrsygrl 2008-11-15 05:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Michelle Obama is Laura Bush.

well im not going to make excuses for michelle - but im also not jumping to any conclusions - yet.  bush pushed this story not obama - so i am continuing to be cautiously optimistic, with a stress on cautious.  

that's why i am hoping that michelle says something campy about this meeting.

by canadian gal 2008-11-15 06:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Michelle Obama is Laura Bush.

she has too much class to be campy.

by gil44 2008-11-16 03:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Michelle Obama is Laura Bush.

i dont think we agree on the meaning of campy.

by canadian gal 2008-11-16 04:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Michelle Obama is Laura Bush.
probably.
I just mean she has too much class to even subtly jab the current first lady.
It would set a bad tone and I think Michelle Obama is smarter than that.
by gil44 2008-11-17 07:25AM | 0 recs
Really? REALLY?

So it's going to be a disappointment to young girls that Michelle and Laura has a polite meeting?

So it's going to be a disappointment to young girls that Michelle is focused on making sure her children are taken care of?

Wow. What a disappointment. The only questionable line in this whole exchange came from Laura Bush, and frankly, why should I ever care what Laura's got to say, unless maybe she eventually chooses to write a tell all book about what really happened in the White House during the disaster of her husband's term.

Give Michelle a freaking break. From where I see it, she's got her priorities exactly straight, and anyone who expects her to be off doing anything else at this point but preparing for what will be a huge jolt to their family is delusional.

by Travis Stark 2008-11-17 09:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Michelle Obama is Laura Bush.

Michelle drew crowds of up to 10K on her own. She is not Laura Bush. She held round tables on issues important to women during the primaries.

She made a choice to give up her career at this moment to support her husband and children. Feminism is about supporting women's choices.

by Lolis 2008-11-17 12:35PM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

I sense I might get in trouble for this, but here goes . . .

What the hell did you think they were going to talk about? The Russia Georgia conflict, how to bring about mid-east peace?

Michelle and Barack are moving into a new home with two young daughters and I sense she approached this meeting and tour as someone looking at just that -  a new house. How am I going to make this work for my family? Will this room work for this will this other room work for that. Whenever my wife ( and she is not a stay at home Mom) and I have looked at a new home closet space was high on the list, specially when our children were young and still living at home.

Michelle, stated very clearing after the election, her first responsibility  was to be a mother to her daughters. So I sense this is how she approached this fist walk through of her new residence.

Now is all this news worthy, umm no. Why? because it's not a big fricken deal.

You are now free to rip me a new one ;)

by jsfox 2008-11-15 05:12AM | 0 recs
huh?

What the hell did you think they were going to talk about? The Russia Georgia conflict, how to bring about mid-east peace?

why wouldn't they?  

while i appreciate that in the jsfox household this might be how it is, and as you say (and i agree) closet space is important - is the continuation of the little missus first lady meme one that you feel should continue?

by canadian gal 2008-11-15 06:02AM | 0 recs
A different perspective

I'll actually tend to agree with jfox. For me the issue is with the "First Lady" as a job definition. I don't honestly see this as a job. For me, this is just being the wife of so and so which for any other position is not a job description.

I would prefer a President's wife in the Sheri Blair mold, i.e. someone who continues to practice her own profession, in Sheri's case being a lawyer.

I realize that this had never happened in the US before, but would really like to see it.

I also realize that for a president like in many other "showy" jobs, the spouse is expected to play a role in hosting visitors, attending events, etc... but would really like this part to slowly decline to a minimum.  

by lolo08 2008-11-15 07:24AM | 0 recs
well...

your suggestion is a good one.  however - FL is a job that entails a lot of responsibility.

im not suggesting that michelle start walking into WH and discussing barack's FP with laura, but rather that she not 'dumb down' for her new job as first lady.

she is now a symbol to millions of people world-wide, and she is certainly much smarter than a woman who's only concern is drape measuring.

by canadian gal 2008-11-15 07:34AM | 0 recs
Re: A different perspective

Howard Dean's wife (whose name I cannot remember) spoke of continuing her practice if her husband won the Presidency.

by JDF 2008-11-17 11:08AM | 0 recs
Re: huh?

No. However in this  first meeting and first look see at a new home which is also going to be the home of their two daughters - I get why this was the topic of conversation. So my point - much ado about nothing. I think Michelle approached as a parent not not a first later. One of which is and the other she is going to be.

by jsfox 2008-11-15 08:38AM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

It's newsworthy because it appears Michelle is going to do the Barack's little woman thing as FL.  Which is her right & her family's right & choice, but highly disappointing.  

by LIsoundview 2008-11-15 10:36AM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

What, did you gaze into your grystal ball and see the future?

by venician 2008-11-15 11:34AM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

No, only into my pessimism, and I hope I'm completely wrong.

by LIsoundview 2008-11-15 02:41PM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

Which is why I used the word "appears"

Appearances are as they say, deceiving sometimes, and I hope this is the case.

by LIsoundview 2008-11-15 02:42PM | 0 recs
This is where we disagree

"FL is a job that entails a lot of responsibility" - I don't think FL should be a job.

We are done with the "Doctor's wife" "Reverend's wife",... jobs to a large degree. So the "wife of" as a job seems nowadays to exist only in politics (and only in some countries). I'd like to see this job disappear in all settings.

by lolo08 2008-11-15 07:43AM | 0 recs
Re: This is where we disagree

we don't disagree.  but how we want it to be is not how it is.

by canadian gal 2008-11-15 07:59AM | 0 recs
Re: This is where we disagree

I get your point - I really do...However, I believe that the discsussion of closets and rooms and making a home is appropriate - along with the discussion of schools, etc.  I am a mother - I raised my daughter by myself - both 'physically' and financially - and no matter how important my career was, I still had to consider what kind of home environment I provided for my daughter.  Being a woman, a mother and an equal member of society are not mutually exclusive.  If we can't discuss quality of life for our children without being called to task for lacking some 'feminist' ideal then we will never have true equality.

by Mags 2008-11-15 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: This is where we disagree

i am a mother and i wholeheartedly agree with you comment.  that said, this meeting and its implication are not in isolation, if you read the article linked back from june, there have been other instances where there has been this type gender stereotyping.

by canadian gal 2008-11-15 04:05PM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

I understand where you're coming from with this.  But I do want to depart from it a little bit.

The difference that I see between Michelle and Laura is that Michelle has two small children and Laura's were grown up by the time she got to the White House.  The Obamas in a much different place in terms of family than the Bushes were.

I know that some will argue that by being perceived as primary caretaker, Michelle is reinforcing gender stereotypes.  To an extent, that is probably true.  But at the same time, the role of President leaves very little time to be a primary caregiver.

I'm really hesitant to look at this in terms of gender because I think that if, for example, McCain had won, then Todd Palin would be in a similar position as Michelle Obama.

I don't think that strong parenting skills should be looked at as detrimental in any circumstance.

by Dreorg 2008-11-15 12:24PM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

That would have been the one and only  plus ... A Mr. Mom in Washington.

Gender biased heads would definitely have exploded.

by LIsoundview 2008-11-15 02:43PM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

If he had been one. Supposedly, Sarah Palin relied on a nanny or babysitter. Todd was away for months at a time doing his snowmobile stuff. We know next to nothing about the Palins home life, and I'm okay with that.

by Lolis 2008-11-17 12:45PM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

If people of any stripe get upset about Michelle choosing to be a Mother first they are idiotic, pure and simple. Her and her husband have both taken great pains to be an active part of their daughters' lives and they should be commended for that.

I understand that to some extent we were all spoiled by Hillary Clinton but lets remember that she had political ambitions of her own. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is also nothing to suggest that Michelle Obama shares those direct ambitions.

We need to let her be herself and be thankful that this wonderful family is going to be in the White House. Of course, we are mostly Democrats here so I shouldn't be surprised that we are all looking so hard for something to dump on.

by JDF 2008-11-17 11:12AM | 0 recs
That's Laura's side

Here's how I imagine Michelle's side to be:

QUIJANO: Tell me about your meeting with Mrs. Bush. Did she share any advice with you?

OBAMA: Not really. I asked her how I could use the platform of First Lady as a way to speak out on a number of important issues, but she was really only interested in showing me the closets. When I asked her about the FL staff's access the political world, she just looked quizzically at me. Then she asked me what I'd be wearing at the inauguration.

Complaining about Michelle Obama's approach to being first lady based on the vapidity of Laura Bush seems a little harsh, no?

by fsm 2008-11-15 02:34PM | 0 recs
Re: That's Laura's side

i hope your version is true.

and you may view it as harsh, but i don't.  this isnt the first time that these female sterotyping has surfaced.  but you're right - it would be good for michelle to come out on this one.

by canadian gal 2008-11-15 04:07PM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

Michelle is an intelligent, accomplished professional in her own right, but she wasn't elected to resolve the mideast conflict - nor was Laura Bush. That's not to say that Michelle wouldn't participate fully in her capacity as Barack's closest advisor - I have every confidence that she would - and then some.

But to the extent that their roles as first lady result from being married to the president, a discussion involving aspects of being a wife and mother in the White House seems appropriate. That these roles would be looked down on as gender stereotyping is very disappointing.

Hillary proved beyond doubt that being a woman is by no means a disqualification for the highest office in the land. The traditional roles need not be shunned or abandoned for gender equality to prevail.

by Sumo Vita 2008-11-15 04:37PM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

traditional roles?  could you please elaborate what that is?  as i ve said upthread - i have no problem with women who choose home over career - there is a slight problem with this though - michelle obama is not one of them.

by canadian gal 2008-11-15 05:11PM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

Michelle is still a wife and mother. Why should she be judged by different standards just because she has a career? Her professional life doesn't diminish these roles, nor should it be deemed unfortunate should she choose to emphasize either one over the other.

Putting her under a microscope in this manner, or voicing regrets that her professional abilities weren't sufficiently touted - seems almost gender biased itself. In the nightmarish scenario that Sarah Palin is elected president some day, would anyone care were the outgoing "first dude" to discuss with Todd Palin the best place in the backyard for a tree house or a tool shed? Would that reflect poorly on Todd's professional skills? (Granted, I'm not really sure what those might be.)

by Sumo Vita 2008-11-15 08:13PM | 0 recs
The best place for a tool shed.

Under a Palin administration (shudder), the White House would be a tool shed.

by Geekesque 2008-11-16 07:37AM | 0 recs
Tiresome assumptions

Underlying all of this is the problem that we do this kind of defining because our presidents have been male, period.  I don't care if the president's spouse talks nothing but closet space, but I do care that that comes from a male spouse as well as a female.  The problem is not how the wife of a leader is seen, I really would not care if the husband or wife was seen that way.  The problem is that it is only the guy in power and the female spouse.  The problem is that we still live in a time where we address the genders totally differently.

On the blogs, the problem is that either you have frantic "Hillary was the only women for president" blogs, you have, "Hey, we got Obama elected so what's your problem ladies" blogs, but we have very few (I can't find any) addressing the fact that men's attitudes define how women are seen, that the number of women in power is miniscule, that the value assigned to any given activity of life is rated higher the further it gets from the activities of domestic life, etc.

I'm tired of all this.  You work for change and then you get this crappy smugness from the new powers that be, and the underlying issues of gender equality and respect continue to remain unaddressed.

by mady 2008-11-16 06:31AM | 0 recs
hell yeah mady!

could you come over to the moose to weigh in on this?  we had/have a few threads on this topic and i would love to hear your voice on these...

by canadian gal 2008-11-16 08:59AM | 0 recs
Re: hell yeah mady!

Yuh, entangled in busywork right now and was trying to put this stuff together in a more coherent longer form, but yeah.

by mady 2008-11-16 09:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Tiresome assumptions

A thoughtful argument, that raises a few questions..

we have very few (I can't find any) addressing the fact that men's attitudes define how women are seen,

Most men are raised by women. They have siblings, relatives, and friends that are women.  Their views and attitudes of women aren't shaped by their male peers alone - don't you think there's a deeper societal angle to this?

that the number of women in power is miniscule,

That does indicate an imbalance, and it's safe to say that neither legislation nor activism has been successful in addressing it. Why do you think that is? Overt resistance from male chauvinists unwilling to relinquish the reins of power? Or more subtle factors leaving women to choose between career or child-raising that can't be as simplistically defined and addressed?

that the value assigned to any given activity of life is rated higher the further it gets from the activities of domestic life, etc.

This is a tragedy - but is this really a surprise when the very forces seeking to elevate women appear to hold the subconscious belief that to forsake one's career to be a housewife is to somehow be a failure?

the underlying issues of gender equality and respect continue to remain unaddressed.

I look forward to your views on how best to address this.

by Sumo Vita 2008-11-17 09:38AM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

People who perpetuate stereotypes really annoy me.  

I look forward to Michelle as first lady.  She is brilliant, strong, charismatic, and not stuck in the 17th century like her predecessor.

by lockewasright 2008-11-16 07:30AM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

by mikeinsf 2008-11-16 11:39AM | 0 recs
Re: All The Things That Women Are Interested In.

by canadian gal 2008-11-16 04:07PM | 0 recs

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