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Michelle Obama: Committed to Women’s Work

Dancing with Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres, and a host of other television personalities is also work, an opportunity to stump for her “Let’s Move!” campaign, not with speeches but with her body. For someone who thrived in the buttoned-up world of corporate America before she assumed her position in the White House, the constant attention paid to her body—even when friendly—must be jarring, to say the least. Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign has given her the opportunity to channel that attention into a very serious cause.

Her work has been effective. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which increased funding for school breakfasts and lunches above the inflation rate for the first time in 30 years, is a direct result of her persistence. Mrs. Obama uses the attention to her body to create a counter-narrative: against the onslaught of media representations of the black female body as a spectacle of hyper-sexuality, Mrs. Obama’s body evinces control, industry, and wholesome play. It’s all captured in the images of her playing Double Dutch, a jump rope game that requires precision and endurance of its participants. Even Mrs. Obama’s favorite game demands work. We rarely see her in repose, unlike most of her less-athletic first lady predecessors.

When asked by Courtland Milloy what kind of projects she would like to see the first lady involved in, E. Faye Williams, chairwoman of the National Congress of Black Women, said, “I’d like to see her promote the important work being done by women in this country.” But that’s exactly what Michelle Obama is doing, and this goes unacknowledged because we, in this country, routinely discredit the work that most women do, which is to tend to home and family. From her earliest days on the public scene, the first lady has reminded us that she is, primarily, a wife and a mother. At the 2012 Democratic Convention, she dubbed herself “Mom in Chief.”

Probably the Michelle Obama of 10 years ago would have fit in “lawyer” among those descriptors. But first ladies who attempt to maintain distinct professional identities pay a price. Witness Hillary Rodham, before she got wise and became Hillary Rodham Clinton. Read More »

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