Monday, August 25, 2008

DNC, Day One: A Lady, First, Above All

In some ways, Michelle Obama is my hero. I've certainly admired her ever since I read Lauren Collins' stirring piece in The New Yorker from March. I use the qualifier, "in some ways," because it's as much what she represents of the archetype of "feminine strength" as it is Michelle Obama herself. I also say, "in some ways," because I have no feel for what it's like to be a woman and therefore can only admire what I see, from my perspective, of her qualities as a woman in her position. If that sounds confusing (and confused), it's because I'm attracted to a strength in her that I can't really explain through the lenses of my gender.

Look, and this may come as a surprise, I can't understand how women think all of the time. I don't even mean in a romantic sense, but just in the general world view. During this political year, I've been baffled by how Clinton voters have reacted and, I'll admit, have thought most likely sexist thoughts about what I see as their inability to just freaking deal with it. I don't know what it's like to run up against a glass ceiling. I can't even begin to fathom it and why Hillary's run meant so much in light of it. In the classic Democratic party battle between gender politics and race politics, I come down firmly on the race side. It's not that I can promise that I'll try to be better, to attempt to look through other people's eyes. It's that I am wholly, now and forever, incapable of it.

But that's not to say that I can't get some vestige of an inkling of an idea about what there is to look up to in Mrs. Obama. Watching her family tonight, I was struck by the thought that I want nothing more out of my life than to have a family as sweet and loving and, well, American as the Obamas. She, like her husband, embodies the American Dream (TM), but she has done it in a way that evinces more strength. She had to overcome not just race and poverty, but a systemic gender disadvantage as well. While Barack's quiet but evident confidence can be mistaken for arrogance, Michelle exudes strength and her own confidence that can only put off those who fear a strong black woman and all the societal apprehension that one invokes. Even if she weren't married to the next President -- the great change agent, the man who became a movement -- even then, she would have been successful and admirable and strong in her own right. I, through my admittedly limited lens, don't know how any disenfranchised Clinton voter can have watched this speech tonight and not seen what Michelle will mean to this country, and to American women, as First Lady.

I say that, in some ways, Michelle Obama is my hero because I see in her what I see in her husband, an America unblemished by bias and stronger for it. An America where one can say that any person can reach the highest peaks by working hard for it, and not meaning that as an empty slogan. It's all that my great-grandparents asked for when they came to this country and to come one giant step towards recognizing that dream is all that any of us can ask for having lived our lives here.


angie said...

So many things to comment on, so little I'll just focus on the most obvious. Really? In all honesty and sincerity you can't see the difference between having a "strong" woman as First Lady and a "strong" woman as President?!?

You know how I feel about all parties involved, so you know this isn't personal to any of them, but c'mon. We've had at least a few First Ladies who would fall into what you seem to be talking about as a "strong" woman and probably several others who were behind the scenes so that we still don't know about their contributions.

How many women, "strong" or otherwise, have we had serve as President of the U.S.?

Josh said...

I'm saying that I don't even really know what I mean by a "strong" woman, that I'm looking at it from my own eyes. I'm sure there are plenty of women, in general, and First Ladies, specifically, that are/were strong behind the scenes, that their strength isn't as apparent as Michelle Obama's, and many who are/were strong visibly. But my support, or lack thereof, of Hillary has nothing to do with her being a woman. It wasn't even that much about Iraq. It was wholly because I feel that the country needs a shock to the system, a change in our own self-image so deep that it can shake us out of the funk we've been in for the last eight years. Clinton didn't represent that to me, but Obama does. And sure, in my eyes, some of that has to do with the fact that I think a black man is a bigger change than a white woman. I have a number of reasons for thinking that, some of which have to do with how our country might be perceived by other nations whose citizens have dark skin. So, sure, a woman President would be a bigger deal than even the greatest First Lady could ever be. But when some Clinton voters say they'll support McCain because Obama's campaign was sexist or because Obama wasn't nice to Hillary, I say: Look at Michelle Obama. She may not be President, but she's a woman who your daughters can look up to because she fought her way to where she is. In my eyes, anyone should be proud to have Michelle as the female face of our nation for the next eight years.