The Working Mother as First Lady.


by Meredith O'Brien

Four years have made little difference.

Heck, 15 years haven't made a difference either.

You see, when it comes to the female spouses of the men who are running for president, no matter what they do in their professional lives, they're, basically, screwed. If the spouse is a working woman, she has two options. Option 1: Pitch the job overboard or scale back the work in order to help campaign. Option 2: Do something different, like continue to work while the husband campaigns. It really makes no difference which option a potential first lady chooses. Whatever option she selects, there are always going to be people on the sidelines with poison pens at the ready, snidely asking her who she thinks SHE is, trying to make her own life's decisions, while they gleefully offer up their own critiques.

As the 2008 presidential primary has already begun in earnest - given that state primaries have been front-loaded into the first few weeks of 2008 and the candidates need to raise money ASAP -the finger wagging at the wives of the candidates has likewise commenced. (The lone husband of the lone female presidential candidate is immune from this sort of scrutiny given the fact that: a) He WAS the president and b) We really do not desire to discuss any more details about his personal life, thank you very much.)

In particular, Michelle Obama, the wife of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, has drawn fire for her recent decision to scale back her work as a well paid hospital administrator to part-time so that she can help her husband make his bid for the Democratic nomination, and so she can still have time to parent their daughters, ages 6 and 8. She's been harshly criticized as betraying her feminist sisters for making this intensely personal and difficult decision.

A sampling of the responses to Obama's choice:

* In an article that specifically stated, "her workload is about 20 percent of what it was," Washington Post writer Anne E. Kornblut led off her story with this: "For the first time in her adult life, Michelle Obama is about to be unemployed." Apparently, in some quarters, working part-time doesn't really count as working.

* The Detroit News ran the same Kornblut article under the headline, "Obama's wife shelves career." Again with the working part-time doesn't count as working.