No double standard for the First Lady


As I watched the Jan. 20 press coverage of President Barack Obama and the new first family, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like had a woman been elected president. Newscasters may have covered the event the same. They may have speculated on the new female president’s first day in office and covered her grueling race to the White House in 30-second flashbacks showing the highlights of a well-fought campaign. They may have discussed her extensive educational and political background.

But would they have spent hours, during the campaign and her Inauguration, discussing the attire of her husband?

Absolutely not.

As people across the nation applaud themselves for having elected the first black male president, they ignore another “-ism.” And this one is just as detrimental to society as racism was and continues to be: sexism.

Little else was said about First Lady Michelle Obama on Jan. 20, or the days following, except to mention the attire she chose for the inauguration and the inaugural balls she and her husband attended.

Watching CNN the day after the Inauguration, I was able to catch the tail-end of a news report, and I use the term “news report” loosely in this case, on Obama’s choice of dress during the event.

Imagine tuning in to CNN on Jan. 21, and hearing Wolf Blitzer interviewing Tim Gunn on the choice of a First Gentleman’s choice of tie. Gunn would tell the American people, “He looked incredibly well-dressed, with his sleek black suit, stylish white shirt and lustrous burgundy tie. What really made the outfit for me though, Wolf, was definitely the miniature flag pin attached to his lapel. The next four years will certainly be fashionable for the White House.”

By the end of that statement, most people would likely laugh and change the channel to a more sophisticated news source.

But no one batted an eye as newscasters and news writers across the nation critiqued Michelle Obama’s choice of clothing when she was featured on talk shows, when she waved to the crowd as her husband accepted the Democratic nomination and when she held the Bible that President Lincoln was sworn in on as her husband took his own oath of office.

And they continue to cover her clothing today, as though what Obama has in her closet is the only thing that will define her as a First Lady. Simply Googling Obama’s name will show anyone willing to look that the media cares little about her intelligence and a lot about her fashion sense.

This woman attended Princeton, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in Sociology, and a minor in African Studies. She then went on to study at Harvard Law School, where she earned her Juris Doctorate. She is one of only three First Ladies to have earned a postgraduate degree.

In a country that has been mesmerized by Barack Obama and his bid to win the presidency, Michelle Obama has been cast as “the wife,” as “the mother,” as the “fashionista.” Little has been said about what she plans to do as First Lady, which is an amazing oversight on the part of the news media.

Obama will almost certainly play an active role as First Lady. Her exemplary education and career were not achieved on a whim, and to spend much of the 24-hour news cycle discussing what she wears is a slap in the face to women across this country.