Rethinking Healthcare

The contradictions of Michelle Obama

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Why is the first lady worth so much more to the Obama campaign as a mother than as a business woman?

After the excitement of Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night, I found myself a little hesitant to get on board with the "You go girl!" enthusiasm of the crowd.

Yes, it was wonderful to see an intelligent and charming woman praised by many across the nation. But her speech felt like a break from the pursuits to which she's devoted much of her life.

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama graduated cum laude from Princeton University, received her J.D. at Harvard Law School, went on to work at one of the most prominent corporate law firms in the nation, and then held a number of influential positions in non-profit and public sector organizations.

None of those achievements, besides the fact that she graduated from college, were even hinted at Tuesday night. She wrapped up the speech with these words:

And I say all of this tonight not just as First Lady…and not just as a wife.

You see, at the end of the day, my most important title is still “mom-in-chief.”

I by no means intend to criticize or doubt Ms. Obama's devotion as a wife and mother, and how central that role is to her life. Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in her much-discussed article in The Atlantic this June:

Whenever I am introduced at a lecture or other speaking engagement, I insist that the person introducing me mention that I have two sons. It seems odd to me to list degrees, awards, positions, and interests and not include the dimension of my life that is most important to me—and takes an enormous amount of my time.

Slaughter seeks to normalize motherhood as a part of life for a high-ranking professional person.

However, it seems odd to me that such an accomplished woman as Ms. Obama would want to make that the most highlighted part of her public life. The only non-domestic pursuit she regularly professes is her campaign for health and fitness -- a worthy cause, but hardly one that falls far from the motherly role.

It seems that she could better capitalize on her position as a role model by also highlighting her academic and career successes. I understand that there are also a number of political issues at play here. But, as a young woman invested in her own career, with motherhood not yet on my horizon, I'm still confused why she chooses to singularly emphasize her place as a mother.

I'm curious to hear input from readers who are professionals and parents themselves- Do you feel it's necessary to emphasize one facet of your life over another? Is Ms. Obama actually setting a better role model by drawing attention to her strengths as a home maker? Do you see a disconnect between being a strong career person and a strong parent?

Photo: barackobama.com

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure