Waiting Wives

I don’t know about you, but I find this photo to be very very sad:

It would be one thing if we knew that they were heading to an event at her super impressive place of employment where he would wait for her to finish an important conversation. That’s not the case, though.

Well, at least this guy is a President. His term in office will end (in all probability, in 2016), and then she will go back to having a life. How many women, though, choose to spend their entire lives waiting in the background because they lack any professional realization of their own? How many women choose to be mere appendages to men? How many try to convince themselves that an adult human being can be content with the role of a spectator of somebody else’s life?

53 thoughts on “Waiting Wives”

    1. Poorly framed and timed? I think it’s a great photograph. That the focus of the picture is Barack Obama, while Michelle Obama fades into the background, is precisely the point.

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  1. While I usually enjoy, and agree with your commentary, I have to agree with Patrick on this one.

    The reason for this because Michelle Obama is not a spectator in this family situation. She is very active in her role as First Lady. I think that the photographer just caught her in an awkward moment (let’s face it, we all have them.) And Michelle Obama certainly has professional realizations of her own, and she certainly could have worked using her law degree after her husband was elected. However, she chose not to.

    That said, I believe there are women who may not “chase their dreams” so to speak. They may legitimately be spectators in someone else’s life. I just don’t think that’s the case in this photo.

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    1. It’s no secret that Michelle Obama had to abandon her career to serve as a President’s wife. Just like it is no secret that Hillary Clinton had to do the same. She even had to change her last name (which she didn’t want to do) and demonstrate cookie-baking skills to help her husband’s career. I find that to be heart-breaking. When are people in this country finally going to accept the idea that wives of politicians can have lives and careers of their own?

      “she certainly could have worked using her law degree after her husband was elected. However, she chose not to.”

      – And it’s precisely that choice that I find so sad.

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      1. I think I may be missing something here then. I fail to understand exactly what is sad about making an honest decision to only be a wife and mother? I agree that it would be tragic if she was forced into that role, but she wasn’t.

        And while I agree that women are frequently treated horribly in our society today, there are strong women making decisions for themselves that may not be what would make sense to you or I. I believe that Michelle Obama is a woman who chose to be there for her daughters because that is what was best. Not only for her girls, but for her as well.

        But who knows? Maybe she’ll release an autobiography in 20 year proving me wrong. But until then, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making that choice.

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        1. I’m not a supporter of choice feminism. A decision to deny oneself professional realization and any role in the public sphere while relegating oneself only to the private sphere horrifies me.

          “I believe that Michelle Obama is a woman who chose to be there for her daughters because that is what was best. Not only for her girls, but for her as well.”

          – I don’t know what that means at all. Chose to be where? Her daughters are not infants. They spend their day at school. The idea that adolescents somehow benefit from a mother who doesn’t work as opposed to a mother who is super successful and highly respected as a professional makes no sense to me. According to this logic, the kids who are the best off are the ones with 2 unemployed parents.

          I was an adolescent whose mother chose to leave a highly fulfilling career and become a housewife. This decision of hers has been probably the greatest tragedy of my life. And it still is.

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          1. I definitely respect your opinion, Clarissa. But I feel compelled to say that I do not agree with it.

            When I say “be there for her daughters” I don’t only mean in a physical sense. And I’m more than willing to say that the bulk of my opinion here is based on my own personal experience. As someone whose mother did stay home throughout my life I can say honestly that I’m grateful that my mom was able, and willing, to make that decision. And this is not only a selfish viewpoint (although it is that as well.) My own mother, who is educated and very smart, has told me that she prefers to stay home with her children. Who is anyone to say that that is wrong, or that she’s (or any woman like her) being a waste to society?

            And no, I don’t believe that “the kids who are the best off are the ones with 2 unemployed parents.” I believe that the kids who are the best off are the ones whose parents make the best decisions available to them. And the best decision is not always the same for everyone. Each person and family unit is different.

            And yes, I have made poor choices in my life. That doesn’t mean that I regret any of them, because I’ve always done the best I could with the information that I have. As I’m sure everyone else does.

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  2. One of their professors said of them that he always thought that Barack would make a really good mayor, but that Michelle would be president of the US someday.

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    1. Once again, I’m not a “choice” feminist. I reserve the right to have opinions about anybody’s choices. Which is why it would be nice if people tried leaving comments without the word “choice”, repeated and highlighted a gazillion times in a row. I don’t see anything so sacred that it shouldn’t allow for a discussion in the concept of a choice.

      Has nobody in this thread made idiotic choices in their lives? I know I have. Many many times.

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      1. I think my challenge with your viewpoint is that it is made with little or no information in regards to her reasoning. Isnt that somewhat idiotic? Just expressing my right to my opinion. 😉

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    2. She didn’t make the choice just for herself – if her husband wasn’t running for president, she probably would have chosen to have a career. Unfortunately, we don’t like to hire men for president’s whose wives haven’t sacrificed their own careers for the cause.

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      1. How can you be sure of that? It’s a circumstance that’s never been tested.

        The US would never ‘hire’ a black man for president either – yet the first time a black man was on the ballot, he won.

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      2. P.rhoeas

        Please, tell me what other black candidate ran for the presidency? Guys like Rev. Jackson lost in the nomination process – they NEVER made it to the November ballot.

        Unless there’s some obscure independent Candidate that I’m unaware of. But seriously, did anyone take Ross Perot, Ralph Nadar or Pat Robertson seriously? If you’re not on the two party train, you’ll get left at the station holding your bags.

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  3. Oh jeez I mean no we don’t know exactly what’s going on in Michelle Obama’s head in that picture but it’s a pretty resonant image of an educated and motivated professional woman stepping aside to be a supportive and patient wife and mother in a pretty dress while her man does important man things with other important men so come on guy of course it’s an annoying thing to see.

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  4. “How many women, though, choose to spend their entire lives waiting in the background because they lack any professional realization of their own? How many women choose to be mere appendages to men? How many try to convince themselves that an adult human being can be content with the role of a spectator of somebody else’s life?”

    Too much!

    I don’t want to master women and they don’t like it!

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  5. “Just like it is no secret that Hillary Clinton had to do the same. She even had to change her last name (which she didn’t want to do) and demonstrate cookie-baking skills to help her husband’s career. I find that to be heart-breaking. When are people in this country finally going to accept the idea that wives of politicians can have lives and careers of their own?”

    Interesting, but I don’t think it applies in Hillary’s case. I think all of this are components of Hillary’s career plan. Hillary is so much smarter than her husband.

    And maybe that’s the case for Michelle…

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  6. The entire function of First Lady always made me sad. They always end up picking toothless, mostly child-oriented projects (Laura Bush had literacy, Michelle Obama has childhood obesity, Hillary broke the mould somewhat by focusing on healthcare) which everybody can mostly agree “Well, isn’t this nice?” It’s like a Miss America pageant where all of the candidates chirp about “World Peace!” but aren’t allowed to espouse any concrete thoughts on how to attain it. 😦
    If Jaime ever becomes Prime Minister (she’s ambitious) I am going to be more like Maryon Pearson than any First Lady.

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  7. I think you’re also perhaps not giving enough credit to the influence held by the first lady- I think of it less of her giving up her career and more of just changing careers. Maybe she determined she could do a lot more good as first lady than being a lawyer? Though I’m not saying that the role doesn’t have it’s drawbacks (and this photo certainly presents all of the negatives as you and the commenters have pointed out).

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  8. I must admit, I am disappointed in the choices the Mrs. Obama has made as first lady. There is a possibility for first lady’s to take on true career enhancing/national leadership roles in support of the president. But many, including, in my opinion, Michelle Obama, do not. I agree with Clarissa and other readers about the sadness behind the role of first lady because so many of the choices they make to support their presidential candidate spouse are made not because they would want to in a vaccuum, but because the voting public expects it of them. It is a very high profile position where you have to conform to a gender stereotype in order to get your family into office. Conforming to the stereotype for 4-8 years may be good for your family and your career, but it can’t be a comfortable position for everyone.

    As for Hillary, I have to disagree with your evaluation. I think she is one of the few first lady’s who took an active leadership role. She was one of Bill’s advisors, and met with him and other advisors in that capacity. She was actually appointed as the head of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform, as opposed to working on obesity/literacy/what have you by working with other possible non-political organization working on those issues.

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    1. I’m a great admirer of Hillary Clinton and I don’t mean to say that she wasn’t crucial for Bill’s success. I just find it sad how she had to change her last name, which she obviously did not want to do, and how she was persecuted precisely for being an ambitious, intelligent, strong woman.

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    2. I too find this picture sad. I have a lot of respect for Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, and I think both are very capable people, and Michelle would have been just as capable of playing a much more serious role in the Obama administration (like Hillary).

      But there is another very sad thing I would like to point out over here; Hillary got away with what she did because she was white. If Michelle tried to dabble in healthcare or something serious, the amount of criticism she and her husband would get would be much much higher than what the Clintons got. This is what the American society is like — we cut white people much more slack than black people, who have to stick strictly to their roles.

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      1. “Hillary got away with what she did because she was white. If Michelle tried to dabble in healthcare or something serious, the amount of criticism she and her husband would get would be much much higher than what the Clintons got. This is what the American society is like — we cut white people much more slack than black people, who have to stick strictly to their roles.”

        – I think you are absolutely right. 😦

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      2. “Hillary got away with what she did because she was white.”

        Hillary got away with something? keep dreaming. And these accusations of racism are so fucking tiring! Hillary was mocked and criticized ruthlessly. Even her daughter was treated crappily. Where were you?

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  9. Wow. That picture speaks a million words. How depressing. I’m hoping that perhaps Michelle Obama will pursue her own political career after Barack’s term is up. But that might be too optimistic. I agree with you on the “choice” feminism idea by the way. It’s such a irrelevant point. At the end of the day, everything is a choice. A girl who starves herself so she can look like a model in a magazine is making a “choice”–it’s just a damaging choice that marks her capitulation to troubling social expectations of femininity. Same with being a housewife: that choice indicates that troubling social constructions/idealizations of gender are alive and well. No choice occurs in a vacuum. It is an infantilizing and disempowering role for a woman to place herself in. And the expression on Michelle’s face and her body language says it all.

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    1. This is exactly what I keep saying and saying and saying. Yet people keep telling me, “But it’s her CHOICE”, like I;m supposed to stand up and sing a national anthem or something whenever I hear the magic word “choice.”

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      1. The annoying part is that you only have respect for choices you would make. All others are dumped on the scrap heap of ‘stupid’. It’s more than a little arrogant.

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        1. Not true. You made a choice to be an accountant, if I’m not mistaken, and to live in Canada, right? I didn’t make those choices but I totally respect them. I even respect your choice to vote Conservative if that’s what you did. I can give a list of choices from here to the Moon that I didn’t make but still respect profoundly.

          But housewifery is not a choice I can respect and I have been very clear on that from the start.

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  10. Clarissa, you may appreciate this song: Political Wife.

    Michelle Robinson was actually mentoring Barack Obama at the law firm at which they worked when they first met.

    Being First Lady is an unpaid, full time job which is highly circumscribed because 1) they’re not elected, 2)it would be difficult to keep a job and not get into political hot water for some reason or the other over what the spouse does.

    If there’s no actual spouse, the job of First Lady gets passed on to a female relative or friend who acts as hostess above all.

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  11. At Patrick’s comment 36; the word “respect” is also a difficult one. One can’t respect a choice. one can respect a human being. Speaking for myself: I respect everybody. I think all humans deserve respect. But I think being a housewife is terrible and damaging and I hope that one day nobody will become a housewife. The fact that I disagree vehemently with a choice has nothing to do with whether or not I respect an indiviudal human being.

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    1. That is an important distinction – one I don’t ‘hear’ in the tone of many of Clarissa’s comments. (I use ‘hear’ because there individuals will always read tone into comments – tone which may not be intended)

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  12. I don’t know Michelle’s aspirations, but I doubt she’s set aside those that are most important to her.

    As has been said before, Clarissa, you’re reading too much into this. This is merely a moment in time where she’s waiting idly while her husband completes a conversation. you may not see it – you’re European – but Barack’s body is not facing directly at the person to whom he is speaking, he is slightly canted toward his wife. Among Americans, it is normal to directly face a person to who you are speaking – at a right angle even. I see a man eager to exit a conversation and join his patiently waiting wife. I’d even venture that he was interrupted on his way to another engagement.

    Think about this the next time you’re with somebody and your companion is stopped for a conversation. Sometimes it’s just a moment.

    And if Hillary Clinton had been elected President, would Bill Clinton have been postponing his life to be First Gentleman?

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  13. Yes, the photo is sad. My mother was a stay at home mom. She told me the happiest years of her life where when my siblings and I were little children. And I think that is sad, too. I remember when we were teenagers, my mother was just obsessed with us – what we said, what we didn’t say, our tone of voice, when we came in, when we left, who our friends were. At a time when she should have been letting go, she just couldn’t. My husband had the same experience, and I have friends who are stay at home mothers who act that way, too. I myself stayed home for several years, and the only thing that made it bearable was that my husband recognized that I was making a sacrifice, not living out my dreams. I loved my children, but I was bored! And even though we tried not to let it affect us, the dynamic gradually shifted. We took vacations when it was convenient for my husband, he gradually assumed more control of the finances, people treated me differently, I started dressing differently – over a few years, despite our efforts, our relationship had changed significantly.

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    1. “I remember when we were teenagers, my mother was just obsessed with us – what we said, what we didn’t say, our tone of voice, when we came in, when we left, who our friends were. At a time when she should have been letting go, she just couldn’t. My husband had the same experience, and I have friends who are stay at home mothers who act that way, too. ”

      – And they sometimes keep acting this way well into their children’s retirement age. 😦 I SO know what you are talking about.

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  14. Isabel :
    “Hillary got away with what she did because she was white.”
    Hillary got away with something? keep dreaming. And these accusations of racism are so fucking tiring! Hillary was mocked and criticized ruthlessly. Even her daughter was treated crappily. Where were you?

    Sure Hillary was mocked and criticized. But you haven’t seen Michelle Obama try to do anything at all, and still she has been called Obama’s “baby-mama” and all sorts of black woman welfare stereotypes have been invoked about her. Wait and see what happens when she tries anything interesting. I can bet you the criticism will be a hundred thousand times more than what Hillary had to go through.

    And yes, if you think racism does not exist in the US, and that white and black people are treated the same way, I am afraid you are either a racist or a complete fool.

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    1. Please show some specific evidence of this, besides the comments section of Fox News on-line or wherever crazies and other outliers hang out. I mean loudly and publicly, the way Hilary was criticized. In the mainstream media. On the major networks. On the popular comedy shows.

      “And yes, if you think racism does not exist in the US”

      Who said this? Control yourself please. You are just proving my point. And believe me you don’t want to open that can of worms. For now it is off topic, thankfully.

      As far as open criticism in the media, the reports of Obama being treated worse than white presidents just don’t hold water. When pressed, people come up with the same few examples over and over, even though those few examples are spread over many years. Look how George Bush and every other politician is treated in the media before you lash out about racism. I suspect Obama has been treated better because people are so paranoid about criticizing him.

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  15. P. rhoeas :
    I guess that a marriage is a team where the husband is the quarterback and the wife is a cheerleader in a cute outfit?

    You are correct in the fact that a marriage is a team but the leader is constantly changing depending on the situation that faces the said team. The problem(as I see it) with your short sighted view of Michelle Obama is that you miss the fact that she will many times be the quarterback and he will be the cheerleader. 😉

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