THE SILENCE OF MICHELLE OBAMA
The White House remains one of the icons of American traditional heterosexuality. Every four years we see a new nuclear family enter the gates of this historial residence, and Barack and Michelle Obama are the latest residents. Thus, I am not too surprised that Michelle Obama, a woman who occupies this house, is afraid to be associated with marriage equality. While Michelle Obama has taken up many platforms in her role as First Lady (organic gardening, obesity, hosting poets), same-sex marriage hasn’t been one of those platforms. So, it came as no surprise, to me at least, that the First Lady had her office issue a statement denying any public support of same sex marriage. The statement delivered to POLITICO by communications director Kristina Schake stated, “Mrs. Obama has never made any public statements about same-sex marriage.”
Michelle Obama has continued to function as the sign of bourgeois White womanhood that her predecessors have occupied. She’s wealthy, she’s college educated, she’s religious, and she’s a dedicated mother and wife. This is a common notion in the minds of Americans regarding their first ladies and Michelel Obama hasn’t challenged this notion. There isn’t much about Michelle Obama that screams radical other than her race, which was used early on in her husbands campaign to imply that she was an Angela Davis type hell bent on handing out reparations for Slavery. Fortunatately, mostly for her husbands political interests, Michelle Obama has been able to sink into the American consciousness as a harmless mother and wife, not an activist or radical.
Some have reacted to critiques of Michelle Obama’s silence surrounding marriage equality with a strange mix of sexism and adoration. Apparently no one can critique Michelle Obama because people love her, and no one should be able to critique her because she’s “just” the First Lady, and First Ladies, and “ladies” in general, aren’t supposed to use their voices on issues that concern them, particularly when those issues entail homosexuality. The patriarchal narrative of the wife who lets the husband handle all the difficult issues is one all to ingrained in the minds of Americans.
One young woman responding to a Tweet I made about Michelle Obama’s silence, responded with “I think sometimes it’s best that 1st ladies stay out of things like that.” I’m assuming by this she means that only the men can handle serious issues like same sex marriage, and that a First Lady shouldn’t preoccupy herself with “things like that.” A young man tweeted, “But honestly, Marriage equality is not her platform. She’s not the President…just the first lady.” The words “just the first lady” seemed very telling to me. Why does First Lady have to be a position that is marginal or bereft of power? Eleanor Roosevelt was “just the first lady,” and she did a lot, which included speaking out against racism at a time when it was all too popular for White Americans to remain silent on the issue. What makes Michelle Obama so different from Eleanor Rooselvent? Why isn’t Michelle Obame capable of using her voice to stand with Gay Americans as Eleanor Roosevelent stood with Black Americans?
Unlike the people who love Michelle Obama, and view her through a lens of sexism, I think she is quite capable of using her voice for any issues she chooses to use it for. She does not have to remain silent on marriage equality, but could rather use her voice as First Lady to become a vocal supporter. This isn’t about condemnding the choices that she has made, but making sure people know that Michelle Obama, and any woman for that matter, is capable of making choices. Michelle Obama has a law degree from Harvard and if she wanted to she could have continued working, or taken a larger role in her husbands administration. Those who believe as First Lady she isn’t capable of stepping outside of the expected box are doing her a disservice. Michelle Obama didn’t have to take her husbands last name. Michelle Obama didn’t have to consent to her daughters having only her husbands last name. Michelle Obama didn’t have to quit her job. Michelle Obama does not have to toil around the White House garden. Michelle Obama does these things because Michelle Obama choose to. And Michelle Obama chose to remain silent on same-sex marriage. Make of it what you will.
I would like to end with a quote by Martin Luther King Jr, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I think this quote perfectly sums up my views on Michelle Obama choosing to remain silent on same-sex marriage. Michelle Obama has not shown herself to be an enemy of the gay community. She hasn’t, like many others, went out and spewed homophobic rhetoric against the gay community. In a time when homophobia is as casually displayed as it is in this society we need our friends to feel like our friends and speak out on our behalf. The silence is killing us.