How Far Does Michelle Obama Have to Lean In to Be a Feminist?

First lady Michelle Obama First lady Michelle Obama Carolyn Kaster/AP

Apparently Michelle Obama, an Ivy League-educated lawyer, mother of two, and America's only black first lady, is a "feminist nightmare." So says Michelle Cottle, in a Politico magazine piece that seems to deem anything short of "Angry Black Woman" Michelle as a catastrophic setback to Gloria Steinem's good work. Cottle manages to downplay the race lines Obama toes while also creating a stricter feminist standard for her than for (mainly white) women who "lean in" like Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg.

Last week Obama became the ambassador to the "North Star" program that will hopefully increase the percentage of Americans going to college, focusing especially on lower-income communities. "Here, finally, was an issue worthy of the Ivy-educated, blue-chip law firm-trained first lady, a departure from the safely, soothingly domestic causes she had previously embraced," Cottle writes. "Gardening? Tending wounded soldiers? Reading to children?" Linda Hirshman, the feminist author, guffaws to Cottle that Obama "essentially became the English lady of the manor, Tory Party, circa 1830s,” she said.  

Cottle, and the FLOTUS-detracting feminists she interviews, have three complaints. First that Michelle has always been too traditional. As Cottle wrote way back in 2008 for The New Republic, Michelle is familiar because she knows how to relate to housewives. She made jokes about her husband and got a baby sitter when he couldn't help her out around the house. Cottle called her a traditionalist wrapped in the modern exterior, which was good for Barack's campaign, but meant she wasn't "a mold-shattering new breed of First Lady, or even the fierce symbol of feminism that was Hillary Rodham Clinton circa 1992."

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