Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be married to the president? I think everybody probably prefers imagining themselves in the top job, but being the spouse of the most powerful person in the country is no small matter — there are an array of different expectations and responsibilities that come with it. And sadly, since we've never had a woman serve as president, many of them are rooted in heavily gendered stereotypes — here are four bizarre requirements of being first lady that are way past due for a rethink.
Obviously, if we someday got to see a man in this supporting role, we'd have more context about what are and aren't sexist expectations relative to the job. If we only had a First ... what would you go with? Sarah Palin famously predicted her husband, Todd, would be her "First Dude," but that seems a bit much. Let's go with First Gentleman, as in "ladies and gentlemen."
If we only had a First Gentleman, then we'd know if he, too, would be quizzed about his designers, have his looks stacked up against previous presidential spouses, or be the target of appearance-based attacks from countless spiteful detractors. I wouldn't hold my breath, however. Here are four common First Lady responsibilities that should at most be entirely optional.
1. Being Fashionable
Look, if a first lady wants to look great in a vast array of high-quality fashions, there's nothing wrong with that. But the wildly different expectations placed on first ladies compared to their presidential husbands is pretty damn annoying. All President Obama has to do to look camera-ready — all he's ever had to do — is throw on a charcoal suit, a tie, and make sure everything's looking crisp. In fact, his fashion job is so simple that when he changed it up for a day, people lost it.
When the first lady steps out for the State of the Union, however, or even just an appearance at some official functions, she's expected to be wowing people with a diverse bunch of looks for different occasions. It's one thing to want to look good, but having it demanded of you is very different.
2. Speaking About Children's Issues
The last three first ladies — Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Hillary Clinton — all spent portions of their time in the White House championing causes important for the wellbeing of America's youth. In Clinton's case, this took the form of her advocacy for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. In Bush's case, she was a vocal proponent of childhood literacy, having previously been a librarian. And in Obama's case, she's devoted a ton of time and energy towards combating childhood obesity.
All of these are very good causes! But they also play into a well-worn stereotype that's prevalent throughout popular culture as well as politics — casting women as primarily guided by a maternal instinct. Again, that's not to say that there's any wrong with these kinds of advocacy, because they're tackling vital issues. But if Michelle Obama were president, would we still have seen Barack doing the Dougie at public school fitness functions? We do know that he knows how to do it, at the very least.
3. Being A Public Figure At All
Should a presidential spouse be forced into the public spotlight? It seems symptomatic of how America treats its executive branch — we want a president who's fundamentally competent and ethical, sure, but we also want a high-profile, venerable First Family to follow along with, kind of like the space the Royal Family of England occupies.
But should first ladies (or spouses of any gender, for that matter) really have to live lives in the public eye, just because they married someone who got a lot of votes? Imagine the world in which this isn't true. Where Michelle Obama could, if she wished, have enjoyed her private and family life with her husband without having cameras fixed to her at every turn. Where the children of these families wouldn't have to suffer the undue scrutiny and mean jokes they so often do.
4. Having To Look Tight With The VP's Wife
Look, the first ladies are all adults. And in the adult world, sometimes you get stuck in a situation with somebody you really don't like. I'm not in any way suggesting this is true of our current Michelle Obama/Jill Biden tandem, as there's never been any indication of any discord between them. But there have surely been instances throughout American history where a couple of women became inexorably linked in history despite really disliking each other, and it's a bummer to think of being forced to smile for the cameras alongside someone you can't stand.
Basically, can't we all just leave it entirely up to these women what they do and don't want to take on? It seems high time, especially in the invasive media environment we live in, to give these high-profile women beings a little more breathing room.