Watch CBSN Live

Michelle Obama Slights Working Women

Yesterday I wrote that Michelle Obama was not making utmost use of her brilliance and sterling résumé by describing her duties upon moving into the White House as, "Mom in Chief."

Here's some of the rest of what I said:

Granted, her personal choices are hers to make. But as a career woman, I think it's a shame and a setback for us all that Michelle Obama publicly belittles her professional side as she enters the culturally influential first lady spot. I'm not suggesting she emulate Hillary Clinton's "buy one get one free" approach. But Mrs. Obama is perfectly capable of keeping her own independent career going while being a "mom in chief" at the same time.

Today we discussed this issue on my PBS news analysis program, To the Contrary.

The panel was made up of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, Megan Beyer of Women for Obama and a longtime Democratic fundraiser, Linda Chavez, noted conservative columnist and commentator, and Genevieve Wood, also noted conservative commentator, now with the Heritage Foundation and formerly with the Family Research Council.

They all disagreed with me. It was a 4-1 blowout.

I mean no disrespect to mothers (and everyone of the four of them has children except Genevieve) but "working" to raise your children is making use of a different set of talents--a more private set of talents than a public set of talents--than is using the platform of being first lady to further the cause of working women, whether they be mothers or not.

The feminist movement (of which I'm not a part--labels make me nervous) has been so burned by conservatives who labeled feminists as "anti-motherhood" that the movement still has not found a comfortable place to reside in the chasm between career or working women and fulltime female homemakers. Working women and full-time homemakers need not be political opponents. But they do differ in the fact women never needed to fight for their right to stay home full time. That right was never denied to women. They did, however, have to fight for equal rights in the workplace, and that fight continues today.

When highly educated, accomplished women such Michelle Obama give up their own work to take a back seat to their husband's careers, that is a slight to at least some career-oriented women.

Michelle Obama occupies a unique place in history as the first African-American first lady. Anything she does will serve as a target for criticism. I'm not criticizing her decision. I'm saying it stings women such as me who have dedicated their lives to fighting for workplace rights, as did the now widely denounced Opt Out Revolution. This so-called Revolution, by the way, was more of a statistical blip on the screen than a revolution.

Is being first lady a job? Well, kind of. But that's all in how it's positioned by the occupant. If Michelle Obama said she was going to work part-time as first lady with her cause (as it is) being military families and working women, while caring for her two daughters part-time, that wouldn't have stung as much. After all, the Obamas are moving Michelle's mother into the White House to help with child care. So it's not as if her wonderful children will lack for parental or grand-parental attention. And Megan Beyer, who worked on the Obama campaign, pointed out that two days after being elected, Barack Obama attended his daughters' parent teacher conference--a fact not nearly as widely promoted as his wife's self-imposed moniker, "Mom in Chief."

I like that he's sharing in parental responsibility while seeing to his career. I wish she would do as good a job.

-- Click here to read more by Bonnie Erbe.

--Click here to read more about Michelle Obama.

-- Click here to read more about feminism.

By Bonnie Erbe

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue