If you wanted to write a headline about feminist nightmares, you could find plenty of fodder in the news — disappearing abortion rights in Texas, maybe, or the forced sterilization of female inmates in California, or the unlivable minimum wage disproportionately earned by women. Politico Magazine, however, has invented a “feminist nightmare”: Michelle Obama. According to writer Michelle Cottle, feminists are disappointed that Obama has not used the second term to doff her first-lady drag and unleash her abundant intelligence and influence on the American public, popularity polls be damned.
Personally, I haven’t encountered that argument in the feminist blogosphere, and I would never make it myself. It’s the First Lady’s life that sounds like the nightmare to me. You only need to spend one election season writing about Michelle Obama’s clothes to be caught in a fusillade of drive-by commenters’ hate speech. Yes, they’re only Internet trolls, but they’re digital traces of the simmering racism that makes being a high-achieving and high-profile black woman in America singularly frustrating. Cottle pays lip service to the racial limitations of Michelle Obama’s public persona, noting that some say Michelle “must tread lightly to avoid being stereotyped as an Angry Black Woman.” As if that were an abstract theory used to rationalize Obama’s frivolity and not a racist episode we collectively watched unfold over the past five years. If I were Obama, I would barricade myself in the East Wing and watch Food Network’s Chopped until 2016. So I can’t exactly blame her for not tearing Republicans a new one over the farm bill.