Women's Dislike For Michelle Obama Reveals Middle-School Mentality

11/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Jane Shure Leadership Coach, Psychotherapist, Author, Speaker

Syndicated columnist Susan Estrich recently pondered about why so many women admit to not liking Michelle Obama. Mind you, many of these referenced women are Democrats, so party politics don't seem to be a significant factor. Estrich asserts that race may play a role but not a major one, because these same women like her husband, our president.

I'm not surprised. In fact I'm glad that the cat's out of the bag. While we've made tremendous progress, sexism is alive and thriving in America. It's particularly painful when the discrimination -- unconscious or conscious -- comes from women. Some of us get stuck in that competitive mode of middle school development, comparing ourselves to others and judging them (and of course, ourselves) for a host of insignificant factors. It's such a waste of our energy to disparage and criticize others, yet the dynamics of women's relationships often have these elements that end up pitting us against one another.

I've heard so many fabulous women express being afraid to claim their smarts and talents because of fear of being deemed "uppity" or "conceited." How often do we fear someone else thinking "she thinks she's so much better than me/us," and use that fear to hold ourselves back? I certainly know I have. I also know the opposite -- those ways that my women friends (and clients in my psychotherapy practice) have helped me hold fortitude to not capitulate to these kinds of worries. Their encouraging words have assisted me in countering the internalized intimidations. Instead, I take a deep breath and speak my mind, then graciously practice saying "thank you" when I receive a compliment.

It hasn't always been that way, for sure not. I remember a number of years ago when I was honored by Philadelphia magazine by being named a "Top Doc for Women." Uncomfortable with being singled out amongst an excellent group of colleagues, I downplayed the honor so much so that, when a young female client sat across from me excited by her therapist being selected for this short list, I found myself pushing my hands toward her, actively dismissing its value. It wasn't until I noticed her face holding my gaze, continuing to express her excitement that I thought, "Stop, claim this, let it be a fun thing...she sees it that way and the message you are giving her is 'dismiss your accomplishments, don't make a big deal out of those opportunities to take the limelight.'" I don't know if she knows it to this day, but that young woman, who deeply struggled with her own self-worth, greatly helped me break out of the bounds of my own internalized sexism -- those ways that I had accommodated to the messages from the culture to act demur and reluctant to feel proud of myself and voice it.

If sexism has us putting other women down, just because, then the anti-sexist act would be to support and encourage other women, just because. Because that's how we get healthier, stronger, more productive...and let's face it, when that happens, everyone benefits. For more, click on