I was asked last week whether I thought the anticipated appearance of Michelle Obama on The View was calculated to soften her image and reach out to the stay-at-home moms who are fans of the show. At that moment, my gut said some consultants (and maybe even her husband??) are sticking their noses where they really don't belong.
Talking about whether Michelle Obama needs "softening" is (yes, I'm going to use the word again) sexist to me on a couple of different levels.
First, why is there an idea that a strong, educated and accomplished woman needs to have that downplayed to be viewed as an acceptable wife and First Lady?
As much as some of us wanted Hillary Clinton to win the presidency for the message that could send our daughters, why isn't the image of Michelle Obama in this campaign equally empowering? I'm more than happy to have PunditGirl learn that Michelle came from a modest family who worked hard to help put her through college. As someone who had to work several jobs and take out school loans because my farming parents didn't have the money to send me to college, I want my daughter know that: (1) women can do whatever they want, but that (b) it's not all going to be handed to you and you've got to work for what you want.
I also want my eight-year-old daughter to learn that there's nothing wrong with have opinions and being outspoken enough and confident enough to express them, even if others disagree.
Michelle Obama sends those messages loud and clear.
Second, why are appearances on "women's" television shows seen as something less than any other campaign stop? The suggestion that campaign-related events that are aimed at women are somehow less worthy and not as important as speaking in front of a union crowd or landing a slot on the Today Show is yet one more way that the perception of women voters are lessened in the election process.
Admittedly, I wasn't happy that Barbara Walters started off the show with the pantyhose-or-no-pantyhose debate for Michelle or that someone felt the need to have the potential first lady engage in a discussion with Matthew Broderick about what his five-year-old son eats. That just feeds into the perceptions that we ladies are more worried about "girly" things than politics. I'm happy to have those discussions (for the record, I'm clearly a no pantyhose kind of gal and PunditGirl and Broderick's son are both on the buttered noddles diet), but isn't this still just another effort to reach voters that should be respected for what it is?
We live in a new era of media and voter outreach, so, in my book, whatever avenues campaigns can tap into are ones that should be explored. Shows like The View aren't better or worse, they're just aimed at a certain demographic. And, as people keep saying, if women are the demographic that's going to elect the next president, then Barack Obama and John McCain would be pretty foolish to ignore them or for journalists to think less of them and the shows they watch while they're doing laundry or working at their computers.
Some say Michelle Obama is in for a rough ride from the GOP and that the attack machine is at the ready to use her strengths as a way to fight against her husband and that her appearance on The View was meant to head that off at the pass.
I have a piece of advice for the Obama campaign -- stop worrying about whether Michelle is softer or gentler. Don't play into the smear agenda. Let Michelle be herself -- strong, confident and positive -- and turn the GOP's faulty strategy against itself.
Trust me, there are plenty of women, Democrats and Republicans alike, who relate to Michelle Obama more than Cindy McCain. Step up and use it for your advantage, even if it's on The View.
Joanne Bamberger is better known around the blogosphere as PunditMom. When she's not writing here or at her place, you can find her hanging out with the MOMocrats or at BlogHer, where she is a Contributing Editor for Politics & News.