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Michelle and Ann: What Matters About What They Say?

by Maya Paley

September 5, 2012 | 2:29 pm

I’ve been avoiding doing the whole Ann and Michelle comparison thing for as long as possible, but I feel that it’s time I put in my two cents. I’ll be honest: I haven’t had time at all this week to read what others have written about their respective convention speeches. I’m sure that every word they’ve said has already been over-analyzed, discussed, researched, and torn apart. That alone makes me anxious to think about it because, as far as I’m concerned, there’s not too much to analyze here.
 

Love in Politics

Both women talked a lot about love. I didn’t research past speeches by Hillary, Laura, Eleanor, or anyone else, but did other First Ladies and wives of candidates talk this much about how much they love their husbands? It’s interesting to me that part of the dialogue this election year is that we’re obsessed with people needing to prove their love for one another. Maybe this is because we’ve lost so much faith in our politicians and in their marriages that we just assume they don’t really love each other.


But why does this really matter? Why do we care if their wives love them or if they love their wives or if their love story fits in with our romantic comedy fantasies? Shouldn’t it be enough to know what their opinions are and what their policy agendas would prioritize as presidents?

The other day a friend from France mentioned how strange he thinks it is that Americans are so concerned about the personal lives of our politicians. He said that in France they find it interesting and amusing when their Presidents cheat on their wives, but their heads of state don’t get questioned about their ability to perform as politicians as ours do for infidelity or if their marriages are in flux.

Bringing Women into the Mix

Let’s examine what Michelle and Ann had to say about women in their speeches, since this supposedly gives us insight into what their husbands think about women’s issues.

• Ann Romney addressed the work-life balance for working moms to make the point that our current economy is failing them: “The working moms who love their jobs but would like to work just a little less to spend more time with the kids…but that’s out of the question with this economy.”
• Michelle Obama reminded us that her husband signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to “help women get equal pay for equal work.”

• Ann gave a shout out to American women for being the ones who really put in the hard work in this country:  “We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters. You know it’s true, don’t you? You’re the ones who always have to do a little more.”
• Michelle talked about Barack’s single mom and his grandmother who was stuck under the glass ceiling: “Barack’s grandmother started out as a secretary at a community bank…and she moved quickly up the ranks…but like so many women, she hit a glass ceiling. And for years, men no more qualified than she was—men she had actually trained—were promoted up the ladder ahead of her, earning more and more money while Barack’s family continued to scrape by.”

• Ann connected all women with each other, saying that men don’t really understand what women face: “I’m not sure if men really understand this, but I don’t think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. In our own ways, we all know better!”
• Michelle said that Obama gets that we women know what’s right for us and for our health and bodies: “And he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care.”

• Ann reminded us that as a mother, she wants to make sure we don’t “raise our children to be afraid of success.”
• Michelle compared Barack to his grandmother: “He just keeps getting up and moving forward…with patience and wisdom, and courage and grace.”

Obviously, as a liberal Democrat, I almost cried when I heard Michelle speak. I thought she was brilliant, engaging, and spoke to us on a human level. I didn’t quite feel the same about Ann Romney’s speech, but I did feel compassion for her as a woman as well. She is trying really hard to relate to the everyday woman in America by reminding us that she is a mother and that all moms have the same issues in dealing with their children and balancing their lives.

What I didn’t get from Ann Romney, however, was anything other than that. Her focus was mainly on the economy and on how the most important thing in our lives as women is to raise our children well, have time for them, and help them succeed. While I agree with all of those ideals, I also think that her speech excluded a large chunk of the population of women in America—single women, senior women, working women, career women, queer women, etc.

Michelle’s comparison of Barack to his grandmother was unique. I like when a powerful man is comfortable being compared to a woman figure in his life, rather than always being compared to successful men. Michelle addressed some of the issues that still concern all of us—hitting the glass ceiling in our careers, not having the right to choose, and equal wages.

At the end of the day, I respect both women and I imagine that their lives are extremely difficult and stressful as the mates of presidential candidates. I agree with a lot of Ann Romney’s thoughts and I’m sure many women can relate as well to what she said on women working harder to balance more than men do, but I got more substantive answers and opinions from Michelle’s speech about how Barack feels about women’s issues, and that’s by far more important to me than how much they both love their men.

Whose speech resonated with you? And what do you think mattered about what Ann and Michelle had to say?

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