The XX Factor

Michelle Obama on Her Marriage

Here’s my favorite part of Jodi Kantor’s really interesting portrait of the Obama marriage in this Sunday’s NYT magazine:

When she interviewed for a job at the University of Chicago Medical Center, her baby sitter canceled at the last moment, and so Michelle strapped a newborn Sasha into a stroller, and the two rolled off together to meet the hospital president. “She was in a lot of ways a single mom, and that was not her plan,” recalls Susan Sher, who became her boss at the hospital and is now her chief of staff.

Ah yes, the moment of bringing the baby where she doesn’t belong. What I love about this story is that Michelle presumably got the job. Though, come to think of it, marriage and policy-wise, the “Be invincible!” message is not actually helpful. You could imagine Barack Obama concluding that his wife is managing fine, just as he was counting on.

More broadly, Jodi’s piece made me think that Michelle has her footing as a First Lady who can handle the constricted role without being defined by it. Rebecca Traister and I went back and forth last November about whether Michelle was letting herself be “momm-ified,” in Rebecca’s phrasing. I held out then for Michelle’s feminist cred. And I do think that when your husband is president, the rules are different. Yes, your power comes from him. But you have so much of it! Michelle impresses me in this new NYT interview by showing us how well she recognizes the tension. When Jodi asks whether it’s possible to be married to the president and have a “true and equal partnership,” Barack starts to answer and then subsides. Michelle, meanwhile, makes “a small, sharp ‘mmphf’ of recognition” and then says:

Clearly Barack’s career decisions are leading us. They’re not mine; that’s obvious. I’m married to the president of the United States. I don’t have another job, and it would be problematic in this role. So that - you can’t even measure that.

No, you can’t. But she may be able to measure the impact she has as spokeswoman in the administration’s effort to combat childhood obesity, her next project.