Dressed in a floral suit, hair and make-up impeccable, she spoke with a strong yet friendly tone—her tongue, intelligent and wise from Princeton and Harvard Law, Michelle Obama spoke to the crowd and captivated their attention. Using words to describe herself and her family like “regular folk,” “working class,” and “from the other side of the track,” she is noted as one of the few First Lady’s that acts as a neighbor down the street… and not just any street. Michelle Obama speaks proudly about growing up as one of four children on a single city worker’s salary Chicago’s inner city; her mother stayed home to take care of the family, her father suffered gravely from multiple sclerosis. She views her personal journey not as an example of hardship but as a source of strength.
From a lucrative career in corporate law and the public sector, and the presidential campaign trail to the White House, Obama has defined herself as one of the “regular folks,” and that designation carries even more meaning in her role as First Lady. As a strong, black, educated female leader, Michelle speaks about the many road blocks that she’s experienced from early childhood to her current role:
“We are confronted with the doubters. People who tells us what we can’t do. You know every time somebody told me, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ I pushed past their doubts and I took my seat at the table.”
A seat at the table that many say Obama gave up to support her husband as a presidential candidate, and now president. Obama’s story is a challenge to view from most female leadership theory. Obama is an example of leadership and exhibits the abilities to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute to common goals. Her leadership is a blend of transformational and authentic leadership as most women: she resembles us rather than stand apart from us; she recognizes and empathizes with our struggles; she recognizes, shares in, and supports our goals; and she encourages relationships and interaction as tactics to meet the real needs of the people.
Yet many suggest that her female leadership now is a blow to an ideology in which women’s empowerment is defined by financial independence, professional advancement, and a detatchment of emotions and the ‘mothering’ role. In essence, Obama is viewed by many as a sell out for giving up her high post in a land of male leadership and now serving as the US’ most famous mother and wife.
Obama suggests differently – she intersects the role of First Lady and female leadership. Although it’s not a paid position, her job requires her to inspire and connect with the American public just as deeply as her husband is doing. Look at her Lets Move campaign… her work in schools across the country… and yes, her symbolism as the epitome of style and grace.
Obama suggests that the new post doesn’t define her—“A career is one of the many things I do in my life. I am a mother and a wife first. Where do I get my joy and my energy first and foremost? From my kids.”
Mrs. Obama offers a possibility for change, a new kind of female leadership: The ability to lead and inspire others yet still serve as a symbol as mother and caretaker for her family. She is a devoted partner, full-time mother, and a credentialed black dynamo– a female leader– and yet doesn’t feel victimized by the job.
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