12 Apr 2011

We Be Hatin': First Lady Edition

In Canada, we don't really have a "First Lady" culture in politics. The spouse of our Prime Minister is just that - "the wife of the Prime Minister" (or for a split second in 1993, "the husband of the Prime Minister").

Even though we're in the midst of an election, I think we'd be fairly hard-pressed to find people who know the names of the spouses of our political party leaders. Until I Googled it just now, I was going to guess that Prime Minister Harper's wife was named Arleen. Total stab in the dark. He seems like the kind of guy who would marry an Arleen, right?

(I was close. He's married to someone named Laureen. Now we all know!)

With the exception of Maggie Trudeau, Canadians have been just as disinterested in the private lives of our politicians as we are of politics in general. There's never really been any official roles for the spouses of our politicians to play. After all, they're unelected private citizens - just like our Senate.

All this obviously isn't the case in the United States. The ladies are front and centre - and right in the line of fire, it seems. I have to admit, I was rather stunned by all the backlash to Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign - an initiative to educate and inspire parents and kids to deal with the very real problem of childhood obesity. Suddenly, the First Wife is being attacked for being the "food police" and "dictating" what people can feed their children and "shoving vegetables down our throats". And those are just the critiques on her clearly evil communist-fascist-anti-American-pro-celery-lobby agenda. Then there are the comments about her (gasp!) sleeveless dresses and how much money she made before becoming First Lady and how she's clearly Satan.

I don't recall people being so vile about Laura Bush and her childhood literacy project that "shoved books down peoples' throats". I think the biggest critiques lobbed at her had to do with her choice of husband, no? Well, that and killing a dude.

And so I wondered whether hating on the First Lady was a new phenomenon in a culture that increasingly seems to be getting more petty and hostile toward people in public life.

To the bat cave my vintage magazine collection I went - and it turns out, we've always been hatin'.

Thought the great Eleanor Roosevelt was always adored? Not the case. Here's a snotty little letter to the editor (from Ladies' Home Journal, February 1943) from someone complaining that Mrs. Roosevelt should be less in everyone's face and more in her own home where she belongs:


Eleanor Roosevelt had a column in the Ladies' Home Journal that was meant to help and inspire the women holding up the home front during World War II. She'd answer reader questions in a section called "If You Ask Me". Here's a note from the editor mentioning that some of the mail received for the First Lady wasn't exactly polite. Probably had them wondering if they should change the magazine's name to HoBags' Home Journal:

It seems that it doesn't matter that the world was gripped by a horrible war and that everyone was being asked to pull together - the big problem for some people was this outspoken wife of the President. Ah, hate mail: American's favourite past-time.

In some of the questions Mrs. Roosevelt received, you can definitely sense the "what makes you so special?" mentality some people had toward her, like in this one questioning why Eleanor Roosevelt made a trip to visit soldiers overseas (how dare she!):

Eleanor Roosevelt really did have a great way of telling people to go fuck themselves. Like in this Q & A:

The wives of Democratic presidents weren't the only ones who got lambasted by the public. Check out this article about Pat Nixon, 31 years after these Eleanor Roosevelt examples, from Woman's World February 1974:

Here, the article opens with the public perception of Pat Nixon - a cold, robotic woman (sounds like current critiques of Nancy Pelosi!) who hasn't taken on any projects to help make America a better place.  Sounds like they're damned if they do and they're damned if they don't.

All yet another reason I love this goofy, boring country of mine. I imagine the "Arleens" of the Canadian political world agree.


Anonymous,  6:31 pm, April 12, 2011  

I love it when you share your magazines! So interesting to read from the direct articles!

Marsha,  11:39 pm, April 12, 2011  

Heathens! Don't you see why beer is accursed? Drinkin' beer leads to drunkenness, drunkenness leads to sex, and before you know it DANCING could happen!

All them pure, red-blooded American boys being led astray. Shame on the woman for not understanding the temptations of the forbidden fruit of hops. ;)

K2 7:22 am, April 13, 2011  

LOL. I enjoy when the Democrats are in the presidency because the Republicans LOSE THEIR MINDS! They go insane and it is amusing to watch the results, as you have seen with the attacks on Michelle Obama.

Interesting the historical perspective on the First Ladies and the vitriol they had to put up with too.

Meghan,  1:05 pm, April 13, 2011  

Hello, Jen, you're completely forgetting about Hilary Clinton! She took a crapload of heat for her healthcare initiatives. It seems like Republican pres. first ladies seem to take a more 'traditional' approach of supporting roles (I never even knew Laura Bush had a literacy cause) and Democrat pres. first ladies are more proactive.

The criticisms of Michelle Obama are almost identical to the ones of Hilary Clinton-basically painting them as having socialist agendas. It's nothing new. I honestly wish she would have stuck with and followed through on her initial promise of focusing on supporting military families as her cause. Telling people how to feed their children is too touchy.

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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